It’s time for the conservative movement in America to take a deep, cleansing breath. 

The Trump era is a perplexing one for many of us. President Donald Trump has made great strides on some of the issues we care about most — protecting religious liberty and human life, promoting the value of work as the key to economic success and independence, and re-focusing our federal government’s priorities on protecting Americans by regulating our borders. 

And yet...so much of his behavior seems to reflect the absence of values we cherish. Modesty. Humility. Graciousness. Self-restraint. Civility. 

This is why pundits like Michael Gerson describe “religious conservatives” who voted for Trump as having “elevat[ed] the ends of politics over the means of character.” This is certainly not true for all of us. But if we’re being honest, we can see why he thinks so. 

The question many conscientious conservatives are asking ourselves is: How do we talk about politics in the context of an administration that is serving us well in many ways, but is also degrading the public perception of our character? Here are a handful of suggestions, drawn from my new book, "Restoring America’s Soul: Advancing Timeless Conservative Principles in a Wayward Culture."

Be honest. Despite what our social media-crazed culture suggests, we don’t have to let ourselves be pushed into either a “biggest fan” or “hate him” box when it comes to Trump. We can say that we love his policy, but aren’t fans of the way he communicates. Let’s honestly say that we respect him as our president and that we pray for him regularly.

Be gracious. Our political discussions should be driven by the maxim, “tough on issues, gentle on people.” It does no one any good to demonize those who disagree with us, no matter how vehement the disagreement. I couldn’t disagree more with the growing tide of politicians pushing socialism, but I don’t believe they are evil. So rather than suggesting that they are bad people, let’s focus on explaining why they are wrong. 

Be persuasive. One of the lost arts of the conservative movement is the ability to paint a positive vision of our ideology. Because limited government is a core feature of it, too often the GOP sounds like “grumpy old people.” While the Left is telling young citizens how government can make life better, the Right appears to be telling them that we want government to leave us alone. We can and must do better at expressing our vision of a nation where government is limited so that the people can use liberty to pursue virtue. That vision doesn’t lack care for the poor and the sick; it values human needs so highly that it assigns them to personal, local care rather than relegating them to cold, distant bureaucrats. 

Be wise. Author George Will has said that the basis of civility in public discourse is a mature, humble talent for thinking historically. This is what America’s founding generation did so well. They used the lessons of history to devise a government powerful enough to govern the people, but obliged to control itself. When we buy into the idea that our Constitution is “organic,” — that its meaning changes with the winds of time--we move away from the original genius of the finest governing document ever written. We must insist that our leaders respect the original meaning and wisdom of our Constitution. And we must act to restore the original meaning of the parts that have been twisted.

Be virtuous. It would be a mistake to focus all of our energy on public policy while our culture continues to grow more crass, vulgar and trivial. The culture is the water that we all swim in. It’s the air that we breathe. So if it is toxic, we don’t stand much chance of producing a healthy government nor healthy officials to run it. To restore a culture of virtue, we have to start at home. We must foster genuine spiritual faith, and pursue goodness, truth, and beauty. We must teach respect for the inherent dignity and worth of every human life. We must strengthen families if we want to strengthen the nation.

In other words, today’s conservatives need to be all the things we want our leaders to be. We, the People, sit at the helm of our government, whether we act like it or not. It’s time for us to take a deep, cleansing breath, and then get back up, and be the kind of people we want to represent us.

Rita Dunaway lives in Harrisonburg. Her column appears on thestream.org.

(44) comments

Mike Muterspaugh

LVW-You will find out how important they are. They/Trump have moved the 20 liberal/socialists trying to get the nomination completely off the radar. Wittingly or unwittingly Trump has made them the face of the Democratic Party. Their favorability ratings range from about 9% to 22%. The left-wing liberal media can't get enough of them. Hello second term.

DW222

Well it seems Democrats have all went Sgt Shultz with the “I know nothing” spiel when it comes to their base. That’s how we get very entertaining live-streams such as the Demwalrus Georgia lawmaker Erica Thomas & Democrat Eric Sparks showing us all how it’s done. Laffin.......!

Mike Muterspaugh

LVW-It's not too much to ask, but it's too much to expect. What you see is what you get with Trump. And quite frankly, it's a little refreshing. I have posted numerous times about my problem with his personal short falls. But no one should be surprised about his policies or actions since he has inhabited the White House. They are exactly what he campaigned on. Again, unusual and refreshing; whether you like them or not. Where as I have problems with his intellect and demeanor, I agree with about 80% of his legislation, overturning previous Presidential mandates and stance on the border. Now let me ask you this LV, since you stated that you are not a fan of the "Squad", is it too much to ask that you (and other libs on this site) denounce the anti-semitic, anti-American, racists and socialistic programs of the "Squad"? I didn't hear a peep until you responded to my last post. Are you not a fan because they are hurting the election of one of the socialists that are trying to be the Democratic nominee? Or, do you really disagree with their ideas, language, anti-American rhetoric and open border policy? I,as a Republican, voiced my disagreement with Trump. Ms. Sheridan agrees with the "sisters". How about you?

LVW

Mike: You probably know more about the squad than I do, so I don't know about the "anti-Semetic, anti-American" stuff you are talking about. I really only know a bit about AOC. I am not a fan because she doesn't seem like she knows what she is talking about, she is being a pain in the Democrats side, and she is getting way more press than she deserves. (Right-wing media!) In terms of the "socialists" that are trying to get the Dem nomination for president, I like Klobuchar so far, and not just because my daughter is going to school in Minnesota. Don'tcha know?

hbdansby

LVW inadvertently makes an important point here. The conservatives know a lot more about these four congress women than the rest of us do, just as they know more about Al Gore’s carbon footprint, Hillary Clinton’s crimes and lies, Nancy Pelosi’s whatever’s, the East Anglia emails, the hockey stick—you name it. There is a message in that.

Mike Muterspaugh

Yes, the message is we are better informed and can process facts. Finally you recognize the obvious.

Mike Muterspaugh

LVW-Well LV, AOC has been interviewed by CBS-60 minutes, CNN, the Wash Post and numerous other left-wing media. Maybe if you watched the number 1 rated cable news outlet, Fox, which has the top 2 shows and 7 out of the top 10 you would better informed. As far as Klobuchar is concerned, she is polling less than 1%. Pipe dream.

prodigalson

LVW, if you don’t know what these hateful women stand for, then it’s because you have simply chosen not to know. Their racist, vile, anti-American quotes, tweets, and views have been widely reported and recorded. Honestly, I think you’re having trouble coming to grips with what the Demokkkrat party stands for. These women are not out there on the radical edge of the Demokkkrat party. They are the Demokkkrat party.

bishopsboy

Amen, Prince Prodigal.

Mike Muterspaugh

Indeed,Ignorance is bliss. https://canadafreepress.com/article/rep.-rashida-tlaib-were-all-members-of-the-squad-now

LVW

Or, perhaps 4 freshman members out of a committee of 435 are just not that important.

prodigalson

Well LVW, if these 4 women were Republicans, and were embarrassing the party as badly as these "ladies" are embarrassing the Demokkkrat party, I'll bet you would think it was important.

mattnamyj

George Will is a sellout and a sham. Trump is setting the agenda and leading the way, exactly the reason we elected him to be President. Liberals are hateful, violent, completely anti-American and we on the right should fight against them with everything we have. Our very way of life depends on it!

prodigalson

Amen.

hbdansby

It is disturbing to hear such a view of “liberals.” We are ALL both liberal and conservative. Given any issue or problem we face in our real lives, we are pulled by both conservative and liberal considerations. The two parties are formed not because one group is completely conservative and the other group completely liberal, but rather due to the reality that advocacy on issues requires the security of having two parties.

prodigalson

No Mr. Dansby. There is not a conservative bone in your body. You are 100% liberal.

hbdansby

That probably indicates you are so extreme right.

prodigalson

Yes, I am extreme right, and proud of it.

DANT

Rita I think you should have directed this column to the hate filled liberals....from what I've seen in the last 25 years conservatives have tried to be civil, respectful, tolerant, etc. just to see more and more of their rights and freedoms being destroyed by the opposite side who are anything but civil, respectful, and tolerant! The more the conservatives have tried to work with the other side the more they have been taken advantage of the last straw (for me at least) was the horrible treatment of Justice Kavannaugh

hbdansby

There are lots of ways to run a railroad. Given the economic energy of this country and the world in general these days, America and Americans could succeed with a completely laissez faire system, the system that republicans if they are honest want. On the other hand, it is just as likely that a government of universal health care, public k-12, free college, and social security for retirees could also succeed. The mistake being made, particularly by the Republican side, is to overemphasize the importance of getting one system or the other, and the use of red herrings like race and fear to get their way. There are some issues, however, that are not arbitrary, and the survivability of a livable planet is most basic of those. Even conventional environmental issues are not as important, although they are adding up to being almost indistinguishable from climate change itself. If you like the clean, laissez faire Republican approach, then test your sincerity by confronting the urgency and massiveness of the climate change problem at the same time. Let your philosophy be laissez faire plus solving climate change, where solving climate change is defined as reducing greenhouse gas levels such that average global temperatures do not rise sufficiently to seriously degrade the economic viability and livability of the planet. Anything short of that brings into question the sincerity of your policy preferences.

hbdansby

It is easier to see the Kavanaugh matter as the fault of the republicans. Kavanaugh as a teenager assaulted while drunk a teenage girl. Blasie-Ford felt an obligation to inform her Senator and it was almost inevitable that it would get out. Once it was out, the proper thing was for Kavanaugh to admit it, and let the vote take place. Simple as that.

prodigalson

What evidence do you have that Justice Kavanaugh actually did any of the things that he was accused of?

R B Tate

The same reason he knows that the planet is cooked, and Trump is an atheist. He saw it on television.

prodigalson

R B. Now that was funny right there! Great post.

bishopsboy

Prince Prodigal, you can bet that if hbd had been falsely accused of sexual assault by a drunken teenage s!ut, he would want due process.

DANT

hbdansby so you are willingly contributing to the maniacal sicko's who tried to destroy a good and honest mans life? Why? You are one screwed up person if you would lie on this forum knowing full well there was absolutely no evidence to show Justice Kavannaugh was even at the party where the incidents happened. Even kooky Blasie Fords own friends could not lie to promote her made up story! Would you admit to something you didn't do? Only a coward would do that.....so maybe you would!

hbdansby

Assuming no statute of limitations for this crime in Maryland, Kavanaugh was at risk of being charged with a crime. His options were 1. to admit it, 2. to deny it, or 3. to exert his Fifth Amendment right’s. Another option was to negotiate a withdrawal of his nomination, or to negotiate an agreement with the Senate committee, the victim and Maryland prosecutors that he would admit the assault in return for no prosecution. Finally, it is possible Kavanaugh did not remember the event, in which case he could simply say that. I think if Blaise-Ford had not been permanently traumatized by the event, she would not have brought it to the attention of the Senate committee. Even so, I think she simply wanted the committee to have this information, in which case the Republicans, Trump or Kavanaugh himself could have withdrawn the nomination. It is hard to know where to place the blame in this mess, or whether there is any blame to be placed. Certainly, we can blame Kavanaugh, Trump and the republicans for not withdrawing the nomination. This could have been done regardless of how inconvenient was the evolution of this drama. So, that is clear. But can we blame whomever leaked the Blaise-Ford allegation from Feinberg’s office? Given the prominence of the MeToo movement, it is unlikely that such an allegation would have been buried. We cannot blame Blaise-Ford, as her permanent trauma impelled her to believe Kavanaugh’s assault was relevant to his nomination. We cannot blame the Democrats, as it was Blaise-Ford that made the allegation, an allegation that could not be buried, and the Democrats conducted the interrogation with reasonable dignity, given the distasteful nature of the situation. (Once the matter was out, they had to deal with it.) We can certainly blame Lindsay Graham for his accusatory outrage against the Democrats, since as my analysis shows, if there is any blame, it is on Kavanaugh, Trump and the republicans. Kavanaugh was not willing to give up his ambition to be a Supreme Court Justice. Trump probably advised Kavanaugh to use the Trump approach of deny, deny, deny. And senate republicans went along with Kavanaugh and Trump. Kavanaugh seems like a good man and has proven himself in his career. The nomination process subjected him to public trauma he was not prepared for. The leak seemed to have occurred late in the process, such that everyone was committed to his nomination and making it difficult to withdraw. I don’t think there was an effort by senate democrats to “use” the assault allegations to derail the nomination of a conservative judge, since they knew Trump could nominate someone worse. Kavanaugh’s guilt is indicated by the fact that Blaise-Ford had no reason to lie, and by the highly emotional way that Kavanaugh handled the allegation at the hearing. If the accusation had been out of the blue by a mistaken accuser, Kavanaugh could have patiently and calmly explained that. Instead, he sobbed and railed out against some Clinton conspiracy. My guess is that he tried to be defiant because Trump advised him to be that way, but while it might work for Trump, it was not becoming to Kavanaugh. But there is an easy solution here that senate republicans, Trump and the bloggers herein can choose: Kavanaugh was not guilty of the assault and Blaise-Ford was lying. Similarly, there is also an easy solution to anthropogenic climate change: to deny climate change is happening or that it is anthropogenic. In the end, Kavanaugh, a judge and now a Supreme Court Justice, did what the the Justice system and every judge is designed to abhor and what the pettiest of criminals do: lie rather than tell the truth. The Trump era has succeeded in defining even the highest court of the land, by employing the Trump bully-your way, no-rules approach to government. A better more civilized approach and one more compatible with our democracy is to tell the truth and let the chips fall where they may, or simply withdraw from the nomination. Or, as I said, if Blaise-Ford had the wrong guy or if Kavanaugh simply forgot the incident, he could calmly explain that, in the manner we expect of Supreme Court nominees.

prodigalson

Mr. Dansby, that is quite possibly the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. Why should Kavanaugh withdraw his nomination when there is not one shred of evidence against him? Why would Ford have launched a false accusation? Simple. The liberals didn’t want Kavanaugh on the bench, and they were willing to do literally anything, including fabricating this story out of whole cloth, in order to stop it. Thankfully, Kavanaugh and Trump stood firm, and crammed this entire thing down the Demokkkrats’ whiny throats. I, for one, was glad to see it.

hbdansby

Prodigalson, the dumbest thing you ever heard? Once again you and republicans pin your argument and position on the assumption of conspiracy, that democrats conspired to have Blaise-Ford make up this story.

prodigalson

I agree with you Dant. Good post.

hbdansby

Trump has done what every can man does, found a weakness in his prey that he exploits for his own gain. So, the penultimate atheist Trump converts on issues of abortion and faith and uses that as a pathway to power. Why does he want power? It is just his natural megalomania.

Tip Parker

It was good to read your call for civil discussions of key issues that are important to conservatives. So in that vein, I ask you to explain, in future columns: 1, How did the writers of the Constitution provide authorization for he space program, which we celebrate today or the Air Force in which I believe you said your father served? 2. How did the original meanings of the Constitution or the Fourteenth Amendment provide rights to corporations? 3. Why did the provding liberty for so that people can pursue virtue not prevent drug companies from creating the opioid crisis in the most conservative region of Virginia?

Mike Muterspaugh

This makes so little sense that is not worth the effort to reply to.

Harvey Yoder

Great column. May her tribe increase, regardless of labels that so often divide us.

prodigalson

Labels are important Harvey. They help up to properly identify things, especially ideologies that are evil and poisonous.

LVW

This seems like a long-winded apology for the hypocrisy of religious conservatives regarding Trump.

prodigalson

As usual, a great column Rita. One caveat though. Other conservative leaders have tried the “kinder, gentler approach, laced with humility”, and it hasn’t worked. They have been steamrolled time and time again by a Demokkkrat party that promotes evil policies. President Trump has taught conservatives how to fight, and it’s working.

LVW

Hey, did you catch this part?

"It does no one any good to demonize those who disagree with us, no matter how vehement the disagreement. I couldn’t disagree more with the growing tide of politicians pushing socialism, but I don’t believe they are evil. "

prodigalson

Yes LVW, but they are evil, totalitarian, in fact.

Mike Muterspaugh

LVW-I have never labeled any liberal as "evil". But the "squad" does qualify as "bad" people. Their anti-semitic remarks, there racists remarks about white people, the socialist/communist programs that would bankrupt this country and the denigrating remarks about this country qualify them as very "bad" individuals. The only time Omar isn't lying is when her mouth is not moving and Ocasio-Cortez is clueless and simple minded. The other two are racists. Now, before some of the liberals accuse me of being a xenophobic nativists or racists, I'm married to an immigrant and I took in her multiracial child and raise her as one of my own. My wife vehemently disliked Trump from the very beginning, but these 4 individuals have actually pushed her towards supporting Trump. Because, unlike these anti-American zealits, my wife loves this country. She was raised under Communism. She appreciates what this country stands for. So, long winded as usual, they may not be "evil" (that would be in the eye of the beholder) but, yes sir, "bad". And let me stand in for "Joe the barber", Omar can get the he!! out of here anytime. Good riddance to bad rubbish.

LVW

Mike: I'm not a fan of them either; they are one big headache for the Democratic party, in my opinion. But is it too much to ask Trump to try to act presidential every now and then, and not always behave like a boorish moron, being a living example of the lowest common denominator of society?

bishopsboy

Dear LVW, I think the squad is awesome! They are the true face of the democratic party and its future.

bishopsboy

Dear LVW, how sanctimonious of you. Once conservatives (full of "religious nuttery" - your term) started adopting the liberal playbook, you left-wingers started crying foul....

prodigalson

Amen to that Mufalme Bishop. Trump is trouncing the Demokkkrats, beating them at their own game, and they can’t handle it. The only thing they know how to do is whine, and people are recognizing it for what it is.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.