Ever since 1998, when I wrote an essay titled How the Earth Was Forgotten Since Creation, I’ve been conducting a personal campaign against less-than-compassionate conservatism and how it damages the world of politics, religion and the environment.
That initial essay about the effects of biblical literalism on environmental policies was expanded into a book that took seven years to research and write. I never thought it would take that long, but it did. When it was finished, I titled it “The Genesis Fix: A Repair Manual for Faith in the Modern Age.”
The book expanded in scale to cover politics as well as religion, focusing on how authoritarian minds in both sectors of human activity collaborate (for better or worse) on civil rights, science and cultural issues.
To analyze these processes, I deconstructed the manner in which people arrive at their worldviews, and why. Predictably, people who support biblical literalism also tend to align with conservatives who interpret the United States Constitution the same way, through originalism. And that is what has taken place over the course of thirty years.
It’s that simple, which is why it is also so common and dangerous to find authoritarians of both political and religious persuasions lining up to do battle with their perceived common enemies. That would be anyone who dares interpret the bible or Constitution any other way than a generally literal or original form of understanding. This has its limits, as we shall see.
Because there’s are major problems with all this literalism and originalism. Both sources of thought ignore the fact that our material and cultural understanding of the world has advanced incredibly since the Bible was written down and codified. And since the United States Constitution was written, slavery has been banned, and women were actually given the right to vote. But it nearly 200 years to accomplish these things because people clung to the letter of the law on both fronts. That is not just sad, it is immoral.
And there still seem to be some people who claim to like things the old-fashioned way. They do not give up easily on the notion that things were somehow better in the Good Old Days. In fact, they will fight to the death in some cases to prove their martyrlike devotion to literalism and originalism.
It’s all a product of what we colloquially call conservatism, which is defined as “adhering to original standards and traditions.” But the problem with old-line conservatism is that it often clings to traditions that deliver advantage to one sector of society while excluding another. This was certainly the case with slavery and this imbalanced dynamic has persisted to this day through discrimination and persecution of black people and other minorities in America. The same certainly holds true for attitudes toward women, on whom conservative men project patriarchal standards of behavior.
These beliefs often conveniently stem from anachronistic habits of mind taken literally from the Bible. For example, the idea that a man is inherently superior to a woman can be drawn from the idea that Eve was supposedly formed second in order, and from the rib of a man. It sounds so stupid when you say it out loud, yet some people insist this is the natural order of things.
This is what I wrote about the dangers of anachronism in my book The Genesis Fix:
This perspective is known as anachronism, defined as “(one) from a former age that is incongruous in the present.” Anachronistic beliefs are based on a refusal to accept or comprehend change. It is inevitable that anachronism begets asceticism, defined as “a life of strict self-denial, especially for religious purposes.” Both anachronism and asceticism depend on the idea that all worthwhile wisdom comes to us from the past. This attitude may serve the purpose of encouraging reverence for the wisdom of the ages but fails as a device to reconcile faith with knowledge in the modern age.
It’s all storytelling pap run amok, yet arch conservatives tend want to own the religious and cultural narrative so badly they can become obsessed with this rigid form of doctrine. This is also convenient, for it imbues them with a supposed authority over all other elements of society. This became an actual movement in American, when 40 years ago, thanks to the efforts of men like Jerry Falwell, groups of Americans decided that a rigid form of conservatism needed to be imposed on American culture. This movement ultimately attracted other authoritarian thinkers from the political, social and fiscal realms, and came to be known collectively as neo-conservatism, an oxymoron if there ever was one. It is also ironically known as “neo-liberalism.”
Chronology of neoconservatism
Back when I started writing my book The Genesis Fix in 2000, the Republican Party had just finished grabbing the Presidency through the workings of a cooperative Supreme Court. From watching the actions of both Ronald Reagan and George Bush the First, I had become highly suspicious of the behind-the-scenes workings of the GOP. I knew too well how the double-speak of arch conservatism worked on the environmental front. I’d seen how some political organizations and companies used “greenwashing” to cynically make themselves seem like environmental advocates. The same practice of grabbing a positive narrative to hide ulterior motives of greed or despoilation spread into politics as well. This was combined with a winner-take-all approach that led to what is called “scorched earth politics.” That is no coincidence of terminology.
But I sensed an entirely new level of hypocrisy in the actions and words of the people embracing neo-conservatism on many issues. Their Holier Than Thou actions and words resembled those of the Chief Priests who maligned Jesus in his day. And that raised real alarm bells in my head. We all now how that turned out, with the good of the world turned “inside out” in favor of political power and control.
And once Bush II took power with his claims that God was telling him to be President, the neoconservative ideology was unleashed in all new ways. At that point, suspicions about neoconservatism were confirmed and it had one thing in mind: wiping out the political opponents to install a long term reign.
But then came the negligence on the terrorist watch with the tragedy of 9/11 despite warnings issued well in advance. But by the time America had come to grips with the fact that we’d been attacked, the Bush administration was already floating the notion that we needed to attack Iraq, a nation that had nothing to do with the events on 9/11. That’s when it struck me that all the predictions I’d made in my book The Genesis Fix were about to come true. These were delusional, radically motivated people in charge.
Eight years of hell
The radical actions of neoconservatism continued throughout the eight years Bush held office. We even heard tales that some Zionists wanted Bush to take over the Middle East and bring on Armageddon. In some respects, we succeeded in bringing on a Holy War by attacking Iraq when that country had nothing to do with the foreseen attacks committed on American soil on 9/11.
Then Bush and his conservative cronies in the financial sector ran the economy into the ground as well. No one would admit it on the conservative side of the equation, but it looked like God really had it in for the Good Old USA.
That didn’t stop arch-conservatives like Pat Robertson from blaming natural disasters on the fact that gays were still allowed to live in the United States. The radicalization of conservatism has many such prophets. Most of them had Big Money and maintained little contact or concern for how the Middle Class and the Real People got by in America. When the economy crashed and millions of middle managers were cast aside in the fray and unable to find work, some in the corporate world responded by saying that they would not hire anyone that had been out of work for more than six months. This was evidence of the “I’ve got mine” brand of independence lacking in both compassion and understanding of how the nation’s economy works in the first place.
In fact, neo-conservatism has engaged in something of a war on the middle class as a rule, busting up unions and suppressing the minimum wage at every turn. It’s no surprise that this faction of society should go looking for a hero to Make America Great Again on promise of restored jobs and hope of a future. But there’s a cognitive dissonance at work in the thought that the people whose policies led to the economic crisis in the first place would be the ones to fix it. And Donald Trump is no exception.
The shrill cries of neoconservatives only got louder when Barack Obama won the Presidency. The sector of the Republican Party that is backed by folks who believe white people should rule the world rose up to fight the President on every front. The dog-whistle racism of men like Mitch McConnell was obvious, but no one likes to speak of such things in public if they can help it. Democrats are typically more polite than that, and Republicans just don’t want to admit its true. Somehow Obama made it through eight years of heck dealing with obfuscation and resistance, and accomplished some good things along the way. It could have been better perhaps, but simply fixing the nation after the crash of 2007 was enough of a challenge to start out, and getting change to work in an atmosphere of so much resistance made it difficult to get anything done.
Which sets the stage for the 2016 election. The GOP threw sixteen people on the stage who wanted to run for President, and all of them appeared to want to run against the tenure of Barack Obama. Yet the only one who stood out to bloodthirsty neoconservatives was a loudmouthed white guy with orange hair and a lot of money. In classic style, he fit all the worst aspects of neoconservative ideas. He was pronouncedly white with his awful combover hairstyle and peach-colored rouge all over his face. His snarling lips and manner of speaking had all the class and patience of a slavedriver, and his openly racist statements laid bare the naked intentions of a political party short on ideas but long on the lust for power. Whether they liked him or not, neoconservatives had their man. It was Donald Trump, all the way.
The Trump Factor
So Donald Trump roared through the primaries and became the Republican nominee for President. At first, supposedly principled men such as Ted Cruz refused to support Trump as the part nominee. After all, Trump’s bitter campaign tactics included personal attacks not only on the other candidates, but on their wives as well. This was new and fertile ground for the seeds of hate, and they began to sprout across the land. Trump supporters felt their man had unshackled the world from the binds of political correctness.
But Trump didn’t stop there. He openly maligned women in public, acting like an angry pimp toward any woman that stood in his way. He lined them up and knocked them around. Carly Fiorina. Megyn Kelly. And finally Hillary Clinton, whom he stalked like a physical abuser during their October debate.
The entire process has been a surly spectacle on the order of a coup by a psychotic Emperor aching to take over the Roman Empire. What the Republican Party needs to do now is get back to its roots.
As I wrote in my book The Genesis Fix:
The admirable goals of political conservatism; keeping the powers of government in check, protecting citizens from excessive taxation, maintaining moral certitude as a principle of government, and encouraging free trade and commerce are all noble ideals. 20 And at a values level, conservatism prides itself on support of tradition, liberty and love of God and country. Despite its reputation as a staid element of social structure, conservatism has at times been quite progressive in the manner with which it has pursued its goals, particularly as it set about using media outlets to communicate its message in from the 1980s to the present. Conservatism’s doctrinal approach to seeking power, influencing culture and leading government has attracted many followers.
The one lacking element in neoconservatism (versus true conservatism) is compassion. This is what I wrote in The Genesis Fix:
If you are looking for a single factor in the success of conservatism with the American public, convictions22 are the political capital of conservatism. Any discussion of politics, social policy or human welfare must contain a healthy dose of “convictions” to be taken seriously by members of the conservative alliance. People with strong convictions tend to love clarity, but the desire for absolute moral clarity among conservatives can lead to intolerance for other viewpoints and cultural prejudice. This may be one of the principle points at which conservatism contradicts the true message of the Bible. It is difficult for people to have compassion and tolerance for others if they are blinded by a discriminatory fixation on the competing interests of a material, political or personal priority. The missing component of doctrinal conservatism as it relates to Christian beliefs is therefore unqualified compassion.
And that is the heart of the matter with Donald Trump. He is the perfect expression of the lack of compassion in neoconservatism. One could argue that he took it a major step further than any neoconservative even dared. Even the likes of Newt Gingrich, arch-conservative that he is, have backed off the Trump Train because The Donald is the beast that neoconservatism created, yet cannot tame.
And that is why, from now on, whenever I am asked why neoconservatism or any brand of conservatism lacking compassion is such a contradiction to American values, I will calmly say the name of Donald Trump. He is the ultimate expression of everything wrong with what conservatism has become in its long arc from Ronald Reagan––who started this “hate the government” mess––all the way to now.
Government is not the problem as President Ronald Reagan once claimed. It’s the lack of belief that people can do good that is the problem in America. It is also a lack of concern for fellow human beings that is the vexation of this nation.
Conservatism has one thing right, and it is tried and true. Everyone needs to take responsibility for their own actions. But that does not mean finding ways to exclude others as equal stakeholders in the American Dream. That is where neoconservatism has led real conservatives astray.
Hopefully something can be learned by all this, and the Bad Example that emerged in the figure of Donald Trump. We need to get back to our belief in America for sure, but not at the cost of tossing people over the side of the ship, or blocking our borders, or dissing them in public if they don’t look like you, act like you, or go along with mad schemes of in religion, politics and culture.