Live Well, Do Good

I am Becoming More Conservative

Brandon Sun, September25, 2017 – David McConkey

“So, when are you going to write a pro-Trump column?”

My conservative neighbour was teasing me. (During elections, we engage in friendly competition with political lawn signs.) Before I realized it, I replied, “Well, I am not going to write that, but I am becoming more conservative.”

What? I am becoming more conservative? Well, yes, I guess I am!

I have noted in previous columns that I am eclectic in my views. Sure, I am left wing, but I am also somewhat libertarian. Considering my mature age, I even came up with this happy description: left old libertarian. (Which I called LOL!)

I know that what I define as “conservative” could be debated, or even called classic “liberal.” But I am not writing for a school class. I am saying that the Trump era has alerted me to some helpful insights from what is usually identified as conservative. And I recommend this approach to every citizen: consider the best ideas from a range of perspectives.

I have tried to look beyond the isolation of “confirmation bias” or an “echo chamber.” Way back in university, I read some of the writings of conservative economist Milton Friedman. Five years ago, I reviewed in this space the book by conservative critic Mark Steyn, After America: Get Ready for Armageddon.

For years now, I have followed conservative blogger Andrew Sullivan. I enjoyed the recent book by conservative writer Matt Ridley, The Evolution of Everything: How New Ideas Emerge.

During the American election, I sought out conservative views, like those of former Republican presidential speechwriter David Frum. I even followed the blog of Trump enthusiast Scott Adams, creator of the comic strip Dilbert. Adams predicted early on that Trump would win the presidency, praising Trump as a “master persuader.”

An aside: the “Trump era” is not just an American phenomenon. We live in a global village, with the U.S. as cultural trend setter. Adams asserts that Trump is a clown genius who has changed how everyone views reality and who has changed “humanity’s sense of identity.”

In searching out alternative views and examples, I look for links to Canada and the larger world. Of the thinkers and writers mentioned here, one half have a Canadian – or at least a non-American – connection. The four books noted are all available at the Brandon Public Library.

So, what is “conservative”? Words that come to mind include traditional and cautious. Conservatives put more trust in people and free markets than in big institutions – especially governments, but also corporations.

“Conservatism,” Sullivan writes, “has always been, at its core, a critique of ideology in favour of reality.”

“The world is as it is,” Sullivan continues. “Any attempt to drastically overhaul it, to impose a utopian vision onto a messy, evolving human landscape will not just fail, it will likely make things worse.”

Conservatives acknowledge the importance of human nature, but also of rising above it. You know, what used to be regarded as a good thing: civilized behaviour!

I interrupt this description of conservatism to shout that the right wing is an entirely different thing! Remember the right-wing Harper government? It was not just anti-intellectual, it celebrated stupidity. Like: let’s build more prisons and then gleefully dismiss the criticism because it comes from “university types.”

And the right wing now is falling into a dark abyss with politicians like the late mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford, and of course, Trump. Traits that used to be hidden in embarrassment are now flaunted as the new normal, or even the new ideal. Ever watch a Trump rally on TV? The audience members are basically bragging that they are not thoughtful, not informed, and not nice people!

The Trump era is frightening. Faced with this new reality, I find comfort in reflecting on old-fashioned, conservative virtues. I am thinking of values like honesty, integrity, humility, decency, frugality and compassion. I am also thinking of respect: for other people; for marriage; and for science, learning and expertise.

On the subject of traditional virtues, I enjoy conservative writers like New York Times columnist David Brooks, whose latest book is The Road to Character. I have also found helpful the book by philosopher and neuroscientist Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape.

In my next column, I will continue exploring the benefits of a conservative perspective in the Trump era.

* * * 

See also:

I am Becoming More Conservative - Part Two

Moral Truth, Moral Progress and Moral Relativity

Cultural Interaction Can Have Positive Impact

We Must Resist the Trump Culture – Here's How

So Many Reasons to Appreciate Podcasts

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