The Conservative Temperament

Michael Gerson was a speechwriter for George W. Bush (until Trump, my least favorite President), so when he began writing columns and Op Eds, I expected facile, disingenuous justifications of the Rightwing agenda. That expectation was wrong. Gerson has proved to be a thoughtful and fair-minded commentator; I don’t always agree with him, but I’ve come to respect him.

I was particularly impressed with this recent column in the Washington Post.

The column is worth reading in its entirety, but I want to share a few of the observations that particularly struck me.

It is one of fate’s cruel jokes that conservatism should be at its modern nadir just as the Republican Party is at its zenith — if conservatism is defined as embracing limited government, displaying a rational, skeptical and moderate temperament and believing in the priority of the moral order.

All these principles are related, and under attack.

Of course, that definition of conservatism does not describe the philosophy of people like Paul Ryan or Mitch McConnell, or the Tea Party and “alt-right” types who have disproportionately  appropriated the label. It harkens back to a time when “conservative” was a much more respectable term. Gerson is right, however–that version of conservatism is very much under attack. And the following description bears little or no resemblance to the arrogance and defiant ignorance of those who currently claim the title.

Conservatives believe that finite and fallen creatures are often wrong. We know that many of our attitudes and beliefs are the brain’s justification for pre-rational tendencies and desires. This does not make perception of truth impossible, or truth itself relative, but it should encourage healthy self-examination and a suspicion of all forms of fanaticism. All of us have things to learn, even from our political opponents. The truth is out there, but it is generally broken into pieces and scattered across the human experience. We only reassemble it through listening and civil communication.

Gerson concedes the gulf between his understanding of the conservative temperament and that of its current exponents.

This is not the political force that has recently taken over the Republican Party — with a plurality in the presidential primaries and a narrow victory in November. That has been the result of extreme polarization, not a turn toward enduring values. The movement is authoritarian in theory, apocalyptic in mood, prone to conspiracy theories and personal abuse, and dismissive of ethical standards. The president-elect seems to offer equal chances of constitutional crisis and utter, debilitating incompetence.

As Gerson recognizes, the incoming Administration–and those in charge of the current iteration of the Republican party–are not conservative. They are radical. And very, very dangerous.


  1. fas·cism
    an authoritarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government and social organization.
    synonyms: authoritarianism · totalitarianism · dictatorship · despotism · autocracy · [more]
    (in general use) extreme right-wing, authoritarian, or intolerant views or practice.
    Powered by Oxford Dictionaries · © Oxford University Press · Translation by Bing Translator

  2. I just laugh when conservatives call liberals communists and socialists when they are fascists.

  3. The first two years of an Obama administration and his continued abuse of his office thru the privileges given to him by Congress got this man elected. The Republican party’s unwillingness to listen to conservatives to stop these abuses led to Bush being soundly defeated in the primary and Hillarys lack of luster against a candidate gave way to us Wondering if we’ll have an administration and cabinet competent enough to operate.
    Yes socialized medicine is socialism by definition don’t laugh, but what may be down the near future is heavy pendulum swinging the other way which in my opinion may be just as ominous. Pray that Trump listens to advisors.

  4. John,

    “The first two years of an Obama administration and his continued abuse of his office thru the privileges given to him by Congress got this man elected.”

    The side of the aisle that you associate with most likely forms your opinion on what you think of Obama. But I would find it hard to call anything he did “abuse.” Please elaborate on what you call the abuse.

  5. It’s vitally important to remember that, at the end, social democracy was no match against fascism in Germany. If we don’t wake-up in time to that FACT, we’re not going to be witnessing the “end of the beginning” but, ASSUREDLY, the “beginning of the end.”

    as-sured’ adj. 1. made sure; certain 2. confident; sure of oneself–as-sur-ed-ly adv.

    Webster’s New World Dictionary

  6. John; Trump doesn’t even listen to what HE is saying, prayers will not get him to listen to any advisers, including his own. He has listed appointees with worse opinions than his own, more radical and less logical. Are you aware that you are among their targets after January 20, 2017. Publicly supporting and voting for Trump is not going to protect you.

    It continually amazes me that the radical action of Republicans is considered to be “conservative” government. Their arguments against the size of government, which they replace with privatization – or outsourcing if you/they prefer that term – costs us more and gets less done with more workers using our tax dollars. Will the Trump administration, like the Goldsmith administration, publish only the actual government employees in their budget reports, omitting the cost of those privatized/outsourced companies? Will he hide White House employees within other departments and pay them out of those department budgets to appear to be saving American tax dollars?

    But that is just this old woman’s opinion; one of millions of seniors who look into the future and see a blank wall covered with pictures of Trump. We need to accept the fact that that IS our future and begin figuring a way to survive it. As has always been true, “Opinions are like ass holes; everybody has one.” I have just given mine…opinion, that is.

  7. Marv; but we don’t know and won’t know what or who we are fighting till Trump is in office and Congress has accepted or denied his appointees. We can make no battle plan at state level, where it needs to begin, till we know if any Republicans have recognized the horrors they have turned loose on this country and their supporters. We need a political version of General Eisenhower’s D-Day; and like that D-Day, we need to prepare for losses. Who will be expendable?

    I would like to see Bernie as mentor; not presidential nominee, to gather forces such as Joe Biden, Liz Warren and Cory Booker to set a strong base for the Democratic party. I don’t see Bernie continuing as an Independent; Democrats were willing to follow him…some too far which lost us the election. The Trump ad for his cabinet appointees, asking Indiana residents to call Donnelly asking for his support tells you the weakness within the party at this time. We can also scratch off Debbie Wasserman-Schultz as a total loss due to her blatant disloyalty to the party. What use can be made of John Gregg here in Indiana is beyond my scope of understanding…I still don’t know how or why he ran again. Using the same, hiding in the shadows, campaign tactics till the last few weeks, he got booted out.

    We have to begin somewhere; Bernie is a known factor, we don’t have to agree with or like our leaders but we do need to trust them. I copied the partial list of issues Hillary had to agree to before he would endorse her (she did refer to them in her acceptance speech); here are a few, tell me if you are against or find fault with any of them. They are part of the letter Bernie wrote to “Bernie or Bust” chairman asked for support for Hillary, dated July 14, 2016.

    Investments in health care, endorsed enactment of public option to allow everyone to participate in public insurance program (single payer)

    $15 hourly minimum wage

    Expand Social Security

    Put price on carbon (environmental)

    Pass comprehensive immigration reform

    Break up too-big banks and create 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act

    Close loopholes that allow big companies to slash taxes by putting cash in off-shore tax havens and use that revenue to rebuild America

    Approve the most expansive agenda for protecting Native Americans

    We are starting over; time for licking our wounds must end and rebuilding must start NOW. The Republicans didn’t wait till after President Obama was inaugurated on January 20, 2009; they had already launched their attack…and they have emerged the victor with this full government takeover.

  8. An ETHICAL FORCE as a new THIRD FORCE is our only solution as it was the only answer to Nazism [fascism] in Germany, but its realization came too late.

    I would recommend as I have done before “Germans & Jews: The Right, the Left, and the Search for a ‘Third Force’ in Nazi Germany” by George L. Mosse [Author of “Nazi Culture and “The Crisis of German Ideology” (New York: Grosset & Dunlap,1970).

  9. Gerson is right. As I frequently blog, Trump is neither a Republican nor is he a Democrat as I understand their evolving political philosophies, though he has claimed to be both at points in time. I think he is afflicted with a narcissistic mindset that cannot tolerate criticism as demonstrated by his frequent use of twitter to defend himself the morning after. He also employs braggadocio and insult to insulate himself from criticism by projecting his shortcomings on those who criticize him, but braggadocio and insult are not policy, and groping of women could not be defended by Narcissus himself, whether at the pool or elsewhere. Everyone lives in his or her own world to some extent, but Trump’s world and ours are poles apart and I, for one, refuse to live in his concept of reality, especially since he is attempting to impose his world on the rest of us with his bullying and bragging. I think America is or should be more – far more – than a marketplace for the rich to get richer and the rest of us exploited like ATM machines with Trump and his fellow billionaires our bankers.
    I saw and heard him yesterday on TV telling us that the Berlin massacre was “terrible, terrible,” and he was right about that. What he wasn’t right about was what he had to say afterwards; something to the effect (in defending his idea of a Muslim registry) that, “See. I was right.” His narcissism apparently kicked in so that even with the massacre the important thing to note (from his disturbed mindset) was that he was right. It is clear that he will use every such atrocity in the future wherever committed as justification for the formation of such a registry and other dictatorial tactics, using fear as his tool.
    It was a blue-eyed blond-haired American Catholic veteran who blew up the federal building in Oklahoma City some years ago, killing far more people than were killed in Berlin, so shall we have a Catholic registry? How about a Baptist registry? Lutheran? A veteran registry, or finally, an American registry? This man, unless deterred by Democrats and Republicans alike in defense of our democracy, seems headed for another “registry” game played by another man hatched in, of all places, Berlin, a man named Hitler, and if that doesn’t put us in the streets in the defense of our democracy, nothing will.

  10. Greetings Teresa. John is not going to answer you because he has no answer (s). Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah and Seasons Greetings to one and all. That even includes you John. 🙂 🙂 🙂 Irvin BAA

  11. JoAnn,

    “Marv; but we don’t know and won’t know what or who we are fighting till Trump is in office and Congress has accepted or denied his appointees.”

    We know exactly who we are fighting; Trump/Pence and his Tea Party. The only difference now and then is that the Nazis were much more “above board.”

    You’re concentrating too much on elections and partisan politics. We’re dealing with a powerful anti-democratic movement much like the Germans did in the 20’s and 30’s, except our problem is much more subterranean. Our only chance, the one that the German’s didn’t have, is to learn from history. Their’s.

  12. BOTH ” Conservatives , and liberal” causes have been prostituted by POP culture. THAT is why baby-boomer aged trendies , and their offspring are in such a dither . They have yet to wake up , and leave the Matrix.
    The left-right wing paradigm is built completely on lies meant to accelerate GLOBAL society.
    For those who insist THAT is a ” conspiracy ” theory , read David Rockefeller’s bio . He brags that it is real and he IS a part of it .
    Does the reader really believe that he , and the Rothschield family are just a bunch of BS artists ?

  13. Mark,

    “…..and the Rothschield family are just a bunch of BS artists?

    Mark it’s Rothschild, not Rothschield. Can you try to be a little more accurate and candid as to the point you’re trying to make?

  14. The 30-day run up to the Inauguration on January 20th reminds me of the “Twelve Days of Christmas” song:

    “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is a cumulative song, meaning that each verse is built on top of the previous verses [sort of like the waves in a POLITICAL TSUNAMI]. There are twelve verses, each describing a gift given by “my true love” on one of the twelve days of Christmas. There are many variations in the lyrics. The lyrics given here are from Frederic Austin’s 1909 publication that first established the current form of the carol. The first three verses run, in full, as follows:

    On the First day of Christmas my true love sent to me
    a Partridge in a Pear Tree.

    On the Second day of Christmas my true love sent to me
    Two Turtle Doves
    and a Partridge in a Pear Tree.

    On the Third day of Christmas my true love sent to me
    Three French Hens,[3]
    Two Turtle Doves
    and a Partridge in a Pear Tree.”

    ~from Wikipedia

  15. It seems to me that Gershon and others have stopped short of pointing out that, based on his proposed cabinet appointments, his unwillingness to appear in public, the constant smoke screen that Kelly Ann Conway provides and his “communication” via Twiiter, Pres Elect Trump doesn’t give a sh*t about the USA. He is never going to be accountable to the voters, even the ones that elected him. He’s acting like a cabinet member or beaurocrat “negotiating” pricing of Air Force One and bribing companies like Carrier; makes one wonder who’s going to be the acting president after his coronation.

    Gershon, and the press in general, have a yuge burden to carry following their tepid performance w Trump in the campaign; they were tough enough on Clinton- often in the absence of facts- but cowed at the thought of challenging Trump on any of his bullshit lies and misrepresentations.

    Conservatives are as dead as Democrats.

  16. OK Marv; donations to political party of choice, paying dues to Democratic National Committee, Indiana Democratic party are political in nature. ACLU, AARP, Indiana Coalition for Public Education, still waiting to hear from Planned Parenthood, signing petitions on line and received in the mail, filling out surveys, keeping abreast of actions of several organizations, writing letters, sending E-mails, doing research on line via numerous sites, following Sheila’s daily blog, also some trusted Facebook posts, member of Pantsuit Nation, following Women 4 Change and have offered to register as Muslim if Trump gets his way, copy of Constitution in my purse via Mr. Khan to give to anyone who lacks that knowledge, copy on coffee table since 2008, another copy next to my Bible by my computer, three dictionaries, speaking with family and friends to exchange information – and mainly to correct their misguided view of salvation by Trump and frequent reminders of the history of Hitler, Germany, Jews and the Holocaust, my “Bernie For President” and “Pence Must Go” signs still standing in my front yard to let neighbors know I have not accepted Trump/Pence or the Republican party. I am financially and physically limited in doing much more so – what do you suggest I – ALL OF US – do in addition to what we are trying to do?

  17. A moment of political awakening for me occurred many years ago in Indianapolis when I sat in the front row of a debate between William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal. They just eviscerated each other’s ideas but not each other as people (although they hurled some subtle and not so subtle barbs here and there). At the end they shook hands and then chatted it up…often breaking into big grins. I didn’t agree with many of Buckley’s conservative principles and arguments but I respected them, and him, and still do. But those principles have simply been crushed into dust and swept away by the cumulative lunacy of the GOP over many years, with the ascension of The Orange One being the nadir suggested by Gerson.

  18. JoAnn,

    You’re unbelievable. You’ve exhausted all traditional remedies. No one could have done more, but we’re dealing with a fundamental change. One that we have NEVER faced before in this country.

    I would suggest that we all get together before it’s too late and organize in an effective way (I like your COMRADE acronym) with the addition of something new; it is called effective COUNTER DECEPTION intelligence capabilities. You have to do more than SPEAK TO POWER in the next 30 days. You have to STAND UP TO POWER. And you can’t do that when it is INVISIBLE.

    No doubt the Koch Brothers are the main force behind the scene. But their power comes from more than $$$. Their dollars have allowed them to take control of the sub-surface system which eventually affects actions on the surface such as the creation of the Tea Party and the election of Donald Trump as President. You have to expose the DEEP SYSTEM.

    Professor and author C. Wright Mills warned us of this eventuality in his book the “Power Elite” many years ago.

    There is no other way NOW to bring back any semblance of POLITICAL EQUILIBRIUM. That’s just the way it is.

  19. JoAnn,

    Can you imagine what would happen to a team that didn’t SCOUT the Indianapolis Colts;
    Andrew Luck and his receivers would run wild. A defensive back, not only, must follow the surface moves of his opponent, but also, must attempt to “second guess” the sub-surface route in his opponent’s mind that will determine the moves that he will make. That can come about only from scouting [intelligence].

  20. The narrative continues to focus on Trump, when, IMO, the fine hand of the Pence handlers are evident all over the place.
    A registry of any kind, no matter how it is done, can be disrupted and should be. I will personally go in person to register as a Muslim. Then the bureaucracy has to prove that I am not. If enough people do the same, the process grinds to a halt.
    While reading “All the Light We Cannot See”, I found a very small, but particularly effective, method of resistance by the village’s old women to be of interest. They would go out in the morning into the countryside and change the road signs around. The NAZI soldiers were not familiar enough with the area to discover the misinformation until too late. The women were poor, old, and very clever, while maintaining their invisibility as a threat to the invaders.
    There are lots of ways to thwart the fascists who are about to take over. We have to be creative as the grass roots level first. Passive obstruction can be an effective tool for the invisible of which I am one.

  21. JoAnn,

    The Southern Poverty Law Center has never scouted the “quarterbacks.” All they do is a half-ass attempt to scout the receivers for a better name “The Klan” and for that, they have been awarded somewhere in the vicinity of $400,000.000. Are we going to continue to put all the blame on the Right for our predicament?

  22. In my mind, there’s a big problem with the $$$s. The Koch Brothers on the Right and the Southern Poverty Law Center on the LEFT. If those two problems were corrected, we might start getting somewhere.

  23. I don’t see Trump surrendering power peacefully if he loses the next election. That is the future I fear. As much damage as he can do in the next 4 years he can change this country into a dictatorship with the power of our immense military behind him. That seems to me the real danger of electing a fascist to our highest office.

  24. Well: I did my part. I voted Libertarian, donated Libertarian, worked the polls as a Libertarian, and in the past ran for office as a Libertarian. America had an excellent presidential candidate in Gary Johnson, and Hillary made sure he never got on the presidential debates, just as she fixed the democratic primaries to stop Bernie. A lot of democrats can share the blame for that. My understanding is that TRUMP was willing to have the Libertarian on the presidential debates. This was more important for the people as debate #1 had around 88 million viewers, and the majority didn’t even know there WAS a Libertarian candidate. So when Hillary and friends put the fix in, she (inadvertently) set up Trump to win, and thus most Democrats have very little to complain about.

  25. PJ, I agree with your comment. The Conservative Movement has been hijacked – car jacked what ever term you want to use. As a Boomer when I think of Conservative I think back to William Buckley. He had has own TV show. He spoke as an intellectual and with respect to others. I could disagree with him and did, but I never felt like he wanted to impose his thoughts on you, rather Buckley would try a reasoned approach to change your mind.

    A critical mass was achieved when the Republican Party fused the Bible Thumpers to achieve power, plus operating under the guidance of the Koch Bros and others in conjunction with campaign contributions. The Koch Bros had their agenda of deregulation (Laissez-faire). This vilification of regulations, played well with the Bible Thumpers who see the government as an enemy for even entertaining the ideas of Gay Rights, or Woman’s Right’s or Civil Rights. The elected Republicans can satisfy the base by resisting in words, acts and deeds anything that usurps Theocracy. At the same time the elected Republicans can follow the Koch direction back in the shadows.

    My concern at this point is the Democratic Party as it has done since Bill Clinton was President will continue to be cowering lap-dogs hiding under the bed. We will see if the Democratic Party has any back bone once the Trumpet’s Cabinet picks need to be reviewed in front of the Senate. If I were a betting person, I would bet the Democrats will resemble an octopus out of water on dry land, surrounded by hyenas.

  26. Marv; I love these two quotes, “effective COUNTER DECEPTION intelligence capabilities” is “certainly an addition of something new”

    Conservative: “favoring a policy of keeping things as they are, favoring established styles and standards”. There is no sign of “conservatism” coming from Trump, his supporters, his appointees or the GOP as we knew it.

    Temperament: “a person’s attitude as it affects what he or she says or does”. Is it Trump’s attitude affecting what he says AND does or is what he says and does affecting his attitude which cannot be counted on to remain except for brief periods of time and he keeps “walking back” what he says?

    Intelligence: “secret information collected about an enemy or possible enemy”, but as you use the term, can only be used in the abstract with Trump and his appointees; bringing us to your deduction of “effective Counter Deception intelligence capabilities”. The only issue we can be assured of is that they are the enemy of democracy as we have known it. Living under Pence’s “leadership”; guided by the hand of Mitch Daniels who followed in the footsteps of Goldsmith brings us to the point of “the fine hand of the Pence handlers are evident all over the place.”

    If Trump and Pence were to somehow disappear from the presidential administration we would then be under the guidance of Ryan. This is a situation with no good ending in sight.

    To quote Sheila, “They are radical and very, very dangerous.”

    To quote Marv, “JoAnn You can’t survive without fighting back.”

    To quote Trump, “Why can’t we just nuke ’em?”

  27. I read an excellent article in Counterpunch today.

    The Author states: Smooth-talking con artists are familiar figures in American folklore. The well-dressed hustler arrives in an unsuspecting town. He pitches some miracle cure or get-rich-quick scheme, door-to-door or from atop a soapbox. Then before his customers realize they’ve been duped, he steals away in search of his next mark.

    He further states: But when it comes to profiting off people’s hopes and fears, by far the most successful purveyors of lucrative lies and false promises are some of the denizens of this country’s palatial estates, corporate boardrooms, and corridors of political power.

    Further he writes: In my research as a psychologist, I’ve found that the psychological appeals used by those eager to maintain or extend their extraordinary wealth and power tend to target five key concerns in our daily lives: issues of vulnerability, injustice, distrust, superiority, and helplessness.

    Each is a fundamental lens through which individuals and groups make sense of the world, evaluate their circumstances, and decide what actions, if any, to take. Each is also linked to a basic question we ask ourselves every day: Are we safe? Are we treated fairly? Who should we trust? Are we good enough? Can we control what happens to us?

    Within the lens as the author puts it he examines the Trumpet’s campaign. He summarizes by saying: The 2016 election is over. Now it’s time to work together to make sure that Donald Trump’s hollow tales lose their luster and his self-aggrandizing motives are laid bare for all to see.

  28. I’m new to this forum. I don’t understand the references to Morris Dees and the SPLC as being one of the causes of the present political nastiness. How is this the case? Would anyone care to enlighten me? Thanks.

  29. I know that a frequent commenter to this blog is convinced that both the Anti-Defamation League and SPLC are somehow complicit with anti-democratic forces. I do not find those assertions persuasive.

  30. I, too would like to learn more about SPLC.
    And it is comforting that the conservatives and the progressives are on the same page in watching the dump. It is gonna be a long haul.

  31. Sheila,

    “I know that a frequent commenter to this blog is convinced that both the Anti-Defamation League and SPLC are somehow complicit with anti-democratic forces. I do not find those assertions persuasive.”

    I apologize for not being persuasive enough. So let me try to be a little more, or maybe much more persuasive.

  32. Marv, With all due respect for your very substantial contributions to discussions on this blog, I fear your fixation on these two organizations can be distracting. Perhaps you can make your case directly to those who have expressed an interest in pursuing this particular concern.

  33. Sheila,

    “Marv, With all due respect for your very substantial contributions to discussions on this blog, I fear your fixation on these two organizations can be distracting.”

    I don’t want to do anything to adversely affect the blog. It is a one of a kind and vitally important from my standpoint. So I will depart, however, holding on to what you describe, erroneously, as my fixation.

    fix-a-tion (fik sa’shen) n. l. a fixing or being fixed. 2. an obsession 3. a remaining at an early stage of psychosexual development.

    er-ro-ne-ours (e ro’ ne es) adj. containing error; mistaken; wrong–er-ro’ne-ous-ly adv.

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