Conservatism, as a political philosophy, espouses a commitment to liberty, the market economy and existing traditions and institutions. In the United States, conservatives adhere to the traditionalist principles in the Constitution and the values that the Founding Fathers included in the documents that created our nation. Essentially, conservatives want to conserve. Incremental change should always be preferred to radical change. Government involvement in our citizens’ lives is overreach.
In the United States, the Republican Party is ostensibly the party of conservatism. But recent action by Republicans — politicians and citizens alike — contradict many of the values they claim to stand for as conservatives.
For example, many businesses are considering requiring that customers show proof of a COVID-19 vaccine before using their services. This is the free market at work — privately-owned businesses implementing guidelines that allow for access to their goods and services should customers choose to adhere to them. But Gov. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., signed an executive order banning businesses from requiring vaccine “passports.”
As a Republican, DeSantis should believe in the independence of businesses and oppose government intervention into their practices. But forbidding businesses to do what they believe is best for them constitutes interference. Additionally, the state of Florida requires vaccinations to send children to school, both public and private, showing that DeSantis’s actions are a political ploy, rather than meaningful policy, as the polarization of COVID-19 and its policies continues.
Another much, much more extreme example is the storming of the Capitol. The actions of the rioters in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6 were contrary to everything conservatives should stand for. Violently attacking an American institution neither upholds the Constitution nor promotes incremental change — it, in fact, is the opposite of both of those things.
If Republican politicians vehemently denounced this event as soon as it occurred and continually held this position, this wouldn’t represent how the Republican Party has abandoned conservatism. But many Republicans refuse to accept what this event means for the party and the country.
In the immediate aftermath of the insurrection on Jan. 6, one in five Republicans approved of the mob. Prominent Republicans have spread the baseless conspiracy theory that the rioters were actually so-called antifa sympathizers, rather than supporters of former President Donald Trump. There is no proof that this is true, but that didn’t stop Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., from saying on the House floor that there was “pretty compelling evidence” that the people who stormed the Capitol were involved with antifa.
Of course, there are examples of Republicans who retain conservative principles. The Republican state and local officials who spoke out against the false claims of voter fraud did so because they believe in the integrity of American democracy and in protecting the Constitution.
Further, on April 5, Gov. Asa Hutchinson, R-Ark., vetoed a bill that would have restricted the ability of transgender people to access health care because “the state should not presume to jump into the middle of every medical, human and ethical issue.” Still, these events became news because they were surprising in a time where many of the opinions held by Americans seem to be based on cultural division rather than political ideology or philosophy.
Republicans have abandoned their adherence to small government and traditional values and have fallen victim to culture wars. Rather than focusing on crafting quality policy, Republican politicians and citizens are focused on opposing any action taken by the Democrats and defending the so-called victims of cancel culture.
Republicans are bound to no ideology other than providing an outlet for people disillusioned with the Democratic Party. They have abandoned the political and religious conservatism that has guided the party for most of its history. While there are likely still Republicans in office that abhor the policies and actions of their party, they refuse to speak out against them. This could be because they fear their voters and colleagues who fully agree with the party’s recent initiatives, or because they know staying silent is the best way to further their careers.
Parties are allowed to grow and change as time passes; changing party platforms is what has allowed for social progress and the changing role of government. But the Republican Party isn’t adapting to current society.
The party is claiming to be conservative when its actions prove otherwise, and it is advocating for things that true conservatives would never want. If the Republican Party were truly dedicated to conservatism, it would try to apply the founding documents of the United States to the current state of politics and society.
Lydia Storella is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.