Social Conservatism is Dead

By Graham Glover

Finally, it’s over. After a long and slow decay into political oblivion, social conservatives need to hang it up. Their movement is dead – completely devoid of life.

Although many within its ranks didn’t want to admit it, social conservatism has been losing ground for years. Whatever it stood for in the past, those aspirations are now nothing but political fantasy. If it didn’t die off earlier, 2016 will mark the official ending of those who look to the U.S. Government to have any role is shaping a socially conservative ethos. With the nominations of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, this movement is done.

As one who is sympathetic to much of their agenda, I couldn’t be happier. Good riddance to this dreadful movement. Many of us thought social conservativism would do great things for American politics, but history has shown that our hope and our efforts were grossly misplaced.

Despite what is so blatantly politically obvious, some social conservatives still wax nostalgically for a time when they wielded political influence (when this was, I’m not exactly sure – what it produced, I have no idea). But they are kidding themselves if they think they will ever be anything but pawns in the grand scheme of American politics. Seriously, it’s time – it’s past time for social conservatives to exit the political arena.

This year’s election put the final nail in the coffin. Hillary Clinton typifies exactly where the Democratic Party is and will sadly remain on social issues – left of left. The Democratic Party shows zero sign of ever retreating on any issue dear to social conservatives. Indeed, it continues to become more progressive – more relativistic, as each election cycle passes. It’s a wonder anyone can figure out what remains sacred in the social realm for Democrats. And so long as the Democrats control the White House (which I predict they will by huge margins this fall) and subsequently the Supreme Court, there is almost no likelihood that social conservatives will see anything they like become law.

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The nomination of Donald Trump though is the real kicker. Social conservatives have lamented for the past 8 years that the Republican Party’s problem is that it hasn’t nominated candidates that are conservative enough. Ted Cruz certainly fit the mold of a hardcore conservative. Senator Cruz is about as far right as one can get. But the Republicans didn’t nominate a social conservative. They didn’t even nominate a conservative. They nominated the Donald, who is the ultimate repudiation of everything that looks or sounds like social conservatism. The Republican Party, in a different, but equally forceful way, has rejected social conservatism as well.

If this wasn’t enough (no parties supporting you, no candidates being nominated), the real question social conservatives should ask is: what has our movement produced? In other words, what has the millions of dollars raised, the thousands of rallies held, and the hundreds of candidates put forth done for the political cause of social conservatism?

What lasting law or cultural shift has the social conservative movement created? If anything, the issues important to social conservatives have become less popular. Their crusade has done little, if anything, to affect a real societal change.

Why is it then that social conservatives still think if they work a little harder, nominate a more conservative candidate, or just pick up one more seat on the court that things will finally swing their way? Honestly, social conservatives are delusional. Not only is the movement dead, it has no chance of being brought back to life. The issues at the core of social conservatism have no political possibility of ever being implemented.

Does this mean the issues important to social conservatives should be ignored? Of course not. Am I suggesting that conservatives should capitulate and vote for things that violate their conscience and continue to pervert our land? Absolutely not.

What I am saying though is that it’s time to take the fight elsewhere. It’s time for social conservatives to regroup and refocus on the only place where these issues can really change lives – the pulpit.

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21 comments

  1. I still know a few million social conservatives – not dead, really not dead. Trump is actually the resounding answer to the lack of any progress on any conservative issue in America for a long time. Conservative politicians have not even fought their chosen battles. They have been emasculated by political insiders and a PC hard press. Trump was chosen because he will not be silenced, he will accomplish his purpose with or without politicians (his nomination and apparent immunity to the many attempts at political assassination essentially proves that out so far), and put things on a different footing – hopefully, where conservatives might have a better voice, not a dead one. He seems to working on that even now.

    If I end up wrong about this, so be it, but he’d have to be a complete liar. I will not have Hillary the criminal for president, if I can help it. I do believe that Trump is the only one who can and will help with this, despite the efforts of his enemies in the party and out.

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    1. Don, what is it about Trump that you, as a conservative, find appealing? What would his presidency do for social conservatism?

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      1. I think his presidency, even his candidacy, is symptomatic of a political conservatism that is utterly unresponsive to the concerns of the constituency. He himself is not the whole solution, but he is the beginning of a solution that will demand that politicians should do their jobs for the sake of the country, and not for political expediency in pursuit of power – even for nominal conservatives. Some of what he wants moves toward conservatism – fiscal reform, constitutional courts, trade policy, and immigration policy, for some examples. He is not in full alignment with congressional conservatives even on these things, but he will make them respond and they will prefer conservative solutions. Whether it is his change or a mix, it will be an improvement.

        As for social conservatism, he is a mixed bag on that specifically, but he will not be pushed by PC panic and he is thoughtful on the issues that come before him. In any case, the response that he demands will hopefully bring about a trend of responsiveness, which is mostly what any reasonable conservative wants. Right now politicians don’t respond at all, except in speeches. If that begins to happen in earnest, conservatism will surge again.

        It’s not so much his conservatism that interests me – though he is better than any Democrat on record. It’s the trend toward responsiveness and a hope of renewed action in congressional conservatives that interests me. I want a better situation in my country, that I love, and that is what he says he wants, too. We’ll see. Thanks for asking. Just so you know, a lot of conservatives think I’m as nuts as you do.

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  2. Graham, I’m not sure the pulpit would be the friend of the American social conservative. Outside of the issue of abortion, I don’t see a lot of overlap with God’s Word.

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    1. Jean, I think I know where you are coming from and if past dialogue on my posts is any indication, I’m pretty sure I agree with you. However, do you not agree with my point that social issues are better worked, better solved, from the pulpit (the Gospel) and not Capitol Hill (the Law)?

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  3. Graham,

    I definitely agree that the new heart and renewed spirit (something is making me think of Psalm 51 for some reason) are the fruit of the Gospel, and I’m sure that there are many fine Lutheran pastors who can rightfully distinguish Law and Gospel. However, from my experience Law/Gospel preaching is almost non-existent within evangelicalism.

    I would prefer if the pulpit was reserved for the preaching of Christ.

    There may be a place for social issues in Bible Study or Sunday School, but one must be careful to distinguish between the 2 kingdoms. I bet 2 equally confessional Lutherans could each teach tax policy using biblical principles and some up with relatively diverse solutions.

    The other danger with dealing with social issues in the local church is the sensitivity that is required to ensure that all people are welcomed, listened to and respected. Christians who have passionate social and/or political views and be very unpleasant to be around if you do not share their views, and often they don’t really care. So, the church really should be a safe zone for all types of sinners.

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    1. You make a really good point about social conservatives and their approach to dealing with people in general. It’s sad how that gets brought into the church as well. I am trying to unlearn many of these habits that I developed as a social conservative warrior. Now I’m mostly jaded when it comes to politics, but at least I’m more pleasant to talk to. 🙂

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    2. Jean, good points. Perhaps I should have said “the churches/our congregations” instead of the pulpit. Agree that preaching on these issues can be difficult. The preaching task should always be about proclaiming Christ.

      I just want the Church to take ownership on the lives our members live. I think we have turned over the responsibility to the State, which I why I think we wed ourselves to the Religious Right, et al.

      And yes, the Church should be a safe zone for discussion.

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      1. Can’t we just say that the government has it’s proper and God-given place, and it should be doing that? That’s not a lot different than saying preachers should preach Christ crucified.

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  4. Short note now – might go into length later. Worn out from moving.

    G2 – what you are calling “conservatism” is nothing of the sort – not even with poor disappoinTED. The GOPe, the NRO crowd, Billy Boy Kristol and their various minions online are more properly defined “neo-conservatives.”

    But understanding the distinction cannot be as anywhere near as simplistically summarized as you have tried to do, and yes, the case can be made, in great part, that Trump has a far better understanding of what “conservatism” in America actually is.

    Of course, that means delving into Strauss and Irv Kristol and Saul Alinsky, as well as Mises and Russell Kirk, and not automatically buying into the Bill Buckley version of conservatism.

    All of that is not neatly summarized in a few paragraphs on a blog. And just what the dickens does putting the modifier “social” before “conservative” have anything to do with it? And to be very sure, neither of the major political parties have had a clue for decades – even longer.

    It is, true, convenient to argue or defend the shallowness that emanates forth from both parties.

    The GOP is not conservative, and the Dems are far removed from “liberalism” proper.

    Maybe more later –

    Pax – jb

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    1. JB, great points. Yes to everything you said about the nuances of conservatism. But as you note, this is a blog, so there are often broad generalizations one must make in a 600-900 word article. Your point about the Dems not being authentically liberal (another loaded term) is also spot on.

      Why the modifier? Well, maybe I should have chosen something else, but I think you get who my argument is against: the cultural warriors of the modern day GOP, the Religious Right or what’s left of them.

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  5. The Alt-Right is really the force behind Donald Trump. I’m pretty sure one of my closest friends from school, whom I still keep in contact with, is a member of those who could be considered the “alt right.” My friend is half-Vietnamese, half-white, his wife is Filipina, and he adopted her son from a previous relationship. He’s a good dude, basically. He works hard as a real estate agent, and he tries to instill values in his children.

    He’s a vague sort of theist with strong libertarian leanings. He has read a lot, and he has been interested in politics since a very young age. He’s always been sort of a social outsider, he plays video games, and he used to do amateur hacking for fun.

    What’s my point? It’s guys like my friend who support Donald Trump. They often say racist things, especially in the comments section of new articles, not because they actually harbor any racial sentiments, but mostly for shock value. They don’t like to be bullied into being silent. They don’t like the fact that our country has abandoned common sense on both the left and the right. They really don’t take politics too seriously, and are generally incredibly jaded.

    So why are they voting for Donald Trump? They don’t care about Social Conservatism. They may be against abortion personally, but they really don’t care that much. Their general approach to life and politics is pragmatic to Machiavellian. There concern is for their country and their interests, and they are tired of politicians who are either held captive to the religious right, or are too liberal and squishy to have any convictions or get anything done. The Alt-Right is the logical default position for many who grew up believing that either there is no God, or at least we can’t know much about him. They’re too smart and to real to be optimistic or idealistic. They like Trump because he’s not terribly religious, he’s not a partisan hack, and he says what he thinks. He doesn’t let the liberal media bully him. Instead, he challenges their right to define the parameters of public discourse. Trump approaches politics primarily from a Machiavellian stance. He doesn’t have too many ideals, he talks about doing what works. He talks about doing what needs to be done. I think that is Trumps appeal.

    Here is a great article profiling the Alt-Right:

    http://www.breitbart.com/tech/2016/03/29/an-establishment-conservatives-guide-to-the-alt-right/

    Note: I will not vote for Trump. I’ll probably refrain from voting for the president this election cycle.

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    1. Ken, I will not vote for Trump either. Still not sure who I will vote for, but I’ll certainly cast a ballot. (As an aside, I do no agree with the sentiment that if you don’t vote for Trump you are necessarily supporting Hillary.)

      Good points above on those who are drawn to Trump. It’s just mind-numbing on how many support him, no matter what he says, how often he contradicts himself, or how little policy he actually discusses.

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      1. I live in California. My state will chose Hillary, regardless of my vote. If you have time, you should definitely check out that Breitbart article. It’s probably one of the most important articles written in years. I think it is going to explain a lot of what happens in this country in the next 10-15 years, at least until the Alt-Right Millenials settle down and become the mainstream conservatives that they currently deride.

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    2. Ken, what you said is absolutely not me. That is assumption that is entirely an opinion without evidence or basis in fact, whatever that expert said. Look at what I said, not what you think I would say.

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      1. Hey Don,

        I don’t think every Trump supporter is a member of this new movement coined “Alt-Right” but I have interacted with a number of people who would probably fall into that category, and they tend to support Trump. What is interesting is that none of them are rich, middle-aged white men. They’re actually young Asian Americans who are incredibly tech savvy, very well read, and were formerly Ron Paul supporters. They like to troll people online with racist comments just to get a reaction, they’re tired of political correctness, they dislike/fear big government, and they have a sort of Ayn Rand, Social Darwinian, Libertarian bent. One of my best friends growing up falls into that category, as well as a few of the guys that he hangs around with that I’m still friends with on Facebook.

        I don’t think all Trump supporters are members of this new “Alt Right” movement, and I sympathize with a lot of the sentiments you’ve expressed. I also understand where some of my friends from my home town (just south of Seattle) are coming from. I’m a veteran, and I’m incredibly frustrated with the way we’ve fought these wars. I’m a government employee, and I have absolutely no faith in our bureaucratic system to get anything useful accomplished. This country is in serious trouble, and Donald Trump seems like he’s willing to tackle issues head-on. He doesn’t let the PC police bully him, and he says what he thinks off the cuff, even if it gets him in hot water. There is a lot there that is attractive.

        However, here is the main reason I cannot support Trump. “Mexico isn’t sending their best people. They’re rapists and murderers… some of them are good people, I suppose…” Combine that with his rhetoric about deporting all illegals, and then building a wall and forcing Mexico to pay for it, and I get a bit uneasy. My wife’s parents were illegal immigrants who got amnesty under Reagan. I want to give Trump the benefit of the doubt, but I’m just not in a position to do that. His rhetoric makes me uneasy. I fear that maybe it won’t just be the illegal immigrants he goes after. If he successfully rounds up everyone who is currently illegal and deports them, which I don’t think is the right thing to do, but if he does… what will come next? Will it only be those who are currently illegal? What about those who received amnesty in the past? What about Latinos who have been here for a couple of generations. It just makes me uneasy. I’m not willing to compare him with Hitler or unequivocally say Trump is a racist, but some of his comments make me uneasy. My guess is that he is doing a lot of it for shock value. My guess is that he says things to upset the politically correct thought police. My guess is that he doesn’t really mean everything he says. Unfortunately, I don’t know him personally, so I can’t rest on that assumption, especially given the fact that he is running to be the most powerful man in the world.

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      2. Ken, understood, really. But the alternative is 50 times scarier, especially for a veteran of these skirmishes. Not only is she not conservative, she is at least as far fetched liberal as Obama. She is a horrifying criminal in several departments of her performance (the classified e-mails, the Benghazi masterpiece of indifference and stupidity, and that crazy and corrupt “charitable” fund she operates). She is known to be one who will continue to do these things, to massacre international policy, to socialize everything she can get her hands on, and scandalize every virtuous institution this country has. Trump doesn’t compare to any of that if you look under the PC knee-jerks we all enjoy (mine, too). I don’t like a lot of what he says, but what lies behind it is what I want to be spoken and executed in government. Honestly, I can’t fathom a decision that should be clear enough to be of benefit to the Clinton campaign. Still, all that said, I understand the hesitancy. I am just as nervous about the outcome, but there is no way it will approach any paralysis toward sabotaging Hillary.

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  6. Don, I appreciate your input into the discussion. Not everyone engages these issues/forums. If others think your nuts, I’d hate to think what they think of me! Ha!

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    1. Graham, the best we can hope for is that nuts is a relative and subjective term that is well deserved in us.

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