Conversations With Conservatives
They number between 30 and 50 million in the U.S.
They are attorneys and laborers; janitors and CEOs; officers and enlisted personnel. Some have advanced degrees; others are self-educated ‘sagebrush philosophers.’
All have one thing in common – they believe in God, America, and the values of Conservatism.
It’s not just God – but the God of Their Fathers; the God of the Old Testament. The God of Abraham and Issac; Jesus and the Apostles. To them, the Word of God is real, and is encompassed in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.
They also believe in America – but it’s a version of America which is intertwined closely with religious belief – and in that nation, there’s no room for socialism, ‘liberal fascism’, pro-choice politics, or the ‘gay agenda’. Many believe that the current administration is operating in a manner which will, by design, destroy their ability to function as citizens. Still others believe their way of life – especially their religion – is under attack by liberals and others who support a decidedly anti-American worldview.
Demographically, they’re white – and although some minorities also self-identify as members, they are a distinct minority, making up only 2% of their number.
They speak English (almost 100%); they also believe everyone else should, too.
The majority are married; without exception, they are straight.
With few exceptions, they are all members of the Republican Party. Most have voted a straight party-ticket since they could vote – and while the majority are now too young to have voted for Ronald Reagan, they all view The Gipper as a sort of demigod; The Man Who Started It All.
For three months, I asked, cajoled, begged, and generally made a pest of myself to over fifty people from all walks of life and from all parts of America. The seven who responded to my questions and took the time to state their views and opinions are as varies as the American landscape. Here, I’m going to attempt to make sense of what they told me, and open a view into a movement which many of us do not understand.
My overtures were rejected by most – and in many cases, unkindly. “I got (sic) nothing to say to you libs”, said one man; a biker and veteran. “If you don’t pray to God I got (sic) nothing to say to you.”
The few who shared their dreams, fears, views –and part of themselves – are quoted below. All have been guaranteed anonymity; some were very clear on that point.
Each of them is an American.
“America is for American citizens. I don’t like illegal immigrants.” In asking for words which defined America, these were the first which I read. Conservative America defines the nation not by values, but by the makeup of its residents – and they are not favorably inclined to outsiders. “Soon, Islam will be the majority religion”, said another.
The more moderate Conservatives were quick to define America as a set of values. “American values are about family and honesty, fairness and freedom. Freedom to love, work and play as you choose.”
Others were even more blunt. “America was founded as a Christian nation. We’ve lost a lot of that and I don’t see us doing any better under Obama.”
Economics are a huge concern. This is translated into jobs, which to the American Right is about immigration, and job-export. “They give (sic) our jobs to the Mexicans and want to give em (sic) health care too”, observed one respondent. Increasingly, foreign workers are blamed for many of the nation’s ills.
Asked how to solve the problem, and the response was vague commentary about ‘socialism’ plus a lack of ‘genuine leadership’. High on the list is military service – three of the people to whom I spoke wanted a military man as the next President. “McCain woulda kicked ass in Iraq”, stated one person. “I prefer men as my President, as men who have had many yrs (sic) working in the system and even having military experience. After all how can you know how to defend this country if you haven’t been in the system or are familiar with how it works,” said another.
God, America, and the Christian Nation
Through the entire discussion, the concept of God wasn’t far from the surface. “America is a Christian nation”, said one. “Anyone who doesn’t like that should leave.” Those who believe this precept point to several things from our past – the Ten Commandments on the doors of the U.S. Supreme Court; the many anecdotal statements from early American political leaders, and their own upbringing.
Many view America’s current malaise as ‘God’s judgment’. “We’d be better off if Godly men were in charge of America”, said a man who describes himself as ‘just one of America’s working class.’ “We’ve abandoned God, and see where it got us.”
Others are more moderate. “That doesn’t mean Christianity necessarily, just Godly principals. And since most of those come from the Bible, it is seen as Christian”, said one woman.
The common thread is one of genuine fear – fear that God will judge America for its ‘sinful ways’ (among those being support of Roe v. Wade, gay marriage, and the new catchall, ‘socialism’).
Abortion rights and gay marriage is a huge issue, and prompts responses from extreme to almost-liberal. “Abortion is mass-murder. God will judge America for giving in to the atheists and others who made this possible”, said one man. “I don’t really like abortion itself, but I do feel it has a place and nobody should decide that for another”, replied a woman whose beliefs on the matter were the most-liberal of the Conservatives polled. “Marriage is between a man and a woman, period. There’s no need to sanctify gay marriage”, said one respondent, flatly. Even the more-moderate Conservatives appear united on this issue – “No one keeps gay folks from living together or loving each other so I don’t see the need for them having marriage.”
Unlike the responses to ‘hard’ problems facing us, the Conservatives I interviewed were far more black-and-white regarding social issues – they view these largely through a lens created by the twin influences of family and religion.
Obama and the Progressive Revolution
One thing is sure to unite the most moderate and the most Conservative of the right-wing/Fundamentalists which I interviewed – the issue of the current administration.
“He’s a socialist. I don’t believe he’s even a citizen”, said one man, who echoed the majority opinion. Even the most moderate of my respondents said “I do not believe he is natural born and a native. I didn’t like him before or while he was running. There was something to me that just didn’t feel right. He came from nowhere. And as far as I’m concerned (he) really didn’t have the qualifications to be President.”
Continuing, the same respondent said, “…you look into his life (and) there’s alot (sic) of holes. There are questions of him (sic) going to school in Indonesia at a time when to do so meant you became a citizen of that country.”
“Obama’s not legitimate”, summed up another.
To the Conservatives, the idea of a ‘Progressive Revolution’ was dead before it started. In their mind, the timeclock started when Obama was elected, and will wind down on election day in 2012, where – if they have their way – they’ll ‘take their country back’.
Back To The Future
“Back to where?” is the question most moderates, Democrats and other Progressives ask when they hear the term ‘take the country back’. Several people used terms like ‘usurp’; ‘Liberal coup’; and ‘illegitimate government.’ Most do not view the Obama administration as more than a four-year aberration – a blip on the screen – between the last conservative president and the next one. Depending on the person, ‘taking the country back’ is either an active verb implying wresting control from one they view as a temporary – and illegitimate – occupier of the role of president, or a timeline-based term, referencing taking the nation back to a time when (ostensibly) genuine ‘American values’ were practiced by the majority and the nation was in far better shape.
This linkage to the state of the nation and its values – combined with a fair bit of nostalgia – is another common thread of far-right American Conservatism as it’s practiced today.
The people I interviewed showed a shocking lack of knowledge about the basic document framing the country. Most believed that American liberals had destroyed the Constitution with their attempt to create a national healthcare system (“Nowhere in the Constitution does it say we got (sic) a healthcare system”); several believed that Christianity was the state religion (“We strayed from Christianity that’s why the Constitution don’t (sic) work”); others believed that basic rights – save for the Second Amendment right to own firearms – should be regulated (“Any freedom can go to the extreme”, said one woman in regard to the First Amendment right to free speech).
Fewer still can define the American guarantee of freedom. “Freedom is freedom but everyone is entitled to their own choice”; said one person. Others drew their notions from the romanticized ideals of their grandparents (“I’m free to do any damn thing I want.”)
Still others believed that America had a national language (we don’t); – and a national mandate to deport anyone who doesn’t learn it.
Universally, taxes are too high, and the blame is to be placed squarely on the liberals and Democrats for this. In fact, the responses here were so similar that they appeared to have been rehearsed. Taxation, to hear them talk, is a universal evil, and should be reserved for things like the military (military spending was high on their list of ‘values’), and not for things like welfare (“…anyone who wants a job in America can get one. That’s where they should get their health care”, said one person).
Immigration should be either stopped or slowed to a trickle, and should come from countries which share our ‘values’. “You do not come here, demand the country change to fit you and demand to have things that even many of its citizens cannot or don’t qualify for (sic).” Entitlement is a recurring theme with Conservatives – many of them fill some of the lowest rungs of the economic ladder; they view illegal immigrants as taking jobs which could be filled by ‘real Americans’ Providing immigrants – especially illegals – with anything past a ticket home is too much.
Most are fond of quoting ‘statistics’ from Conservative blogs and other related websites (World Net Daily is a favorite) which double the actual number of illegals in the U.S., reduce the actual number of uninsured Americans and disproportionately attribute crime to the immigrant community.
The White Man’s Burden – America; War; and the Middle East
The current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are not just police-actions to clear out terrorists and stabilize the region – they are literal holy-wars. One respondent paraphrased Ann Coulter – “We should kill ‘em all and convert whoever’s left to Christianity”. Several were in favor of using theatre-grade (multi-megaton) nuclear weapons (“My own personal view is drop the bomb…in my mind I believe that’s the only way to stop all this nonsense now – because it’s out of control”, said one woman.)
Christianity and the military are linked inextricably in the minds of most Conservatives. When Bush said ‘God told me to (invade Iraq)’, he had a legion of men and women in the military with Conservative values to help him fulfill his divinely-inspired mission. “If your (sic) against the army, your (sic) against God”, said one man. “This is a religious war. If we lose, Christianity loses, and the world will become islam (sic).”
The concepts of church/state separation – or of a non-religious, non-political military – do not apply in the worldview of the American far-right Conservative. To them, Iraq was not about WMD’s, and Afghanistan was not about AlQaeda; both were – and are – about eliminating the threat of a religion they perceive as evil, destructive, and competitive with their own.
The Social Construct – and Parting Thoughts
By and large, America’s far-right Conservatives are insular. They began educating their own children in earnest about thirty years ago, and my responses echoed this. “I wouldn’t send my kids to a state run school”, said one man. His reasons? “…they’re too damn libral (sic).” Religious-based education is a priority for most Conservatives. “Atheists run the schools”, said one respondent flatly.
Information is also insular. While one woman said she “gather(s) (her) info from all over and make(s) up (her) own mind”, she also was quick to say, “I rarely watch tv and when I do I’ll watch Glenn Beck and others.” Fox News is a mantra to most. “I watch Fox”, said one man. “The rest of the media is liberal.” Websites are a favorite, also – and they’re not shy about rejecting what they view as a ‘liberal slant’ on the news. World Net Daily is, as mentioned earlier, a favorite (mentioned four times from my respondents).
This insular Conservative society, devoid of other points of view, pluralism, or other exposure has created a polarized nation – but most Conservatives don’t see it as such. “What I don’t like is the disrespect that’s going around out there online and in the media. It’s getting ugly out there”, said one woman. Nowhere in my responses did I see anyone taking any responsibility for the polarization, or making efforts to communicate with or understand people with opposing viewpoints.
Conservatives view the concept of social conscience with mistrust. “I don’t agree with this sharing the wealth thing. It doesn’t work. We have seen that with other countries who (sic) have done it.” Words like ‘socialism’ and ‘Communism’ are tossed about like badminton-shuttlecocks. “I don’t like welfare, and the liberals who promote it”, said another. The idea of government-based welfare is anathema. “The government is not here to take care of us, that’s our job and if we can’t do it, its (sic) our families (sic) job to help.” In their worldview, the Church as a collective body should be permitted government funds to operate charities. In this, former President Bush’s ‘faith-based initiatives’ were, in their mind, a stroke of genius.
I’ve deliberately not drawn any conclusions from these statements, save for the most-obvious; while some of the viewpoints expressed here by my anonymous respondents are, to the eyes and ears of many, extreme, I’ve also refrained from commentary.
The people who responded are all Americans. Some show the glimmers of leadership which might make for a second Great Generation. Their effort – and views – will be crucial in shaping an America with something we all want – a future.
By: Astra Navigo
They number between 30 and 50 million in the U.S. They are attorneys and laborers; janitors and CEOs; officers and enlisted personnel. Some have advanced degrees; others are self-educated ‘sagebrush philosophers.’ All have one thing in common – they believe in God, America, and the values of Conservatism.