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Capitulating Conservatives

July 26, 2020

I have been pondering one of those questions that appears not to have an answer.

If we think back on the Reagan conservatives—and they were numerous– it is not hard to recall what they claimed to have stood for politically.  They were anti-red ink, for free trade, and understood the need for international alliances like NATO.  And if asked would have decried the use of troops sent into Southern states to protect civil rights marchers in the 1960s.

Speed through time to 2020 and there are scenes of federal law enforcement agents who look like soldiers in Portland, Oregon, with Donald Trump threatening to unleash thousands more in locations nationwide.   Meanwhile, too many conservatives are giddy and gleeful to watch this take place in our nation.

I can rationalize how it is nice to be among the ‘popular crowd’ in high school but does that same mentality explain the current status of conservatives in the nation who seemingly will bow to anything Trump bloviates into a microphone?  Am I to believe that small-government Reagan conservatives have now signed onto this use of force by the federal government?  Has political tribalism become so intense that long-held beliefs are shucked off like the husk from an ear of corn?

I am not making an argument about the efficacy (or not) of the use of these federal forces, but rather the acceptance by many conservatives of this expanded role. What changed to now allow for applause for this use of federal troops from a political base of the GOP long opposed to a larger foot-step from the federal government?

This weekend I read a perfectly-toned newspaper column by Dave Zweifel.  His backstory to the dangerous autocratic moves being undertaken by Trump, and endorsed by conservatives is a must-read.

It wasn’t all that long ago when the right-wing conspiracy theorists were insisting that Barack Obama was plotting to enact martial law, commandeer farm land and food supplies and lock up his political enemies in concentration camps run by the Federal Emergency Management Administration.

Fox News’ Glenn Beck and the martial arts actor Chuck Norris were all over it and thousands of their followers came to believe it was absolutely true.

Then there were the stories in 2015 that a military training exercise being planned in remote areas in Texas that included special forces like the Green Berets and Navy Seals was an elaborate plot by Obama to take over the Lone Star state.

The right-wing internet sites were filled daily with details on how Obama was going to pull off this elaborate and audacious scheme, detaining law abiding Texans in Walmart stores that had recently been closed — all part of the plot, of course. Who knew that the ultra-conservative Walton family would be in on this dirty deed?

It wasn’t just the nut cakes on the fringe who were sure this was going to happen. Polls found that a full 32% of Republicans in Texas believed the conspiracy and, just to be sure, Texas’ governor, Greg Abbot, sent his National Guard troops to keep an eye on the exercise.

We all are aware that Trump has an autocratic nature, and has continually demonstrated a lack of regard for constitutional norms.  We have also witnessed his willingness to do anything that will help him personally even when it runs counter to the needs of our nation and citizens.

What I then find so dismaying and concerning is the ‘nothing to see here’ attitude from many conservatives who are otherwise rational and seemingly patriotic.  Why are they so easily bent and misshaped into being Trump’s pawns?

It is a question that we may have to wait for historians to flesh out for us, along with so many other deviations from norms that have settled over our nation since the election of 2016.

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