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Conservatism in the Age of Trump: This is Not a Test, or is it?

By Christa Castrignano

The tumultuous events preceding this year’s CPAC gathering has shed light on a concern that has been the elephant in the room, pardon the pun, for Republicans nationwide. That issue: the definition and defense of true conservative values. Until now, conservative Republicans had a distinct niche within the American political landscape. Whether or not one agreed with its tenets, they were undeniable. CPAC’s embrace of Milo Yiannopoulos, however brief, represents the capitulation of those core values.

Although CPAC ultimately rescinded his invitation as keynote speaker, the damage is done. The waters have officially been muddied. The very notion that they embraced his alt-right worldview, if even for a short amount of time, has cast a dark shadow on the integrity of the mainstream conservative movement. CPAC may have uncoupled from Yiannopoulos, but Steve Bannon, the President’s senior adviser and architect of the alt-right movement, remains a distinguished guest and speaker at their event this year.

Contrary to popular belief, the alt-right and conservatism are not synonymous. Rather, their views are diametrically opposed. The tacit endorsement of Yiannopoulos and Bannon by CPAC and the GOP establishment does not change the definition of conservatism. It just represents the disappointing acquiescence of the leadership to a vocal minority. It began with the GOP embracing Trump for fear of him running interference as a 3rd party candidate, and then catering to his supporters, for fear of losing their party support. Gradually, like a frog in slowly boiling water, they seemingly allowed their core values to be stripped away, leading to their current embrace of key tenets of the alt-right philosophy.

The difference between the two is similar to that of the distinction between patriotism and nationalism. True conservatism, like patriotism, emanates from the affection for one’s country, and reflects a willingness to defend its independence from adversaries. Conservatives, like those who are patriotic, are motivated by the concept of protecting America’s right to be independent.

It reflects pride of and dedication to this country, its people, and way of life. It is the belief that what makes our country different is what makes it special. And that American Exceptionalism is best maintained through free trade, robust states rights, fostering family values, decreased regulations, and a strong foreign policy agenda that values relationships with our allies. It champions the notion that in America, the only thing needed for dreams to come true is work ethic and determination.

Conversely, nationalism, like the alt-right, is based on the unforgiving belief in the superiority of their country over the others. It reflects pure allegiance to the state itself; the desire for domination. Nationalism is fueled solely by the desire for superiority and power. The country is a means to obtain it. President Trump’s goals of building walls, deporting those that do not “belong,” and the desire to transform our foreign policy agenda from tough and benevolent peacemaker to abject mercenary all reflect clearly nationalistic goals. The President’s moral equivocation of Russia with the United States (citing them both as “killers,”) reflects an unprecedented and alarming step towards the dark path of nationalism.

Do not be lulled into a false sense of security by the uninviting of Yiannopoulos. As stated before, Steve Bannon, the man whom Trump appears to trust most of all his advisers, is still warmly embraced by CPAC and the GOP establishment.  He is set to appear at the event today to speak alongside Reince Priebus. When watching, keep in mind that this man once told Ronald Radosh of The Daily Beast, that he was “…a Leninist.”  When the bewildered reporter asked him to explain, Bannon said, “Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too.  I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”  He also told the Hollywood Reporter that, “…darkness is good…Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan. That’s power. It only helps us when they (liberals) get it wrong. When they’re blind to who we are and what we’re doing…”  Such beliefs are clearly antithetical to the true conservative – and American – ideology. The fact that he has been exalted to the highest levels of government, and now CPAC as well, is beyond concerning.

It has become clear that the Republican Party, and mainstream conservative movement has been overtaken by the alt-right agenda. Genuine patriotic conservatives and moderates must take note. The Party of Reagan is increasingly becoming the Party of Bannon. The best way to counteract it is by accepting the truth, and turning to true conservative leaders, such as Evan McMullin.

McMullin’s New Conservative Movement has become a hub for those who believe unflinchingly in Reagan’s Shining City on a Hill. Also, leaders in Congress who speak on principle, and for the truth, such as Senators McCain, Graham, and Rubio; Representatives Amash and Kinzinger, should be supported in their continued efforts to do so. If we stay vigilant, and stand steadfastly on principle, refusing to accept the nationalistic platform espoused by the GOP and CPAC, they will be left with nothing but a third of the Republican Party, and a staggeringly high unpopularity rating. Some intermittent battles may be lost, but the war will be won. And to the victors go the spoils: the heart and soul of this country. It is more than worth the effort.

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