Saturday, December 12, 2015

Defining American Conservatism



It’s interesting to me to look up the definition of ‘conservative.’ I would have expected one definition at least to be ‘someone who conserves.’ But alas, that explanation fails the current list and I find instead:

Adjective: Believing in or supporting tenets of the political right: "The Conservative authoritarians who were more inclined to violence."

Noun: A member of a Conservative Party.

Wouldn’t one at least expect a throw-away to those who care about the planet, or possibly those who seek to maintain (conserve)—at least in the American context--our freedoms, willingness to welcome the poor and disadvantaged of the world and possible support for the upward mobility for which all citizens strive?

Nary a word in that context.


So, given that the word itself has been hijacked, let’s take a look at the scorecard under its current (and woefully political) definition. The ‘political right’ in the dictionary definition rather neatly…

Scrapped all hope of environmental sensitivity, opting instead to plunder the earth’s fossil-fuel resources, when known alternatives were available, thereby melting billion year-old glacial polar caps; how conservative of them

Put at risk world-wide potable water resources by agricultural diversion, fracking, industrial waste and a complete ignorance of conservation—the sole remaining synonym for conservative.

Removed the tools from all those federally created toolboxes that once governed the oversight of water and air pollution, banking and commerce, as well as the maintenance of our vital national infrastructure. Where’s my wrench when a wrenching situation occurs?

Introduced (by every available means) fear, loathing and mistrust into a society that was built and thrived upon personal safety, respect for law and the reliability of strangers as its default positions.

…I’ve left out a bunch and all (or most) of that reworking of a perfectly honest and understandable word occurred during the past five decades. Tag it on the ‘Great Communicator’ for starters, but it was aided and abetted by both parties with equal disdain.

But we Americans will be okay, because we’re at our best with our backs against the wall and they are not yet there. Dangerously close perhaps, but not yet in our Butch Cassidy moment.

The Statue of Liberty, a gift from The People of France, says it best:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

That’s the ‘golden door’ we once proudly opened and will reopen one day again.

In the meantime, all we have is language and our ability to use it in quiet conversation with those who have other opinions. “In the breakdown of the individual or society, language is always the first victim.” Writer Gore Vidal nailed the concept pretty well, as he was a man who cared a great deal about how ideas were expressed:

“As societies grow decadent, the language grows decadent, too. Words are used to disguise, not to illuminate, action: you liberate a city by
destroying it. Words are to confuse, so that at election time people will
solemnly vote against their own interests.”