I awoke on the morning of Jan. 6 dusting off ideas for another column. The U.S. Senate had just tipped to Democratic control in a decidedly anti-Trump vote. Should I snidely thank the president for decisively uniting the Democratic Party and its complete takeover of the federal government? Or tackle something closer to my beat—the more complex and substantial topic of the Virginia legislature’s costly clean energy policies?
Then I read the paper. The conservative Wall Street Journal opined that Trump was “unhinged from political reality.” I thought for a moment that the modifier, “from political reality,” was unnecessary.
Later as I watched TV, unhinged historical figures poured over my brain. There’s Sampson pulling down columns in the temple, screaming about a stolen election amid woe-is-me fueled fury.
Or the Madness of King George, another slightly unhinged leader who suffered defeat, and wondering if our president’s minions were struggling to contain his rages.
Images of Nuremburg dance around my cranium while Trump encouraged tens of thousands at the huge “Save America March” outside The White House to “be wild” and walk down to the Capitol. “I’ll be there with you,” he said. Apparently, his bone spurs prevented the walk or affected his courage. He watched from afar as mobs, thugs, and punks assaulted the seat and center of American democracy.
Later that night, as I watched hoodlums carrying Trump flags assault broadcast journalists and destroy their equipment at the Capitol, more images of Goebbels and his Nazi propaganda machine floated in my mind. Find a scapegoat and smash the glass. Attack the fake media (and where did they get that idea?) that doesn’t believe the election was stolen.
And all the while, I keep coming back to: What is conservatism and what do Republicans stand for? Don’t we respect the rule of law? Are not elections, whether by popular vote or the electoral college, the ultimate expression of our laws? Do we not stand for the principles of federalism, where the states conduct elections and the states’ voters determine the presidential outcome?
Do we or do we not trust the people to self-govern? My own congressman, one who is a constitutional expert and astute student of American history, joined a lawsuit to overturn voter will in OTHER states. It always seems to be the OTHER guy’s fault. Your guy won. Therefore, your guy’s votes are fraudulent.
I have long opined in these columns about the rabid power of both political parties to control the electoral process for partisan gain at the expense of voter intent. Neither the Rs nor the Ds have clean hands. Witness the recent unsuccessful attempt by Virginia Democrats to stop gerrymandering reform by opposing the independent redistricting commission. Or the Republican nominating process for the 5th Congressional District race – an immense district that extends from Virginia’s northern to the southern border—where voters were forced to travel hundreds of miles, during a pandemic, to a church parking lot in the backyard of one candidate. Less than 3,000 voters determined the nominee (and ultimate winner) and now represents almost 800,000 citizens.
It all represents partisan voter disenfranchisement.
Conservatives have long railed over government overreach and progressive’s usurpation of individual rights, yet assert government control of American women and their bodily rights. Conservatives extol the power of independent businesses and capitalism but supported government control of the economy when Trump’s tariffs effectively picked winners and losers.
The U.S. dollar underpins worldwide commerce. But this life-long conservative long ago fell out with his party when Tea Party leaders seriously considered momentously defaulting on U.S debt payments over tiffs with the president’s budget. Where is the conservatism of limited government and fiscal frugality when Republicans supported tax cuts paid for by trillion-dollar annual deficits? We massively borrow to pay our bills.
Clearly there are still differences between conservatives and progressives. For example, the former supports individual rights, while the latter seems to support special rights based on identity politics. Conservatives support achievement and equal opportunity. Progressives support equal outcomes regardless of achievement.
Finally, I can’t help but think of achievement, morality, and character as necessary traits of leadership. Are leaders honest with themselves and will they level with you? Can they subdue inner biases and recognize ultimate truths? Most importantly, will they put the country and not themselves first? Think about such things as we nominate our party standard bearers.
I still believe in conservatism. But right now, the Republican Party must engage in soul-searching. (Oh, where is the spirit of Caldwell Butler?) It supported a person who, now in the waning days of his presidency, proved his opponents right. He was totally unfit and unqualified to lead the nation. We must do better when we select all our leaders – national, state, and local. Otherwise, this democracy is history.
Hincker is a retired public relations executive living in Blacksburg.