Let’s face it: conservatives are pretty down. We know Donald Trump is a fundamentally unconservative, unprincipled and immoral buffoon. Thanks to an electorate apparently more interested in making a real-life version of “Idiocracy” than actually addressing the challenges facing the nation, Trump has dominated the political season and could even win the Republican nomination for president.
Many conservatives — the kind who believe in limited government, free markets and individual liberty — feel as though our movement is wandering through a dark wilderness without a compass, a flashlight or anything to sustain us. Some of our friends worry that Trump, and those culpable for helping him along the way, have destroyed a cause for which we care very deeply, and that destruction is simply irreversible.
Perhaps I can offer a bit of encouragement to those down in the doldrums: conservatism is bigger than one man, and even Donald Trump isn’t big and bad enough to destroy it.
Conservatism was built to last. The idea that people form voluntary associations and that family constitutes the basic building block of a free society and free economy is as old as Aristotle. It reflects man’s basic yearnings: to be free, to be economically mobile and to strive for personal fulfillment.
Of course, there will be some pains from purging when this is all over. The problems Republicans face aren’t unique. (Just ask the Democrats after the 2004 election.) After the proverbial moneychangers have their tables overturned at the temple, there will be another major shift: a rejection of anger-based populism and a call for solutions-based policy.
Right now, Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) share this in common: they attract principally white audiences who believe their hardships in life are the results of others’ unfairness. For Sanders’ supporters, it’s all the fault of the politically connected, big banks and corporate villains hoarding profits from the modern Dickensian underclass. For fans of Trump, Hispanics, China and Republican lawmakers are to blame. Both men appear as messianic figures ready to angrily exact revenge on behalf of the perpetually persecuted.
Forgive me if I’m neither impressed nor enthused by their raison d’être.
Instead, I find inspiration in a conservatism that honors the God-given potential of the individual; an ideology that defends the equality of opportunity, not of outcomes; a movement with a heart for the poor and disadvantaged, eager to help in ways that improve their lives without growing government; a belief that communities, churches and local governments can best ascertain and address the needs of those people; and a philosophy that knows without a doubt how special America is, that its institutions are sound and that its best days are ahead.
Where could one find such an optimistic ideology? Why, right here at Opportunity Lives, of course! Also, in the leadership of Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), the budgets of Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.), the bridge-building of Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC), the eloquence of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the youthful approach of Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) and the hundreds of Republican lawmakers nationwide who, at every level of government, are committed to reform conservatism.
But it isn’t just elected officials who are helping build this movement. There are great thinkers, writers, doers and creators on the side of opportunity conservatism. From Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute and the author of “A Conservative Heart,” to filmmaker Clare Burns to the trained activists of the Republican Leadership Initiative, so many conservatives have dedicated their lives making an opportunity conservatism that has legs.
All of these individuals are committed to spreading the optimism conservatism inherently fosters: job creation, educational justice, safer communities, secure families and so on. That begins with the humility to ask the experts who know, the courage to enact good policies reflecting such wisdom and the willingness to keep promises that are made.
If this doesn’t sound like Donald Trump, that’s because it isn’t. He’s not interested in helping others, just in helping himself. He shows no great desire to uplift the poor, create prosperity (for anyone other than himself), respect limited government or make people more free.
Thankfully, many of us still do. We are the future of conservatism — not Donald Trump.
And we’ll be around long after the cameras stop rolling and his foray into politics has ended in a humiliating defeat.
Ellen Carmichael is a senior writer for Opportunity Lives. Follow her on Twitter @ellencarmichael.