Jamal is a graduate of Northeastern Seminary and writes on a broad range of topics. His writings are based on other points of view.
"Conservative" is one of several trigger words in today’s society that instantly throws people into a defensive posture, whether they are for or against it. There are also numerous stereotypes that can fill in the blanks in people's minds.
Supporters become defensive because they sense that they now must defend their position. They often communicate non-verbally that they feel they are about to be attacked for their position and for not supporting more progressive values. In contrast, the opposition feels defensive for similar reasons, since conservative support has helped usher a controversial president into office and challenge or change a number of progressive laws that have been in existence since the 1970s. It has made many progressives become even more aggressive as well.
The interesting thing to me, however, is a misunderstanding people have of what conservatives are. Again, because it's a trigger word, conservative automatically conjure up ideas of pre-Vietnam, counterculture values. Women in the homes, men working and knowing best, all while being White with an "apple pie" image.
Your Grandpa’s Conservatism
This couldn’t be further from the truth, with the reality being something even I find somewhat unsettling. The stereotype of the Right would have been largely correct if this was the 1950s, 1960s, or 1970s. That was the Depression and World War II era generation: 20 years of trial and tribulation with little respite for grassroots, social revolution, and change. Social changes were unstable, and the country couldn't afford more instability during those times.
This was, of course, despite the fact that it was already happening, with women flooding factories and piloting planes to the front lines, non-white races actively fighting in the war effort, and jazz music already starting to change the way mainstream society enjoyed itself. Yet, that was the reflection they chose to believe. The self-image they saw when they looked in the mirror.
During the post-war years, conservatives tried to put Pandora back in her box. The values of the right originally revolved around this intertwined bundle of politics, religion, and patriotism. It prized self-motivation and do-it-yourself attitudes, as vets came back and started their own businesses and built new homes in the expanding suburbs. It placed the family unit and the good of the society they fought to save and preserve as a priority, and those were held in place by the known stability of solid community morals, democratic capitalism, and a powerful religious base. Not that everyone behaved liked this all the time, but this was the face people wanted seen. That was stability.
Anything that deviated from these norms was considered hostile. Communism and socialism especially fell under this red gaze since opposition to everything above was in their manifesto, with the Soviet Union, North Korea, and China, embodying these tenants.
TV shows, religion, and politics further reflected back the mentality. Yet they failed to hide the reality that the Pandora’s box refused to be closed. New ideas, values, and long postponed justice became louder and louder and has continued to this day. This was the birth of the American culture war. To those who did not come up during the hardships of the previous decades, they did not see stability (that conveniently had supported them economically): they saw oppression, prejudice, and injustice that had long gone unanswered and made excuses for.
Since then there has always been hostility between the two factions, each accusing the other of ruining American society. It was after the '70s and '80s, however, that conservatism re-surged from the social upheaval, but for entirely different reasons. The greatest generation were now grandparents; however, their children, who were the rebels and hippies of the Vietnam era, had now flipped sides.
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The people who craved freedom, free love, peace, and upsetting "the Man" now wanted the same stability as their social opponents back in the day. Ten years of open, public strife, along with the Vietnam War, had exhausted the country. This new wave of conservatism was not its predecessor, however, though it shared several common traits.
The main differences lay in that they were still somewhat more tolerant of certain activities and lifestyles, such as music, movies, and technology than the previous generation. They did not demand a total purge of their existence from American life. Not too surprising, given that they were the ones who set the groundwork for it. It was not perfect tolerance, but it was more than what had come before.
There was also a desire to change, live healthier lifestyles, and enjoy life. Yet many of the previous tropes did transfer over as well, such as resistance to flaunting alternative lifestyles, reactionary tendencies to anything they felt promoted violence and instability, and even an upsurge in religion. Unabashed patriotism also saw an upsurge as well.
However, there was still some skepticism, and this brand of conservative values was more focused on gaining your success through your own actions. Religious beliefs were not a requirement anymore, though for many it still played an important part and could still swing a vote. All this stalled after 1985.
During the '90s and into the ’00s, conservatives found themselves back in conflict with a new generation of progressives that were more educated in the errors of the past and wanted to correct them, as well as another push for value changes and the increasing gap of technology usage. Non-traditional communities and minorities now wanted more change and social acceptance. They wanted their rights and choices protected and for society to recognize them for who they were and not what the stereotypes thrust upon them or keep them in the shadows.
The HIV crisis and open revelation of police brutality even further inflamed this aspect of the conflict. Many conservatives initially blamed liberal politics and values for the rising chaos, leading to hate crimes and prejudice. In turn, many progressives socially retaliated, showing the education did not match their ideas and that it did not justify Nazi-style violence upon them.
Throughout these changes, the conservatives overall were still largely seen as their original predecessors from the post-WWII era. The nuances and changes in its membership appeared to be ignored and I believe that this was to the Left’s folly.
"My issue with feminism is that they do not respect a woman's choice if she chooses a Conservative lifestyle"
— - A quote from a talk with a Republican on the progressive politics of feminism
The conservatives that progressives are dealing with today, and have been for the last 30 years, are people who were once them. The hippies, anti-war protesters, and even later Gen X'ers, who for various reasons ultimately found themselves falling back in line with the very values that they once rallied against. They still maintain many of the liberal principles of their youth, so long as it remains out of their yard.
Right or wrong, their mentality is one of ‘been there, done that’, and nothing that Millennials or Gen-Z’ers bring to the table is going to be anything different. Ironically, it's because of this idea that Right-wingers and traditionalists often fall back to the old criticisms of their ancestors: that these ‘kids are spoiled and entitled’. I see it all the time online and social media and many times I remind them that once upon a time, they too were once referred that way.
Another change that many conservatives had held onto, but has now become a problem, is racism. Most conservatives will oppose racism to some degree. Many voted for Barrack Obama when he first ran for President. They would be against minorities not given a fair shot at a job based on their skin color. However, they would be more hesitant to call out police brutality, policies that specifically targeted groups from entering the country, or standing up for the protection of gay citizens under direct assault. This ‘straddling of the fence’ is already an issue by itself, but now since the election of Donald Trump, many Far-Right racist groups are now starting to align themselves with the conservatives overall. It has gotten to the point where to outsiders, there is little difference between Neo-Nazis, KKK, and Republicans.
Regardless, the mistake of seeing conservatives as their original incarnation that few of us were even around to see causes socially-active progressives to react out of ignorance. They cast stereotypes that in many cases do not apply anymore. Misunderstandings are created where otherwise they might be able to find common ground to talk out their issues like civilized human beings, rather than school children with jobs. The most detrimental aspect though is that it furthers a desire among conservatives to reject dialogue because they find Leftist projections of them, as insulting and the results of a lazy mind.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2019 Jamal Smith