Snooping Around the Conservative Mindset

Commentary By KAY MATTHEWS

Once again Trump’s erratic and dangerous behavior, this time the firing of FBI director James Comey, has taken over media attention, and reporters are scrambling to make sense of it.

But as we follow the unfolding of this latest scandal we need to keep paying attention to what led us to this narcissistic white nationalist in the White House, particularly the implosion of the Democratic Party with Hillary Clinton’s defeat in the run for president. Many folks haven taken up the gauntlet and are engaged in the community organizing and resistance work necessary to take the party back from the Clinton elites. For this article I decided to take a look at how the GOP and those who voted for Trump view the Democratic Party after its defeat.

I’ve been monitoring some conservative web sites, newspapers, and blogs to get a feel for how folks of this political persuasion are assessing Trump’s first 100 days. I looked at sites like Commentary Magazine and snooped on Facebook to learn about the general divide within the conservative community: those who never supported Trump and those who support his administration unequivocally. I was hoping to find a third group, those who are beginning to rue their vote, but that hasn’t been the result of my sleuthing. They may be out there, but there is a thread between the “#NeverTrumps” and the “he can do no wrong Trumps” that binds them together: bashing liberals who were “ruining our country” under Democratic rule—the former group—and bashing liberals who are trying to dethrone Trump—the latter group. There’s another more insidious subgroup—the anti-globalization nationalists—that appears to be emerging from the #NeverTrumps”; I’ll discuss this later in the article.

What is it about liberals that generates such hate and why do conservatives think they’re ruining the country? According to Chauncey DeVega, in his pithy analysis in a Salon article (that appears in Alternet), “conservatism is a type of socially motivated cognition that minimizes any sense of human obligation and connection to other people, outside a narrowly defined kin or other peer group.” In other words, little or no government that works to the benefit of a select group of white people. Ergo, liberals, who generally believe that the job of government is to provide a social contract that maximizes services to as many of its citizens as possible, threaten the economic and social hierarchy upon which this country is based.

Horatio Alger

Where does this minimized “sense of human obligation” come from? An American ethos of selfishness has long been with us. The Horatio Alger myth defines those who fail to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” and become successful as the dregs of society who don’t deserve any help. Max Weber’s theory is that it’s the spillover of the individualistic Puritan ethic once the religious asceticism has escaped from the cage: “In the field of its highest development, in the United States, the pursuit of wealth, stripped of its religious and ethical meaning, tends to become associated with purely mundane passions, which often actually give it the character of sport,” i.e., competition. This also fits into conservatives’ enthusiastic endorsement of neoliberalism, whereby money defines success and capitalism provides the ultimate path there.

The recent firing of Bill O’Reilly from Fox News generated enormous attention on the Facebook sites I monitored and the sympathy largely lay with O’Reilly, not Fox News, because he’s the champion liberal basher. Many of those commenting on various sites—and many of them were women—focused on Fox News’s disloyalty to O’Reilly, who was responsible for the network’s status and revenue. They didn’t seem to care whether he is a sexual harasser, racist, homophobe, or whatever: as long as he went after the liberals who were destroying the country that was OK by them.

Another common target in the O’Reilly firing is the “hypocrisy of the sanctimonious liberal journalist” critics, particularly the New York Times and CNN, who went after O’Reilly and forced his sponsors to abandon his show. In an article in Investor’s Business Daily, L. Brent Bozell claims that these are the same media outlets that cried foul when Donald Trump tried to insert Bill Clinton’s sexual conduct into the presidential campaign. Several of the Facebook commenters also raised this issue, although interestingly enough, a few of them made the distinction between supposed “consensual” consent in Clinton’s case and O’Reilly’s harassment.

Rush Limbaugh also heavily pushes this opinion on his show: “And this is what happens. O’Reilly is not the first, and he will not be the last. But it still boils down to one thing: The left cannot beat Fox News in the arena of cable news. The media, the left cannot beat Fox News. The only option they have is to destroy it. Because they can’t outcompete it as is evidenced by ratings day in and day out since 1996, when Fox debuted. The standard operating procedure for the left is not to level the playing field but to close it. It’s to deny participation on the playing field, not level it. No tolerance. No fairness.”

In an article in the conservative Washington Examiner reporting on a CNN interview, Sarah Palin expressed what a few of the O’Reilly commenters also said: if you’re being sexually harassed in the work place “don’t stick around for a paycheck,” which doesn’t demonstrate much empathy for those who are completely dependent on that paycheck and again puts the onus on the individual, not the system. (Palin herself was fired from Fox News in 2015, when she claimed she was let go for “calling someone out. ”)

Liberal bashing continues to dog former President Obama, and the vitriol is even worse. These are a few of the Facebook comments on a video of Marco Rubio saying Obama purposely divided America:

“Yes, Obama is trying to destroy us, he let all of these thugs in America to try and finish what he started, he put a open season on police officers, I hope he has sleepless nights, you know what they say about Karma, we will be waiting and watching.”

“I said this from the very day Obama was elected. This my opinion only but I believe Obama is an anti-American, America hating, Marxist piece of human debris.”

“It’s all about divide and conquer. The oldest power grab move in history. Blaming racism on those who were against Obama is only another tactic to divides [sic]. I only know one person who voted against Obama because of race, and that person was a Democrat. Everyone I know that did not like Obama was because they felt he was a far left extremist who wanted to expand the power of government over they [sic] people. And that was proven to be true.”

Commentary, Norman Podhoretz’s neoconservative magazine, along with other mainstream Republican magazines like the Weekly Standard (Bill Kristol), represent the “never Trump” camp that often focuses its liberal bashing on exploiting the divide in the Democratic Party between the progressives and the Washington elite—a divide they claim plays into Trump’s hand:

“If President Donald Trump wanted to confuse his opponents and dilute any serious criticisms of his approach to the situation in Syria, he could have done no better than to blame his predecessor, Barack Obama, for the crisis. In a statement condemning the slaughter of civilians in what appears to be the worst regime-ordered chemical attack since 2013, the president observed that Obama had drawn a ‘red line’ over this same sort of thing but ‘did nothing.’ Instantly, partisan battle lines were etched into the sand. The New York Times editorial board was one of many liberal outlets that felt compelled to defend Barack Obama’s Syria policy. In the process, they water down their criticisms of Trump’s approach to the nightmare in the Levant. That serves Donald Trump’s interests just fine.”

The magazine also claims that the Democrats “learned all their worst lessons from the conduct of their political opponents” who spent eight years obstructing the Obama administration and who are now prepared to do the same. The magazine also chides the Dems for claiming Trump is an “illegitimate president,” which they say are the same tactics used against Obama and will turn them into the “very same creatures they once claimed to oppose.”

But there is also a disturbing movement on the conservative side to reframe the party’s Reaganism orthodoxy into Trump’s nationalistic, anti-globalization branding that targets immigrants and free trade. In the April 30 New York Times Sunday Review R.R. Reno, editor of First Things, a conservative religious journal, advocates for this movement in “Why the GOP Must Embrace Nationalism.”  He couches it in a bipartisan argument that both parties have been moving in a “globalist direction” for years—which is certainly true—but says nothing about the fallout of this nationalistic reframing: racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, the invasion of privacy, and an assault on civil liberties.

In the same NYT issue Russ Douthat, a regular conservative columnist at the Times who has been a longtime member of #NeverTrump, wrote an article called “Is There a Case for Le Pen,” which basically says that her advocacy of “France First” is a necessary correction to the many ills facing that country: Eurozone elite “lashed to a destructive common currency”; massive immigration; vast unemployment; and domestic terror threats. While Douthat claims she is a much smarter and more competent politician than Donald Trump—“her ability to serve as president without turning the office into a reality-TV thunderdome”—he, like Reno, fails to talk about what values are inherent to nationalism and in Le Pen’s case, how she got there as the daughter of a Holocaust denying anti-Semitic. (See this response to Douthat in Slate).

This is all very dangerous talk, as Patrick Cockburn points out in his CounterPunch article “The Great Division: The Return of Nationalism”:

“Defending the motherland against the evil schemes of foreigners is a political gambit that has been played out countless times since the age of Pericles, but its impact depends on the political context in which it is used. At the moment, it is peculiarly destructive as ethnic nationalism reasserts itself as a vehicle for grievances and rivalry between different nation states is reaching new heights. Populist nationalist leaders from Manila to Warsaw to Washington are promising more than they can deliver and looking for scapegoats at home and abroad to blame when things go wrong. Nationalism has always needed real or invented threats to super-charge communal solidarity.”

Bashing liberals may be toxic but it’s much less dangerous than promoting ethnic nationalism. In a recent article in the New Yorker about the election in France, Lauren Collins describes the positions on globalism of four of the candidates who ran in the first round voting: “Mélanchon [the far-left candidate] wanted a nationalist economy but a globalist identity, Macron [center, who is now the president] wanted a globalist economy and a globalist identity, Fillon [center-right] wanted a globalist economy but a nationalist identity, and Le Pen [far-right] wanted a nationalist economy and a nationalist identity.”

Trump campaigned as an advocate of this last category, although it’s impossible to know what he’s actually going to do (flip flops on NATO, China, etc.) Is the Republican Party going to embrace this kind of nationalism? How are the Dems going to counter this message? Activists like linguist George Lakoff are warning liberals that it’s time reframe their message in the language of “cognitive linguistics” to promote core values—equality, empathy, and responsibility towards their fellow humans—in the fight against this far right platform—and the neoliberal Democratic one—that are threatening not only this country but the world.






























“Amid these [congressional] efforts to manage expectations, a sense of crushing disappointment is palpable. This was supposed to be the Republican Party’s moment. The GOP has spent the last four election cycles clawing its way back from the nadir of its political power to become the nation’s governing party. It has not controlled this many state and federal offices in nearly 100 years. Yet schisms within the GOP in Congress and an absentee chief executive—who seems only ever to engage in the role of the presidency when it means sowing divisions and stoking animosity—has rendered the Republican Party, at the apex of its potency, a spent force.



The occasion of an attack using weapons of mass destruction in Syria that killed at least 70—including ten children—and injured over 400 is an inopportune moment for a president to pass the buck to his predecessor. Trump’s statement represented a crass attempt at obfuscation, and an abdication of an American president’s responsibility to eschew prevarications. As a political tactic, however, Trump’s maneuver succeeded beyond his wildest imaginings.

It is clear now that Democrats learned all the worst lessons from the conduct of their political opponents over the course of the Obama presidency. With unchecked bitterness, Democrats have convinced themselves that the right did little more than obstruct, distract, and indulge their basest impulses for eight years. For this, they were rewarded with total control of all the levers of government in Washington. Thus, anticipating rewards, Democrats have embraced a policy of strategic incoherence with no grander objective than mollifying their base. In the process, they’ve become the very creatures they once claimed to oppose.

“Donald Trump, you didn’t win this election!” declared new Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez. Perhaps anticipating that his explicit contention that Donald Trump is an illegitimate president would yield some uncomfortable parallels, Perez preemptively defended himself. “I don’t care,” he said, “because they don’t give a s— about people.” That’s some defense.


Alternet article




















Once again, the repeated efforts by the Republican Party to repeal the minimal protections offered by the Affordable Care Act serve to remind us that conservatism is a type of socially motivated cognition that minimizes any sense of human obligation and connection to other people, outside a narrowly defined kin or other peer group.

Today’s version of American conservatism is also a celebration of selfishness — and a belief that true freedom and liberty are based on a perverse individualism with little sense of common decency or linked fate with someone’s fellow citizens. Today’s American conservatism also embraces an extreme form of neoliberalism whereby human worth and dignity are determined by profit-and-loss statements and capitalism and democracy are confused with one another. Ultimately, American conservatism is a value system that is antisocial, anti-democratic and anti-freedom.




Brietbart, on the other hand,




  1. How can people continue to stand by a floundering Donald Trump? We are endlessly capable of fooling ourselves. Victor Klemperer, a diarist in Nazi Germany, recorded what a German soldier said at the end of World War II (which Germany undeniably lost, and which utterly devastated Germany): “[Hitler] has never lied yet. I believe in Hitler.” A worker told Klemperer “…understanding is useless, you have to have faith. I believe in the Führer [Adolf Hitler]”.
    Many, maybe most, Trump supporters will never see his failures and his horrid character; they *believe* in him. [Quotes from Timothy Snyder’s book “On Tyranny”.]

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