A third conservative value that needs to be explored – “traditional American values”. What are these values? There are many conservative beliefs that could be included. I have chosen three that I think make the cornerstones of conservative thought in the United States. I also take umbrage of the widespread belief that somehow conservatives are the only real Americans or that they get to shape what our wonderfully diverse country believes. But I digress. 1. a belief in American exceptionalism (the idea that the United States in the greatest country in the history of the world) 2. the establishment of the mightiest military power on the planet, and 3. free market capitalism (1). For better or for worse, our nation has been guided by these values throughout most of its history. According to Vice President Elect Mike Pence, these values have been lost during the eights years of leadership under President Barack Obama (2). It goes without saying that I refute this statement by the Vice President Elect.
I have two points of contention. The first is that these “traditional American values” are not owned exclusively by the Right (they are in fact a shared American view), and that over the course of the last year or so, the U.S. has seen the rise of a populist demagogue who ignores (or is unaware of) these conservative values (meaning that people who thought they voted for a conservative, in point of fact, did not get one). Let’s examine each in turn.
- A belief in American exceptionalism
The cornerstone of the Trump campaign was “Make America Great Again”. The belief that somehow, in the halcyon days of American antiquity, things were better and our country was great. I have not seen any information from the President Elect as to which time he means, I am going to assume that he is referencing the 1940s-50s commonly referred to as the Golden Age of Capitalism. During this era there was a long streak of economic boom characterized by growth in GDP, high productivity, and full employment (3) across the globe. Although there are numerous forces at play, deregulation of the war time economy, improved global relationships, the establishment of the UN (which promoted stability), and a maintenance of large military expenditures.
With the exception of money spend on the military, the factors that made the post war economy great appear to be at odds with the new regime.
Additionally, there were social and civic activities in play in the post war era that I would argue were a terrible blight on American exceptionalism.
To begin with, this era saw the start of the Cold War – an era characterized by decades of fear, worldwide paranoia, and the start of an unprecedented arms race (4). Hand is hand with this was the rise of McCarthyism – a long lasting anti-communist witch hunt
where many thousands lost jobs as a result of being accused of being communist. (5)
Furthermore, segregation and racial inequality were the currency of the day. African-Americans had been considered good enough to fight and die for America during World War 2 but were disenfranchised in their social, civic, and economic status back home (6). People of Color faced serious and systemic economic and physical violence during the post-war years that lasted decades.
For a comparison of how much better things were in the past, consider these facts-
1950 US unemployment 5.3 % (7) vs. Nov 2016 US unemployment 4.6 % (8)
Q3 GDP growth rate 3.5 % (9) vs. 1953 GDP growth rate 1.39 % (10)
Here is a chart of US productivity from 1947 through today (11).
I have included this chart, and the other pieces of economic data to prove a point. The conservative tendency to look at the past with rose colored glasses is to gloss over the reality of the past – the common theme in this series.
Not only is their fond recollection of how “the economy used to be great” when compared to today’s economy inaccurate, their whitewashed belief in a Leave it to Beaver society where there was no crime and everyone was happy ignores the day to day reality for women and People of Color. A level of systemic disenfranchisement and inequality that continues to this day.
- Military Power
Having spent 10 years in the military, I have some mixed feelings about this. We have spent a lot of money and a lot of effort for our military, and I’m not sure what we have gotten from it. (I recommend reading “About Face” by David Hackworth for a great look inside Americas war fighting history). Since World War 2, we have lost more conflicts than we’ve won. Does that statement surprise you?
Korea – stalemate. Vietnam – loss. Grenada – technically win, but embarrassingly inefficient. Panama – win? what did we win? Cold War – win. But I’m not sure how much the military had to do with it. I would argue that economics, time, and changing social values had a more important role in the USSR collapsing – and yes I know that part of that collapse came from them trying to keep up with US military spending. In any case, it seems like we are about to restart the Cold War, so maybe we need to reevaluate the “win” anyway. Gulf War – qualified win, but we were back at war with Iraq 10 years later so there was some kind of failure there. Afghanistan – loss. Operation Iraqi Freedom – loss. Syria – loss. I don’t know who won in Syria, maybe the Russians? But definitely not the US.
I mention this because it helps make my point about conservatism. This romantic view of the past coupled with inaccurate assessments of the present reality is both myopic and dangerous. Our history of emphasizing military power might not have been such a great thing. Particularly when you consider the other ways that money could have been spent. President Kennedy warned us of the dangerous intersection of government and the Military Industrial Complex. This topic needs to be more fully explored (consider Dick Cheney’s treasonous corruption and war profiteering from the wars in Iraq), but it is beyond the scope of this article.
- Free Market Capitalism
What is it? It is a system in which the prices for goods and services are determined by the open market and consumers, in which the laws and forces of supply and demand are free from any intervention by a government, price-setting monopoly, or other authority. (12).
The President Elect is making startling changes to this. In Indiana he leveraged political pressure on a private company to make changes to employee positions that were slated to move to Mexico. (13). His current policy initiatives include raising tariffs on imports heralded as “a change of belief systems. It overthrows the free trade order that has been upheld and policed by Washington since the 1940s.” (14) In truth, we don’t yet know how far his anti-trade policies will go, prompting this response from Bob Bryan and Elena Holodny of Business Insider -“Though the extent of Trump’s anti-trade agenda are unknown, if he chooses to pursue it, there would likely be significant consequences.” (15).
A combination of direct and repeated government intervention from the newly elected Republican president coupled with massive new trade restrictions seems to invalidate the conservative position on free market capitalism.
Daniel Cashman, EAMP,MS (AOM), NCCAOM Dipl Acupuncture
(5) https://www.reference.com › History › Modern History › US History