A Response to Colleran’s Defense of Conservatism

So long as conservatives enable the alt right, I couldn't care less about their differences

This piece was submitted to the Vanderbilt Hustler in response to Matt’s Traditional American Values: On the “Alt-Right” published August 28, 2017.

Matt Colleran is correct: the alt right is very different from traditional conservatism. Conservatives espouse free-market principles, while the alt-right–including its highest ranking member, President Donald Trump–wish to rig the economy in favor of white workers. Conservatives promote democracy worldwide, by force if necessary; the alt-right alienates long-time democratic allies and worships ruthless dictators.

So it’s all the more disgusting how easily conservative politicians shed their principles to woo the alt-right: after Trump made a mockery of their primaries, conservatives were quick to crown him candidate; after Trump admitted to groping women, the defenders of family values sent the twice-divorced adulterer to the White House; after Trump targeted conservative institution after conservative institution, conservatives were but only “concerned” or “troubled.”

To give credit, conservatives have admonished Trump here or there. Senator Jeff Flake compared the relationship between GOP politicians and Trump to a “Faustian bargain,” referencing the classic German legend of the man who sold his soul to the Devil–polite words to compare Trump to Satan.

But then Trump pardoned Joe Arpaio, a former sheriff convicted for systemic racial profiling. This was an officer in Flake’s own state! Yet, the senator had only this to say: “I would have preferred that the President honor the judicial process and let it take its course.” Preferred? I prefer strawberry ice cream over chocolate. I really damn wished that Trump didn’t pardon a man for violating the Constitution.

Despite Colleran arguing that the alt-right “have more in common with the American left than the American right,” these tiki torch terrorists rally around a President with an (R) next to his name–and not by coincidence. For years, Republicans have appealed to racists with “dog whistles”–policies that “secretly” hurt racial minorities. Why else do they attack food stamps, which mostly benefit minorities, while supporting subsidies for farmers, who are disproportionately white? If you don’t believe me, then believe former RNC chairman Lee Atwater, who openly admitted to courting racists with coded language (content warning: use of the n-word).

Of course, Colleran takes great care to talk about ideology, not party. In fact, in his article, the word “Republican” appears not a single time! Reading between the lines, Colleran and other conservatives have reached the same sobering conclusion: they have lost control of the party to the racists they courted. After the Charlottesville attack, Trump refused to strongly condemn the white nationalists and literal Nazis who perpetrated the attack. Yet, 62% of Republicans approved of his inaction.

Claiming not to care about identity politics, conservatives have quietly exploited racial tensions for votes. They have ignored the racists in their party, allowing the alt-right to fester and foment. Now that the alt-right wields significant power, conservatives are afraid to oppose it. Senator Flake said it himself: “With hindsight, it is clear that we [conservatives] all but ensured the rise of Donald Trump.” For years, conservatives have blown dog whistles; now, they find themselves among dogs.

Joe Huang is a Junior in the School of Engineering. He can be reached at yuzhou.huang@vanderbilt.edu.


  1. You wrote: “Why else do they attack food stamps, which mostly benefit minorities, while supporting subsidies for farmers, who are disproportionately white?” But your own linked source says that it’s mostly whites who are on food stamps. Care to clarify?

    You wrote: “Of course, Colleran takes great care to talk about ideology, not party. In fact, in his article, the word “Republican” appears not a single time!” But that’s because there really is a difference. If Republicans, like Trump, are not conservative, then conservatives don’t want to support them. They prefer someone more conservative. Just as so many people didn’t support Hillary Clinton because they didn’t see her as progressive enough for them.

    Conservatism is an ideology and not a party. The Republican Party exists to win elections. It does so by sometimes adopting conservative positions, and sometimes by rejecting them. Whatever helps them win. Principled conservatives, like Colleran, often don’t care whether the conservative they support is an R or a D. Of course, these days, it’s hard to find a conservative Democrat on any issue.

  2. Conservatism in America is honestly just as malleable as either of the two parties and to sit here and claim that the majority of American conservatives today believe in and expouse a set of tenets or support an ideology set decades or more ago is just false. I laughed at the concept that he spoke for the whole “conservative movement” saying that it does not support identity politics. Much of the American conservative movement (yes conservatism looks different in various countries) and its growth can be attributed to identity politics and lesser so pure economics. Often the “economic” side of the ideology is sort of wrapped around the idea that certain groups whether of certain ethnicity or socioeconomic status should only be able to gain wealth by certain means and to ensure this, you subscribe to an economic policy that will essentially keep them “in their place”. This obviously makes it easy for a party claiming to represent the conservative movement (Republicans are the most successful) to exploit identity in ways similar to the way American liberals do so (though for completely different reasons). For that person to sit up and be self-righteous about what conservatism is and to pretend as if the movement does not take on a very “American” flavor in the states is kind of intellectually disingenuous. It is much like how a more moderate or liberal religious leader or scholar will try to disavow certain types of radicals by saying they are not a part of the religion.

    The primary difference is that while many religions have things open to interpretation, they have somewhat fixed tenets/frameworks to abide to (like a bible or Quran), conservatism is a “movement”. I think it often morphs to take on characteristics that have been exploited by today’s Republican Party (or else the Republican Party could not win today by going away from the center). Let us not pretend otherwise. By Matt’s logic, there simply are not a lot of “real” or visible (powerful) conservatives today. You would pretty much have to exclude a large portion of the evangelical white vote as well because they are extremely prone to subscribing to identity politics. You have to likely exclude a bulk of the sectors contributing to the vote of the modern day Republicans. And these sects would consider themselves as a part of the conservative movement.