The Future of Conservatism and Liberalism

Recently, I had the pleasure of participating in a debate between the College Republicans and College Democrats of Boston College. The debate was a great opportunity for college students to actually hear the policy differences between the two parties, but one claim the Democrats obsessively returned to was the outdated-ness of conservatism and the subsequent “implosion of the Republican Party.” This is a line that is repeatedly used by liberals to try to demonstrate the insufficiency of conservative ideology. Although it is questionable whether any candidate this election season truly represented conservative values, this notion that the ideology will cease to exist is unfounded.

Progressives used Republicans’ split over Trump to validate their claim of conservatism’s collapse. If the party that is generally the standard-bearer for conservatism could not even rally behind a conservative candidate, surely it must be a dead ideology. But since when do party disagreements equate to the death of a movement? Is the democratic-socialist movement since that Bernie Sanders lost the Democratic nomination? It is doubtful; young people everywhere are determined to guarantee that the movement lives on. Similarly, FDR revived the progressive movement after it was suppressed for twelve years with the election of Warren Harding in 1920. There may not have been a conservative on the 2016 ticket, but the movement continues to thrive among intellectuals and at the grassroots level with movements like the Tea Party.

In contrast, it is the extinction of liberalism that the left should be concerned about. Conservatism is the dominant philosophy at the state level. Currently, Republicans, the vehicle of the conservative movement, control 33 state house chambers and 35 state senate chambers. As of November 9, conservatives are on track to occupy 32 gubernatorial offices, a number not seen since 1922. In comparison, the Democrats hold roughly half of those numbers, controlling only 16 state house chambers, 14 state senate chambers, and 18 gubernatorial offices. Conservatism stretches far beyond the presidency. It is ingrained in patriots across the nation who see America’s greatness and potential, determined to protect their nation and its unprecedented way of life. Conservatism’s handle on state politics is evidence of its deep networks, such as the Tea Party, and networks among young people, including groups like Young Americans for Freedom. The ideology is far from reaching its end; it is growing. The fate of liberalism, on the contrary, is quite bleak. Progressives are left with much less in the wake of this election’s outcome. They face a quasi-conservative Executive branch, minorities in both Congressional chambers, and control of less than half of all state legislatures, coupled with a likely conservative Supreme Court.

Moreover, the disagreements currently surrounding conservatism within party lines are leading to an ideological shift toward conservatism, not a disintegration. In recent years, the traditionally conservative Republican party has been split between moderates, such as former Speaker John Boehner and Senator John McCain, and those who demand that the party return to its conservative roots, led by Senators Mike Lee and Ted Cruz. These moderates cater to interest groups, and this has led to inaction. Truly conservative policies are rarely proposed, and if they are, they are not passed.  America has not nominated a true conservative since Reagan, and thus Americans have not been able to experience the unparalleled economic growth that comes with a small-government, pro-business president.  Many, if not most, on the right are frustrated with the lack of an unwavering, committed conservative, and this discontent is fostering a conservative shift in the party. Conservatives now have an opportunity that they have not had in years: the chance to reverse the leftist policies that have stagnated growth in America and implement meaningful, transformative legislation.

To my progressive counterparts here at BC, and others who say conservatism is doomed, the ideology is not imploding; it is thriving at the grassroots level, and regaining momentum after this election. It is liberalism you should be worried about. A recent piece from the Atlantic nicely summed up the election results: “Democracy is hard, and messy, and miraculous when it works.” This election was difficult for both sides, and at times we found ourselves questioning the value of our democracy. But this is democracy’s nature; it is challenging, but truly incredible when it works. The American people have spoken through our democracy. They have made it clear that they reject liberalism’s big government, intrusive, and harmful policies. Instead, they have voiced their desire for family and fraternity, the advancement of the free market, the protection of the Second Amendment, and the safeguarding of unborn life. Conservatives have emerged from this election stronger and with more conviction to advance the basic liberties and rights of the American people; I’m not sure liberals can say the same.

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