In order to cope with the events of last week, my wife and I have been watching Alpha House, a cancelled two season Amazon Prime series about Republican senators. My favorite character is Gil John Biggs, played by John Goodman. Gil John is an old-school, pre-Tea Party Republican, a throwback to the day when bipartisan friendships on Capitol Hill were actually possible. He reminds me a lot of my grandpa Ralph Storm, who was a true conservative and not a populist hatemonger.
True conservatism is a temperament more than an ideology. True conservatives can’t really be ideologues because what they value more than anything else is integrity. They don’t try to spin narratives with contorted talking points because they actually pursue objectivity as a genuine goal. They might be naive about their hidden biases, but they haven’t cynically embraced our post-truth culture.
True conservatives are always honest even if it offends other people, but this isn’t at all the same thing as trying to be offensive, because true conservatives value honor just as much as they value integrity. They try to avoid succumbing to bleeding heart sentimentality, but they like creating environments where people are treated with dignity and respect.
True conservatives believe in the power of warm personal relationships to change the world. This is why they hate the idea that people are entirely at the mercy of impersonal systems or that social problems can be solved through bureaucracy. They don’t like communicating with bullhorns. They want to believe that labor unions are unnecessary because in an ideal business, bosses are personally bonded enough with their employees that they look after their needs. They believe that people with wealth and power can and should be magnanimous philanthropists.
True conservatives are not anti-intellectual. They are eager students of history. The wisdom of the past is sacred to them. They are very skeptical about any idea that claims to be new, because as Ecclesiastes says, “There is nothing new under the sun.” But their commitment to integrity means that they are always open to the truth. They are just very cautious about any claims that seem naive and utopian.
Caution is another hallmark of true conservatism, though it is held in tension with decisiveness. True conservatives are not enslaved to ego and bravado. They are instinctively opposed to rocking the boat. At the same time, they believe in taking stands for the sake of honor and integrity even if they are ridiculed or persecuted for doing so.
While I myself am not a conservative, I have a lot of respect for people who are true conservatives like my grandpa. Some of my most important friends and mentors throughout my life have been conservative. Having accountability with them makes me feel safe and grounded in a way that I wouldn’t be if I were entirely left to my own devices.
One of the best possible things that could happen in American politics would be for true conservatives to take back the Republican Party from the populists. A good place to start would be for conservatives to call their legislators to register their opposition to whichever aspect of Donald Trump’s chaotic recklessness seems the most dangerous on any particular day. If the Republicans in Congress continue to enable Trump with their cowardice and complicity, there may not be a Republican Party in a decade. Though I myself have different goals and tactics according to the solidarity to which God has called me, true conservatives have a critical role in restoring our government’s civility and commitment to the common good.
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