Securing A Future for American Conservatism Part 2: A Vision of an American Tomorrow
One of the pivotal failures of the Republican Party was refusing to provide a positive, forward looking vision for America’s future. Conservatives by nature look to the past to chart a course for the future, but that reverence for our past cannot substitute for a clear understanding of America’s future. Any new center right party will not just have to be a home for conservatism, but work in concert or tension with progressives, liberals, libertarians, and the far right to responsibly govern. Moreover, every American has a unique vision for what America is and should be, and these visions will always be in competition with each other as we strive towards a more perfect union. But despite these differences, there are certain shared commonalities and themes in these visions, and these commonalities are the bedrock that American Conservatism should safeguard for posterity.
To this end, any vision of conservatism’s future should be centered on four questions: What of our past should we as Americans be conserving for future generations, What of our shared past needs to be excised from the national character, what kind of America do we want our descendants to inherit, and what steps are we taking to make sure that America is becoming a reality?
First and foremost, our creed is worth preserving. That everyone is created equal, with inherent dignity and worth, and has the ability to self-determine in pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. Our government, law, and culture is derived from this radical concept, and has yet to be fulfilled. All of American Conservatism should center around the prospect of bringing our ethos into greater realization. Secondly, our rule of law, a government derived from the consent of the governed, and fulfilled through our constitution, which codifies our rights as citizens. A government of checks and balances, with powers distributed between federal, state, and local governments, and ultimately accountable to the people. That people, separate from the government, can come together in groups and institutions, secular and religious, in order to find and build community. That we all have the ability of self-determination. These are principles and concepts enshrined in our national history and character worth building a nation on.
Conversely, there are many things that conservatives, tasked with separating the wheat and chaff of our past, must choose to discard for the sake of the nation. Above all, conservatism must excise America’s tendencies to preserve the legacies of racism, both in culture and in the law. This is non-negotiable due to the incalculable suffering caused by our original sin of slavery. While we have made significant strides in the remedying of our past faults, Black Americans throughout the country have made it abundantly clear this work is far from done. We must be willing and gracious partners to Black Americans, as well as any group of Americans that have yet to experience the full promise of America, in their struggles to fully realize their dignity and opportunity. Moving forward, conservatives must be brave in choosing to move beyond elements of America’s past.
In tandem with curating the best of what America has given us, we must help chart a course for how America should move forward. Like our forefathers, we should be giving future generations of Americans a more perfect union, a more prosperous nation, and a more secure country. To that end, we need to make generational strides in civil rights, in restoring our international alliances and stature as the world’s indispensable nation, in preserving our ecological well being so as to allow future generations to be recipients of the abundance of America’s natural bounty, and in creating domestic policies that serve America’s long-term wellbeing. If we can keep these thoughts in mind as conservatives serve in local, state, and federal governments, more often than not we can serve the best interests of our nation and our fellow citizens.
To take these abstract thoughts and turn them into tangible policy and governance, we need a new generation of diplomats, policymakers, philosophers, community leaders, and engaged citizens. For years, conservatives have abandoned envisioning a future for America to liberals and progressives, who are naturally inclined to envision the future. If we wish to be partners in governance and in building an America for future generations, we need to be able to maintain one eye on the future and one on the past. Therefore, in order to build a consensus for the future of America, we need to build policy around engaging not just a select few Americans in the experiment of self-determination, but all of the nation. It is only through the consent of the governed that we have legitimacy to build a future. We need to engage our local communities, our social, cultural, and political groups, and indeed every single American in the proud tradition of engaging in self-governance. Only then do we have a possibility of living up to the promise of our Founding Fathers.
This is but one vision of a future for American Conservatism, but any future for conservatives in governance must be able to provide a clear and promising future for all Americans. If we can succeed in constructing a clear and enticing vision, then we will have succeeded in leaving America more perfect than we received it. To build a better tomorrow is the single most American ethos we can hope to emulate.
Christian Thrailkill is a graduate of Southern Methodist University, musician, and columnist. He lives in Dallas, Texas. Follow him on Twitter @Wolvie616