By Darragh Roche
FORGET everything you know about the world – that’s the first step to understanding America’s true conservatives. ‘True’ is an essential word here. Millions of Americans identify as true conservatives, so much there’s even a popular Twitter hashtag (#tcot, read with care). Donald Trump, the billionaire making liberals everywhere cringe, derives his support largely from these very conservative American voters. So does soft-spoken neurosurgeon and personification of Godwin’s Law, Dr Ben Carson. The rise of these candidates has baffled many in the US and across the sea. After listening to him for ten minutes, why would anyone vote for Donald Trump?
Margaret Thatcher once said that America was created by philosophy. That’s partly true of the true conservative movement. But to fully understand a voter willing to back Trump is to dive into the right-wing mythology that permeates every aspect of their agenda. Make no mistake, American conservatism is built on a nationalist mythos supported by Republican politicians, shock jocks and questionable experts. The first and most important myth surrounds the Founding Fathers. The drafters of the constitution have been raised to a messianic level by the right. A popular conservative meme reads “The Founding Fathers would be shooting by now”. The Founding Fathers were perfect people, all wise, and are the only people who can accurately interpret the constitution. This is the true conservative starting point.
The right-wing denial of truth baffles many liberals and European conservatives alike. How can many educated people believe global warming is a hoax and Obama’s attorney-general is part of an Islamic fifth column? The apparent madness is quite methodical. Mainstream media have a liberal bias and don’t approve of conservative views. To be fair, this is partly true. Journalists on the whole tend to trend liberal. So do universities (again, partly true) and therefore scientists from elite universities are written off as biased when they talk about climate change. Famous scientists (Bill Nye, Richard Dawkins etc.) often attack or undermine deeply held religious beliefs, causing conservatives to view science as a tool to attack their faith. Fox News reports the truth because it plays heavily on corroborative bias – Fox tells its viewers what they want to hear. When the media attack Fox for inaccuracies, this only supports the view that liberal media are trying to silence the truth. Anything reported on CNN or MSNBC can be considered a lie. Any politician who supports ‘lame stream’ media or climate science is open to attack as a divisive liar. And if Obama can lie about climate change, he can lie about everything. This reasoning has an internal logic and leads to terrifying results.
The final and most important myth is Saint Reagan. Since the end of his administration, and especially since his death in 2004, Ronald Reagan has become as central to right-wing mythology as the Founding Fathers. He was the perfect conservative, the perfect president and the perfect man. No politician will ever live up to the Gipper. The mythical Reagan is far more conservative than the real Reagan, who was extremely conservative for his time. Prominent Republicans like House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pale in comparison and are known in conservative circles as RINOs (Republicans in Name Only). The conservative party just isn’t conservative enough to live up to the myth. After all, no matter how holy the Pope is, he’ll never be Jesus.
Enter Trump and Carson, untainted by the bastardised GOP church and embracing hair-curling conspiracy theories. Trump led the birther movement, claiming Obama wasn’t American. Carson sincerely compares Obama’s America to Nazi Germany and the conservative memeocracy loves it. The world according to Trump is a conservative dreamland where the ghosts of Jefferson and Reagan fight off a liberal-Islamic-Marxist axis led by an imperial and white-hating president who is probably an illegal immigrant. Is this a bizarre form of reasoning? Absolutely. But it is logical within the confines of American conservative thought, and that’s why they believe it so sincerely.