Have you ever wondered to yourself why conservatives are so mean? Do you remember the Tea Party movement's opposition to Barack Obama as hateful and mean-spirited? Did the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States cause you to think that hate might be a core component of conservatism? Well, I am not going to tell you that you are wrong, exactly. But, perhaps I can help explain what's going on.
The first thing to understand is that we conservatives are not naturally this way. Conservatives prefer the status quo, almost by instinct. For instance, when friends are having a heated argument in a social setting, those with a conservative temperament are the ones most likely to change the subject. Instead of taking a side in impassioned situations, conservatives would rather say something "nice" to defuse the situation and restore normalcy.
The same holds true in the political arena. Politicians with a conservative temperament prefer to stick to tradition and niceties to avoid rocking the boat whenever possible. When a political interest group gets upset and begins making demands, the truly conservative impulse is two-fold: 1) to appease the interest group and restore normalcy as quickly as possible, and 2) make the fewest number of structural changes as humanly possible while accomplishing that goal. Take the transgender issue, for example. Whatever one's individual beliefs are, the conservative instinct is to just be nice—which means accommodating others by learning a few dozen extra pronouns.
Trouble arises when being nice stops working. This can be extremely frustrating for conservative-minded people. After a few dozen failed attempts to make reasonable accommodations for the demands of others, conservative patience begins to wear thin. This is especially true when those demanding to be accommodated refuse to be satisfied by anything less than fundamental transformation.
The failure of "nice" is the story of conservatism over the last few decades. Here are a few examples:
1. In 2008, President George W. Bush was very nice when he signed the Second Chance Act, taking aim at "recidivism" by softening punishment for violent criminals.
2. Prior to 2007, the Bush administration enacted a very nice housing policy that encouraged banks to make subprime home loans to low-income families.
3. In 2001, neoconservatives decided that the nicest response to a terrorist attack would be to create a functioning democracy that would bring "freedom" to Iraq.
Conservatives tried "nice" during the Bush years, and it failed spectacularly. For their trouble, Bush was compared to Hitler and threatened with impeachment. Over the next eight years, conservatives watched the demands of "nice" expand exponentially. To be nice, police must receive implicit bias training. To be nice, illegal immigrants must be granted access to executive documentation. To be nice, children must be allowed to undergo genital mutilation surgery.
It is unclear which straw broke the "nice" camel's back. But, one thing is certain: the camel is dead. Years of pent-up conservative frustration are now venting through the nozzle of Trump. And, like the conservative friend who has held back for years from saying what he really thinks of you, once the venting has begun, it is unlikely to stop until there is nothing left to say.