If we ever awaken to find ourselves living in a horrible nation, we could dispense with conservatism. There are such countries, so unjust and unfair that there is nothing in them worth preserving, save the people.
In such nations, the sensible citizen can only fight to destroy the societal structure and start over. If the judicial system does not dispense justice, if police do not keep honest citizens safe and thwart criminals, if the education system does not teach, if the government is not honest, if the people are not free, if the military is not valorous, then the revolution must come.
In such lands, so-called “conservatives” are simply evil people trying to maintain unjust advantages.
We do not live in such a nation, but we could. The United States has no exemption from corruption or revolution.
That’s what makes the failures of the Republican Party so frightening. The United States needs a strong conservative movement to protect all that serves us well. But many in the party are only hanging onto power, refusing to call out a president who has repeatedly betrayed the principles of the GOP.
In so doing, they are besmirching the idea of conservatism itself, with potentially tragic results.
The United States has institutions and a societal structure that mostly do work for the good of the people. Police generally arrest criminals and protect victims. The judicial system is largely honest. Most American children have access to schools that educate them. Most of us walk the streets safely, worship as we wish, say and write what we think, love and live as we desire.
Our institutions are worthy of protection, of conserving. And if we allow them to weaken or fail, those who suffer the most will in the end be the powerless and the marginalized.
It is the job of progressives to push for needed change that betters the nation and the lives of its people.
They are doing that.
It is the job of conservatives to say, “Slow down: If we go broke, we won’t be able to help anyone, so watch those deficits. If we burn down the courthouse, we can’t dispense justice. If we defund the police, the poor will have no defense from crime. If we tax and regulate the corporations out of business, we won’t have the jobs and cars and food and entertainment and medicines and shelter and clothing they produce.”
Honest conservative leaders would have opposed the combination of President Donald Trump’s pre-coronavirus deficit-exploding tax cuts and spending. They would call out his attempted federal takeover of schools now, with his demands that states reopen in the fall. They would decry the use of spooky unidentified federal officers in locales where no leader has asked for help. And they would condemn his dishonesty and disrespect toward so many Americans.
Republicans who will not do so are in danger of ceding the political playing field to progressives, many of whom no longer see anything in conservatism to admire, or even allow.
This nation works best when the progressives and conservatives balance, allowing improvement where needed while preserving what works. Today we are seeing many young people grow up convinced conservatism has no merit.
That’s a tragedy, and if it leads to the destruction of so much in the United States that has shone so brightly, it will be as much the fault of the conservatives who failed in their duty to protect our institutions as the progressives who went unchecked in their reckless fervor to improve them.
Lane Filler is a member of Newsday's editorial board.