Actually, not really conservatism, that’s not fair (but it was alliterative). Conservatism is a political mood or tradition or character feature with a long (duh obviously) history, and it is seen on both the economic right and left and as a liberal pluralist I genuinely value its place in the world with a fixed grin and probably a migraine later.
What I want to draw attention to are really the consequences of toxicity. Elizabeth Warren has highlighted in the Washington Post how Donald Trump’s current alarming foam-at-the-mouth on the validity of the voting system and the acceptability of the forthcoming US election result actually has its roots in pretty well-established Republican mood music:
For years, Republican leaders have pushed the lie that voter fraud is a huge issue. In such states as Kansas and North Carolina , and across the airwaves of right-wing talk radio and Fox News, Republican voters have been fed exaggerated and imagined stories about fraud. Interestingly, all that fraud seems to plague only urban neighborhoods, minority communities, college campuses and other places where large numbers of people might vote for Democrats. The purpose of this manufactured hysteria is obvious: to delegitimize Democratic voters and justify Republican efforts to suppress their votes.
So it might look like a “narcissistic sociopath” (hey! I’m only quoting Gary Lineker) is the source of these outrageous statements, and is being rapidly othered by his party colleagues as such, but we haven’t arrived at this place overnight. For this stuff to have traction in the mouth of a properly frightening demagogue, it has to be legitimised first by more apparently sane people. As the great @snoozeinbrief puts it:
Actually, “Trump” is the name of the monster. The creator is “Gradual GOP Erosion of the Norms of Polite Society & Constitutional Politics”.
— Tom Freeman (@SnoozeInBrief) October 20, 2016
The parallel with the UK is obvious, irresistible, and needs pointing out, as often as possible. Some of the most gross things I have read this week in a crowded field were the quotes pitilessly extracted in Andrew Rawnsley’s review/rant of Unleashing Demons: the Inside Story of Brexit, which is spin doctor Craig Oliver’s account of the final months of his boss David Cameron’s premiership, with attendant national meltdown. The main gamble Cameron took when he called the referendum, essentially putting party before country, that most unconservative of all crimes, we know about well enough. But this is Rawnsley’s most skewering comment as he mocks Oliver’s abnegation of responsibility for the fiasco:
The Out newspapers are a nightmare, “becoming more and more personal, more and more destructive”. Here, [Oliver] alights on one of the reasons they lost. At election after election, including the most recent one, the Tories could rely on the rightwing press to assassinate the characters of opponents and megaphone Conservative messages. Cameron had clearly not thought enough about having that firepower turned against him. He finds out what it was like to be Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg and hasn’t a clue what to do about it.
Demonstrating what we all knew or should have known all along; you can’t say the kinds of things Republicans in the US and extreme Tories in the UK have been saying for years, and you can’t build the kind of networks of toxicity that harbour that stuff, without it biting you on the arse when you finally decide to take a stand and say, “Actually, wait, this is bonkers and inhuman and economically disastrous to boot. Let’s stop this now.” You don’t want to hear your politically calculated words in the mouths of toxic, possibly unstable people? Tough, they’re here, they’ve heard what you say, they can smell the opportunity your words represent. You’re stuck with them.
It is time for the moderate right to have a long, hard think about what they do to tackle and dismantle these poisonous structures.