In one of Bill Buckley’s last television interviews, Charlie Rose asked him to explain the differences between the conservative movement today and the one Buckley started with National Review in 1955. Buckley replied that conservatives back then had a unifying enemy – communism – and all sorts of political factions on the Right were willing to set aside some glaring differences of opinion to stop the communist menace. And what about today’s conservative movement? Buckley paused and said, conservatives today are “trifling up against the general sense of satisfaction.”
What does that mean, “trifling up against the general sense of satisfaction”? Buckley added that there is “a certain sleepiness in the conservative movement” today.
For most of my career, approximately since the fall of communism in the late 1980s, I have witnessed this “trifling” Buckley identifies. There is a sense that all is well for conservatives as long as Republicans control the White House, Congress and every state house. We have become satisfied with political wins. And that satisfaction has led us to Donald Trump. Outside of a few pockets of genuine conservatism left today, such as National Review, conservatives seem content only with winning elections and not with winning ideas.
I realize there will be those defenders of political victories, especially Trump’s victory, who will insist that America is better off when our side wins as opposed to Hillary Clinton’s side – and I do not discount many of these substantive political differences. But for so many more of us, conservatism means more than political victory. Conservatism should be a high bar of intellectual honesty, truth and sound traditions conjoined with a serious regard for justice and equal opportunity.
This high standard of Americanism requires more from us than political victories. It requires that we continually search for fundamental grounds for freedom, the soil of which needs more extenuated cultivating. Conservatives today should be anything but satisfied with modern America. We should not settle for simply a large percent of Americans finding the prosperity they seek. The principles we, conservatives, hold dear are so basic to human happiness and prosperity that we fail unless and until every American has achieved their potential. No, we do not ensure outcomes but we should ensure adequate opportunity for all.
Life is very good right now here in Utah. By all economic and social metrics, Utah has achieved more than most every other state. We feel prosperity all around us. If there ever was a people well positioned to “trifle up against the general sense of satisfaction,” it is Utahns. But, while we can take great pride and comfort in our recent achievements, many of our neighbors are left behind.
I have said this before, we must measure our goodness by the degree to which we come to the aid of our less fortunate neighbors. Utah needs to be #1 in how we help struggling neighbors. We should not settle for being the most charitable or volunteer state. Those metrics mean a great deal. But we need to go further because obviously all of our charity and all of our volunteerism has barely cracked the surface of several social, educational and economic inequities in Utah.
This should be the goal of a new conservatism: To plow hard ground and tread new paths that lift all Utahns to prosperity, full potential and happiness. A new conservatism must shed old prejudices and biases. What works for most Utahns does not work for many of our neighbors. We rightly enshrine work and rightly infuse work into our welfare programs. But work alone is not always the answer for many people. We rightly value self-reliance but many of our neighbors do not even understand its meaning. For conservatives to look at those neighbors, judge them for not sharing our same values and then dismiss their daily trials in life as “bad choices” or “irresponsible behaviors” misses the entire point of Utah’s rich heritage.
Utah conservatives should be only satisfied with our effort when minority neighbors, under-educated neighbors, rural neighbors, female neighbors, homeless neighbors, disconnected, disadvantaged and disenfranchised neighbors have their troubles, concerns and problems addressed – and not until then.
Conservative policy makers need to stop trifling around the edges of majority prosperity and use their ample power and influence to move into the periphery of society to focus on our unseen or overlooked neighbors in need. The majority is well. We understand prosperity for the vast majority of Utahns. But, so far, we trifle with the lives of neighbors living on the margins of society. We act like everything done so far for the homeless or the impoverished or struggling students are heroic achievements. It is not heroic. It is trifling.
Let’s once again find the courage and unity to address the larger problems throughout society as if every Utahns’ life depended on it. Conservatives once united to fight and defeat communism. Now, Utah conservatives need to fight and win in behalf of our neighbors in need.