An Open Letter To Conservative Politicians: What Does A Conservative Conserve?

Dear United States Conservative Politicians,

I miss arguing with you guys. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I miss the maddening arguments about debt ceilings, the death sentence and even states rights. You may have noticed we don’t talk about those sort of things anymore.

Let’s be real here, you guys have scared me in the past, especially when pandering to Evangelicals and the gun lobby. We used to agree that election tampering was a sin not to be overlooked, we had no love for Putin and his dismal humanitarian record. We also agreed that a free press is important and occasionally I could rely on a few of you to help keep an eye on the environment, but all that has changed recently. While I think John McCain and others on your side are trying to do the right thing, most self styled conservatives are obviously standing on the wrong side of history. Things are much darker now.

From the outside it looks as if the Republican Party is undergoing an identity crisis, just as you guys have consolidated power within all three branches of government. Despite President Trump’s disregard and total ignorance of the “so-called” judicial system your party still looks pretty tough to me. Very manly. Yet the small government/libertarian fantasy looks as distant as it did eight years ago.

How do you play it when your Republican president is into big government spending? Do you distance yourself? Do you try and reform him? Do you quietly try and push through your policy dreams? I’ve been thinking through your options lately.

Perhaps you can start a new conservative party, reignite the Tea Party, or to join the Democratic Party (see nineteenth century). Since Donald Trump became elected president, it appears that many of you have sold out your conservative ideals. It must have hurt to watch tax-cut zealot Paul Ryan standing up to applaud big government spending projects, seated symbolically behind Trump, stage-left of Pence every few moments during Trump’s televised joint session of congress address. It’s fun to watch him squirmily figure out how to be an old-timey-republican/2020 presidential hopeful in the age of Trumpian populism.

I’ve been waiting and watching to see if you would remain true to your conservative causes throughout all of this political whiplash. To be clear, I’ve always understood that you believe in small government (except manly stuff like the military), government deregulation, little to no social services (not manly), anti-abortion, anti-immigration, anti-LGBTQ (all very manly) and that Reagan is a Lazarus figure who can rise from the dead and heal the sick and poor with tax cuts for the wealthy.*

There are no Newt Gingrich types who can bring foam to the mouths of budget hawks like we used to have. Mr. Ryan’s half-baked-Reaganism seems like a step backward against the complex problems of the 21st century. Your strong leadership vacuum is showing (not manly). The GOP is currently holding all the cards and has no vision for an endgame.

Let’s consider your current health care bill as an example. Only recently you added “replace” after years of screeching “repeal!” Who would have thought having healthcare would turn out to be so popular? Again, no goals beyond political posturing. Your endgame sucks. It sucks for your children and sucks for your parents.

What if conservatives left the Republican Party en masse? You’ve always seemed so organized and conformist. If anyone can break away and move the party to a new location ― you can. I can only imagine there is obsessive discussion about this in private. It may be key to the survival of William Buckley style conservative ideology to distance yourself from Trumpian nationalism, which doesn’t conserve much of anything except a vague nostalgia of a “winning” time which never existed. This is a problem concerning your integrity. What do you really stand for? What does a contemporary conservative really conserve? What is your job?

Speaking of which, jobs are this political sacred cow you can always parade around for applause. Who doesn’t like jobs? Creating jobs or bringing them back. Politicians on both sides like to say that job creation is the number one greatest concern to our country’s well being. While job creation is integral to our economic strength, it’s not the most important issue facing our country. It’s more important to look at the long view, beyond jobs.

I’m very concerned about many issues right now, but to cut to the chase ― I’m particularly troubled about the environment. Trump has been in office a little under two months and we’ve seen an unprecedented deconstruction against the safeguards that keep our air and water clean. If you’re supposed to be conservatives why are you letting Trump destroy the environment? Can you be at once a conservative and a conservationist?

Whenever we see a rollback of environmental regulation it’s under the auspices of job creation, and I always wonder if this has ever worked? Are jobs more important than clean air and water? Can you have sustainable jobs in a wasteland? Are jobs worth getting cancer over? I’m not so cynical as to think you want your family and community to die off from cancer like so many communities do. It’s just that conservatives have set no realistic goals on how to deal with the planet.

One hundred and fifty years worth of industrial scale pollution still plagues my own community. Greenpoint, Brooklyn was built on top of a landfill, two oil spills, one solvent spill and a steady stream of greasy payoffs from Exxon Mobil. Go ahead and ask Rex Tillerson about my neighborhood. I recently met a guy whose grandparents were both lifetime Greenpoint residents and died from the same rare leukemia. I wouldn’t value the vague political promise of a job in the dying fossil fuel industry as a substitute for clean air and water. That’s too low of a price to sell out your family’s health and your species for.

The conservative narrative is built around the cliched rhetoric of “pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” If you don’t believe in “government handouts” (aka fossil fuel jobs) then why won’t you consider re-educating yourselves in the use and deployment of modern energy sources? I know it’s hard, but how can you be all for a small government and expect it to provide jobs for you in a dying, cancerous industry? How can you believe in conserving anything by not aggressively pushing for our independence from foreign influence?

In Donald Trump’s first two months in office he’s selected big oil puppet Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency. That political appointment fills me with blinding-red, liberal righteousness. It’s a spit in the face of all the work that’s been done by heroic environmentalists for decades. It’s cynical and intentionally destructive. Pruitt conveniently doesn’t “believe” in climate change despite overwhelming scientific evidence. He’s an opponent of The Clean Power Plan which aims to reduce pollution from coal plants. I’m mystified as to how anyone can be opposed to clean air and water.

Pruitt has played a major part in permanently destroying his own home state of Oklahoma. In 2016 Oklahoma had 623 magnitude 3+ earthquakes, 903 such earthquakes in 2015 and 109 earthquakes in 2013. In 1978 there were only 2 earthquakes with a magnitude of 3+. Scott Pruitt has destroyed his home state through work he’s done for the fracking lobby and he’s only getting started on the national level. According to the New York Times this week, Trump cut 2.6 billion from its current level of 8.2 billion in the Environmental Protection Agency’s annual fiscal budget and in a show of macho posturing they are scrapping all climate programs. He is digging his heels in further at a time when he needs to be reconsidering his childish positions.

Who can forget the numerous lawsuits Pruitt has filed against the EPA. The Pruitt appointment is a perfect example of what white supremacist Steve Bannon calls the “deconstruction of the administrative state.” This malevolence is echoed in tone to the deeply bankrupt and unqualified cabinet nominations of Ben Carson (he’s black so I guess he’s perfect for Housing and Urban Development (wtf?), no relevant experience), Nancy DeVos (rich, connected, billionaire operator in republican politics for decades, no experience, destructive ideas) and Rick Perry (no clue, no experience, Texas oil shill).

Despite all this, Scott Pruitt passed his senate hearings 52-46 in his favor. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention his anti-immigrant, anti-abortion, discriminatory lawsuits he’s filed over the years at least in passing. Is this really the best person to head the Environmental Protection Agency? Those of you who voted to confirm Pruitt carried out a lawful act of treason. We won’t forget where you stood that day.

You think we have an immigration problem now? Wait until climate change makes the equator so hot that human beings will have no choice but to move up north. It’s important you consider that your re-election campaign may be hindered by constituents being too sick or dead from the toxic environment/impossibly expensive healthcare to make the polls on Election Day. All the parts of a society lock together.

After you, your friends, and the Koch Brothers have made all the money in the world, what will be left of it? What are you conserving? Money will be rendered useless in a post-pollution landscape where clean water is currency. What’s to be gained by pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement? The National Review and other red-state rags stoke the partisan bickering by downplaying the impact of human aided climate change and throwing jobs in front of the argument (see above). It’s more of the same 20th century supply side economics debate that doesn’t take the real world into consideration. The environment and all of humanity take the hit when you flood the markets with oil. Cheap and plentiful leads to fecklessness.

These questions and arguments also apply to conservative voters as well. What are you trying to conserve in your life? What is your legacy going to be? These promises of coal mining jobs are the last gasp of the 20th century playing you as pawns in the big oil chess game. Energy shouldn’t be a tyranny over our lives, it’s something we can control and ultimately have to take back from corporate America.

Democrats and Republicans love the idea of passing an infrastructure bill. Everyone wants better roads, better schools, along with low taxes but maybe we should consider renewable energy infrastructure and address our outsized toxicity problems? A neuroscientist recently told me that organ transplants are largely “a solvable engineering problem.” I think marrying clean energy to design and quality of life is the sort of engineering problem our thinkers and workers would like to accept. It’s up to you create a supportive government that wants us to live longer, happier and healthier. Not one built on cynicism, mistrust, and suspicion of science.

In order to conserve the air, water, trees and jobs we need to invest in an ambitious infrastructure plan that would ultimately cut pollution down to zero and promote the values of science and nature. There’s jobs there. Every building, car and hat needs a solar panel on it and I propose a wind farm dotting every fucking golf course as a start.

Architect Norman Foster’s renovated and updated Reichstag in Germany is 100 percent powered by solar energy through an innovative architectural design. It’s so successful that it generates enough power for the surrounding buildings. We can do that here. But we have to think bigger and all become conservatives. Conserving our social dignity, conserving our right to work, conserving our rights to breathe and drink clean water. The best way to conserve what we got is to take care of it and take the long view of energy. You need to “pick yourself up by your bootstraps,” stand up and do the hard work of conservation. There isn’t an easier way forward.


*Full disclosure: I enjoyed reading Atlas Shrugged much like Mr. Ryan did, but I have always appreciated art and maybe have read a wider variety of books to understand the characters in the book were symbolic idealizations rooted in a postwar economy.