For Conservatives, When it Comes to Civility, The Mask Is Off

Much like Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, today’s Trump-infused style of conservatism also refuses to wear a mask.
The Republican Party’s years as the standard-bearer for decorum and norms have grown to mean nothing in the pursuit of power.
The Republican Party’s years as the standard-bearer for decorum and norms have grown to mean nothing in the pursuit of power.
MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

On Wednesday, news broke that Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor was working from her office and not from the bench because Justice Neil Gorsuch, who sits next to her, had reportedly decided to work without a mask. Sotomayor, who suffers from diabetes, is immunocompromised, making a bout with COVID-19 potentially life-threatening for her.

Gorsuch got dragged on Twitter for the inconsiderate and possibly life-endangering level of selfishness, and rightfully so. It didn’t even fit his own persona as someone known for promoting “civility” in politics. But even though Gorsuch and Sotomayor put out a press release proclaiming their collegial nature toward each other in the time of COVID, the damage was done. There was something too uncivil about someone unwilling to protect the health of another.

But being uncivil is what today’s GOP is known for, as the party’s years as the standard-bearer for decorum and norms have grown to mean nothing in the pursuit of power.

Because of Donald Trump’s norm-smashing presidency, it became very clear that conservatives were only interested in the conservation of themselves in office. It’s a far cry from the George W. Bush-era of “compassionate conservatism,” which posits that a softer and more empathetic Republican Party would use government, charities and faith-based organizations to form the tricycle that would pedal the conservative agenda.

Bush probably grasped that sentiment from his father, George H. W. Bush, who in 1988, after he won the party’s nomination for president, called for a “kinder, gentler nation –– a not-so-subtle indicator to his party to soften a bit around race-based policies.

But gone are the “bleeding-heart conservative” Jack Kemps of the Republican Party. Gone is the GOP that voted for the Voting Rights Act of 1965. We’re through the looking glass, where public health is politicized and a bloody insurrection is either ignored or exalted. There was a time Republicans didn’t just act as if they had a moral compass — they claimed to be the compass. Even if that was also, at times, an act, another disguise to wear to hide the underpinnings of white supremacy threatening their ranks.

Much like Gorsuch, today’s Trump-infused style of conservatism also refuses to wear a mask. Republican hypocrisy is there for anyone willing to see it, as Ted Cruz and others manage to throw rocks yet neglect to hide their hands, daring you to call them out for their lies, only to pile on more lies in an attempt to gaslight an entire country. Conservatives used to hide behind religion or supply-side economics or the illusion of wanting to reach a compromise. It was all a facade, and the election and presidency of Donald Trump proved all the things conservatives claimed to hold dear — family values, faith, patriotism — were just window dressing they were willing to dump for a taste of power.

“Because of Donald Trump’s norm-smashing presidency, it became very clear that conservatives were only interested in the conservation of themselves in office.”

Before Trump, conservatives acted as if they were bound to a higher power that guided their decision-making. They didn’t just use Christianity; they courted religious leaders like Pat Roberson and Jerry Falwell and behaved as if they had a special covenant with God to uphold some unforeseen set of virtuous tenets that Democrats didn’t believe in.

They used this implied covenant to push their pious sexism against Hillary Clinton in 1992 as they questioned her commitment to motherhood because she dared to pursue a career. It was a planned GOP offensive shrouded in religiosity under the catchphrase “family values” used to shame the Clintons.

Washington Post columnist Thomas B. Edsall described the proclamation as a “convenient catchphrase for a series of deeply polarizing sexual, cultural and racial conflicts arising from the changing role of women, the gay rights movement, the deterioration of the nuclear family and the emergence of minority-preference civil rights policies.”

The GOP wanted to uphold Bush’s wife, Barbara, as the shining example of saintly grandmotherly maternalism against Clinton’s evil brand of feminism.

“I stake my claim to a simple belief: The president should try to set a moral tone for this nation,” Bush said in August 1992. “I believe that a central issue of this election year should be: Who do you trust to renew America’s moral purpose, who do you trust to fight for the ideas that will help rebuild our families and restore our fundamental values?”

Today, there is no space for God or morals. Conservatives have become so blinded by the unchecked power of former President Trump that they have abandoned all pretense. They’ve sided with Trump’s misogyny. They’ve downplayed his xenophobia; they’ve aligned themselves with his racism. Somewhere, the individualism and limited government party became the government that worships autocrats and didn’t even bother to put out a party platform in 2020.

Gone are the days of conservatives being conservationists — in the preservation of cultural histrionics kind of way — “That’s conservatism,” George Will, conservative political commentator and author, told Politico. “And along comes Mr. Trump, who says, ‘No, conservatism is beating up on the Mexicans,’ or whatever he says.”

Thus, what is flippantly referred to as Trumpism, usually by conservatives trying to distance themselves from Trump’s brand of politics, is conservatism in 2022.

Individuals who would’ve been considered fringe conservatives –– teetering on the edge of conspiracy theorists –– have now become mainstream conservatives who have pushed the party so far right that Reagan Republicans wouldn’t know these people. Do you think 1980s conservatives would have supported, participated in, or downplayed the failed coup on Jan. 6? Or the building of a wall along Texas’ southern border? How about the jailing of migrant children?

Of course not. Because those conservatives left the cruel part unspoken, finding it too unsavory for public consumption.

I miss the old days when conservatives at least faked like they wanted to play nice while portraying some superior morality while simultaneously limiting women’s rights, gay men’s rights and the rights of people of color. Today’s conservatives don’t even know how to wear gloves or pearls, much less how to bother to clutch them. Instead, they just show up to work without a mask, sit next to you, and take the Ivan Drago approach to civility.