Thinking Only One Election at a Time is Killing the Conservative Movement
At the Western Conservative Summit recently, my fellow millennial Ben Shapiro proclaimed the conservative movement moribund. The reasons why go way beyond Donald Trump, and way beyond this election.
It can be revived. It must be revived. But it will have to do so only after fundamentally rethinking its assumptions, its modes of action and thought, and its expectations.
There’s a story in the Gospels that informs my thinking on these matters. It comes from the book of John, where Jesus says to the disciples, “I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” The “others” were, of course, people like the Patriarchs and the Prophets, those men and women praised in the “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews 11 for pursuing righteousness in their own times, despite the fact that they would never see it themselves.
And that, among other things, is what too many conservatives have forgotten: vision, generational thinking and long-term success. We talk a good game when it comes to justifying our actions in the name of future generations. But for far too many of us, the vision goes little further than the next election.
Sowing for a Harvest Another Generation Will Reap
We need a new “prophetic” generation if conservative principles will ever again succeed in America — a generation who knows from the outset that it will not see the full harvest, but sows seed as if it will.
The movements that have actually made a change in American society have been those movements which thought 50 years down the road or more — in other words, those movements who knew in advance that the goals which they sought would likely not be fully achieved within their own lifetimes.
The abolitionist movement took decades. The women’s suffrage movement took decades. The labor movement took decades. The civil rights movement took decades. The homosexual rights movement took decades. Heck, the American Revolution was merely the culmination of 15-20 years of tensions, and it took an additional 15 to get the Constitution, making its initial stages roughly 30-35 years long! And each of these movements changed hearts and minds before they ever obtained the political power with which to do something.
Even after the legislative victories of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, Martin Luther King, Jr. declared to his followers that the Promised Land still lay ahead, and that even though he wasn’t sure he would see it, that “we, as a people, will get to the promised land!” King was a leader who thought generationally.
But many modern conservatives don’t think in terms of generations, or even decades. They claim to know and understand history but have refused to learn its lessons. They think in terms of every four years. Maybe eight. And ironically, virtually the only power many champions of limited government seem to care about is political power.
This is one reason why the conservative movement is where it is today: fractured and with a shrinking following and a message that is being heard by few.
The Left’s Long March
The Left has thought and planned long-term. And this is why the Left is winning. Hillary Clinton, as much as I hate to admit it, was right when she spoke in her DNC speech about “planting seeds in gardens we will never get to see.” That is generational thinking. That is planning for the long term.
And indeed, the left’s control over the culture-shaping institutions of our country did not happen overnight, and certainly not according to the chronology of elections.
If the conservative movement hopes to have any substantive effect on the course of this nation, it will again have to be led by men and women who are focused on achieving goals whose consummation could very well happen long after they are dead — and we must make our peace with that. We can either be a new “prophetic” generation according to the wisdom of Jesus and the genius of our Founders, or continue on with the same myopically political ways too many of the movement’s leaders have adopted.
Changing a culture is not the result of temporary campaigns and electioneering messaging. It is, as George Washington put it, “a plant of slow growth.” It is oftentimes the result of those seeds planted by those who never got to see the full garden. And if we wish to see a renaissance of conservative principles, which necessarily requires the renaissance of a virtuous culture, then we need to adopt long term, generational, and not exclusively or even primarily political thinking, now.