There’s a certain expected rhythm to conservative thought as time pushes forward: Progressives push for change, conservatives resist, conservative views become outdated as everyone realizes how unfair they were, things change for the better, and conservatives begrudgingly accept the new order. That’s how it went with civil rights and women getting the vote. Even climate change denialists have started to adjust a little, with some admitting that it’s happening, even as they refuse to admit that humans have anything to do with it.
But once in awhile, having to be pulled forward with the tide of progress causes some conservatives to throw a fit and insist, instead, on regressing, often in shocking ways. Here are five issues where conservatives have, in recent months and years, taken a giant step backwards from where they had been before.
1) Immigration. Belligerent hostility to immigrants has been a bad look for a long time, since it’s so obviously racist in origin. Instead, the standard conservative talking point has been to praise “legal” immigrants while ignoring the fact that legal immigration is out of the reach of many. Meanwhile, they also offer to find compromise legislation that would allow some immigrants, particularly those who are minors, a chance to earn citizenship if they jump through a series of dazzling hoops. No one could accuse House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of being anything but right-wing, and this was his basic position. Worse, he wasn’t even particularly willing to defend that position — doing no real work to get even the most basic immigration reform moving.
Doesn’t matter, however, as Cantor lost a primary challenge to David Brat, apparently in no small part because Brat was able to paint Cantor’s lackluster support of legislation that would have only affected a small group of undocumented immigrants who were actually raised here as “amnesty”. That’s how much the Republican base has regressed on the topic of immigration. Even people who were raised here and may not even speak any language other than English are seen as some kind of major threat because of their family’s country of origin. The pretense that anti-immigration sentiment was reasonable and not racist has gone up in smoke, and the pure hostility to people just because of where they come from has come charging to the forefront.
2) Sexual violence. In the past four decades, relentless feminist campaigning on the issue of sexual abuse and rape has created some amount of consensus about what rape is and what it isn’t. Until recently, even the most belligerent rape apologist had to admit that “date rape” is a thing that actually happens in the real world and that no really does mean no. Sure, anti-feminists still try to deny the extent of date rape and argue that consent is more confusing than it actually is, but even they had to admit that clear-cut cases of non-consent amount to rape.
But ever since Obama started a White House task force to combat campus rape, suddenly we’re back in the '80s again, with conservatives trying to argue that women can literally be forced to have sex against their will and this somehow doesn’t count as rape. In a recent Washington Post column, George Will accused women of making up rape to gain the “coveted status” of “victimhood”. His evidence? A story of a woman who said, “No, I don’t want to have sex with you,” to her alleged assailant. But no apparently doesn’t mean no to Will, not if the victim knows her attacker and/or she doesn’t fight him off with violence. Similarly, both A.J. Delgado of the National Review and Stu Burguiere of The Blaze argued recently that because consensual sex under the influence of drugs or alcohol happens, all non-consensual sex under the influence should not be considered rape.
3) Gay rights. The trend in the past decade or so for conservatives has been a move away from overtly homophobic arguments and towards claiming they are not so much against gays as they are “protecting traditional marriage”. But that argument is collapsing in face of overwhelming evidence that gay marriage will have no negative effect on straight people, and so many conservatives are regressing back to old school strategies, namely demonizing gay people and basically calling them perverts.
A Republican candidate for the Oklahoma state house got caught calling for the stoning of gay people to death, bragging about how he’d make an exception in his “libertarian” views to do this. But while he’s an outlier, more mainstream Republicans have also hastily regressed on this issue. In their 2014 party platform, the Texas Republicans went beyond the usual boilerplate opposition to same-sex marriage to endorse the discredited and dangerous idea that therapy can “cure” people of same-sex attraction. Gov. Rick Perry backed up this idea that homosexuality is not an orientation but a disease to be “cured” shortly thereafter, by comparing homosexuality to alcoholism.
4) Domestic violence. That domestic violence is a serious problem and that victims need to be separated from their abusers instead of pushed to try to “fix” them is one of those beliefs that spread quickly — from feminist circles to be common wisdom — by virtue of the overwhelming evidence in their favor. Even Christian conservatives who push to put all these obstacles on divorce carve out exceptions for domestic violence, however hard they may be to enforce, because the need to end an abusive relationship quickly is so well-understood.
Except, apparently, by W. Bradford Wilcox and Robin Fretwell Wilson, who proposed, in the Washington Post, that marriage is some kind of miracle fix for the problem of domestic violence. Citing the fact that single mothers endure more domestic violence than married ones, they strongly suggested that the marriage itself somehow prevented the violence. (It was a complete misreading of the statistics, so bad that it’s hard to imagine it was accidental. There is zero reason to think marriage prevents violence, but plenty of reason to think that people who are in safer situations are more likely to get married.) By horribly misreading the statistics, Wilcox and Wilson suggested that a wedding ring could turn a wife beater into a pleasant, non-violent man by saying, “marriage also seems to cause men to behave better.” But as anyone who has ever worked with domestic violence survivors can assure you, the belief that loving your abuser harder will reform him is a delusion, a dangerous one.
5) Bare minimum standards of politeness. Despite moaning and whining about “political correctness”, conservatives have generally agreed for a long time that out and out slurs aren’t cool. While there may be some playing around with overtly hateful language in private, in public, conservatives tend to avoid overt slurs and instead try to make bigoted claims sound like reasoned arguments instead of spewing hatred.
And then Glenn Beck brought a guest onto his show, an artist named Sabo, who whined, “You know it bothers me that you can’t say the name.” And then he immediately showed that he can, in fact, say “the name”, by which he meant “n*gger” by saying it a whole lot. Beck splashed one of Sabo’s pieces up onscreen that said “F*g The New N*gger”, except, you know, completely spelled out. Obviously, anyone who wants to can say these words---no one is stopping you! What Beck and Sabo were resisting was the long-standing consensus between liberals and conservatives that you shouldn’t, out of basic politeness. But I guess Beck wants to roll back the clock well past the '60s and is eyeballing something closer to the early 20th century.