In light of the past four years of a Trump administration, increasing progressive influence, and the rise of cancel culture, it’s not a far reach to say that “conservative” has become a dirty word for many liberals. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) so much as called for a blacklist of public figures who had supported former President Trump in a tweet that felt reminiscent to McCarthyism-era political shunning. These calls for a “Trump Accountability Project” or something of the sort aren’t limited to the former President’s political opposition, but have instead become regular occurrences within families, in businesses, and at schools.
At Penn, there have been calls to revoke the former president’s degree from the Wharton School, investigations into the merits of his SAT score, and recommendations to bar members of his administration from speaking on campus. While it’s without question that Trump is a controversial figure, is it really possible to “cancel” the 73 million Americans who voted for him? Even more so, is “conservatism” or even “republicanism” synonymous with Trump in 2021?
The label “conservative,” when discussed in terms of political ideology, is loosely defined as the holding of political views that favor free enterprise, private ownership, and socially traditional ideas. Looking at this definition alone, one can see the very clear divergence between the politics of the Trump administration and purported conservative values. While conservatives largely encourage free trade both domestically and internationally, many of Trump’s policies were protectionist and restricted global import and export.
Similarly, while claiming to uphold “socially traditional values,” Trump entered into office with a history of not adhering to these sorts of values, unlike other politicians who have called themselves conservatives. Therefore, it becomes almost illogical to condemn the values of an entire half of the political spectrum, ideology, and party when they don’t even agree with the politics they are getting chided for. Nevertheless, this doesn’t discount the very present divide within the Republican Party between those who supported former President Trump and his agenda and those who didn’t.
There is a clear line being drawn within the party, indicated by the presence of The Lincoln Project (anti-Trump Republicans) and the backlash faced by Senators like Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) over their contesting of the election results. However, party divisions aren’t anything new in the GOP, as the American right has seen friction between fiscal and social conservatism since the unification of libertarian-esque small government prioritization and the religious right under Ronald Reagan.
While Trump was by no means a conventional “conservative” politician, his presidency did indicate the desired change by a large portion of the American public to a more upfront and relatable presidency. This does not necessarily mean that all hope is lost and Trumpism or right-wing populism has permanently taken over the Republican Party, as suggested by Jonathan Last, executive editor of “The Bulwark,” at the Paideia Program’s “The Future of Conservatism” talk earlier this semester. The GOP must instead be careful when returning to the drawing board in 2024; a regression to overly polished and buttoned-up conservatism could cost them the executive branch. However, this desire for politicians who share the thoughts and values of their constituency should be more reflected in the diversity of age, gender, and race within the party rather than in the unfiltered nature of their speech.
The 2020 House and Senate races already saw the beginning of this new Republican era. In the 117th congress, 14% of Republican seats are held by women, the highest the number has ever been. On the local level even more, women are holding gubernatorial and local legislative positions under the Republican party. The same can be seen in racial and ethnic minority groups, with 17% of members of minority groups being Republicans, an increase from last term’s 10%. Furthermore, representation within right-leaning activism has increased substantially with well-known activists like Candace Owens and Rob Smith, who show the growing platform for people of color, members of the LGBTQ community, and women within the conservative movement. These changes similarly reflect the growing diversity of the GOP’s voting base.
Latinx communities made up a large portion of the Trump electorate and played a critical role in flipping many of the House seats this term, a point emphasized by Olivia Troye, a former aide to Vice President Pence, during the aforementioned Paideia Program event. She went on to explain how rhetoric and policies that prioritized the family and economic growth appealed to Hispanic voters especially in light of the Democratic party’s increasingly progressive platform.
The GOP has also seen an increase in support and representation of younger Americans pushing for counter-culture against the growing favoring of socialist policies among our age group. Despite unity on issues like climate change and the legalization of marijuana, political divisions are very present among Gen Z. With increasing conservative youth activism through organizations like Turning Point USA, a lot of the rhetoric is aimed at promoting free speech, smaller government, protecting financial freedom and a culture of less political correctness. This is different from the conservative movements of our parents and grandparents, which focused more on social issues.
This conservative presence is evident at Penn through organizations like Penn College Republicans and Penn for Liberty, which actively represent right-leaning ideas even in the strongly left-leaning culture at Penn. The next few years of the Republican Party will bring with them their own sets of trials and tribulations to overcome the internal divisions exasperated by Trump’s presidency. Nevertheless, be careful not to underestimate or shut out the new era of conservatism. Our generation will play a pivotal role in shaping American politics, and the right is no exception.
LEXI BOCCUZZI is a College first year studying philosophy, politics, and economics from Stamford, Ct. Her email is email@example.com.