Has the conservative mind become ‘diseased’? Conservative Michael Gerson thinks so

Michael Gerson
Michael Gerson

The conservative mind has become diseased.

That’s a pretty strong statement, and I wouldn’t expect anyone with conservative inclinations to take my word for it. But those aren’t my words. It’s the headline of Michael Gerson’s most recent column in the Washington Post, where Gerson opines as the designated conservative voice in the Post’s generally liberal stable of opinion writers.

But I don’t want to overstep, nor to misquote Gerson. “The conservative mind has become diseased,” is the headline on his column, perhaps written by some liberal-biased headline writer. The Gerson paragraph from which it’s taken is this:

“The conservative mind, in some very visible cases, has become diseased. The movement has been seized by a kind of discrediting madness, in which conspiracy delusions figure prominently. Institutions and individuals that once served an important ideological role, providing a balance to media bias, are discrediting themselves in crucial ways. With the blessings of a president, they have abandoned the normal constraints of reason and compassion. They have allowed political polarization to reach their hearts, and harden them. They have allowed polarization to dominate their minds, and empty them.”

Gerson’s CV includes a gig at the Heritage Foundation, speech-writing for Sen. Dan Coates (R-Ind.), for Nixon Aide Charles Colson, for the presidential campaign of Bob Dole, for both the campaign and the White House staff of President George W. Bush. There is no way to define him out of the mainstream of the conservative movement of our nation over the past three decades, nor has he repudiated the positions that made him, and still make him, a conservative as the term is used in our political culture.

The type of conservative he is denouncing, which he refers to in the column as “the Hannity right,” has “proved its willingness to credit anything — no matter how obviously deceptive or toxic — to defend President Trump and harm his opponents.”

The voters who gave us President Trump are divided between the Trump true believers and those who recognize many of his shortcomings but convinced themselves that however bad Trump would be, Hillary Clinton would be worse. Personally, although I was not a big Clinton admirer, I thought the opposite. Clinton was too hawkish for my tastes, and I feared that she would get us into more unnecessary wars. But with Trump, I worry about a more fundamental threat to life on earth, as well as him being a dishonest egomaniac/megalomaniac/kleptocrat with a questionable grip on reality.

Most Americans, even if they might reject some of the word choices I made in the preceding sentence, are also very worried about what Trumpism will produce, and a growing number of congressional Republicans are likewise worried about the Devil’s bargain their party has made.

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Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 05/26/2017 - 04:07 pm.

    I do, too

    “…with Trump, I worry about a more fundamental threat to life on earth, as well as him being a dishonest egomaniac/megalomaniac/kleptocrat with a questionable grip on reality.” I do, too, but I can’t carry all those syllables around in my aging head. I just think of him as “sleazy-rich,” and it conjures up all those unpalatable characteristics, plus a few more. Of course, maybe I’ve just hung out with the wrong kind of wealthy folks. On those exceedingly rare occasions when I found myself in the company of people for whom my annual income was hardly worth mentioning, a few were genuinely nice people. Among the others, however, Trump’s several character flaws are neither rare nor unusual. Many a plutocrat of either gender suffers from similar delusions.

    I’m not likely to agree with Mr. Gerson about some of his philosophical and policy positions, but his judgment about at least a segment of the current Republican Party and the “conservative” end of our political spectrum seems spot-on to me. Many a Trump supporter is no more “conservative” in any genuine sense than I am. Gerson calls it “diseased,” Matt Taibbi, from the other end of the political spectrum, calls it “deranged,” but I think they’re both talking and writing about the same phenomenon.

  2. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 05/26/2017 - 05:00 pm.

    “Dancing with the one who brung ya”

    The GOP leadership had little choice other than making a Devil’s bargain with Donald Trump. Once he got nominated according to the party’s own rules, Trump was either going to bring down the whole party or, as he actually did, bring the party back “from the dead” in a metaphoric sense. Trump’s upset made the whole GOP seem like a bunch of geniuses, as in the proverb “a victory has many fathers, but defeat is an orphan.” But, as Molly Ivens used to say, “when someone takes you to a dance, you’ve got to dance with the one who brung ya.”

    Both parties are struggling these days with an “identity crisis” over what they really stand for while the people are desperate to know whether either party stands for anything. As long as the Presidency of the United States has more power than ever imagined by the drafters of the Constitution and the United States remains committed to remaining the world’s lone super-power, neither party is going to be able to have much room to attack the much needed domestic reforms and agenda. That is, unless our Constitution has become so irrelevant that an authoritarian oriented party like the GOP repudiates its commitment to a republic directed by democratic principles and replaces it with a lookalike Potemkin village facade.

    • Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 05/27/2017 - 10:21 am.

      is the issue really party?

      I reject the reduction of the crisis facing the United States to some assumed necessity of principled Republicans to “dance with him that brung ya.” Meaning that they must supinely support Donald Trump in everything he does and says, without establishing either conservative parameters of thought or outlining some human decency and compassion in a favor-the-rich Trump policy regime.

      Many of us in the country are desperately waiting for the Congressional Republican majority to show independence from Trump. Any independence. Any public statement that a health care plan must include decent health care (no waivers to states to provide nothing much, for low premiums). Any public statement that rejects making the poor pay for tax cuts for the wealthy. Any public statement that Republicans do not favor discrimination based on religion or race. Any public statement that condemns Trump’s increasingly-obvious desire to coddle up to Russians. Any public statement that Republicans value scientific research and what that means for our environmental protections of the Earth.

      If we are reduced today to pure party loyalty, no matter the issue or policy question, are we still America at all? Must Republicans sell their souls to this vulgar and thoughtless man?

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 05/27/2017 - 11:09 am.

      A Zombie is not a Golem

      Sometimes it’s better not to raise the dead.
      When a political party no longer performs a positive function in our system, it’s time to replace it with a new one. It has happened before.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/31/2017 - 08:36 am.

      Genius? No.

      Trump’s victory didn’t make anyone look like a genius. If anything just it made American voters look like idiots.

      In fact there was no genius of any kind associated with Trump, his campaign, or his current presidency. Trump didn’t win because of any kind of genius, he won because there was a perfect storm of complete incompetence within the Democratic Party, a warped political landscape that caters almost exclusively to the elite, and an electorate that’s paralyzed by widespread ignorance.

      I know that sounds harsh but it IS the harsh reality. Any attempt to credit Trump with some kind of political genius or even competence is just a form of denial. What Trump reveals is the fact that a psychologically damaged, intellectual dullard can become the president of he United States. The political landscape in this country has devolved to the point where even minimal qualifications are simply not required to gain office.

      In many ways this the triumph of the private sector’s incompetent executive class. Before demonstrating an incompetent dullard gaining the White House Trump showed us how such a buffoon could become a billionaire. And again, no genius was involved or necessary. Trump made bank on the stupidity of those he did business with. Despite a portfolio of bankruptcy’s and spectacular failures bankers kept giving him hundreds of millions of dollars. It was the incompetence of those surrounding him, not his own superior skills that built his “empire”. No one with any sense would get involved in a business deal with Donald Trump, yet… The only insight we can credit Trump with is the realization that thinking big, really really really BIG, draws in really big money. And once big money is in, you can use the sheer size of their investment as leverage. The problem with THAT insight is, you almost have to be a sociopath to deploy it, no one with any shame or much of a conscience could pull it off.

      Donald Trump didn’t get the Republican nomination because he was a genius of some kind, he got the nomination because the Republican long since has become a magnet for damaged personalities and sociopaths. The Republican party attracts such people, puts them on the ballot, and gets them elected.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/31/2017 - 09:20 am.

      By the way…

      Trump was a death knell for the Republican party whether he won or lost. If he’d lost, he would have lost to Hillary Clinton, and that defeat would have exploded the Party. His victory is just as if not worse for the Party because they’re simply incapable of rational governance and almost all of their initiatives are unpopular. Anything the get done will be stupid and unpopular, and they’ll not get much done anyways.

      The Party (and now the Administration) is so completely populated with damaged personalities and incompetent dullards that the inevitable failures will trigger one crises after another followed by intra-party recriminations, divisions, and implosion. There’s simply no way to make the Trump presidency work.

      The challenge for the nation is to not collapse along with the Republican Party. Frankly the biggest worry is that the Democrats will fail to rise to the occasion. Instead of stepping up with strong liberal policies that will reverse the damage and promote the general welfare, they tend to step up with somewhat less toxic initiatives that band-aid the wounds rather than heal them. What we know is that despite Republican disarray and eminent collapse, Democrat’s can still lose elections. In the end it’s the Democrats who will decide our fate, and so far it’s not encouraging.

  3. Submitted by Roy Everson on 05/27/2017 - 07:52 am.

    GOP should learn from France

    When Goldwater conservatives took over the party in the 80s they soon discovered they could not win elections with that ideology — it is never, ever enough for majority rule in any healthy democracy — unless they round up all the deplorables on the right. Prone to fear campaigns is the main attribute they share, with scapegoats galore to blame for their anger.

    The conservatives thought their economic solutions were so attractive they could convert those people and build a majority. Instead the deplorables have had greater inflluence on the traditional Republicans so that it’s become hard to tell the difference. Indeed, even the word “conservative” has been transformed to mean anything on the rightwing spectrum regardless of whether it adheres to democratic ideas. To hold power in a two party system you need a coalition: the GOP is a coalition of greed, bigotry, fear and willful igorance.

    When they decided to embrace an antidemocratic demogogue it was time for a France moment: people who hold the country’s values dear should be prepared to abandon party for principle. The French have done this twice in this century, with mainstream right and left uniting behind the pro-democratic candidate. With few exceptions American Republicans have choked.

  4. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 05/29/2017 - 01:23 pm.

    The Disease Has Metastasized

    The Republicans have been working tirelessly since the Reagan days to earn the quagmire they have right now. They have strived to make us the Divided States of America and they have succeeded.
    For nearly forty years, many of the Republican comments contained the obligatory words, “In the tradition of Ronald Reagan.” Now, you don’t hear those words because the public realizes Reagan was the start of the Republican mess and America’s decline.
    Bill Maher said Ronald Reagan was an anti-government, union-busting, race-baiting, anti-abortion, anti-gay, and anti-intellectual who cut rich people’s taxes in half, had an incurable case of the military-industrial complex, and said Medicare was socialism that would destroy our freedom. Both sides really should stop pretending he was something other than the man most responsible for our decline. Maher has it right.
    It is hard to use the word “News” in the same sentence with Fox. They came along and amplified Republican mantras from the Fox podium. Sean Hannity has no compunction about spewing his half-truths or total fiction to provide his Fox listeners with his destructive brand of entertainment. Hannity is just filling the Republican leadership void.
    Republicans got to the point where, if they misquoted the Republican dogma, they literally apologized to Russ Limbaugh who characterizes himself as an entertainer. He may be an entertainer but he is a very destructive entertainer. Limbaugh is just filling the Republican leadership void.
    The Republicans have made bogus, unconstitutional/unamerican claims without any proof. Claims such as voter fraud, death panel in Obamacare, and President Obama couldn’t appoint a Supreme Court nominee because he had less than a year of his term left. All unabashedly bogus claims.
    The Republican Party reflects the last 40 years of Republicanism. The thing the Republicans forgot along the way was to develop party leadership. Now they have none. In the breaking up of America they also broke up the Republican Party into unmanageable groups. They voted in a narcissist who is in it for himself. The Republicans have been in total control of Washington for five months and they have accomplished absolutely nothing, except proving they are leaderless. After eight years of voting to repeal and replace Obamacare over 70 times, you would have thought the Republicans would have had a viable plan they could have approved on day one of having total control in Washington. They are not even close to having a viable plan. This is what leaderless looks like. Who knew healthcare was this complicated? The answer is that everyone knew except the Republicans. Paul Ryan in the House and Mitch McConnell in the Senate cannot control their members to get anything passed. Their party is nothing but a disparate group of undisciplined people without a common goal other than to obstruct. The Republican Party has forgotten how to lead.

  5. Submitted by chuck holtman on 05/30/2017 - 01:23 pm.


    This article has been pulled completely off of the MinnPost home page – even though it is Mr Black’s most recent piece and four older pieces are linked on that page.

  6. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/31/2017 - 08:59 am.

    OK but…

    The observation itself is well and good, but are we supposed to finally accept this observation as valid because a former Heritage Foundation guy finally endorsed it?

    Look, a lot of people have been making this observation for decades; do we need Gerson’s approval to accept it? Several whole books have been written about the toxic and pathological nature of the Republican mindset, the first one I read was: “Thunder on the Right” by Alan Crawford back in the 1980s. More recently Max Blumenthal updated the observation in: “Republican Gomorrah”. There have been thousands of article and dozens of other books published widely over the decades, so do we really need Gerson’s observation?

    That Gerson would finally share this conclusion after decades is somewhat interesting but what’s more interesting (at least to me) is the fact that American Liberals have been denying this obvious truth for decades. It’s like they won’t believe something until a conservative says it. I mean we can debate the toxic nature of Ronald Reagan vs. his policies, but by the time we get to Newt Gingrich it’s time to say: “Goodnight Gracie” and that was what? 30 years ago?

    I hate to say it but if you’re really surprised by Trump and the Republicans at this point… you weren’t paying attention.

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