I’m a conservative transgender woman. But conservatives have lost their way.


Conservativism has decayed and become coopted by a motley crew of degenerates. The voice of tradition is now a shrill whine, and its policies and priorities are scattered. Many pundits have ascribed these problems to the capitulation of conservative thought towards “identity politics.”

Conservatives must look in the mirror and ask themselves: What are we? Who are we? Where are we going? The current state of the conservative movement is disheartening and puzzling.

As a conservative-leaning transgender woman, I am frequently asked how I can support “the right.” My answer is simple: I don’t. The right-wing elements of conservativism do not represent my values, and I do not support their rotting agenda.

I respect individuals’ right to live their own lives without prohibitive government intervention and state-imposed moralization. I believe in free markets and limited government.

I recognize the importance of liberty and freedom and the sovereignty of the individual to make their choices and decisions about how they live their lives. And most importantly, I reject extremism in all its forms, recognizing that the unchecked proliferation of any one political view will never contribute to a free society in which all voices are heard and respected.

But these conservative values, alongside values about economics, taxation, and freedom, have been replaced by rabblerousing noise and outrage — a politics based on fear, greed, resentment, and antagonism toward anyone who isn’t part of the “in-group.”


What remains of conservatism is primarily confined to three factions: the Religious Right (or Christian Right), Anti-Intellectual Know-Nothings (or New Reaction), and Nationalistic Populists (or Alternative Right).

The Religious Right is perhaps best understood as a political movement that is fundamentally opposed to the very idea of democracy. It is not a coincidence that many of the leaders of this movement, including Christian fundamentalists like Pat Robertson and Ralph Reed, Rick Santorum, and Ted Cruz, are also theocrats who hold a profoundly anti-democratic view of how society should be ordered.

The Religious Right has been dreaming of an authoritarian society, where one group has all the power, long before Trump or Russia came on the political scene. This authoritarian fantasy was planted in the 1970s, when conservative evangelicals, looking for ways to infiltrate and reshape American society, discovered what could be called “the authoritarian temptation.”

The Anti-Intellectual Know-Nothings (or New Reaction) faction of the right is characterized by extreme paranoia and conspiratorial thinking stemming from an irrational fear of the outside world. This group is obsessed with identity, tribalism, and the idea that “the other” is out to destroy “us.” It has turned to ethnonationalism, racism, and white supremacy to protect its members from feelings of inadequacy and powerlessness. Anti-intellectualism — the contempt for knowledge, expertise, facts, and logic — is the glue that holds this faction together. It often manifests in a call to “stick to the issues,” which is just code for the Know-Nothings to ignore facts and analysis in favor of simplistic rhetoric and sloganeering.

The Nationalistic Populists (or Alternative Right) faction of the right is characterized by authoritarianism, nativism (fear of foreigners), and isolationism. Most of the leaders and supporters in this group are unapologetic racists who promote authoritarian policies and engage in culture wars against people they consider “soulless” and “degenerate.” This faction is primarily interested in preserving the power of a specific group of people — white men — rather than in upholding certain principles, such as the rule of law, human rights, and democratic values.

They are not interested in the economy itself, only in bending the economy to an ideological endpoint, using it as a tool of subjugation and mob hysteria, as seen in their support for things like trade protectionism and “economic nationalism.” They have been drawn to demagogues like Joseph McCarthy, George Wallace, and Pat Buchanan.


None of these factions represent true conservativism, values emphasizing personal responsibility, liberty, and freedom of class movement that can foster opportunity and creativity.

Conservatives must uphold the sovereignty of the individual and tend to be suspicious of unchecked government power and control. They must stand for stability and order and respect traditions, customs, and institutions that have proven themselves over time.

These values oppose the right-wing factions’ authoritarianism, tribalism, and racism. It is time for conservatives to reclaim their values and distance themselves from the right-wing extremists who have hijacked their movement. The alternative is the unmitigated chaos of the extreme left or the extreme right without the balance of reason and common sense.

Today, anger and outrage dominate our political dialogues, and we have become increasingly polarized. Both left-wingers and right-wingers retreat into groups that echo their own opinions, further entrenching their beliefs. Our society needs a healthy conservative voice to moderate the worst impulses of the political spectrum; a voice that can foster debates about important issues without descending into political disagreements and mindless shouting matches.


I am disturbed by a future in which one political ideology is the ruling force of the day. If conservatives cannot recover their vernacular, I worry that we will lose something fundamentally crucial to our democracy; the possibility of a balanced, nuanced discourse.

Without it, there will be no way to keep the worst impulses of left-wing politics in check and no way to encourage the growth of the best elements of human nature.

Going forward, the conservative movement needs to be less about politics and more about thoughtfulness. We need to be less about opposition and more about an alternative. Conservatives need a strong presence in the public square if we can be considered a viable alternative to fiscally or morally unsound policies. We must bring the public back to ideas and away from the politics of fear, race, and resentment.

It is not a zero-sum game, but the left and the right have played it that way for too long. Both sides are losing touch with reality, becoming actors on a stage without an audience. Our political debates have devolved into a series of catchphrase-driven moments, leaving no room for honest discourse or a genuine exchange of ideas. We need a new narrative that can help us move forward.



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Joan Westenberg

Joan Westenberg


Chaotic good. Award winning creative director & writer, ft. in Wired, Inc, SF Chronicle, TNW. Founder thisisstudioself.com