What Makes “Conservatives” Tick?

When you examine the convictions held by a majority of American “conservatives”, particularly of the extreme right-wing variety, you see some interesting patterns emerge.

They profess to be against excessive government regulation, but advocate strict government interference in private matters like sex, reproduction and religion.

They tout “religious freedom”, but have no problem discriminating against Muslims or atheists.

They believe that aggressive warfare will prevent aggressive warfare.

They believe that putting more guns in circulation and deregulating their use will reduce the number of people who use guns.

They believe that government assistance to the poor encourages indolence and dependency, while government assistance to the rich encourages industry and self-reliance.

They believe that a handful of immigrants committing crimes is a greater threat than a much larger number of white citizens; and that building a wall will stop these immigrants from arriving in airplanes.

They believe electing the president by popular vote would allow the majority to tyrannize the rest of the country, but have no problem with the electoral college allowing a minority to tyrannize the rest of the country.

They want to outlaw abortion because they believe everyone has a right to live, and they support the death penalty because they believe some people deserve to die.

Now anyone looking at all of this and trying to sort out and codify “conservative” values would be understandably quite befuddled. But such a person also would be rather misguided. Because the thing is, there’s no such thing as “conservative” values —  at least not in the sense of consistent stances on issues.  “Conservatism” isn’t built on values. It’s built on attitude.

And how are we to characterize that attitude?  Is there one constant thread that runs through this wildly conflicting tapestry of “values”? What kind of glue can hold together such a motley mob of fundamentalists, robber baron types, flaming demagogues, liberal bashers, authoritarians, conspiracy theorists, Nazis, neo-Confederates, pseudo-intellectual  revisionists, and assorted kooks?

One claim you’ll hear frequently from left-leaning folks is that right-leaning folks care only about money. But that’s not really true. Certainly, filthy lucre is a major motivator for many right-wingers; but then it’s also a major motivator for a fair number of relatively normal people. 

Thing is, money doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It represents something.  For healthy, well-adjusted adults, it represents freedom, or something along that line.  But for “conservatives”, it represents power — meaning power over other people.  They can never have enough money because they can never have  enough power. Yet if they face a situation in which they actually must choose one or the other, they’re quite likely to opt for the latter. Elon Musk, for instance, has been quite willing to dump billions into Twitter because it puts him much more in the spotlight and enables him to wield much more influence.

Another observation you’ll hear about right-wingers these days is that “the cruelty is the point”. Well, yes, certainly cruelty is one important point.  “Conservatives” really get their rocks off by inflicting misery and inconvenience, particularly on those who are already disadvantaged and vulnerable — e.g.,  children, the elderly, minorities, refugees, and, needless to say, the LGBTQ community.

But why do they take such joy in the suffering of others? For the same reason that cruel individuals always have: it gives them a sense of power and superiority. So addicted are they to the spoils of torture that they often go to comical lengths to pretend it exists when it doesn’t.

This will prompt some of them to amass enormous wealth — often by exploiting the labor of the working poor. For others, the path to ego gratification runs through the halls of government. Or churches. Or the media. And once ensconced in these positions, they weaponize their clout to concentrate power into the hands of the few. In Wisconsin, a state with a solid Democratic majority among the electorate, Republicans have managed to wield the weapons of legal marginalization to engineer a commanding, perhaps even permanent, control of state government.

Even those “conservatives” who are not themselves in positions of power try to absorb it through osmosis — ironically by indulging in bootlicking of their favored demagogues. (See Cult, MAGA.) Fanatical devotion to their cause is the communion wafer that convinces them they are part of the power structure. And they can indulge in other rituals to reinforce that conviction.

They can drive loud, flashy and ecologically unfriendly vehicles to rub their superiority in everyone’s face. They can broadcast their “patriotism” by sporting flags — both Union and Confederate. (Contradiction is never a deal breaker with these people.) They can pose as righteous and morally superior by styling themselves “Pro-life”. They can pose as more expert about science than scientists, and more expert about history than historians. They can have a raging hard-on for all manner of firearms and weaponry.

Above all, they can support and defend hierarchy, which is the scaffolding that keeps “conservatism” the dominant dynamic in society. Implicitly or explicitly, the “conservative” maintains that the rich are above the poor; that whites are above people of color; that males are above females; that the religious are above the secular; and that Christians are above all others. From this they derive a sense of unwavering entitlement — to anything they want, anytime they want it, no matter how much trouble it causes.

Those right-wingers who are themselves outside one or more of these circles nonetheless become convinced that they belong, and will somehow reap the rewards if they are loyal to the cause. So don’t be shocked if at some time in your life you encounter a right-winger who is also a black transgender atheist Muslim female. This tent is just big enough to hold anyone who is willing to trade self-respect for self-aggrandizement.

That’s the lure and the beauty of “conservatism”. It affords the most damaged and twisted human beings an opportunity to live their lives in a holodeck simulation that portrays them as noble, virtuous superheroes.


  1. I guess that if they’re born with a golden spoon in their mouths and motivated only by success, then the uber wealthy feel virtuous and entirely entitled to run the world with their own set of rules. Most of us are not motivated by being rich, and little things like caring, sharing ,and doing the right thing, makes the rest of us, suffer for their greed!!

  2. After all that has been happening under the big top circus in Washington DC I am waiting for a new post that you might write about It. I’ll all almost laughable when some maga person says they have proof of (you pick a topic) but upon requests for that proof they can never seem to provide it? You can feel afraid or laugh at those (as you said) who are impervious to facts. So keep on writing. My guess is that you are now receiving much fewer comments because everybody is tired of watching Repubs try to rule the world, and choose instead, to take a sabbatical from all the antagonistic social media warfare!!!

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