“For the movement to gain traction in the post-Trump era, conservatives must reposition themselves as culture shapers.”
For better or worse, the past four years have been some of the most electrifying, divisive, and determinative years for the conservative movement. From the coalition of “Never-Trumpers” to the “Basket of Deplorables,” Republicans have found themselves identifying less along ideological lines, and more so in reaction to the personality and policy decisions of former President Donald Trump.
The Big Question: What Comes Next?
Since the Reagan Era, the conservative movement has not seen such an unmistakable and cogent leader. Trump helped define modern conservatism as a socio-political movement which denies the radical culturalism of the left and bashfully resists the socialist and nihilistic forces which liberals endorse. However, after four years of such a clarifying president, who defined Republicanism in the light of his own unprecedented personality and governing style, the question must be asked: how does the party proceed in his absence? With no definite leader, no majority power in the federal government and a remarkable amount of intraparty division, what does the future of the GOP look like in the wake of President Trump?
On Culture, It’s Time to Play Offense
This, of course, is a question with no clear right answer. However, there seems to be a great amount of agreement arising in the GOP surrounding the importance of fighting political battles from a cultural standpoint. In the words of Andrew Breitbart, “Politics is downstream of culture.” Whereas the culture of the GOP has for years now circulated around the personality of President Trump, many party leaders are beginning to notice the gigantic cultural divide that has occurred over the past four years between the two parties. Whereas conservatives adopted a position of brazen defense, liberals have launched an unfettered cultural attack on religion, education, free speech, marriage, and family. More and more, conservatives recognize that playing defense in a battle over the culture is not the position they want to be in. While conservatives typically find themselves as the protectors of cultural norms, the current attack on these values seems to demand that they redefine themselves and take the offensive position in the current culture war.
Changing the Perception of the GOP
For the movement to gain traction in the post-Trump era, conservatives must reposition themselves as culture shapers, infusing education, the arts, sports, and media with fundamental values and core tenets which define classical conservatism. Playing defense is no longer sufficient. The conservative movement is facing a crisis of positioning: how does the party market itself when the left has demonized it as racist, homophobic, small-minded, and discriminatory? If the right wants to have a shot at political influence, they must focus on repainting the narrative and finding a way to shape the movement, and culture in general, around fundamental morals and values, rather than the personality of one eccentric and demonstrative former president.
The Republican Party is lost. It lacks definition, direction, and it is at a crossroads; either it can define itself in the light of politicians’ personalities, or it can delineate itself according to the principals of family, limited government, and the cultivation of a virtuous and just society through education and religion. I posit that the future of the cause needs to be oriented towards the latter; in finding a way to present these timeless values through institutions and social mediums to our younger generations. This culture war is too important to give up on, and with the level of education and the depth of the moral compass which these younger generations (including my own) have, there is great hope that conservatives can unify and expand moving forward behind the message of truth, justice, family, community, and freedom.
Elizabeth Finnegan is a senior at Grove City College, studying entrepreneurship and political science. On campus, Elizabeth serves as a Resident Assistant, a Teaching Assistant for Professors Tim Sweet, Kenneth Smith, and Yvonne English, a writer for The Collegian, and has served on the Pan Hellenic Council as an active member of the Theta Alpha Pi Sorority.
Elizabeth has interned as a product specialist at John Hiester Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram of Sanford, NC and worked in marketing and development as the alumni affairs coordinator for Cary Christian School. Elizabeth is actively involved in the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and has spent time traveling the United States and Europe, studying different dimensions of Entrepreneurial Leadership and Regional Political Structures. Upon graduation, Elizabeth hopes to pursue a career where she can combine her passions for politics, travel and entrepreneurship.