The Inevitable Capitulation of Conservatism

There's just no financial future in having conviction.

On the whole, I would expect that most people who think the American conservative movement to be the last, best hope for evangelical Christianity also believe that the American conservative movement feels pretty much the same away about evangelical Christianity. And here is where I think evangelicals who invest the lion's share of their energies into supporting the Fox News/Tomi Lahren/Duck Dynasty genre of conservative subculture make a significant miscalculation. They believe the conservative personalities they see on TV and hear on AM radio know that traditional religious belief is essential to winning these cultural battles and feel a meaningful solidarity with America’s evangelical churches. They believe that the GOP and SBC have the right common enemies and that these common enemies reveal a fundamental likemindedness. But they’re mistaken.

They’re mistaken not only because they overestimate the fellowship comes from having common enemies, but also because they think of politics as pretty much like religion. Politics is the art of power, and no amount of religious infusion into political life can change that. My sense is that a lot of conservative evangelicals believe that the conservative movement will always represent them because it rests on a religious foundation. But that’s simply not true. Politics is coalition-building, the accumulation of authority, and in the United States’ case, the ability to raise money and procure votes through promises and rhetoric.

There is no reason to believe that popular American conservatism can or will hold the line against the sexual nihilism that most associate with progressives or “elite” media culture. Why not? Because popular American conservatism is a power-building exercise, and its most moneyed and most influential institutions survive precisely because they know how to hold onto their money and influence. And, to put it bluntly, there is absolutely no financial future for opposing transgenderism, none whatsoever. Put aside the question of woke capital. Why would you alienate people who might otherwise give you their money and support? If Caitlyn Jenner wants to blast the governor of California for being an elite progressive who bludgeons his people with pandemic restrictions and pushes CRT, why would you not welcome that?

The mainstream conservative movement does not have an answer to that question. The only answer, in fact, requires the kind of serious moral inquiry that the conservative movement seems incapable of pursuing. Instead it’s outer-ringism all the way down, a contest of gainsaying The New York Times at all costs. What happens when the things that were thought to be immovable pillars of conservative worldview are abandoned because they no longer play well to the paying customers? Well, we saw what happened in 2016. I never did see an answer to the question of how Donald Trump was supposed to save traditional Christianity in America while he was hugging a pride flag. But perhaps that’s only a question for a “pastor-in-chief” rather than a commander.

A healthy number of evangelicals are going to wake up in a few years and realize that the TV networks, pundits, and political parties that they believed with all their heart were going to defend their faith have redefined it instead. Owning the libs will be a job for everyone, no matter where you are on the gender spectrum. “Culture war” will mean forcing Apple not to remove that patriotic podcast by a bisexual drag queen. And for gospel-believing Christians, the tiny parcel of conviction which we claim as our own will recede further into the water of pragmatism, until finally the alleged defenders of Christendom are the ones to point and cry, “Wrong side of history!”