The current iteration of conservatives in America has normalised alt-right white nationalism and kleptocracy in return for neoliberal war without end and the roll-back of women's rights, let's get that said. Result: Steve Bannon will be getting his marching orders any day now and we'll be seeing the neocons moving in to fill the vacuum. Since the Neocons have successfully cast themselves as centrists, expect to hear talk about how the market is the solution to everything. The thing is, Neoconservatism isn't really conservatism either: it's basically American imperialism. America was never supposed to be about establishing an empire or being uber alles, it's supposed to be a haven for people who think for themselves, the operative word being "think," since the Constitution and Bill of Rights are founded on Enlightenment principles. However, the advent of post-modernist relativism has pushed it aside. Now superstition has been replaced with conspiracy theories but they're not that different: both require ignoring facts that contradict one's personal world view, which must be respected because opinion is sacrosanct.
Conservatism under Trump
If Donald Trump could hold to a position with any integrity it'd be easier to delineate what he believes, but it changes according to his state of mind. One minute he's a hardline protectionist nationalist building a wall that Mexico will pay for (if it's via trade tariffs enjoy being sued under NAFTA, Donny boy), the next he's softening his stance on immigration and bombing Syria, which he told Obama not to do. If Trump is considered conservative at all, his influence on it is not the nativism attributed to him (that's Bannon all the way), it's the stubborn ignorance, stupidity, and greed that characterise his administration.
Trump only knows what Fox and Breitbart tell him, apparently, so they give him his marching orders. While he does look at other media outlets, these are the ones he trusts, until they make a fool of him.
"That was a statement made by a very talented lawyer on Fox and so you shouldn't be talking to me, you should be talking to Fox, ok?" - Donald Trump 18th March 2017
Whether or not the sting of embarrassment has left him looking further afield for news that doesn't cause the world to point and laugh at him is up for debate. However, he has shifted significantly on cherished opinions — the ones Steve Bannon promoted to get him elected. They has proven bad for business and Trump's children have been asking him to get rid of Bannon for tarnishing the business brand. Being ignorant may play well with the base but rednecks don't pay to stay in fancy hotels.
Trump's ignorance sinks to the level of rank stupidity when it takes a sitting Chinese president to school the man on geopolitics, but then he's not a fan of intelligence briefings - they only last half an hour. And he lies. Oh, he lies like there's no tomorrow. He lies as if he's being paid per word per lie. See his Politifact scoreboard. It's embarrassing. Out of four hundred-odd statements he's made, only sixteen are actually true while forty eight are mostly true and fifty six are half true. He's told one hundred and ninety one outright fibs and made seventy seven mostly false statements. He lies as easily as he breathes and his cultish base has no problem with this at all; they laugh it off. This is stupid because it means we can't take him seriously when he speaks or acts: what are we supposed to believe when he opens his mouth?
Policy reversals might turn his base off him
Another example of Trump's stupidity is the reversal on platform policies that could see his base turn against him. While he's known for having no shame he's a narcissist; they can't abide being laughed at or criticised (he's notoriously thin-skinned) so he's moving to positions that are garnering more positive reviews in the media. Breitbart isn't having a go at him yet but Fox appears to be on the Kushner side of the aisle where influence is concerned. If Trump can win support from more mainstream conservatives this might not be so bad but he's so polarising he might find it's too little to late for the more moderate conservatives and a slap in the face to the rabid right-wingers who elected him. Trump is not clever enough to pull off the delicate balancing act required to keep all of the squabbling factions who support him on board and he's got nobody on staff who can. It doesn't help that ideology and reality collide in Trump's administration. He's currently holding payments to health insurers hostage to get the Democrats to negotiate a replacement for the Affordable Care Act, AKA Obamacare. The "let him die" brigade will love this and pray for the whole thing to collapse until they fall ill themselves.
During Mitt Romney's doomed candidacy there was talk of running the country like a business, cutting away the fat and making it more efficient. Well when you run a country like a business you run it for a profit. And this, dear friends, is what Trump is doing. He spends his weekends in dodgy Mar-a-Lago on the American taxpayer's dime. That's what Camp David is for, but Trump wouldn't make any money from staying there with his security detail and the top-tier members of staff who need to talk shop with him. Steve Bannon's long slow screaming fall from grace is mostly due to the impact on the family business; greed is affecting Trump's judgement on staff picks. And for the sake of his business, Trump is capitulating to the Chinese on trade and security.
What can we do?
We need to keep this conversation going. I'm not having this any more. Heck, I wasn't having it when the neocons and religious zealots were the worst thing I could think of on the right. We need to agree on a common definition of conservatism that includes traditional values. I'm not talking about the faux "compassionate conservatism" that puts the church and charities in charge of delivering social welfare programs: it doesn't work in practice.
I'm talking about a rugged down-and-dirty conservatism that accepts the harsh realities of the world we live in, i.e. that we require a welfare state that actually delivers on its promise to support the needy and enable able-bodied people to find work that pays well enough to support them and their families. Workers need to receive a living wage or they'll be living off us: accept it. Do employers deserve many hours of cheap labour from some poor schlub who can't find a better job elsewhere? We need a social housing program that provides competition in the market, enabling people to live near where they work. This will help to keep wages down as they only need to rise when living costs do. I'm not a fan of "redistributing wealth;" that's just a way of framing the argument in terms of who's a maker and who's a taker. I do, however, believe that a worker should be fairly compensated for the time spent and the effort made on the job, and that this should be commensurate with his or her living and travel expenses so we don't end up subsidizing corporations too greedy to pay their own way.
This is what conservatism ought to be about: solving problems in a way that encourages personal responsibility, not laughing behind our hands at those less fortunate than ourselves. Now how are we going to get it there?