As a young man, I was primed, by both instinct and education, to become a conservative. My late father was chairman of the local Republican Party. I was raised on an intellectual diet of the Bible and the writings of laissez faire economist Milton Friedman. I watched Firing Line with William F. Buckley the way some kids watched Dance Fever. However, by the time I was a senior in high school, the GOP had begun to abandon all the values it once stood for, and I have watched in horror as it has only gotten worse.

I watched under Reagan as the party of a balanced budgets and fiscal conservatism became the party of huge budget deficits and Voodoo Economics. (Republican fiscal policy was determined by a former actor, Reagan, who was convinced by a former football player, Senator Jack Kemp, that if you decrease taxes and increase spending, it will balance the budget. Really.)

I also watched under Reagan as the party of Lincoln became the party that winked at segregationists at home with talk of “States’ Rights” and in foreign policy supported the apartheid regime in South Africa. (Lee Atwater, chairman of the Republican National Committee, admitted, on tape, that GOP political strategy could be summed up as “N****r, n****r, n****r,” but in “coded” language.)

I watched under G. W. Bush as the party of a strong national defense and a “realist” foreign policy got taken over by people who eliminated a regime over imaginary weapons of mass destruction, with no plan for what to do after we “won.” (Bush’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Karl Rove, contemptuously called people who care about facts and evidence the “reality-based community,” and claimed that the Bush administration had moved beyond that. Kellyanne Conway’s “alternative facts” is the latest expression of this Nietzschean anti-realism.)

I also watched under G. W. Bush as Voodoo Economics became orthodoxy. Vice President Dick Cheney casually pronounced: “Reagan proved that deficits don’t matter.”

And now I am seeing the further degeneration of the GOP under Trump, as the party betrays all its earlier ideals: fiscal conservatism, a foreign policy based on realpolitik, a strong national defense involving cooperation with our NATO allies, opposition to authoritarian regimes in Russia and North Korea, and now even free trade.

We have reached the point where the fig leaf provided by the “coded” language of racial division has been taken away. Representative Steve King (R, IA) can get away with suggesting on national television that no “subgroup of people” has contributed more to civilization than white Europeans, and Rep. Robert Pittenger (R, NC) can assert that black protestors “hate white people because white people are successful and they’re not.”

My liberal friends will be shocked to discover that I have a picture of myself in grade school, standing by a dead deer while holding a pump-action shotgun. I am actually quite a good shot. However, I am horrified to see the GOP do nothing as children–children!–are mowed down with semiautomatic rifles: all because of the money Republican candidates get from the NRA.

I’m not even going to emphasize the fact that the party of “family values,” which polls strongly with evangelical Christians, is still supporting a man whose sexual mores would have made Hugh Hefner blush, and whose language and taste would offend Caligula. (Remember that this is the same party that accused Obama of degrading the office of the Presidency by wearing a tan suit and using a selfie stick in the Oval Office.)

Meanwhile, my conservative friends earnestly tell me that the problem in the US right now is how many people are unfairly accused of being racist. Are you joking? Being overly concerned about racism is the big problem in the US right now? People who were literally waving swastikas and chanting “Heil Trump” (it’s on video) marched in the US, an American patriot who was protesting Nazism was murdered, and our GOP President said “both sides” were at fault.

I hear from other conservative friends that the big problem in the US is how men are getting accused of sexism and misogyny for the smallest mistakes. Are you serious? It turns out that Harvey Weinstein was just one instance of many powerful men using their position and influence to literally rape female colleagues and get away with it.

And as a college professor I hear about how “left-wing” US colleges and universities are. Yes, in the past, many more college professors were Republicans. That was back when Republicans supported policies that educated, informed people could agree with. Are Trump-ublicans really surprised that few intellectuals support their party anymore? There’s no left-wing conspiracy at work; there’s just people who are reading the news carefully and seeing that what counts as “conservative” in the US right now is crazy.

Please, thoughtful conservatives like Max BootMatt K. Lewis, Tom Nichols, George WillSenator Jeff Flake–take the Republican Party back! I want there to be a moderate, sensible conservative party in the US again!

So you want to know why this nice young boy from a conservative family didn’t grow up to be an intellectual champion of conservatism like everyone expected? Blame the GOP.

About The Author

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Bryan W. Van Norden is a leading expert on Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism. He is the author, editor, or translator of nine books on Chinese and comparative philosophy, including Introduction to Classical Chinese Philosophy (2011), Readings in Later Chinese Philosophy: Han to the 20th Century (2014, with Justin Tiwald), Readings in Classical Chinese Philosophy (2nd ed., 2005, with P.J. Ivanhoe), and most recently Taking Back Philosophy: A Multicultural Manifesto (2017). Van Norden lives in Singapore, where he is currently Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple Professor at Yale-NUS College. He is also Chair Professor in Philosophy in the School of Philosophy at Wuhan University (PRC) and James Monroe Taylor Chair in Philosophy at Vassar College (USA). A recipient of Fulbright, National Endowment for the Humanities, and Mellon fellowships, Van Norden has been honored as one of The Best 300 Professors in the US by The Princeton Review. His hobbies are poker (he has played in the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas) and video games.