MAGA is not the same as Conservative

I half wonder why I’m bothering with this post. Maybe it’s because this is just something that bothers me. Maybe it’s because the lumping of groups of people together seems lazy and unfair. Maybe it’s because of something I ate. Who knows. But I felt the need to write this and make the argument that MAGA and conservatives are not the same.

Politics is an interesting beast. Often in our modern context, we try to simplify politics into easy soundbites, put people into pre-determined and pre-defined boxes, and lump together what we think is similar – especially when it comes to those we are opposed to. The logic usually goes something like this – “If you aren’t on my side, then you must be my enemy.” I’ve seen this from both conservative and liberal politicians, media sources, and on social media. In some regards, this really isn’t anything specific to politics – it’s more a feature of humanity.

Back when I worked for a member of Congress, I remember being told that relationships with those on the other side of the aisle were important and also a bit tricky. One moment you were strongly opposing what another member was supporting, and the next, you were asking for them to support your legislation. That doesn’t happen though when politics becomes too personal, where there is mistrust, tribalism, and more.

One of the areas that I’ve seen this happen is in the lumping of the MAGA (Make America Great Again, Trump) universe together with conservatives. Granted, there is often policy overlap between these two groups to some degree, but they are not the same groups. I think there are key and important differences between these two groups. The lumping of them together is really a disservice to the state of politics in general as well as to these groups, and to those in opposition to MAGA and what it stands for and is about. I’ve seen too many commentators on the liberal end of the political spectrum equate MAGA and conservative and I think they are missing the mark and missing opportunities to connect with conservatives. It might sound surprising or even crazy but liberals and conservatives have far more in common than conservatives have with MAGA, especially at the foundational level of governing and politics.

So let’s talk about the differences between MAGA and conservatives. In the next couple of paragraphs I’m trying to give a fair assessment and summary of what each of these “movements” value. I am purposefully setting aside specific issues, because the issues are always seen through the lens of their core foundations. What I’m describing is the aspirational, or ideal sense, of what it means to be a conservative or MAGA. There are always going to be variations. I’m asking readers to set aside their judgements about what conservatism and MAGA stands for and look at their core foundations for right now. I’m not asking anyone to agree with either, but to just see what they are built upon. So with that in mind, let’s take a look at these groups.

Modern conservatism traces its roots back the 18th century. Edmund Burke, a British parliamentarian and political writer was a key figure in formalizing the ideology through his writings. The core foundation of the ideology is about conserving “traditional” institutions and practices. Conservatism isn’t reliant on any one person. Conservatism has long valued consistency in its arguments, stability, structure, authority, and sacredness. Conservative ideas often show concern for the larger community over just the desires of the individual and the impact decisions and policies have on institutions and order in society. True conservatives value the process as much as the end result and they would reject an ends justify the means belief system or action because they would see how harmful the ends justify the means really is. Conservatives value the process because they recognize that sometimes they will win and sometimes they will lose, but having a fair process is vital for the stability of a society.

MAGA stands for Make America Great Again. The founder of this movement is Donald Trump from his 2015 as he was running for president. In some regards though, the movement is older than this. It just has a different name than previous iterations of the same ideas. MAGA looks to the person of Donald Trump as its core foundation, rather than a set of beliefs, policies, or ideas. It is not an ideology in the sense that conservatism is. It is dependent on Trump for its existence. MAGA does not value institutions or practices unless they can be used to carry out the desired end. It is most concerned with winning, which allows it to use the levers of government to impose whatever policies its leader believes should be imposed. MAGA believes in the ends justifying the means, not the process. Because of this belief, there is no need for a consistency of argument. All that matters is winning. And because of the core belief in the ends justifying the means, the use of force, fear, anger, alternative truths, demeaning opponents, setting aside norms, are all acceptable in pursuit of winning.

One of the key differences between MAGA and conservatism is that conservatism is concerned with politics, in the traditional meaning of the term – the polis, the city, the greater good beyond the individual. MAGA is most concerned with the obtaining and use of power. At their core, they are at odds with each other.

It is from these core differences that I think there is an opportunity for conservatives and liberals to connect and work together. Liberals and conservatives both value politics over power, process over the ends justify the means, and ideological thinking over personality driven policies. That’s not to say that conservatives and liberals agree on policies. It’s to say that they have a common concern and belief in more foundational things that their policy differences emerge from.

3 Comments

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *