Still in my early 30s, I had no particular interest in politics and no identification with any political party. More focus developed as a result of time spent with Scott Matheson, a proud Democrat, prior to his successful run for governor in 1977. He was my boss during his short stint as regional counsel for a major mining and metal fabricating company.
When I accompanied Scott to a Democratic Party event at the Little America Hotel in Salt Lake City, I observed that many of those in attendance were casually dressed, looking like blue-collar workers feeling a little ill at ease at the prestigious setting, whose food, mostly casserole dishes, was served at a buffet line at the end of which were, among other beverages, several half-gallon bottles of cheap wine.
Not long after, I attended, this time with Scott invited in his capacity as a corporate attorney, a Republican Party banquet at the same venue at which the attendees, nearly all men, wore dark suits and ties. They were served individually at carefully organized tables of 10, carrying on polite smile-ridden conversations. No wine. My conclusion, later bolstered by numerous other observations, was that the Democratic Party was a loosely knit organization trying to advance the interests of a diverse group of what I would call ordinary folks and the Republican Party was the party of the privileged.
What has happened since?
The Democratic Party has not changed much. Its main problem is composition of too many groups, often under-represented individuals and organizations with differing concerns and objectives that don’t necessarily mesh during the formulation of party platforms. Still, the unifying factor is concern for individual citizens and programs designed to benefit societal needs and rectify societal shortcomings.
I consider the Republican Party, traditionally the party of the privileged, to have brilliantly drawn in a broad constituency of previously disorganized staunchly conservative voters by focusing peripherally on social issues. We might describe these right-wing idealists as “hard-core conservatives,” men and women, predominantly white, whose attitudes on political matters are wont to be intolerant and impatient. They emerged in force with the rise of Donald Trump.
Those who adhere to this outlook have been popularized as the Trump/Republican base. What was not foreseen by traditional stuffy Republican leadership was the numerical power of this base. The party leadership was overwhelmed by the previously submissive constituency of disgruntled voters united in their venomous contempt of powerful elitists who imposed upon them rules, regulations and “politically correct” standards they found to be both objectionable and oppressive. Power wielded by this base is reflected by submissive attitudes of Republican politicians as to whom bipartisan perspectives can lead to defeats in party primaries.
Although there are multiple gradations and variations in this hard-core conservative base, there are certain commonly asserted positions on current domestic political issues. A vengeful attitude about both legal and illegal immigration. Opposition to open-ended welfare programs. Rejection of disease-prevention masking, social-distancing and vaccination guidelines. Disbelief or conscious disregard of the human-caused climate change threat. Opposition to broad-based environmental protection initiatives. Rejection of proposals to limit possession and display of hand-held firearms. Imposition of voter-access restrictions. Political stances based upon denominational interpretations of biblical passages. Support of exclusionary policies affecting LGBTQ individuals. Support of uncompromising law-and-order mandates.
Through all of this there is a common theme. Hard-core conservatives do not want to be told what they can and cannot do, or make sacrifices or accommodations to ameliorate adverse conditions that do not affect them directly. It contrasts with the approach of so-called “liberal Democrats” and more flexible moderate Republicans who are willing to craft governmental policies addressing societal problems that are not amenable to, or have not been adequately resolved by, the open market.
Those initiatives fall far short of the “socialism” so greatly feared by the hard-core conservatives. [Similar observations were made in the op-ed by Gary Leimback titled “GOP libertarians care only about themselves”, (Salt Lake Tribune, April 20.) The attitude was exemplified by refusals to comply with masking and social distancing guidelines notwithstanding hospitals being overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.
Perhaps hard-core conservatives should be more concerned about the drift toward oppressive authoritarianism stemming from intolerance that ultimately would result in losses of freedoms, including their own, across the board.
Clayton Parr, Draper, is a retired natural resources lawyer who tries to maintain balance by shunning social media platforms in favor of reputable conventional news sources.