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Stu­dents from Hillsdale College attend CPAC every year. | Courtesy Isabella Redjai

The annual Con­ser­v­ative Political Action Con­ference in Wash­ington, D.C. is exactly the sort of thing George Wash­ington would frown upon, and so should we.

Each year, stu­dents at Hillsdale College have an oppor­tunity to travel and attend the yearly per­for­mance known as CPAC. It offers itself up as a bastion of con­ser­vatism, but con­ser­v­a­tives like myself arrive only to find it rife with pop­ulism and nation­alism — ide­ologies the Founders, Wash­ington included, strongly opposed. In his “Farewell Address,” George Wash­ington warns the American people “to guard against the impos­tures of pre­tended patri­otism” by resisting the spirit of party and faction.

Wash­ington argues that this spirit of party causes dis­union by further sep­a­rating the country into an “us” vs. “them” devel­opment, in which we attempt to ruin our political oppo­nents for fac­tional gain.

“The alternate dom­i­nation of one faction over another,” Wash­ington writes, “sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dis­sention, […] is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and per­manent despotism.”

Wash­ington goes on to caution that the “dis­orders and mis­eries, which result from faction, grad­ually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an indi­vidual.”

Unfor­tu­nately, many of the coor­di­nators, speakers, and attendees of CPAC have already embraced this cult of the indi­vidual. Last year at CPAC, when asked how Pres­ident Donald Trump has impacted the con­ser­v­ative movement, White House coun­selor Kellyanne Conway retorted, “By tomorrow, this will be TPAC.” Although made in jest, Conway’s words expose the dim future of American con­ser­vatism if we choose to rally our banners behind one man and, quite lit­erally, replace prin­ciples with a person.

Since 2016, the litmus test for speakers seems not to be based on any tra­di­tional under­standing of con­ser­vatism, but on whether they are properly affec­tionate toward the pres­ident. A quick glance at the round-up of speakers in recent years shows that many are chosen from Trump’s current or former staff. Even those who have not worked directly for the pres­ident still rou­tinely praise him in their speeches. And although public admi­ration for the pres­ident isn’t an evil, kitschy panel speech titles like “Trumpo­nomics,” “The New Trump Doc­trine,” or “#TrumpedUp: Unmasking the Deep State” reveal a shal­lowness to what could be a great event ded­i­cated to teaching the prin­ciples of con­ser­vatism.

I attended CPAC last year and one par­tic­u­larly grim moment that comes to mind is when con­ser­v­ative radio per­son­ality Mark Levin rev­elled in the spirit of faction, urging attendees to dis­credit special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing inves­ti­gation into alleged col­lusion between Russia and Trump’s 2016 cam­paign. Democrats “are trying to take Trump out and it’s our oblig­ation to defend this man and to defend his office and to defend the presidency…over our dead bodies,” Levin cried.

His statement left no room for the pos­si­bility of potential mis­conduct. There was no tepid “Let’s wait and see.” Levin forsook pru­dence to defend the leader of his party, as many Repub­licans have.

The last day of CPAC, con­ser­v­ative columnist Mona Charen was booed and heckled for sug­gesting it’s hyp­o­critical for Repub­licans to support members of their own party who mis­treat and sex­ually abuse women. Charen cited the Repub­lican National Committee’s mon­etary support of “credibly-accused child molester” Roy Moore in his Alabama Senate race: “You cannot claim that you stand for women and put up with that,” Charen said.

Room for dis­agreement at CPAC has taken a downward turn as well. Speakers like Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., or Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, have been notably absent from the stage since Trump’s election, whether they were invited and chose not to attend, or they were simply excluded from con­sid­er­ation. With the exception of a few people, like con­ser­v­ative pundit Ben Shapiro, it seems as though there’s no room on the CPAC stage for anyone openly critical of the pres­ident. The coor­di­nators at the American Con­ser­v­ative Union have ded­i­cated the entire event to the faction of Trump, not varied con­ser­v­ative thought.

The toxic person-worship at CPAC is a con­se­quence of this spirit of party that Wash­ington warns us against. As cit­izens of this great country, we should believe Wash­ington when he says, “It is the duty of a wise people to dis­courage and restrain it.”

Isaac Kir­shner is a sophomore studying American Studies. 

  • Alexan­derYp­si­lantis

    Par­ti­sanship is a natural pro­gression of pol­itics, I don’t know how you can avoid it. It’s been with us since the days of Madison and Jef­ferson. The Con­ser­v­ative movement once rallied around Reagan, not it’s Trump. So what? There is diversity of thought and belief in con­ser­vatism today, but when the ‘diversity’ extends to sup­porting Hillary Clinton because you don’t like Donald Trump-you’ve become the oppo­sition.

    Jour­nalists like George Will and Bill Kristol have thrown whatever con­ser­v­ative cre­den­tials they had into the trash bin, in their oppo­sition to all things Trump. Their choice, they can deal with the con­se­quences. They left the con­ser­v­ative fold, it didn’t leave them.

    As for Senate can­didate Roy Moore in Alabama, what ‘credible’ evi­dence of ‘child molestation’ was pro­vided that Mona Charen got all puffy about? As it turns out, much of the evi­dence against him was con­jured up in an incredibly mean-spirited and vile Democrat orches­trated smear cam­paign. The Alabama AG is cur­rently looking into that and it could overturn the results of that election. Mind you, I don’t par­tic­u­larly like Roy Moore for the way he presents himself and his passion for dating much younger women, but he’s entitled to the priv­ilege to run for office on his record instead of lies, insin­u­a­tions and out­right fab­ri­ca­tions.

    Every year it seems this news­paper runs an article on what a dis­ap­pointment CPAC has become, it’s pre­dictable and tiresome. The media in this country is DOMINATED by Leftist pol­itics-CPAC pro­vides a brief break from this endless Leftist pablum. Instead of bela­boring CPAC for it’s short­comings, you should applaud it for using it’s good offices to provide alter­native views to the pre­vailing and nau­seous pro-Democrat railing in the MSM.

    • Camus53

      “…have thrown whatever con­ser­v­ative cre­den­tials they had into the trash bin, in their oppo­sition to all things Trump.”

      Care to defend your statement that Trump is a con­ser­v­ative?

      I won’t respond to whatever you do post…since trump is not a con­ser­v­ative and most who identify as con­ser­v­ative are cer­tainly not Conservatives…and before you go off willy nilly…I also believe that many who claim to be lib­erals are any­thing but Liberal.

      Oh…btw…Limbaugh is running a special on Hillsdale degrees…might want to check out his deal and maybe buy yourself real Hillsdale cre­den­tials.

      • Jen­nifer Melfi

        Camus just dunked on Ypsi­lantis!

        • Camus53

          Thank you, thank you very much!
          He bows!

          It’d all be funny…but its all rather pathetic and sad for our great nation.

      • George Gibbs

        Well said.

  • Hear hear.

  • Jen­nifer Melfi

    Dr. Arnn is leading the charge for the neg­ative ele­ments described here.