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Bob Dole

America’s last real conservative

Bob Dole at the US Senate in 1987. Diana Walker/Getty Images

Now that Bob Dole has died, I’m not sure there are any good Republicans left, says Paul Krugman in The New York Times. The former Senate majority leader and presidential candidate, who passed away on Sunday at the age of 98, was built differently from modern politicians. A war hero who was willing to work with Democrats (Joe Biden was a personal friend), Dole always showed a strong sense of civic responsibility. He harked back to a time when public figures were expected “to possess basic decency” and when “being an obvious crook, liar or coward was politically disqualifying”. Gone are the days. I’m not sure when or why the Republicans lost their way, but one look at Trump and there’s no question that it’s happened. “At this point there are no grown-ups left on one side of the political aisle.”

The conservatism I fell in love with in my twenties wasn’t just a “policy agenda”, says David Brooks in The Atlantic. It was a “deeper and more resonant account of human nature”, and an inspiring description of “the highest ethical life”. What passes for conservatism now is the opposite – a set of “resentful animosities”, a partisan attachment to Trump, a sort of “mental brutalism”. The enlightened conservatism of Edmund Burke has been replaced by “mass-market, pre-Enlightenment authoritarianism”. Far from promoting community, family and the virtuous life, the “Trumpian cause” is held together by hatred, treating metropolitan America as a “moral cancer” and viewing the cultural and demographic changes of the past 50 years as an “alien invasion”. Yet pluralism is America’s oldest tradition – “to conserve America, you have to love pluralism”. Sadly, as long as the Trump ethos dominates the Republican party, “brutality will be admired over benevolence”, propaganda over discourse and “confrontation over conservatism”.