US visuals show that while liberalism may be wounded, conservatism is dead
Conservatism is just a slogan. It is non-existent today more than ever. It means nothing to those who constitute a new right, which claims to think of the nation but doesn't make it clear that the new nation -- that it still doesn't understand --will be built on the debris of the nation that is.
The visuals of scores of Donald Trump supporters storming Capitol as the US Congress met, marked an unprecedented low for a nation that once prided itself in its democracy.
The serious security breach showed two things: the protesters had disdain for democracy, wished to disrespect the election verdict and they had no respect for institutions that have nurtured America.
All they wished to do was to create chaos and embarrass their country globally. And, ironically, these are perhaps mostly core Trump supporters -- a recent mutation in the nature of the Republican support base -- who were looking to "make America great again", as the slogan went some years back.
On the other side of the globe, the world's largest democracy, India, is seeing unprecedented developments.
In a country where the state is supposed to be constitutionally secular, a Muslim shoe vendor was detained recently by the police in Uttar Pradesh for selling shoes made by an established local brand called 'Thakur'. This was interpreted as a bid to create ill-will between communities. He was let off later.
Over the last few years, India has seen instances of cow vigilantism, hounding of people over the "love jihad" bogey, provocative speeches and armed attacks against anti-CAA protesters -- with the police taking little or no action in many cases -- and those of state highhandedness against innocents or peaceful protestors, who have in many cases not violated any law of the land. From the incarceration of Dr Kafeel Khan to that of a Kerala journalist on his way to cover the Hathras gang-rape case, instances of democratic practices being thrown to the winds have been several.
So, two of the world's largest democracies are witnessing what would not have been taken seriously in a B-grade movie up until a few years ago.
A new wave
The reason behind this is a new wave of anti-democratic impulses. In India, we witness supporters of state atrocities interpreting democracy as just the moment of the election, after which the government should be left free to play the emperor for five years.
The US has surpassed even this, as the moment of election is also not legitimate now. Come what may, Trump is the monarch of the protesters and them, his subjects. Institutions be damned.
Many see these happenings as a crisis of liberalism. Liberals rue that freedom of the individual to think and act -- and the sanctity of personhood that liberalism primarily sought as an idea -- is dead. Critics of liberalism, who fancy themselves to be conservative, agree that there are signs of stress, but see these as birth pangs of a new democracy where the 'hypocritical liberals' who dominated institutions and played elitism in the garb of liberalism will be called out.
Conservatism is dead
However, while an embattled liberalism still speaks what it sees as truth to power, it is conservatism that is dead. Conservatism as an idea pertained to gradual change and the valuing of continuity; of the apparently good things that traditional institutions and bonds offered to society. Chaos and disruption were never what conservatism meant.
It had its problems, as it often disregarded progressive change aimed at freedoms for the individual as also the collective in the name of conserving what was there. Theoretically, it was open to gradual change, but, in practice, it sought to conserve.
However, the new right -- which often celebrates itself as conservative -- has nothing to do with conservatism.
All we see in the new wave of the right across the world -- a wave some ignorantly or deceptively see as conservative -- is chaos and disruption.
Disruption from above via bad policymaking -- like Trump trying to separate immigrants' children from their parents or Narendra Modi announcing demonetisation and plunging the economy into a sudden crisis -- and disruption from below through an army of intolerant supporters who say they love their nation but see this love as the dismantling of whatever exists to replace it with something new they can't explain.
In short, they are out to dismantle and raze to the ground whatever is functional. What it will be replaced with they have neither patience nor orientation to think.
Images from the US beamed across the world showed what the "again" in making America great meant for Trump supporters. It meant dismantling every institution the US as a nation believes in. This resonates with "undoing 70 years" that the new right-winger of India looks for, even as she wants her son to get admission in the Nehruvian top IITs.
The new right is a combination of stormtroopers out to disrupt on the streets and the educated new right that gleefully puts up with this disruption but hides behind conservatism as an idea to guard her self-image as she celebrates chaos and disruption of all that is functional.
Conservatism is just a slogan. It is non-existent today more than ever. It means nothing to those who constitute a new right that claims to think of the nation but doesn't make it clear that the new nation -- that it doesn't understand -- will be built on the debris of the nation that is.