As George Will articulated in his recent book, one of few constants in American conservatism over the centuries is its veneration of the Madisonian Constitution, not merely as a legal system to be manipulated or circumvented, but a worthy blueprint for a free society. Limited government, checks and balances, and individual rights are the sine qua non of conservatism; all else may come and go. With them, in the here and now, comes a basic acknowledgement that the country that possesses them should cherish them, implement them, and take pride in them – not scorn them. When the conservative movement sided with a president who had no respect for anything but popularity and naked power, it went astray from its roots. It must find its way back.
In doing so, conservatives will have to confront a valid point that the left-wing opposition is making: that American society today, especially if it reveres the principles and guarantees of the Constitution, cannot uncritically praise all of the actions of the great figures of American history, or even curate the list of such figures as it has. Equally, the conservative movement will have to articulate a way to view America that does not involve whitewashing actions and events which cannot be justified under the principles Americans—and especially conservatives—hold dear.
The way to do this is for conservatives to reclaim the American story honestly, including the nasty parts of which Americans are justly ashamed. Rather than mindlessly take the yin to the woke brigade’s yang by positing an America that is all good against a vision of America as all bad, conservatives, as befits a group who are trying to, well, conserve something, can simply remind Americans of the obvious: that they have a great (and ongoing) national story, but that that story includes imperfections, wrong turns, and dark hours where the American promise was unfulfilled.