And Then, Reality Struck: CPAC 2017 Part Three
David Bossie, president of the atrocious activist group Citizens United and member of the Trump campaign and transition team, opened up the last major day of events at CPAC 2017 with a “bang.”
And that bang amounted to a perpetuation of the distorted claim of the media that leaving the trans bathroom laws to the states amounts to actively working against trans rights. Yes, he actually did say that Trump was going to take transgender bathrooms “back,” and that there is an unmistakable “conservative agenda” being pushed through the Trump administration. If this sentiment is real, then it actually does correlate with the supposedly false mainstream narrative about the Trump administration’s attitude toward the LGBT community (and contradicts the more friendly picture Bannon and Priebus painted of the situation earlier in the week during their panel discussion), rendering such a narrative not that false after all.
The only positive takeaway from Bossie’s speech for me was that he gave Gary Johnson a shout-out at one point, in which he congratulated him for doing so well in Minnesota during the election. Considering Bossie doesn’t seem to want certain American citizens to move freely throughout their daily lives, though, it’s at least a wash.
Just outside of the Potomac Ballroom where Bossie spoke, I was greeted by a man handing out flyers on behalf of the Larouche Political Action Committee, an organization claiming to know the truth about a grand conspiracy involving a new “imperial order” and George Soros. “We need to take down Mr. Soros!” Yelled the man with the papers. Of course, I grabbed one, though making heads or tails of the content of said paper was a less certain outcome.
It was at this point I realized that the old, prejudiced, paranoid conservative movement we all know and love hasn’t quite left the building just yet — it is beneath a shiny new surface, stewing and plotting for relevancy once again. And as a result, CPAC 2017 managed to hold it together for most of its duration, but now and then, especially when the figures close to this current administration would take the main stage, the worst of American conservatism would still manage to tread water amidst a sea of otherwise positive, forward-thinking aspects. Having said that, the divide between populist wing and the intellectual wing of the current state of the conservative movement (and, by extension, the Republican Party) was the absolute clearest on this last day of events at the Gaylord.
Now, that isn’t to say that the tolerant face of CPAC had completely fallen away by the time the last day rolled around — quite the contrary.
But it does mean that a clearer distinction was now being made between the Trump administration and the rest of the conservative movement; the former is harder to pin down (or even trust) on the social issues, while the latter seems to have finally made peace with the idea that true conservatism leaves people’s private lives alone. Only time will tell which faction ultimately win this tug of war, but I am obviously rooting for the good guys.
A gay activist who supported Trump and still thinks the administration will do right by the LGBT community was seen proudly donning a “Make America Great Again” hat with a blue-and-yellow “equal” sticker from the Human Rights Campaign attached to it. Peter Boykin, an organizer behind an upcoming March 4th event titled “March 4 Trump” (because puns), told Being Libertarian that he was initially asked not to mix these two messages (pro-Trump and pro-gay rights) together — but not by CPAC; instead, by the Human Rights Campaign.
“They told me to cease and desist. So I told them to kiss my ass,” said Boykin, who went on to argue that HRC has a bias towards liberals and Democrats, and that they still couldn’t let go of the Hillary loss. “First of all, they only help on to Hillary because her full initials are the same as the HRC’s,” he pointed out humorously. “Second of all, if what they are really about is equality for all, it shouldn’t matter to them what my or any of their other supporters’ politics are.” He has a point. And so, Mr. Boykin did indeed grace CPAC with his presence. And the Human Rights Campaign will indeed have to just kiss his ass.
At one point, I was asked to “sign the wall” by a CPAC organizer — the “wall” being a large, tangible CPAC logo with plenty of space around it for attendees to put their signatures, write their own little messages, etc. as a way of commemorating the moment and making their marks on conservative history. So, naturally, I wrote down the message that was weighing most heavily on my mind this day, considering how amazed I was with CPAC’s openness, but also how disturbed I was by the apparent rift with the more traditional Republicans that was still underway. And that message, at the end of these events, took the form of a request: “Keep being inclusive, CPAC.”
This is a friendly message, but also one of warning. Because if the conservative organizers of today do not account for tomorrow, there will be no tomorrow for the American conservative movement. Plain and simple.
Populism got Trump elected; not his now up-in-the-air views on social equality. And falling back on tradition rather than on the simple need to serve the American people (all American people) will still be the Republicans’ undoing. I hope for their sake they also realize this truth, and that the brighter spots of CPAC 2017 are merely the opening act of a brand new era for conservatism in America. Only time will tell if that hope is satisfied.