This is the second in a series on Whitewater’s local politics of 2021. There are three principal kinds of conservatives in Whitewater. There are more kinds than this, of course, as there are many kinds of cats within the family Felidae; it’s enough for now to focus on the most common species within that family.
Whitewater’s three main conservative types: traditional, transactional, and populist. A description of each follows.
Traditionalists. Mostly local born, conservative socially before ‘cultural conservatism’ was a distinguishing term, short-term in outlook, plain in manners, speech, dress, and spending, with expectations of a social hierarchy in which a few town notables decided for the whole community. It is this group – or at least some of its prominent members – who have advanced boosterism in Whitewater as though it were a secular religion. However defending of orthodoxy they may consider themselves, they’re truly heterodox: their theology mixes with their social outlook so that its hard to tell which matters more to them.
Theirs was – and still is for their remaining numbers – a creed in which one accentuated the positive, ignored unpleasant observations or questions, and made sure that there was a (metaphorically) narrow perimeter fence that kept outsiders and outside discussions to a minimum. Babbitt would read like an instruction manual to them. There’s a Japanese expression that reminds of this outlook (although it is sometimes mistakenly attributed as Scandinavian): ‘the nail that sticks out gets hammered down.’
They contend that this imposed order is necessary for the common good.
Along with boosterism, this type has another core belief: conflicts of interest principles do not apply to them. They are certain that, although it may be impossible for others, they can perform multiple, conflicting roles without bias or prejudice. It would never occur to them to doubt their own judgment.
This group wanes a bit more each year. They’re no longer the leading conservative force in Whitewater.
The most zealous of the boosters, however, were not locals at all, but new officials who became converts to the traditionalists’ boosterism so that they might have a place at the table. (Sometimes they weren’t even conservatives, but it was a conservative table setting.)
Newcomers were expected to learn how to conform, so that they might truly arrive in that small social circle. What a shame, truly, that these newcoming men and women did not see — or were not reminded by others – that they arrived from the moment they were born.
Transactionalists. A second kind of conservative – transactional ones – began their advance while the traditionalists were still dominant, took some of the traditionalists’ views, discarded others, and mixed the resulting concoction to promote their particular business interests.
There are few of them, but no group of conservatives in Whitewater has been so skillful. They are deal-and-business oriented, so long as the deals and businesses are theirs.
These are not pro-market men (where markets are voluntary private combinations of capital, labor, goods, and services). They are pro-business men, and while the language of markets may be useful for them, the underlying principles mean little.
Unlike the traditionalists, they’ll gladly form relationships, and adopt the styles, of others if doing so redounds to their advantage. When they no longer see an advantage for themselves, they’ll discard those relationships. They are hardy and adaptable.
They contend that the public money they direct into their preferred capital projects is necessary for the common good.
Like the traditionalists, they do not believe conflict of interest principles should apply to their dealings. Unlike the traditionalists, they are far better at manipulating rules and agency actions to their own advantage. They conceal the extent of their maneuverings by co-opting others, who become provisionally useful to the transactionalists’ ambitions.
Populists. While there have always been populists (of right or left), Whitewater has never been fond of outspoken men and women. Large-scale conservative populism has only flourished in the last ten years, in Whitewater and other places like it. Most of these conservative populists are Trumpists, but not all. In any event, whatever their movement comes to be called, Trumpism will outlast Trump.
They contend that they uphold conservative tradition more truly than the traditionalists and conservative economics more effectively than the transactionalists. They see themselves variously and contradictorily as either facing ruin or assured of success.
Some are new to politics, some have been around. Some are well-read and literate, others not. Unlike conservative traditionalists or transactionalists, who are mostly like other members of their respective groups, the conservative populists vary widely in ability and sophistication.
All the populists share a desire to speak – they’re highly motivated and outspoken – but their varying abilities leave some at risk of confusing or detracting from the messages of others. (When a group is uniform in members’ abilities, some won’t detract from others because they’re all of similar strength.)
The populists are often underestimated. I have been – and am – a critic of these rebranded Trumpists, but have never underestimated them.
These populist conservatives are not deal-makers: they want what they want, on their terms, as soon as they can get it. As the traditionalists fade away, the question among conservatives in Whitewater (and other places) will be whether the deal-makers or the populists dominate right-of-center politics.
Tomorrow: The City’s Center-Left.
Previously: Unofficial Spring Election Results.