American Conservatism Can't Survive Donald Trump | Opinion

When a massive star is in the final evolutionary stages of its life cycle (just before it burns outs), there is a sudden surge of energy and it explodes in a spectacular and destructive display of light. This immense explosion, known as a supernova, results in a bright, but short-lived (a few months or years) "new" star.

The life cycle of political phenomena often mirrors this catastrophic astronomical event. And the dramatic ascendancy and complete takeover of the GOP by Donald Trump signals that American conservatism has gone supernova, which invariably means that the conservative movement is in its final death throes.

It is not surprising that American conservatism is dying, if brilliantly so, as it lacks the fuel—ideas and values—needed to sustain it. The movement, after all, has been intellectually and morally bankrupt for some time. While multiple forces have contributed to that bankruptcy, there has been no greater catalyst than Donald Trump, who despite knowing almost nothing, ironically, knows a great deal about bankruptcy.

Real conservatives or "Never Trumpers," as they are sometimes called, understand this reality, which is why they have actively resisted Trumpism. They recognize that Trump has abandoned conservative principles and, as such, poses a serious threat to the conservative movement. But despite their best efforts, it is too late to save American conservatism.

It is too late because the cataclysmic explosion of Trumpism has already occurred. And while this has temporarily breathed new life into conservatism (as evidenced by Trump rallies), it has fundamentally altered the star, replacing it with a weaker, degraded, and significantly more unstable version of itself (as evidenced by Trump rallies).

How can I be certain of this? As a professor of rhetoric, I understand well the types of rhetorical appeals that leaders make in last ditch efforts to prop up dying institutions and belief systems. Donald Trump employs them all. But here are four of the most significant:

1. A nostalgic appeal to a nonexistent past (read: "Make America Great Again"). Human beings are, by their nature, resistant to change. Conservatives, in particular, live in existential terror of change. So, many cling to the past. But it is an idyllic, imagined past — one of prosperity for all. It is a past that never existed, and neither Trump nor anyone else can bring it back.

2. The construction of an enemy who stands in the way of a return to the past. Trump has cast globalization in this role. And, so, he has engaged in trade wars and tariffs, withdrawn from multinational accords, promoted xenophobic nationalism, and enacted racist immigration policies. Trump cannot reverse the technological changes and economic developments fueling the processes of globalization, though he can and is causing serious and lasting harm in his attempts to do so.

3. Attempts to reanimate cultural issues and economic policies of the past (read: flag burning, science skepticism, gay rights, abortion, trickle-down economics, etc.). Conservatives were on the wrong side of these matters and recent attempts to re-litigate them demonstrates just how directionless the movement has become. Short-term 'wins' on these issues will no more return us to a fictional past than battling constructed enemies.

4. Self-delusion or declaring victory in the face of failure (read: "Keep America Great"). By virtually any measure, the Trump presidency has been an abysmal failure. Trump has alienated our allies, emboldened dictators and despots,weakened our standing in the world, promoted political violence, fostered racism and hate, trampled the rule of law, threatened a free and independent press, degraded our political discourse, and undermined democratic norms and institutions. It is delusional to see this as "great."

In supporting Trump, his base has added fuel to the supernova, hastening the death of the very movement they follow. With each rally and each tweet, Trump moves us closer and closer to the final evolutionary stage of a massive star: a black hole. When we arrive there, the star's death will be complete, and not a single ray of conservative light will be visible.

None of this is intended to deny the very real (and perhaps even likely) possibility of Trump winning a second term in 2020 and further eroding the norms of democracy. It is difficult to predict how long the bright star born of a supernova will last, but what we know with certitude is that it will not. Conservatism cannot escape the intellectual and moral vacuum created by the supernova of Trumpism.

Brian L. Ott, professor of communication studies and director of the TTU Press at Texas Tech University, is co-author, with Greg Dickinson, of "The Twitter Presidency: Donald J. Trump and the Politics of White Rage."

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​