A Brief History of Pre-Trump Conservatism and Pre-Biden Liberalism

Joel Eisenberg

Republicans and Democrats of yesteryear bore little resemblance to those of today.

Founding FathersShutterstock

Author’s Note

This article is based on historical records and accredited media reports, and is not intended to represent a partisan point of view. All linked information within this article is fully-attributed to the following outlets: NPR.org, CNN.com, FOXNews.com, Twitter.com, Wikipedia.org, and HistoryWorld.net.


Earlier this week, NPR published “A Missouri Senate Candidate Holds a Shotgun and Calls For 'RINO Hunting' in a New Ad,” which detailed a new campaign spot for disgraced former Missouri governor Eric Greitens.

For those who are unfamiliar with the acronym, RINO stands for Republicans in Name Only.

Regarding the campaign ad, as excerpted from the article: It was soon criticized by many on the left — and some on the right — for its use of language and visuals seeming to support violence against political opponents. By Monday afternoon, Facebook had removed the video, and Twitter had flagged the tweet with a warning that the video violated the company's rules for "abusive behavior." Twitter allowed the ad to remain viewable, saying "it may be in the public's interest" to do so. The video has been viewed more than 2 million times.

In response to the Facebook ban, Greitens went on to condemn “big tech.”

CNN offered its own thoughts on the matter. In “Opinion: Eric Greitens’ Ad Typifies GOP Extremists’ Attitudes Toward Violence,” journalist Jill Filipovic states: The Republican Party has a gun problem and a misogyny problem, and both only seem to be getting worse. As the increasingly marginalized moderates of the GOP warn that their party is turning toward a conspiracy-driven and unhinged fringe, members of that fringe seem ascendant – and determined to mire the nation in lies, hate and the glorification of gun violence.

Meantime, FOX News this week published “Critics Slam GOP Senate Candidate For 'Cringe' Political Ad Featuring 'Violent Military Imagery',” which, in a surprise to some, echoed the CNN piece as its disapproval: Criticism of the ad was not limited to Greitens' political opponents, with veterans and conservatives joining the chorus of those taking aim at the Navy SEAL veteran. "I'm a huge fan of hyperbolic rhetoric using martial references," said former America Matters director and Army Special Forces veteran Jim Hanson on Twitter. " Much less so of using actual violent military imagery to try to make a pedestrian political point. Lame."

Other conservatives quoted for the piece have also expressed their dismay.

I chose the example of Greiten to begin this article with a rare instance of apparent bipartisanship. In terms of entities such as CNN and MSNBC appealing to a more liberal viewership, and FOX on the conservative side while printed publications such as The Epoch Times veer further right, contemporary issues are not typically covered as cleanly or consistently in modern-day America.

This article, though, is not about the media and its varied personalities and, in some cases, performers. As it regards the January 6 hearings as another cultural touchstone, or the present back and forth regarding the Second Amendment and gun control though new gun laws are in process — the right and the left scarcely agree on anything.

Was it always this way, or did common ground more frequently prevail?

Let us explore further.

Politics Today vs. Politics Yesterday

For a comprehensive piece on the history of liberal ideals, see here for Wikipedia page. For a well-attributed history of conservatism, see Wikipedia entry here.

HistoryWorld.net succinctly (and generally) breaks down the ideological differences: These two terms recur throughout the political history of the 19th century in all parts of the world influenced by European thought. In a time of profound change they draw a contrast between those who agitate for reform (particularly for democracy and a reduction in the privileges of church, royalty and landed aristocracy) and those who are inclined to protect existing values of society against what they see as a destructive and corrosive influence.

The article goes on to express the Liberales was founded as a political party in Spain in 1810, while the word 'conservative' followed shortly after the restoration of the monarchy in France.

In terms of our U.S. Democrat and Republican political parties, Wikipedia’s pages on both — here and here — again feature big-picture views. Regarding the latter, Lincoln was the GOP’s first president, and the party largely dominated America politics until 1932.

Excerpted from Wikipedia: The GOP was founded in 1854 by anti-slavery activists who opposed the Kansas–Nebraska Act, which allowed for the potential expansion of chattel slavery into the western territories.It was simultaneously strengthened by the collapse of the Whig Party, which had previously been one of the two major parties in the country. Upon its founding, the Republican party supported economic reform and classical liberalism while opposing the expansion of slavery. It consisted of northern Protestants, factory workers, professionals, businessmen, prosperous farmers, and after 1866, former black slaves.

As it regards the Democrat party, Wikipedia continues its history: In 1912, former Republican president Theodore Roosevelt formed the Progressive ("Bull Moose") Party after being rejected by the GOP and ran unsuccessfully as a third-party presidential candidate calling for social reforms. After 1912, many Roosevelt supporters left the Republican Party, and the Party underwent an ideological shift to the right. The GOP lost its congressional majorities during the Great Depression (1929–1940) under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose popular New Deal programs shifted the country towards the Democratic Party for most of the next three decades.

Today, the parties are polarized to the point of nearly no middle ground. The modern GOP largely focuses on American conservatism which, though at times redefined by Trump in controversial shifts to the far-right and frequent public discarding of civility, publicly represents the support of free market economics, social conservatism and originalism in constitutional jurisprudence, lower taxes (again, controversially so in the case of Trump, who has been scrutinized on both sides — the left and non-Trump-supporting Republicans — of implementing a tax plan that benefitted the wealthy), deregulation, increased military spending, restrictions or bans on abortion, restrictions on immigration, small government and restrictions on labor unions.

As Wikipedia states: It was strongly committed to protectionism and tariffs at its founding, but grew more supportive of free trade in the 20th century.

As implied, the Democrat party largely represents the antithesis of the aforementioned stances — save for lower taxes, publicly — perhaps most notably of late as it regards the concept and definition of “common sense gun laws.“


In 2021 I published a piece on NewsBreak entitled, ‘The Second Amendment: Do You Really Have a Personal Right to Bear Arms?” which addressed an ongoing partisan issue regarding the definition of “well-regulated militia”: The Second Amendment is worded as follows: A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. That wording, which was adopted as part of the Bill of Rights and ratified by Congress on December 15, 1791, has long been problematic and remains a top-tier issue that both defines and divides our two main political parties.

I stand by that comment as a singular turn-of-phrase that is perhaps also most representative of the intention of our founding fathers vs. today’s adaptation of long-held party stances.

In recent years, Trump redefined rules of the body politic while Biden has attempted to return to politics as usual.

As to our founding fathers? How do you believe they would respond to today’s political climate?

Thank you for reading.

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I am an award-winning author, screenwriter for film and television, and producer. My mission on News Break is to share socially important perspectives on both culture and pop-culture. Member of PEN America, and the WGA.

Northridge, CA

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