Politickin’ me off: Phyllis Schlafly’s death mirrors death of traditional conservative movement

Jessica Karins

At Donald Trump’s rally in St. Louis in March, Phyllis Schlafly was most soft-spoken person in the room.

The titan of the conservative and anti-feminist movement had to be helped onto the stage. Her quiet voice and mild tone stood out among the pro-Trump speakers. Although she was enthusiastically in favor of Trump and against Hillary Clinton, she still seemed a little out of place.

As it turns out, endorsing Trump is one of the last political choices Schlafly would make.  

Schlafly died in her home in Ladue on Sept. 5 at age 92. Her death is likely to change little about today’s politics; the movement she was part of has already begun dying out. However,

Schlafly is a St. Louis native and a solid member of the city’s conservative culture. As an active Catholic was graduated from Washington University, she opposed abortion, same-sex marriage, the Equal Rights Amendment and almost every other right for women, but with the veneer of intellectualism – and the validation of deeply sexist ideology that only a woman could provide.

At Trump’s rally, she lent that veneer to him – not convincingly. Ultimately, her willingness to endorse him made her own views and values seem more ridiculous. If she could see a commonality between herself and Trump, let alone his horde of angry supporters, what exactly did she stand for?

Even the members of Schlafly’s own organization, the Eagle Forum, were divided over her endorsement. Several members of the board attempted to wrest control of the organization away from Schlafly, including her own daughter, because

Phyllis Schlafly’s endorsement of Donald Trump signals the current state of the conservative movement. By all rights, Donald Trump is someone Schlafly should have hated. She was a religious conservative, and there aren’t many sins Trump hasn’t committed. There is nothing traditional or culturally conservative about a man who embraces divorce and fornication with considerably more comfort than religion.

Perhaps, though, the divide between Schlafly conservatism and Trump conservatism is a distinction without a difference. Schlafly herself expressed more reluctance to endorse both John McCain and Mitt Romney than Trump. Trump’s rhetoric simmers with the anger that Schlafly’s keeps below the surface – hatred of a changing world, hatred of diversity and difference.

Clearly, he speaks to something that Republicans have longed for. But both their values and Trump’s viciousness have little appeal to the larger population. In a desperate attempt to rebrand Republicanism, they will only hurt their cause more.

The death of Schlafly occurs at the same time as the death of the traditional conservative movement. There is nothing to commend in what has replaced, but neither is there much to mourn.

The queen is dead. Long live the king.

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