Ken Star, Donald Trump Jr., Cory Gardener, Abby Johnson and Ben Carson: these are just a few of the household names that were present this year at the Western Conservative Summit, one of the largest gatherings of self-identified conservatives in the nation.
This year, the event was held at the Colorado Convention Center, downtown in the state's capital city of Denver. Given its prominence as one of the premier convention cities in the non-coastal West, the gathering provided a welcoming atmosphere for nearly all the attendees, particularly those who hold similar political and ideological positions with the event's major sponsors, most notably the Colorado Christian University and its auxillary think tank the Centennial Institute.
From young scholars being groomed for future political and private sector success to fiercely devoted individuals donning "Bikers for Trump" jackets, the Western Conservative Summit was truly a spectacle to behold.
The event provided insight into some of the most critical issues that continue to unite conservatives today as they did years ago, a unity that ultimately provided the platform for one of the most improbable outcomes of a presidential election in modern American politics.
From the open plenary to the content ingrained in the multitude of workshops and clearly reiterated in conversations between audience members, a number of issues continue to provide momentum and unite conservatives in ways that liberals, for the many issues that alliances can seemingly be built upon, have recently struggled to replicate.
Some of the more obvious themes consist of a government bent on destroying family values, the silencing of religious expression both in public and private settings, Christianity on the brink of failure as faith is repudiated and a malicious “Media” that is engaged in warfare against its opposition, simultaneously causing irrevocable harm to the nation and democracy itself.
Fiery, passionate, fearful and distrusting, those in attendance seemed to believe that they were engaged in a struggle that if at any point their collective guard was let down, would surely be lost to the all-enveloping government and the younger “democratic socialists” who want nothing more but to destroy the constitution and silence all criticism; values and an outcome that simply cannot be accepted.
Still, at times there was a feeling that this spectacle was not all that it appeared. The façade lifted occasionally: from technical difficulties during the morning session on the first day that left lights flickering behind speakers, resulting in delays and an eventual early departure to the workshops (I attended an event about shutting down democratic socialists, who evidently should not be allowed to speak, in stark contrast to the 1st amendment theme strongly upheld during the Summit) to the disagreements over how Governor Polis should be accepted to the event -some attendees embracing the first democratic governor of Colorado in attendance as a sign of bipartisan strength, others howling phrases that cannot be replicated and published here.
These often minor disturbances to the flow of the event helped to remind attendees that even in a conservative safehouse, of which the Western Conservative Summit can certainly be considered, a world exists outside (and sometimes within) where beliefs cannot be forced upon individuals, and where platforms for discourse and disagreement have never been so widely available.
Astoundingly, this truth about our nations inability to find common ground on many contentious issues may be one of the greatest strengths the conservative party is able to employ during these tumultuous times.
Enthralled crowds supplied cheers and standing ovations in force when they were reminded of the importance of the First Amendment and its nonexistent tie to “political correctness,” of religious freedom and not feeling shame in expression of such beliefs, of the deterioration of the family as the single biggest factor for the problems the nation faces, and most remarkably for the strict anti-abortion rhetoric that many in attendance were more than eager to rigorously defend. For many in the audience, these issues represent an absolute line on what will be accepted in their country as it continues to grow; those who do not agree will be considered "the other" and must be dealt with accordingly.
The Western Conservative Summit provides two days of speakers, workshops, and opportunities for discourse among some of the nation’s most prominent conservative leaders and their grassroots aligned followers. Those in attendance come from all walks of life: national industry leaders, celebrity attorneys and small business owners alike share in the electric vibrations of the Summit.
While they may not agree with all the content proposed by the event’s speakers or their peers, often entranced by a single yet individually paramount issue, they fundamentally believe in the potential of the ideological conservative.
For without their steadfast conviction in the conservative party, no matter whose face is supplanted atop or how loud that face may be, the alternative is unthinkable - an unfamiliar America where order has turned to chaos, where change can no longer be managed and where the unit of family has all but been decimated.
Those that risk turning away from the party, even at its most onerous periods, risk losing the America that has always been promised to them, a risk that many who engaged the Western Conservative Summit are simply not willing to entertain.
While the event may have been best tailored to the conservative party, the lessons garnered are clear for all American citizens and our relations to political discourse.
Failure to engage in meaningful conversation with those we disagree with most fundementally will only catalyze long term resentment and inabilty to effectively govern our nation, a nation that prides itself on representative government and champions democratic ideals.
These both require thoughtful, well composed and wide reaching compromise, and, in an era where influence from other state and non-state actors is weighing heavily upon our own system of governance, this pursuit of compromise is likely more critical now that is has been since the nation’s inception.