The Burdens of Progressivism: A New Novel

(Photo: Denisismagilov/Dreamstime)
A novel appropriately titled Class reveals how hard life can be for progressives, whose frightful fragility leaves them scrambling for a caring government to superintend their lives.

Life is exhausting — and daily choices are unbearably burdensome — for some Americans who are so comfortably situated that they have the time and means to make themselves morally uncomfortable. They think constantly about what they believe are the global ripples, and hence the moral-cum-political ramifications, of their quotidian decisions. And they are making themselves nervous wrecks.

If your anthropological curiosity is aroused, venture to gentrifying Brooklyn, in the spirit of Margaret Mead going among the Samoans. It is not necessary to actually go to Brooklyn. You can observe Karen Kipple’s agonies while she drives herself to distraction and her life into a ditch as the protagonist of Lucinda Rosenfeld’s novel Class. It is a book with which to begin another school year. The drama swirls around two elementary schools that, because of the vagaries of neighborhood boundaries, are physically proximate but socially miles apart.

Karen works for a nonprofit — what else? — and has been “trying to write” an op-ed “for the past two years.” Her daughter, Ruby, attends Constance C. Betts Elementary, which epitomizes Karen’s fervent belief that “racially and economically integrated schools” are essential to “equal opportunity.” Still, Karen is vaguely troubled because Ruby’s class “completed the same study unit on [Martin Luther King] four years in a row, ” Kipple writes. “Ruby could even recite the date he’d married Coretta (June 18, 1953). At Betts, it sometimes seemed to Karen that every month was Black History Month — except when it was Latino History Month. In keeping with the new Common Core curriculum, Ruby had recently written an ‘informative text,’ as essays were now known, on Cesar Chavez’s advocacy on behalf of Latino migrant workers.”

“Over the past several weeks,” Ruby’s teacher tells a parents’ meeting, “your awesome kids have been busy creating their own amazing community.” The parents, however, are problems, including some white mothers, “new to the school and likely soon to depart it, who were constantly complaining about how the milk served in the cafeteria came from hormone-treated cows” rather than from “aseptic eight-ounce cartons of organic vanilla milk” suitable to wash down seaweed snacks.

Karen knows that “the outsize importance” that people like her place on food has “become a dividing line between the social classes, with the Earth Day–esque ideals of the 1960s having acquired snob appeal.” Karen, who favors single-origin organic coffee from Burundi, takes Ruby to the artisanal ice cream shop with flavors such as Maple Fennel, and no corn syrup. When Ruby, pausing over her organic Applegate turkey sandwich on European rye, pronounces a classmate’s lunch — white-bread sandwich, Cheetos, grape soda — “disgusting,” Karen frets that in her effort to simultaneously save “both the health of her daughter and that of the planet” she has produced “a hideous food snob.”

Ruby became such at her mother’s knee. Karen has one of her tsunamis of disapproval when another mother brings to a playdate chocolate-chip cookies with embedded Reese’s Pieces. “Dark visions of polyunsaturated cooking oil” addled Karen’s head. Her adherence to the “urban-farming movement” — evidently there is one — is strained by a restaurant offering “pan-seared locally sourced pigeon.”

Reluctant to disadvantage her daughter because of her own progressivism, Karen lies about her residential address in order to sneak Ruby into a school that is less diverse than Betts but more financially flush, thanks to more affluent parents — the kind who arrange playdates by saying, “Have your nanny text our nanny.” Karen is, however, a virtuoso of guilt, and to assuage hers she embezzles money from the new school and mails it to Betts. By the time her lies and stealing are revealed, she realizes that her “negativity was like a wisteria vine that, if left to its own devices, would creep into every last crevice of her conscience.” So she returns Ruby to Betts, leaving behind the school where “the experimental puppeteering troupe Stringtheory is performing a kid-friendly version of ‘Schindler’s List.’”

Rosenfeld’s novel is a glimpse of how arduous life is for progressives, bowed as they are beneath the crushing weight of every choice’s immense social significance. Convinced that people, like the planet, are frightfully fragile — vulnerable to ingesting refined flour and countless other dangers — it’s no wonder progressives want a caring government to superintend our lives. This is for our own good, so they are, in their meddlesome way, nice. They also are tuckered out by their incontinent conscientiousness, so take one to lunch, if you can think of something he or she will eat.


    How Progressives Help Trump and Hurt Themselves

    Why Progressives Lie

    Progressives Gripe About Trump but Offer No Solutions

George Will — George Will is a Pulitzer Prize–winning syndicated columnist. His email address is

Most Popular

Film & TV

Why We Can’t Have Wakanda

SPOILERS AHEAD Black Panther is a really good movie that lives up to the hype in just about every way. Surely someone at Marvel Studios had an early doubt, reading the script and thinking: “Wait, we’re going to have hundreds of African warriors in brightly colored tribal garb, using ancient weapons, ... Read More
Law & the Courts

Obstruction Confusions

In his Lawfare critique of one of my several columns about the purported obstruction case against President Trump, Gabriel Schoenfeld loses me — as I suspect he will lose others — when he says of himself, “I do not think I am Trump-deranged.” Gabe graciously expresses fondness for me, and the feeling is ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Students’ Anti-Gun Views

Are children innocents or are they leaders? Are teenagers fully autonomous decision-makers, or are they lumps of mental clay, still being molded by unfolding brain development? The Left seems to have a particularly hard time deciding these days. Take, for example, the high-school students from Parkland, ... Read More
PC Culture

Kill Chic

We live in a society in which gratuitous violence is the trademark of video games, movies, and popular music. Kill this, shoot that in repugnant detail becomes a race to the visual and spoken bottom. We have gone from Sam Peckinpah’s realistic portrayal of violent death to a gory ritual of metal ripping ... Read More

Romney Is a Misfit for America

Mitt’s back. The former governor of Massachusetts and occasional native son of Michigan has a new persona: Mr. Utah. He’s going to bring Utah conservatism to the whole Republican party and to the country at large. Wholesome, efficient, industrious, faithful. “Utah has a lot to teach the politicians in ... Read More
Law & the Courts

What the Second Amendment Means Today

The horrifying school massacre in Parkland, Fla., has prompted another national debate about guns. Unfortunately, it seems that these conversations are never terribly constructive — they are too often dominated by screeching extremists on both sides of the aisle and armchair pundits who offer sweeping opinions ... Read More