Politics & Policy

The Progressive Race to the Bottom

Signs at an immigration policy protest in Washington, D.C., June 2018. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)
Abolishing ICE, offering ‘free’ college to all, raising taxes to 70 percent: Will the somnolent GOP take notice?

The old Democratic party championed the working classes, wanted secure borders to protect middle-class union wage earners, and focused generous federal entitlement help on the citizen poor. Civil rights were defined as equality of opportunity for all.

That party is long dead. An updated Hubert Humphrey or even Bill Clinton would not recognize any of the present “Democrats.”

Even the old wing of elite liberals is mostly long gone, with its talk of legal immigration only, opposition to censorship, pro-Israel foreign policy, let-it-hang-out Sixties indulgence, and free speech.

It was superseded by grim progressives who are not so much interested in a square, new, or fair deal for the middle classes, as an entirely different deal that redefines everything from the Bill of Rights and the very way we elect presidents and senators to an embrace of identity politics as its first principle.

Indeed, we are currently witnessing a quite strange series of North Korean–like reeducation confessionals, from repenting erstwhile liberals and now presidential hopefuls such as Joe Biden, Tulsi Gabbard, Kamala Harris, and Kirsten Gillibrand. They and other would-be candidates parade before show cameras to apologize for their prior incorrect heresies, including their erstwhile support for drug laws, tough sentencing, and border enforcement.

The subtext of these charades is that 28-year-old socialist Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (who won her Democratic primary with 15,897 votes and with that victory an assured congressional seat in a gerrymandered Democratic district) is the new Robespierre — warning that the earth as we know it will end in twelve years, ICE must be disbanded, all student debt abolished, wealth taxes levied, and Medicare provided for all. And her political guillotine awaits any progressive with lingering stains of the Ancien Régime.

Presidential elections are now to be seen by the Left not as the end of a four-year political cycle. Instead, they are the beginning of an any-means-necessary, existential effort to reverse the proverbial will of the people and to remove or delegitimize the president. From now on, if the Left loses, then everything is in theory on the table: seeking removal of the victor by warping the Electoral College vote; or suing under the Logan Act, the emoluments clause, or the 25th Amendment; or cherry-picking federal judges to block presidential orders; or using the Congress to impeach the president; or unleashing a special counsel for years of investigation.

In other words, we are in a revolutionary cycle in which the old idea of Democrat or liberal is being superseded by progressivism — and then going well beyond even that. The new generation of Democrats no longer resents “socialist” as a right-wing slur, and “Communist” may well go through the same rehabilitation.

The new, new Left questions not the operation of American democracy but the very premise of American democracy. When the selection of the Senate leads to something abhorrent like a counterrevolutionary majority, then the Founders are proven wrong after all, and senators should not be apportioned two to a state but by population at large. The Electoral College should be ended entirely, to reflect the reality that America is the urbanized corridors of the East and West Coasts where the right people live. The Bill of Rights, especially the First and Second Amendments, is considered an impediment to social justice.

What explains this accelerating transformation of so many liberals into progressives, and so many progressives into hard-core leftists, socialists, and who knows what next? The reasons predated Trump Derangement Syndrome.

Money, lots of it, matters.

The left-wing approach to billionaires has radically changed. Aside from the rhetorical boilerplate about robber barons and the need for an income-tax rate of 70 percent, in reality the hard Left has partnered with the nation’s richest. The new big fortunes of America are now mostly in high-tech, media, and finance, not in the old conservative and muscular corporations centered in farming, manufacturing, or oil and minerals. And the new zillionaires are left-wing, and they are activist: Bezos, Bloomberg, Buffett, Gates, Zuckerberg, the Google and Apple teams, Soros, Steyer, and a host of others. Through grants, foundations, purchased media, and super PACs, astronomical amounts of money flow into federal, state, and even local midterm election campaigns, and into voter harvesting and issues from global warming and late-term abortion to open borders, gun control, and identity politics. The 2018 midterms were a mere precursor of things to come.

The new mega-wealthy envision an America in a way that satisfies identity politics while exempting their own monopolies, trusts, and billion-dollar fortunes from the ramifications of their own ideology. Unencumbered by personal consequences, they pursue boutique agendas — sort of like a few of the White Russian aristocrats who hoped to continue on by subsidizing and supporting the Bolsheviks, or the Jacobin bigwigs of the French Revolution who thought they could guide the deserving rich people into the national razor. In such a bizarro world, there is nothing wrong with tech employees forced to sleep in their cars near Silicon Valley monopolies -— as long as the owners wear T-shirts and flip-flops and rail at Trump in internal memos.

The media are not just becoming left-wing (they’ve always has been); they’re no longer even a news-gathering operation. Reporting is synonymous with editorializing. Fake news — whether the latest BuzzFeed myth or the Covington charade — is simply a word for thirtysomethings who believe that they have a duty to promote race, class, and gender agendas that they were spoon-fed in college. They too often define accuracy as the higher Truth that transcends the fossilized idea of truth predicated on obsolete ideas such as evidence, facts, and empiricism.

In terms of electronic media, the way the news is delivered through Twitter, Facebook, and Google is itself massaged to censor, aggravate, and impede conservatives and conservative thought. Orwellian selective censorship, the warping of Internet searches, and the banning of political opponents insidiously magnify progressive influence, and to such a degree that leftists are now the biggest defenders of monopolies and trusts, given the power that accrues from them to progressive causes.

We are also reaping the fruits of the new university run by hard-core leftists who have indoctrinated a generation with progressive envy and anger, while offering them little education. The resulting ignorance and arrogance make a lethal combination. Professors now in their late sixties can remember old-fashioned liberals of the 1970s and 1980s whose politics were incidental to their professional expertise, but there is now almost no one left in the academy who recalls such dinosaurs.

Instead, after the early 1980s, now-tenured progressives sought to produce leftists who took over and produced socialists. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a valuable reminder of how university education results in self-importance coupled with witlessness.

The Obama presidency also proved a watershed. It convinced Democrats that a leftist could win and move the nation radically leftward (“fundamentally transforming the nation”) by executive orders, court decisions handed down by activist judges, and the force of popular culture. In a mere eight years, formerly debatable issues such as gay marriage, planet-threatening global warming, and transgenderism in the military became boilerplate requisites of Democratic politics. Obama moved the goal posts far to the left, to such a degree that leftists today now consider the left-wing Obamas almost quaint.

The new socialism is also attributable to ten years of anemic annual economic growth below 3 percent, massive student debt, open borders, changing demography, and radical new approaches to marriage and home ownership that have radicalized the younger electorate.

Young people have the patina of affluence, with an array of electronic appurtenances and lifestyle choices, but not so much else when it comes to finding good jobs, affordable homes, and freedom from debt — especially tragic when so many got so little from the university in exchange for their borrowed money.

As a result, millions of young people have redefined adulthood as prolonged adolescence in “Life of Julia” and “Pajama Boy” style. Urban hipsters, hook-up culture, childlessness, and studio apartments have replaced the traditions of marriage, child-rearing, and home ownership before 30. Among today’s youth, one’s twenties are consumed with student debt and urban sybarite singleness, not changing diapers and patching the roof or refinishing the kitchen table.

Republicanism itself has so often failed to offer a viable economic and culture alternative, as well as a muscular and combative defense of traditional American values and tradition — at a time when globalism rewarded winners and punished losers. At the national level, the top echelons of the Republican party reiterated country-club shibboleths like “socially liberal, fiscally conservative” and marginalized social conservatives and populists as near rubes who objected to the gospel of creative destruction.

Republicanism at the presidential level was caricatured as a silk-stocking, country-club cutout of the 1950s, even as its expanding base at the local and state level was working-class. But even more important, solid presidential candidates such as John McCain and Mitt Romney campaigned as Marquess of Queensberry Republicans, as if they would rather lose nobly than win ugly. And so they did just that — lose — whether by McCain’s ruling out reference to the virulent anti-Semite and racist Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama’s inspiration personal pastor, or by Mitt Romney’s allowing moderator Candy Crawley to hijack the second presidential debate and hand it to Obama.

Such laxity was not seen as magnanimity to be reciprocated, but rather as weakness deserving of contempt by the many voters who have no ideology other than wishing to be cool and on the winning side. Progressives brilliantly exploited the idea that a Republican blue blood would say or do almost anything — or sometimes say or do almost nothing — to avoid being libeled as a racist, sexist, homophobe, nativist, or xenophobe.

Mushy Republicanism also did its part in giving us the present-day hard Left and the likes of new congressional representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, who apparently believe that anti-Semitism and racist demagoguery have lots of upsides and no real negative consequences. In the Covington farce, all too many conservatives jumped the gun to establish their liberal fides, perhaps out of fear that they’d otherwise be tagged by the Left as abettors of “white privilege.”

The bad news is that conservatives will likely increasingly be outnumbered, outspent, and out-organized unless they are shocked out of their somnolence. The quasi-good news is that the hard Left is unapologetic that it is the hard Left, not just bankrupt in its ideology in a world where socialism has demonstrably wrecked entire countries, but also predictably hypocritical and cynical, given that leftists are now really the party of the rich — and without much empathy for the deplorable and irredeemable middle classes.

Victor Davis Hanson — NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won.

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