The Progressive Revolution: From Democratic to Liberal to Progressive to Socialist
• President Barack Obama in 2016 (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters) Obama kick-started a cycle that moves ever farther left — even he now seems passé.
Americans voted for Barack Obama in 2008 despite, not because of, his most partisan voting record in the Senate. They were once willing to look past his earlier dubious associations with abject anti-Semites such as the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, former terrorists like Bill Ayers, and unhinged characters such as Father Pfleger. They also averted their eyes from Obama’s often quite offensive commentary, in his autobiography and during the 2008 campaign (e.g., “typical white person” and “they cling to…” speech).
Instead, voters were tired of the Iraq War (which was over for all practical purposes by the time of the November 2008 election).
They were, of course, terrified by the September 2008 financial meltdown (which had been mostly stabilized four months later by the time of the inauguration) and irate at the kid-gloves treatment accorded often conniving banks and investors.
They were convinced that Obama might be healing and transformative as the first African-American president, supposedly only slightly to the left of a far steadier and more qualified Condoleezza Rice or Colin Powell. And half the Democrats were already becoming sick of Hillary Clinton once they became reacquainted with her on the 2008 primary-campaign trail.
As is typical of American politics, voters in 2008 also wanted to change the party in power after it had been in the lead for eight years, and the lame-duck president fell out of favor. Voters certainly were underwhelmed by an uninspiring, herky-jerky, mostly incompetent John McCain campaign, notable for his “that’s not who we are” comments and his willingness to “lose nobly.”
Such was the naïve dream.
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The reality by 2013 was that voters got an increasing hard-core liberal-progressive revolution that, after Obama’s 2012 reelection, increasingly polarized America over the reach of the federal government, immigration, and race. Scandals at the DOJ and IRS were often political in nature. By summer 2016, the Obama administration had weaponized the intelligence agencies and his own justice department to such a degree that unleashed bureaucrats and appointees actively sought to intervene in a presidential campaign to undermine the opposition candidate and to lay the foundation for sabotaging the incoming president’s transition and administration.
An overregulated economy stagnated, requiring ever more federal intervention and borrowing. Students on campuses lost constitutional protections, especially under the First and Fifth Amendments, as universities finalized their long transformation into indoctrination centers. Obama recalibrated American foreign policy in neutralist fashion, and in a way that made Egypt, Israel, and Saudi Arabia more suspect than Iran, Turkey, or Cuba.
Culturally, diversity replaced affirmative action, on the principle that formerly documented grievances or class status no longer mattered, at least compared with skin color. The real divide was now between a non-white, far greater collective that harbored purported grievances against a reconstituted and much smaller white majority and its “privilege and “supremacy.” When feminists and gays were included in the diverse intersectional bloc of Asians, Latinos, blacks, and immigrants, a supposed new majority of “woke” Americans now would have electoral control over a culpable and soon to become irrelevant minority. The “content of our character” and all that became “inoperative.”
All this was largely the legacy of an otherwise mostly unsuccessful Obama administration whose record was one of massive debt, an ossified economy, decreased sovereignty, increased ethnic and racial tensions, and a confused foreign policy perceived abroad as apologetic and contrite, and therefore useful to rivals and enemies.
The Socialist-Progressive Takeover
Yet Obama had hit on something in his move to the hard left. After he left office, unapologetic leftists were less coy (the old smear of “socialist” was now a term of endearment) and began to extinguish what little was left of Bill Clinton’s old, occasionally moderate Democratic party.
The reelection of Obama had convinced progressives that he had discovered electoral magic: record voter registration, turnout, and block voting of “minorities” that could overcome the old Perot, Reagan Democrat, silent majority, and tea-party dinosaurs in the critical swing states. This chemistry, they thought, would be inherently transferrable even to multimillionaire white establishmentarians like Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden (but only if they were reeducated and thus made the necessary confessionals about their own white privilege and shared disdain for “deplorables” and “the dregs of society”).
Suddenly, everything seemed possible as woke activists, à la French Revolution, accelerated the possible into the already passé.
In just a few years, mere acceptance (rather than endorsement) of gay marriage was veritable homophobia. Assimilation and integration were seen as tantamount to cultural appropriation and imperialism. Conservation and market-based encouragement of alternative energy were the appeasement of “climate deniers” and showed a cowardly reluctance to go the full green mile and eventually ban the internal combustion engine. The Kavanaugh hearing, the Covington-kids fiasco, and the Jussie Smollett farce made clear that the Left was no longer liberal but hard-left and fact-free.
Secure borders and deportation of illegal aliens who had committed crimes were themselves humanitarian “crimes.” Building the wall went to stopping the wall to promoting the tearing down of the wall. The notions of affirmation action and disparate impact became Sixties’ relics, when “reparation” was the real goal. Prior street-theater groups such as Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter seemed timid anachronisms compared with Antifa and its masked hoodlums who torched and beat up anything in their path.
“Legal but rare” abortion became a sellout position, given that any woman had a right to partial-birth abortion and even infanticide if she so chose. A dream of a 50 percent income-tax rate on top incomes went to talk of 70 percent then to 90 percent and then to a wealth tax as just deserts. To enlarge the electorate, illegal aliens should vote first in local elections, but then why not everywhere? Sixteen-years olds could too, and so why not ex-felons as well? About a $1.5 trillion in student debt should be forgiven — but then tuition should be free for all (as should Medicare).
The appearance and success of the polarizing Donald Trump supercharged the ongoing progressive revolution. The rallying cries of “collusion,” “treason,” and the new “Manchurian candidate” won over any holdout Democrat and seduced the emasculated Never Trump right into becoming useful colluding idiots. The 2018 Democratic midterm victory in the House was not seen in historical context: Trump in fact had fared much better in both the House and Senate in his first midterm than had either Bill Clinton or Barack Obama at that point in their presidencies, both of whom were easily reelected, while mostly centrist candidates had given the Democrats the new House majority.
By spring 2019, we were light years beyond the revolution’s beginning in summer 2008 — and heading into hard-socialist territory and beyond.
Indeed, the once edgy community-organizing Obama himself had become a tragicomical figure. He spent a bit of his post-presidency warning against a “circular firing squad” of Democratic cannibalism but otherwise was hell-bent on becoming worth $100 million in “I built that fashion”—and was never again heard uttering another “I do think at a certain point you’ve made enough money” sermon.
Socialism and Beyond
Conventional wisdom would warn Democrats that their surrender to pied pipers such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Al Sharpton, Linda Sarsour, and other assorted fakers, con artists, anti-Semites, and street actors would lead them all over the proverbial George McGovern and Walter Mondale cliff into the abyss. But such caution is unlikely for a variety of reasons.
One, Democratic candidates now sound a lot more like Bernie Sanders than he ever sounded like them. The new socialists believe that they have altered the nature of the electorate and the manner in which elections are conducted, and that they will continue to do so at an accelerating pace.
Preemptory charges of “voter suppression” have made required prior registration and voter IDs veritable racist crimes, as voter harvesting and fluid same-day registration and voting are the hallmarks of the future, even as open borders change the demography of the nation. Youth, not experience or tenure, is the requisite for progressive revolution, as brontosauruses like Diane Feinstein and Chuck Schumer struggle to sputter a few shrill socialist platitudes to maintain minimal relevance. Anti-Semitism is not called out by Democrats, because party leaders fear that Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, and Tlaib are not aberrations but now represent 51 percent of the new Democratic party on both Israel and American Jewry.
Two, few leftist revolutionary cycles ever halt in mid course, whether in 1789 France, 1917 Russia, 1946 China, or 1960 Cuba. The philosophy is always that today’s radical is yesterday’s sell-out to be replaced by tomorrow’s genuine far harder leftist — until the limits of reality are reached and the movement either implodes or leads to an authoritarian Napoleon, Lenin, Mao, or Fidel.
The current socialist trajectory is divorced from reality, whether reality mean the critical role of fossil fuels in maintaining civilization, or the historical record of tribalism destroying nations from Rwanda to the Balkans, or the usual story of soft socialism inevitably turning hard and ending in the mass poverty of a North Korea, Venezuela, or Cuba.
The End Game
Socialists and hard progressives believe that they already have won about three-fifths of America, defined not by population, polls, or political office, but by cultural clout. They assume that such control will inevitably end in final victory in the Congress and presidency, the same way that that there’s no longer a Republican party to speak of in California and not a single statewide officeholder who is not a Democrat. Seven of 53 House seats are Republican in the California of Ronald Reagan and Pete Wilson.
Entertainment and Hollywood are mostly all left-wing and missionary in their progressive zeal. The network news, PBS, NPR, CNN, and MSNBC outnumber talk radio and Fox News.
Most of the major newspapers are progressive. Silicon Valley is harder left still and more audacious in baking ideology into its products from Twitter and Facebook, which censor conservatives, to Google, with its progressive bias in formatting and searches.
The biggest foundations that most fund activists and academics are mostly left-wing. No one believes that the campuses are balanced or even disinterested. Most academics believe that they can be legitimately biased leftward to balance the supposed prejudices of the family, community, and church — noisome cargo that too many of their naïve students bring with them on arrival, which is why they need “cleansing” and “awakening.”
Sports events and reporting are liberal and increasingly avenues to peddle political messages. Corporate America tries to emulate popular culture and thus must adopt left-wing tropes, so it’s trigger-happy in its readiness to shoot down conservatives who are deemed hostile to our shared fated progressive future.
What we are seeing in the Democratic party’s movement to the hard left is not the beginning but the end of a long march. Socialists and progressives believe that control of the Congress, the presidency, and courts is the final missing tessera from their already expansive socialist mosaic.
They believe that the future is theirs. They no longer need to apologize for pushing government-sanctioned redistribution. And with an administrative state that nearly pulled off a coup in the past two years, with 21 trillion dollars in national debt and the courts as de facto progressive legislators, and with an open 2,000-mile border, they may well be right.
NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Case for Trump. @vdhanson