In recent decades, the label “progressive” has been resurrected to replace “liberal,” a once vaunted term so successfully maligned by Republicans that it fell out of use. Both etymologically and ideologically, the switch to “progressive” carries historical freight that augurs poorly for Democrats and for the nation’s polarized politics.
.. Historical progressivism is an ideology whose American avatars, like Woodrow Wilson, saw progress as the inevitable outcome of human affairs.
.. The basic premise of liberal politics, by contrast, is the capacity of government to do good, especially in ameliorating economic ills. Nothing structurally impedes compromise between conservatives, who hold that the accumulated wisdom of tradition is a better guide than the hypercharged rationality of the present, and liberals, because both philosophies exist on a spectrum.
.. A liberal can believe that government can do more good or less, and one can debate how much to conserve. But progressivism is inherently hostile to moderation because progress is an unmitigated good. There cannot be too much of it. Like conservative fundamentalism, progressivism contributes to the polarization and paralysis of government because it makes compromise, which entails accepting less progress, not merely inadvisable but irrational.
Hillary Clinton, for example, called herself “a progressive who likes to get things done” — the implication is that progress is the fundamental goal and that its opponents are atavists.
.. Unlike liberalism, progressivism is intrinsically opposed to conservation. It renders adhering to tradition unreasonable rather than seeing it, as the liberal can, as a source of wisdom.
The British philosopher Roger Scruton calls this a “culture of repudiation” of home and history alike.
The critic of progress is not merely wrong but a fool. Progressivism’s critics have long experienced this as a passive-aggressive form of re-education.
.. Because progress is an unadulterated good, it supersedes the rights of its opponents. This is evident in progressive indifference to the rights of those who oppose progressive policies in areas like sexual liberation.
.. The ideology of progress tends to regard the traditions that have customarily bound communities and which mattered to Trump voters alarmed by the rapid transformation of society, as a fatuous rejection of progress.
.. Trump supporters’ denunciation of “political correctness” is just as often a reaction to progressive condescension as it is to identity politics.
.. Where liberalism seeks to ameliorate economic ills, progressivism’s goal is to eradicate them.
.. Moynihan recognized this difference between Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, which he always supported — as exemplified by his opposition to Clinton-era welfare reform — and Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, which he sympathetically criticized.
.. The Great Society partook more of a progressive effort to remake society by eradicating poverty’s causes. The result, Moynihan wrote, was the diversion of resources from welfare and jobs to “community action” programs that financed political activism.
.. Conservatism holds that accumulated tradition is a likelier source of wisdom than the cleverest individual at any one moment. It fears the tyranny of theory that cannot tolerate dissent.
.. Liberalism defends constitutionalism. One of the finest traditions of 20th-century liberalism was the Cold War liberal
.. progressivism, by its very definition, makes progress into an ideology. The appropriate label for those who do not believe in the ideology of progress but who do believe in government’s capacity to do good is “liberal.”
Tax cuts. Deregulation. More for the military; less for the United Nations. The Islamic State crushed in its heartland. Assad hit with cruise missiles. Troops to Afghanistan. Arms for Ukraine. A tougher approach to North Korea. Jerusalem recognized as Israel’s capital. The Iran deal decertified. Title IX kangaroo courts on campus condemned. Yes to Keystone. No to Paris. Wall Street roaring and consumer confidence high.
And, of course, Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court. What, for a conservative, is there to dislike about this policy record as the Trump administration rounds out its first year in office?
.. “The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society,” said the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
.. And want to preserve your own republican institutions? Then pay attention to the character of your leaders, the culture of governance and the political health of the public. It matters a lot more than lowering the top marginal income tax rate by a couple of percentage points.
.. Or maybe you regret the failure to repeal Obamacare. But that had something to do with the grotesque insults Trump lobbed at John McCain, the man whose “nay” vote sank repeal... Look at every other administration embarrassment (Scaramucci) or failure (the wall, and Mexico paying for it) or disgrace (the Charlottesville equivocation). Responsibility invariably lies with the president’s intemperance and dishonesty. That puts Republican control of Congress in play. It also risks permanently alienating a millennial generation for which the G.O.P. will forever be the party of the child-molesting sore loser and the president who endorsed him... Now look at the culture of governance. Trump demands testimonials from his cabinet, servility from Republican politicians and worship from conservative media. To serve in this White House isn’t to be elevated to public service. It’s to be debased into toadyism, which probably explains the record-setting staff turnover of 34 percent.. In place of presidential addresses, stump speeches or town halls, we have Trump’s demagogic mass rallies. In place of the usual jousting between the administration and the press, we have a president who fantasizes on Twitter about physically assaulting CNN. In place of a president who defends the honor and integrity of his own officers and agencies, we have one who humiliates his attorney general, denigrates the F.B.I. and compares our intelligence agencies to the Gestapo.
Trump is normalizing all this; he is, to borrow another Moynihan phrase, “defining deviancy down.” A president who supposedly wants to put a wall between the U.S. and Latin America has imported a style of politics reminiscent of the cults of Juan Perón and Hugo Chávez.
.. Trump is empowering a conservative political culture that celebrates everything that patriotic Americans should fear: the cult of strength, open disdain for truthfulness, violent contempt for the Fourth Estate, hostility toward high culture and other types of “elitism,” a penchant for conspiracy theories and, most dangerously, white-identity politics.
How politically-driven bugaboos always distract us from the real monsters.
Back in 1835, Samuel F.B. Morse (who went on to invent the telegraph and the Morse Code), wrote a book about a plot to overthrow the American republic. The conspiracy, Morse wrote, was well-funded, highly secretive, and hatched in Vienna by members of the The St. Leopold Foundation, which had dispatched cells of Jesuit missionaries to the U.S. to forcibly convert the nation to Roman Catholicism. This was no small intrigue: The plot’s leaders, as Morse meticulously catalogued, were Austrian diplomat Klemens von Metternich, Ferdinand V of Hungary, and (of course) Pope Gregory XVI. “It is high time that we awakened to the apprehension of danger,” Morse wrote.
.. Morse’s book seeded the rise of the nativist“Know-Nothing” party, whose goal was to curb immigration, root out Catholicism, and return America to its protestant ideals. In essence, they were the America-firsters of the nineteenth century. The Know-Nothings swept into office in Chicago, were strong in Massachusetts and, in 1856, nominated a national ticket (Millard Fillmore and Andrew Donelson), for the presidency; they tallied nearly 900,000 votes, one-quarter of those cast. “I know nothing but my country, my whole country and nothing but my country,” they chanted.
.. Before the Know-Nothings there were the Anti-Masons, a political movement that warned of a takeover by secretive apron-wearing do-gooders who met for god-knows-why. And before that Americans were warned about witches named Dorothy, Rebecca, Martha, and Rachel, dancing in New England’s forests. Some 120 years after Morse, in 1964, historian Richard Hofstadter dubbed this “the paranoid style in American politics”—a paradigm-shifting essay that catalogued a raft of intrigues peopled by witches, Illuminati, Masons, Jesuits, Mormons, Jewish bankers, Bilderbergers and, in Hofstadter’s time, communist dupes doing Moscow’s bidding.
.. The problem is not that this is patently false (The Germans! The Japanese! The Russians!), but that it’s often exaggerated—and, sometimes, purposely so. Then too, as Hofstadter implied, preying on these fears for political gain not only isn’t new, it’s tried, tested, and often successful. Scaring the dickens out of voters is as American as the 4th of July.
.. John Kennedy insisted that the Soviet Union had outstripped the U.S. in ballistic missile production. There was a growing and dangerous “missile gap” Kennedy claimed, placing the nation in great peril.
.. As it turns out, Kennedy was right: there was a missile gap, but not in a way that he thought—we had plenty, while they had none (a later CIA report speculated that, actually, they might have had three, maybe).
.. The same kinds of claims were retailed by U.S. intelligence services about Russia’s allies: a 1987 CIA fact book said that East Germany’s GDP per capita was higher than West Germany’s, a claim so ludicrous that Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan dismissed it to a panel of CIA officers with a legendary quip: “I know a Berlin taxi driver who could have told you that wasn’t true.”
.. The world has problems, big problems but it is not going to hell. Here’s what going to hell looks like. In the autumn of 1941, Europe was under the domination of a genocidal regime that had extended its murderous policies through all of Europe and whose armies were headed towards Moscow. In Asia, large swathes of China and all of Southeast Asia were occupied by Japanese militarists. The two, with Italy, had formed an axis and controlled significant portions of the globe. Their enemies were teetering on the edge of defeat. The world was going to hell, alright, but the U.S. had yet to get into the war.
.. During the early morning hours of September 26, 1983, Lt. Col. Stanislav Petrov was notified by his computer system that the U.S. had launched five intercontinental ballistic missiles at Russia. Petrov sat there for a moment, when he should have been on the telephone to his superiors. After several moments he concluded that the warning just didn’t make sense. Why would the U.S. launch only five missiles at Russia, when everyone in the Soviet military supposed they would launch a barrage. “The siren howled, but I just sat there for a few seconds,” he later told the BBC, “staring at the big, back-lit, red screen with the word ‘launch’ on it.” Petrov ignored the warning—and may well have prevented a nuclear holocaust.
This now-old economic idea should be on policymakers’ minds.
.. remained an aficionado of New York opera, and when in 1962 the Metropolitan Opera’s orchestra went on strike, Baumol sought an explanation for the Met’s regularly recurring labor troubles. He postulated “cost disease” afflicting labor-intensive service industries: Productivity will often increase not at all, or much slower, in some sectors
nursing, teaching, the performing arts
Moynihan’s corollary to Baumol’s theory: “Activities with Baumol’s disease migrate to the public sector.”