The Rapid ‘Progress’ of Progressivism

Not long ago I waited for a flight to board. The plane took off 45 minutes late. There were only two attendants to accommodate 11 passengers who had requested wheelchair assistance.

Such growing efforts to ensure that the physically challenged can easily fly are certainly welcome. But when our plane landed—late and in danger of causing many passengers to miss their connecting flights—most of the 11 wheelchair-bound passengers left their seats unassisted and hurried out. It was almost as if newfound concerns about making connections had somehow improved their health during the flight.

Two passengers had boarded with two dogs each. No doubt the airlines’ policy of allowing an occasional dog on a flight is understandable. But now planes are starting to sound and smell like kennels.

Special blue parking placards were initially a long-overdue effort to help the disabled. But these days, the definition of “disabled” has so expanded that a large percentage of the population can qualify for special parking privileges—or cheat in order to qualify.

In California, 26,000 disabled parking placards are currently issued to people over 100 years of age, even though state records list only about 8,000 living centenarians.

Current crises such as homelessness and illegal immigration did not start out as much of a public concern.

Originally, progressive politicians felt that cities should bend their vagrancy laws a bit to allow some of the poor to camp on the sidewalks. Bathroom and public health issues were considered minor, given the relatively small pool of so-called “street people.”

Few objected to illegal immigration in the 1960s and 1970s. Foreign nationals came unlawfully across the border in relatively small numbers—thousands, not millions. Fifty years ago, America was eager to assimilate even the few arrivals who arrived illegally. Not now. The melting pot gave way to the identity politics of the tribe that asks little integration of the newcomers.

Whether out of guilt or out of fear of being perceived as exclusionary by harder leftists, progressives cannot, or will not, draw realistic limits to illegal immigration or homelessness. Yet both cost the law-abiding public billions of dollars in social services, often at the expense of America’s poor.

This rapid spread of progressivism leads to an endless race for absolute equality and an erosion of prior rules. It also makes once-liberal positions seem passe, recasting those positions as dangerously reactionary.

In 2008, Barack Obama ran for president on a number of Bill Clinton’s centrist Democratic policies. Obama opposed gay marriage as contrary to his own Christian beliefs.

Obama supported increased security along the border with Mexico. As a senator, he had voted for a 2006 measure to create 700 miles of new fencing along the Mexican border.

But by the time Obama sought re-election in 2012, progressives were routinely labeling Obama’s positions on gay marriage and immigration as homophobic and nativist, respectively.

Twenty years ago, there was honest debate over global warming. Ten years ago, there was still honest debate over the effects of human-induced climate change. Five years ago, there was still honest debate over the cost-benefit analysis of dealing with the problem.

Not now. Anyone who doubts that there is an existential man-caused threat to the planet—requiring the radical and costly reconstruction of the global economy and society—is considered a “denier,” deserving of professional ostracism or worse.

In the eternal search for perfect justice and equality, what starts out as liberal can quickly end up as progressively absurd. The logic of equality of result, rather than equality of opportunity, demands that there is always one more group, one more grievance, one more complaint against the shrinking and overwhelmed majority.

The ancient Athenian philosopher Plato once made his megaphone Socrates lament that in ancient Athens’ nonstop search for perfect equality, soon even the horses would have to be accorded the same privileges as humans.

Socrates’ fantasy was an exaggeration intended as a reminder about the craziness of always-creeping mandated equality. Now it seems not far from the mainstream positions of animal-rights groups.

If we insist that the human experience is not tragic and cyclical, but instead must always bend on some predetermined arc to absolute equality and fairness, then unfortunate results must follow.

One, what is welcomed as progressive on Monday is derided as intolerable on Tuesday. The French and Russian revolutions went through several such cycles. After reformers had removed absolute rulers, the reformers were soon derided as too timid. Then came far more radical revolutionaries, who were in turn beheaded or shot as dangerous counter-revolutionaries.

Second, when rules and regulations are always watered down as too exclusionary, the descent to no rules is quite short. The ultimate destination is nihilism and chaos. We see that now in Venezuela and Cuba—and increasingly in California as well.


Photo credit: iStock/Getty Images

About Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a distinguished fellow of the Center for American Greatness and the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He is an American military historian, columnist, a former classics professor, and scholar of ancient warfare. He has been a visiting professor at Hillsdale College since 2004. Hanson was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 by President George W. Bush. Hanson is also a farmer (growing raisin grapes on a family farm in Selma, California) and a critic of social trends related to farming and agrarianism. He is the author most recently of The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won, The Case for Trump and the newly released The Dying Citizen.

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18 responses to “The Rapid ‘Progress’ of Progressivism”

  1. Ah, yes, and their vaunted “sustainability” is the obvious casualty, but then that notion was always as ethereal as any of their principles.
    Their only real principle is increasing the power of Big Government, as that greater cause seemingly justifies actions against their own self-interest.
    How many minorities and Millenials have figured out that they are the hardest hit by open borders policies their esteemed leaders promote?

    • Check out “The Skeptical Environmentalists” that makes the point that environmental benefits need to be tied to cost/benefit analysis, rather than arbitrary standards such as parts per million (PPM) of a substance, that may require far higher costs for incremental benefits. When someone dares to challenge such a PPM standard, there are loud accusations that it will murder millions.

      • Real environmentalism has nothing to do with the left which is really more interested in state control. Environments improve in wealthy capitalist nations with strong private property protections. People naturally want to live in clean environments. More wealth allows them the freedom to do so. Stronger property rights gives them the knowledge that cleaning their environment is an investment in the future. Any neighbor degrading their environment can be brought to court.

        Diffuse “pollutants” like CO2 are a dream to Statists. They call out for big government “solutions” which will never work in reality. This will lead to “better solutions” and so on.

      • Have you noticed the interesting reluctance of “climate change” fanatics to connect COO emissions to government subsidization of tailpipe emissions? Every adult knows that subsidized superhighways stimulate demand for vast quantities of hydrocarbon fuels. So if COO is the problem which the crazies claim, then the primary solution must be to eliminate causes, e.g. subsidies, not to treat the symptoms with gimmicks like electric cars. But no.

        Such abolition would also increase the economic incentive to develop passenger rail service–which leftists clamor for, and it would reduce the pressure which brings about great sprawling suburbs–which leftists pretend to oppose. But again they don’t act according to their alleged desires.

        Abolishing government subsidies for roads, esp. those like the US interstate system, would greatly reduce state control over transportation and be very hard on the unionized labor rackets through which leftists divide society and finance their electoral aggression. So the fact that few or none of the crazies agitate for elimination of vast public works projects like the interstate system is abundant evidence that their motives have little to do with environmentalism.

  2. “The ancient Athenian philosopher Plato once made his megaphone Socrates lament that in ancient Athens’ nonstop search for perfect equality, soon even the horses would have to be accorded the same privileges as humans.”

    During the reign of Caligula in ancient Rome, he elevated his horse Incitatus to the rank of Consul in the Senate. I am certain that our degenerate America will soon follow this practice.

    • Caligula was simply making a point, and fairly well. We have no horses in the senate, just horse’s asses.

    • Why not? People (mostly women) spend incredible amounts of money on their pets… oops, sorry, “fur babies.”

    • There are already plenty of horses’ asses in our Congress. Might as well put some horses in there with them.

  3. “We Jews, we the destroyers, will remain the destroyers forever. NOTHING that you will do will meet our needs and demands. We will forever destroy, because we need a world of our own, a God-world, which it is not in your nature to build.” –“You Gentiles”p.155 Maurice Samuel; 9.

  4. Great, cogent description of the creep to the left, VDH. Push the envelop, and then that is the new position of the cutting edge. From which to once again push the envelope.

    It is a sickness of the luxury of first world ease of living. Absent an enemy to fear, or a wolf at the door with no government safety net up around the top rung, the progressive mind goes sick and soft.

  5. I have presented the following “Progress of ‘Progress'”:

    RECOGNITION of the aberrant – it must be named as a group.

    TOLERANCE – Prove you can get along with the members of the group even if you don’t accept their premise or practice.

    ACCEPTANCE – It is not enough to tolerate, as “tolerate” implies a response to a negative, unpleasant, or noxious thing. The aberration must be accepted as not only existing, but normative and good. No negative implication is allowed.

    APPROVAL – You must publicly show that you are in tune with and support the aberrant innovation.

    CONFORMITY – You must conform in every way to whatever the aberrant group says or claims, including its latest choice of name (they change often), its requirement not to be given even a shadow of doubt as that would harm the group members’ psyches, and to promulgate standard practices required by the group in your community, business, organization, institution, network, religion, and any other group.

    PERSECUTION – Those who do not follow the prescribed progression must be punished, shamed, cut out of their positions, forced to conform, and exiled from the progressively-run society.

  6. I’ve sat waiting in parking lots while my wife shops and the abuse of handicap spots is glaring. Why bother to have a sticker or hanger for your mirror or even a marked license plate when you can merely park and go. No one is going to question you.

    I saw one gentleman who qualified for handicap parking who couldn’t find a space so parked quite a distance from the door, got his walker out of his car and slowly made his way to the entrance.

    My brother-in-law, in his late 70s parked in a handicap spot at a Panerra Bread (he’s not qualified), immediately realized his mistake, started to back out and OH NO!!! Enforcement showed up (that’s quite something in itself) and he received a $500 fine.

    That so-called “enforcement” was a chance in a million based on my years of witnessing abuse. And now I’ve begun seeing people with “slipper” dogs in grocery stores and Home Depot. These ARE NOT service dogs!!

    Progressivism a nice word for Marxism!

  7. I an going to nit pick here, but I recently flew with someone suffering from spinal stenosis. He can walk, but not for long distances. A casual observer would not detect the extent of the problems. A wheel chair did take him from check in to the gate and another wheel chair met us at the destination. There were also four dogs on the plane (not ours), but there was no barking or problems.
    People are abusing the system which is what is causing the problems. They do not want to hire pet sitters or they want to be able to board first. The airlines were letting them get away with it to avoid bad publicity and possible law suits. The problem has gotten so out of control, the inevitable correction is now taking place. I would not view this as a sign the end is near. Just another example of humans being jerks.

  8. I had a husband in my foolish youth for whom I could do nothing right. He kept moving the goal posts. Eventually I left him and told him why. It’s an effort to establish and maintain power as well as being a form of emotional abuse. America is finally waking up to that fact as I did at the tender age of 23.

  9. Correct. We now have animal-rights groups that proclaim “It’s their world. We’re just living in it.” Uh, no. It’s our world, and we’re sharing it with all the other species. But there are many who now proclaim that animals have as many rights as humans, or even more rights than humans do. That kind of twisted thinking is an example of what Dr. Hanson is talking about. All of that come from a basic concept that humankind is somehow evil, and we are are in some way encroaching on a place where we really have no business being. In fact, it’s just the opposite.