The 1972 Progressive Pathway to Oblivion

What is strange about the new envisioned progressive agendas for 2020 is that no serious Democratic presidential candidate next year could ever run on them.

Instead, what we will see over the next few months are insidious efforts to ignore, disown, or recant endorsements of Democratic candidates for president. And if not, Democrats will be trapped by their own rhetoric and virtue signaling—and end up going the full McGovern in 2020.

Venom. The new progressive Democratic Party is prepared for existential war. Vice President Mike Pence cannot be said to be a “decent guy.” Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) is old and in the way. America is not much above “garbage.” Immigrants arrive crushed that the “propaganda” did not match the reality of a pathological America. Yesterday’s condemnations from Jeremiah Wright’s pulpit sound mild today. In such a race to the bottom, expect in the next 22 months that each current slur and smear will be seen as counterrevolutionary within 24 hours. Yet most Americans do not appreciate their country being trashed by those who apparently know little about it.

Green Deals. Much has been written about the “Green New Deal,” specifically its socialist redistribution schemes, and its notorious rapid phasing out of the internal combustion engine, which drew the polite ridicule from Feinstein and even House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

The timing was certainly absurd. The rapid growth in domestic natural gas use has ensured that the United States has exceeded even most “green” European countries in meeting the now abandoned Paris Climate Accords.

U.S. energy production has all but eliminated the prior strategic stranglehold of the Persian Gulf states over U.S. Middle East policy or, for that matter, over American foreign policy itself. At a time when government-funded high-speed rail is failing and gasoline is below $3 a gallon (well below the price in Europe), few voters would prefer ending gas and oil use or trying to do what leftwing California could not.

One reason the U.S. economy is booming and may continue to do so is that American electricity-intensive industries increasingly are enjoying substantial cost savings in their power costs over European and Asian rivals.

The New Green Deal is also low-poll hypocrisy. Given that the Democratic echelon and donor class are now mostly America’s rich, voters will learn than limos, private jets, heated swimming pools, junkets, and expansive second and third homes do not synchronize well with ending their own internal combustion engines—on the two-legged pigs defense that revolutionaries must be treated well to be effective social justice warriors.

While global warming is now a near religion among the establishment of both parties, 2019 will likely become one of the coldest and wettest years on record, especially in the normally arid Western states.  In sum, at a time when the spectacular American renaissance in energy production has enriched the nation, empowered the middle classes, and freed the U.S. military from endless involvements in the Middle East, why would voters prefer to end all that in favor of a California-high-speed rail, Tesla, wind-turbine future?

Anti-Semitism. The recent failure to condemn explicit anti-Semitism, as voiced by some new anti-Semitic, anti-Israel left-wing congresswomen, reveals that the Democratic Party is captive to an entirely new manifestation of a tired, old ideology.

A terrified Nancy Pelosi may blame Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar’s anti-Semitism on her linguistic clumsiness. But the fact is that Omar, Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) say things about Jews not because they are sloppy talkers, but because they know all too well that the slurs win support.

The Democrats have never completely disowned the nation’s best-known anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan (once pictured with a soon-to-be President Barack Obama). Al Sharpton’s career was birthed in Jew-hating. The reason Pelosi cannot enlist the help of the Congressional Black Caucus is that so many of its members are on record voicing anti-Semitism, from Rep. Hank Johnson’s “termites” slander to Rep. Danny Davis’s reflexive salutes to Farrakhan.

Changing demography, little pushback from a younger generation of progressive secular Jews, and the socialist drift of the Democratic Party have all legitimized the idea that one can fixate on liberal and democratic Israel, one of 23 Middle Eastern countries, one of over 190 nations, and apply standards of social justice to it in a way not commensurate with criticism of totalitarian Cuba, Iran, or China—and then embed that bias within a larger progressive take on the “Palestinians.”

Moreover, anti-Semitism will only increase among those on the Left, because it practitioners are mostly ignorant of its terrible history, and instead assume that as “people of color” and “marginalized peoples” they should be exempt from criticism—as we saw when Omar redoubled her rhetoric and thereby earned the approval of David Duke.

Yet anti-Semitism is a losing political issue, because it is never a static hatred. Once it begins, and is contextualized as “anti-Israel” or directed merely against larger “white privilege,” it only increases—and eventually will turn off most of the electorate. For Democrats to excise this hatred from their ranks, they would have to alienate anti-Semites. This they will not do—and thereby they will pay dearly for their appeasement.

Abortion. It was an unwritten rule that there were two sure ways to lose voters on the abortion issue. Again, ethics and morality aside, there were a few clearly understood no-go, political red lines.

On the pro-life side, one political fault line was to avoid insisting on no abortions under any circumstances—that is, not to allow exceptions for rape, incest, or fatal risks to the mother. In an amoral purely political sense, that was a losing issue for most conservatives who embraced such a policy

On the pro-abortion side, the red line was usually defined roughly as infanticide, ostensibly killing the baby as it passed through the birth canal or in fact was already delivered.

In recent times, with rapid advances in technology, infanticide has been largely redefined as late-term abortion, in the macabre manner of the venomous Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell. And “late-term” is in a process of constant redefinition, as science allows fetuses to live apart from their mothers at ever earlier stages of pregnancy.

In other words, progressives have recently violated those understood political parameters when they are on record that a baby can be killed while or after being birthed, or at a stage where it is perfectly viable apart from the womb, and for reasons that do not entail either the health of the mother or any violent circumstances that resulted in conception. Apart from its abject immorality, infanticide is not a viable political position, and few politicians—many Democrats included—would wish to run in a general election condoning it.

Reparations. There is no national support for reparations for contemporary African-Americans, nearly 160 years after the Civil War.

The argument is neither coherent nor workable. Do immigrant blacks from Africa or the Caribbean qualify despite no American familial historical experience with slavery or Jim Crow?

How do we define “African-American” in the age of Elizabeth Warren and common tribal feuding over Native American ancestry in matters of lucrative Indian gaming casinos?

If half-Peruvian George Zimmerman, according to the New York Times, is a “white Hispanic,” do we follow the 51 percent rule or go back to the old Confederacy’s 1/16 drop? And what is racial authenticity predicated on exactly—Ancestry.com? Warrenesque high-cheekbones family lore? Will there be DNA police to ferret out the Rachel Dolezals among us?

Does culpability matter? Is Kamala Harris ineligible given her ancestors were slave-owners, as her own father attested? Do other ethnic groups have similar complaints against the long dead white majority—Asians, Latinos, the Irish, Italians?

Does class matter in an age of assimilation, integration, proportional representation, set-asides and affirmative action? Will the impoverished white Tulare mechanic or the southern Ohioan custodian pay taxes for reparations for Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg, Spike Lee, Oprah, and Ta-Nehisi Coates?

Would reparations then jumpstart a pernicious habit in which each racial and ethnic group tallies up their assumed obligations and liabilities to be set against their grievances and reparations? Group A’s crime rate is below the national average? Group B is below the mean in terms of received entitlements and redistributions. Group C can prove no American ancestral presence before 1960? And were more than the 600,000 dead of the Civil War, the trillions in compensations spent since the Great Society, and the winners and losers of affirmative action all to have mattered little if at all?

Reparations for a politician is a losing proposition, although it is a pathway to the Balkans, Rwanda, and Iraq.

Open borders and the end of ICE. Sanctuary cities and open borders are already hemorrhaging voters from the Democratic Party as Donald Trump proved in 2016. The news cycles almost weekly highlight yet another violent crime committed by an illegal alien, and somehow aided and abetted by the prior laxity of a sanctuary jurisdiction. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials are not roundly despised by the Latino community; in fact, ICE officers are frequently Latinos themselves, and often are called into by immigrant communities to deport illegal alien gang members and criminals preying on those in their neighborhoods. Open borders and ending ICE are also not 51 percent issues—a fact that will become ever clearer as spring and summer caravans start pulling up at the southern border.

“Medicare for All.” Seniors, fairly or not, and logically or not, feel Medicare was a pact into which they paid while young in order to be eligible for payoffs they would receive when old. To open up Medicare for all will be felt by a growing Boomer retiring population as making a nearly insolvent Medicare available for none.

Cancellation of student debt. A collective college debt of $1.5 trillion is a national crisis, given it retards the transition from adolescence to adulthood, especially in terms of delaying home purchases, marriage and child-rearing. But the remedy is not a blanket cancellation of debts, given that about half the nation’s youth chose not to go to college and should not be asked to subsidize those who did.

The images of the archetypical college student have taken a hit in the progressive era of crybaby campus social justice warriors shouting down speakers, toppling statues, whining about safe spaces, microaggressions, and white-privilege obsessions. There might be a way for graduates gradually to work off debt or have it alleviated after filling certain conditions, as exists already in many cases. But simply eliminating debt by fiat, coupled with promising free college tuition for all, is a nonstarter politically.

“You owe us” taxes. A wealth tax on already taxed capital coupled with 70-90 percent income taxes on the top brackets is a prescription for flat economic growth, institutionalized tax cheating, high unemployment, and even greater government spending. In political terms, it is also suicidal.

A core constituency of the new Democratic Party is not the middle class, but rather upscale professionals in blue-counties, already furious about de facto losing more than half their income to not fully deductible state and local taxes, and steep federal, property, and payroll taxes.

More importantly, the spirit of these progressive tax hikes is not one of appreciation for the private success that allows such revenue to fund government. Rather, high income is couched more often as a bitter “you didn’t build that” entitlement, a sense that the high-end taxpayer owes the public the income he assumedly robbed. A good way to lose donors and voters is to stick it to high-earners and do so with a certain bitter venom that they “owe” what they made to “us.”

All of the above is not a viable 2020 platform. Perhaps it was never meant to be. Rather such hard-left talking points may be “Art of the Deal” bargaining chips, so extreme that worried conservatives would settle for 55 percent of what is demanded, and thereby delight progressives.

But I would not count on it. These nostrums are mostly socialist redistributionist schemes with no history of efficacy, but with ample evidence that they only impoverish and embitter, and they will return the Democrats in 2020 to 1972 and 1984—upbeat, smug, and assured on their way to oblivion.

Barring a war or depression, the 2020 election, for all the Democrats’ effort to demonize, bleed, slander or impeach Donald Trump, will be as it always is: a Manichean choice. This time around it will be simply the Trump agenda versus socialism, as it was when an embattled Nixon claimed that 1972 was either “the silent majority” or “Woodstock Nation.”

In 1972, the Democrats fell into a Jacobin cycle as they vied to devour all but the most left-wing. In 2020 that prior effort will look counterrevolutionary—and we will see candidates say things and push agendas that we have likely never experienced before in this country.

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Photo Credit: Franklin McMahon/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

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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, and is the 2023 Giles O'Malley Distinguished Visiting Professor at the School of Public Policy, Pepperdine University. Hanson was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 by President George W. Bush, and the Bradley Prize in 2008. Hanson is also a farmer (growing almonds on a family farm in Selma, California) and a critic of social trends related to farming and agrarianism. He is the author of the just released New York Times best seller, The End of Everything: How Wars Descend into Annihilation, published by Basic Books on May 7, 2024, as well as the recent  The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won, The Case for Trump, and The Dying Citizen.