20th-Century Progressive Politics Continues to Unfold

The West took a turn for the worse about 100 years ago. Three versions of a new political vision—fascism, communism, and progressivism—came to power at about the same time. Each one put the government at the center of national life. The political history of the 20th century in the West is largely the story of these three versions of a modern statist vision.

In 1922, Benito Mussolini, the founder of the fascist movement, was elected prime minister of Italy. In 1917, Vladimir Lenin seized power in Russia and founded the Soviet Communist state. In 1913, Woodrow Wilson won the presidency and swiftly laid the foundations of the progressive state that America is today.

As Mussolini put it: “Everything within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.” According to Mussolini, fascism meant the politicization of everything—and everything was swiftly politicized in Lenin’s “dictatorship of the proletariat,” too.

Does it seem to you that American life today is politicized to an astonishing and often ridiculous degree? Have you heard that the city of Berkeley in California has decided that the term “manhole cover” is sexist? It’s true. In Berkeley, they shall henceforth be called “maintenance hole covers.” It took the progressives about a century, changing the rules and changing the culture step by step, progressively, to make this a problem the Berkeley City Council had to solve.

But the politicization of American life is no laughing matter. Failing to adhere strictly to the Nazi party line in the Third Reich or the Communist party line in the USSR could cost you your life. In America today, failing to adhere strictly to the dictates of political correctness can cost you your livelihood, as we have seen in far too many instances already. Basic, common sense terms such as “he” and “she” have become politically radioactive, and in coercively many-gendered New York City, you can be fined for using the wrong pronoun.

President Trump’s failure to follow the strictures of political correctness has earned him hysterical denunciations from the political, academic, and corporate establishments, and from Hollywood, too, of course. The reaction to Trump by people from all across the establishment has revealed the astonishing success of the progressives’ project of imposing political correctness on Americans.

Trump’s fight against political correctness is a fight for the soul of America. Political correctness is the party line of a one-party Progressive America, and it must be challenged and defeated or America will be lost to them.

“Everything within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state” does not yet obtain in the good ol’ USA, but it should be clear to everyone by now that that is where the progressives want to take America. The progressives understood from the beginning that in America, unlike Germany or Russia, they could not impose their vision on the country overnight. They knew they would have to work up to it, taking care not to upset too many Americans too much along the way.

Woodrow Wilson got things going in 1913. The 16th Amendment, ratified in 1913, established the progressive income tax. It provides the financing for the gargantuan central government which has replaced the federal government of limited powers America once had. The 17th Amendment, also ratified in 1913, provided for the direct election of senators. Senators had been chosen by the legislatures of the states. The change diminished the power of the states, and led to the concentration of political and economic power inside the Beltway we have today.

The creation of the Federal Reserve—1913 was a banner year for such “innovations”—was the progressives’ crown jewel because of the control it gave the central government over finance and the economy. Thus the basics of the modern progressive state were all put in place within a single year.

But after this year of the great leap forward, the progressives, unlike the fascists and the Communists, set out to bring revolutionary change to America in stages, progressively.

The politicization of health care makes the progressives’ strategy clear. The progressives initiated the process of insidiously imposing state control over health care with programs for old people and for the poor. Sold on the basis of compassion, these programs greatly extended the reach of government power. But these entitlement programs, for progressives, were only stages on the way. It took them nearly a century to impose Obamacare on America. Obamacare extended the reach of political power over the private affairs of every American not already part of the programs for the poor and for old people, but it too was only another step toward their ultimate goal.

The progressives are already abandoning Obamacare, enacted just a few years ago. Today their rallying cry is “Medicare for All.” Once they have it in place and have eliminated private insurance, they will have finally achieved the progressive vision for this important area of American life—”healthcare within the state, no healthcare outside the state, no healthcare against the state”—and they will have done it by successfully applying their tried-and-true strategy of a step by step, progressive advance to the goal of putting the state in charge.

Photo Credit: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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