Why Are Progressives So Illiberal?

One common theme in the abject madness and tragedies of the past 12 months is that progressive ideology now permeates almost all of our major institutions—even as the majority of Americans resist the leftist agenda. Its reach resembles the manner in which the pre-Renaissance church had absorbed the economic, cultural, social, artistic, and political life of Europe, or perhaps how Islamic doctrine was the foundation for all public and private life under the Ottoman Sultanate—or even how all Russian institutions of the 1930s exuded tenets of Soviet Marxism.


To be a Silicon Valley executive, a prominent Wall Street player, the head of a prestigious publishing house, a university president, a network or PBS anchor, a major Hollywood actress, a retired general or admiral on a corporate board, or a NBA superstar requires either progressive fides or careful suppression of all political affinities.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, 98 percent of Big Tech political donations went to Democrats in 2020. Censorship and deplatforming on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media companies is decidedly one-way. When Mark Zuckerberg and others in Silicon Valley donate $500 million to help officials “get out the vote” in particular precincts, it is not to help candidates of both parties.

Google calibrates the order of its search results with a progressive, not a conservative, bent. Grandees from the Clinton or Obama Administration find sinecures in Silicon Valley, not Republicans or conservatives.

The $4-5 trillion market-capitalized Big Tech cartels, run by self-described progressives, aimed to extinguish conservative brands like Parler. Ironically, they now apply ideological force multipliers to the very strategies and tactics of 19th-century robber-baron trusts and monopolies. Poor Jack Dorsey has never been able to explain why Twitter deplatforms and cancels conservatives for the same supposed uncouthness that leftists routinely employ.

Silicon Valley apparently does not believe in either the letter or the spirit of the First Amendment. It exercises a monopoly over the public airwaves, and resists regulations and antitrust legislation of the sort that liberals once championed to break up trusts in the late 19th and early 20th century. As payback, it assumes that Democrats don’t see Big Tech in the same manner that they claim to see Big Pharma in their rants against it.

Wall Street donated markedly in favor of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Joe Biden in their respective presidential races. Whereas conservative administrations and congressional majorities are seen as natural supporters of free-market capitalism, their Democratic opponents, not long ago, were not—and thus drew special investor attention and support from Wall Street realists.

The insurrectionist GameStop stock debacle revealed how “liberals” on Wall Street reacted when a less connected group of investors sought to do what Wall Street grandees routinely do to others: ambush and swarm a vulnerable company’s stock in unison either to buy or sell it en masse and thus to profit from predictable, artificially huge fluctuations in the price.

When small investors at Reddit drove the pedestrian GameStop price up to well over a hundred times its worth, forcing big Wall Street investment companies to lose billions of dollars, progressives on Wall Street and the business media cried foul. They compared the Reddit buyers to the mob that stormed the Capitol on January 6.

One subtext was: Why would nobodies dare question the mega-profit making monopolies of the Wall Street establishments? The point that neither the Reddit day-traders nor the hedge-fund connivers were necessarily healthy for investment was completely lost.

Surveys of “diverse” university faculty show overwhelming left-wing support, reified by asymmetrical contributions of 95-1 to Democratic candidates. The dream of Martin Luther King, Jr. to make race incidental to our characters no longer exists on campuses. Appearance is now essential. More ironic, class considerations are mostly ignored in favor of identity politics. “Equity” applies to race not class. The general education curricula is one-sided and mostly focused on deductive -studies courses, and in particular race/class/gender zealotry that is anti-Enlightenment in the sense that predetermined conclusions are established and selected evidence is assembled to prove them.

We are also currently witnessing the greatest assault on free speech and expression, and due process, in the last 70 years. And the challenges to the First and Fifth Amendments are centered on college campuses, where non-progressive speakers are disinvited, shouted down, and occasionally roughed up for their supposedly reactionary views—and by those who have little fear of punishment.

Students charged with “sexual harassment” or “assault” are routinely denied the right to face their accusers, cross examine witnesses, or bring in counterevidence. They usually find redress for their suspensions or expulsions only in the courts. What was thematic in the Duke Lacrosse fiasco and the University of Virginia sorority rape hoax was the absence of any real individual punishment for those who promulgated the myths.

Indeed in these cases many argued that false allegations in effect were not so important in comparison to bringing attention to supposedly systemic racism and sexism. In Jussie Smollett fashion, what did not happen at least drew attention to what could have happened and thus was valuable. It was as if those who did not commit any actual crime had still committed a thought crime.

Almost all media surveys of the last four years reflect a clear journalistic bias against conservatives in general. Harvard’s liberal Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy famously reported slanted coverage against Trump and his supporters among major television and news outlets at near astronomical rates, in some cases exhibiting over 90 percent negative bias during Trump’s first few months in office. Liberal editors can now be routinely fired or forced to retire from major progressives newspapers if they are not seen as sufficiently woke.

No major journalist or reporter has been reprimanded for promoting the fictional “Russian collusion” hoax—and certainly not in the manner the media has called for punishment, backlisting, and deplatforming for any who championed “stop the steal” protests over the November 2020 elections. The CNN Newsroom put their hands up and chanted “hands up, don’t shoot”—a myth surrounding the Michael Brown Ferguson shooting that was thoroughly refuted. Infamous now is the CNN reporter’s characterization of arsonist flames shooting up in the background of a BLM/Antifa riot as a “largely peaceful” demonstration. BLM, of course, has been nominated for a Nobel “Peace” Prize. After the summer rioting, one could better cite Tacitus’s Calgacus, “Where they make a desert, they call it peace”.

A George W. Bush or Donald Trump press conference was often a free-for-all, blood-in-the-water feeding frenzy. A Barack Obama or Joe Biden version devolves into banalities about pets, fashion, and food. The fusion media credo is why embarrass a progressive government and thus put millions and the planet itself at risk?

Andrew Cuomo’s policies of sending COVID-19 patients into rest homes led to thousands of unnecessary deaths. Still, the media gave him an Emmy award for his self-inflated and bombastic press conferences, many of which were little more than unhinged rants against the Trump Administration. Anthony Fauci’s initial pronouncements about the origins of the COVID-19 virus, its risks and severity, travel bans, masks, herd immunity, vaccination rollout dates—and almost everything about the pandemic—were wildly off. Yet he was canonized by the media due to his wink-and-nod assurances that he was the medical adult in the Trump Administration room.

It would be difficult for a prominently conservative actor or actress to win an Oscar these days, or to produce a major conservative-themed film. Bankable actors/directors/producers like Clint Eastwood or Mel Gibson operate as mavericks, whose films’ huge profits win them some exemption. But they came into prominence and power 30 years ago during a different age. And they will likely have no immediate successors.

Ars gratis doctrinae is the new Hollywood and it will continue until it bottoms out in financial nihilism. When such ideological spasms contort a society, the second-rate emerge most prominently as the loudest accusers of the Salem Witches—as if correct zeal can reboot careers stalled in mediocrity. Hollywood’s mediocre celebrities from Alec Baldwin to Noah Cyrus have sought attention for their careers by voicing sensational racist, homophobic, and misogynist slurs—on the correct assumption their attention-grabbing left-wing fides prevents career cancellation.

Hollywood, we learn, has been selecting some actors on the basis of lighter skin color to accommodate racist Beijing’s demands to distribute widely their films in the enormous Chinese market. Yet note well that Hollywood has recently created racial quotas for particular Oscar categories, even as it reverses its racial obsessions to punish rather than empower people of color on the prompt of Chinese paymasters.

Ditto the political warping in professional sports. Endorsements, media face time, and cultural resonance often hinge on athletes either being woke—or entirely politically somnolent. A few stars may exist as known conservatives, but again they are the rare exceptions. For most athletes, it is wisest to keep mum and either support, condone, or ignore the Black Lives Matter rituals of taking a knee, not standing for the flag, or ritually denouncing conservative politicians. Those who are offended and turn the channel can be replaced by far more new viewers in China, who appreciate such criticism directed at the proper target.

Again, what is common to all the tentacles of this progressive octopus is illiberalism. Of course, progressivism, dating back to late 19th-century advocacy for “updating” the Constitution, always smiled upon authoritarianism. It promoted the “science” of eugenics and forced race-based sterilization, and the messianic idea that enlightened elites can use the increased powers of government to manage better the personal lives of its subjects (enslaved to religious dogma or mired in ignorance), according to supposed pure reason and humanistic intent.

Many progressives professed early admiration for the supposed efficiency of Benito Mussolini’s public works programs spurred on by his Depression-era fascism, and his enlistment of a self-described expert class to implement by fiat what was necessary for “progress.”

Even contemporary progressives have voiced admiration for the communist Chinese ability to override “obstructionists” to create mass transit, high-density urban living, and solar power. Early on in the pandemic Bill Gates defended China’s conduct surrounding the COVID-19 disaster. Suggesting the virus did not originate in a “wet” market was “conspiratorial”; travel bans were “racist” and “xenophobic.” In contrast, had SARS-CoV-2 possibly escaped by accident from a Russian lab, in our hysterias we might have been on the brink of war.

So it is understandable that progressivism can end up as an enemy of the First Amendment and intellectual diversity to bulldoze impediments to needed progress. To save us, sometimes leftists must become advocates of monopolies and cartels, of censorship, or of the militarization of our capital.

The new Left sorts, rewards, and punishes people by their race. And some progressives are the most likely appeasers of a racist and authoritarian Chinese government and advocates of Trotskyizing our past through iconoclasm, erasing, renaming, and cancelling out. San Francisco’s school board recently voted to rename over 40 schools, largely due to the pressure of a few poorly educated teachers who claimed on the basis of half-baked Wikipedia research that icons such as Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Washington were unfit for such recognition.

Absolute Power for Absolute Good

There are various explanations for unprogressive progressivism. None are necessarily mutually exclusive. Much of the latest totalitarianism is simple hula-hoop groupthink, a fad, or even a wise career move. Loud progressivism has become for some professionals, an insurance policy—or perhaps a deterrent high wall to ensure the mob bypasses one for easier prey elsewhere. Were Hunter Biden and his family grifting cartel not loud liberals and connected to Joe Biden, they all might have ended up like Jack Abramoff.

More commonly, progressivism offers the elite, the rich, and the well-connected Medieval penance, a vicarious way to alleviate their transitory guilt over privilege such as a $20,000 ice cream freezer or a carbon-spewing Gulfstream by abstract self-indictment of the very system that they have mastered so well.

Progressives also believe in natural hierarchies. They see themselves as an elite certified by their degrees, their resumes, and their correct ideologies, our version of Platonic Guardians, practitioners of the “noble lie” to do us good. In its condescending modern form, the creed is devoted to expanding the administrative state, and the expert class that runs it, and revolves in and out from its government hierarchies to privileged counterparts in the corporate and academic world.

Progressivism patronizes the poor and champions them at a distance, but despises the middle class, the traditionally hated bourgeoise without the romance of the distant impoverished or the taste and culture of the rich. The venom explains the wide array of epithets that Obama, Clinton, and Biden have so casually employed—clingers, deplorables, irredeemables, dregs, ugly folk, chumps, and so on. “Occupy Wall Street” was prepped by the media as a romance. The Tea Party was derided as Klan-like. The rioters who stormed the Capitol were rightly dubbed lawbreakers; those who besieged and torched a Minneapolis federal courthouse were romanticized or contextualized.

Abstract humanitarian progressives assume that their superior intelligence and training properly should exempt them from the bothersome ramifications of their own ideologies. They promote high taxes and mock material indulgences. But some have made a science out of tax evasion and embrace the tasteful good life and its material attractions. They prefer private schooling and Ivy League education for their offspring, while opposing charter schools for others.

There is no dichotomy in insisting on more race-based admissions and yet calling a dean or provost to help leverage a now tougher admission for one’s gifted daughter. Sometimes the liberal Hollywood celebrity effort to get offspring stamped with the proper university credentials becomes felonious. Walls are retrograde but can be tastefully integrated into a gated estate. They like static class differences and likely resent the middle class for its supposedly grasping effort to become rich—like themselves.

The working classes can always make solar panels, the billionaire John Kerry tells those thousands whom his boss had just thrown out of work by the cancellation of the Keystone XL Pipeline. It is as if the Yale man was back to the old days when the multimillionaire and promoter of higher taxes moved his yacht to avoid sales and excise taxes and lectured JC students, “You study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.”

There is no such thing as “dark” money or the pernicious role of cash in warping politics when Michael Bloomberg, George Soros, and Mark Zuckerberg, both through direct donations and through various PACs and foundations—channeled nearly $1 billion to left-wing candidates, activists, and political groups throughout the 2020 campaign year.

In sum, the new tribal progressivism is the career ideology foremost of the wealthy and elite—a truth that many skeptical poor and middle-class minorities are now so often pilloried for pointing out. Progressives have adopted identity politics and rejected class considerations, largely because solidarity with elite minorities of similar tastes and politics excuses them from any concrete concern for, or experience with, the middle classes of all races. The Left finally proved right in its boilerplate warning that the “plutocracy” and the “special interests” run America: “If you can’t beat them, outdo them.”

Self-righteous progressives believe they put up with and suffer on behalf of us—and thus their irrational fury and hate for the irredeemables and conservative minorities spring from being utterly unappreciated by clueless serfs who should properly worship their betters.



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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.

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