Progressivism Forces Americans to Forget Their History

The difficulties of the presidents of major American universities—Harvard, MIT, and UPenn—to denounce anti-Semitism is both appalling and a symptom of the larger ideological upheaval in the United States between traditional liberalism and progressivism. The consequence of the increasing strength of progressivism is the loss of the country’s ability to meet the challenges that it once possessed. The most important of these waning abilities is how to confront and defeat with great power enemies. Thus, the progressive movement is regressive by its very nature.

Like a dementia patient in gradual decline, the U.S. is regressing, gradually becoming enfeebled and infantilized, losing its knowledge, memory, coherence, and the ability, desire, and willingness to meet challenges. This is due in part to the ageing of the Baby Boomers (1946-1964) and Generation X (1965-1980) who possessed the direct experience of fight against the Soviet Union and its allies in the Cold War. People matter, as does their historical experiences and knowledge. As those fade, the nuts and bolts of American civil society and identity are lost.

But a more significant cause is the rise of progressivism and its deliberate consequence—the decline of political liberalism in the U.S. The advance of progressivism evinced in the shameful testimony of the university presidents entails the diminishment, rejection, or replacement of U.S. history, political ideology and culture, and the regressive transformation of political ideology, culture, and institutions. The U.S. population and leadership either willingly forget or are forced to forget. As a result, Americans are becoming disorientated and detached from America’s liberal foundations and institutions. They do so voluntarily if they are progressives.  If they do so with considerable resignation, they are political liberals, and people compelled to go with the progressive flow.

The forced memory loss is part of the “Great Forgetting” of the knowledge, behavior, culture, skills, practices, and abilities that led to victory in America’s wars, allowed the country to overcome economic difficulties to become the world’s greatest economic engine, the world’s leader in science and technology, possess peerless universities and professional schools, and a standard of living unmatched. American society provided untold benefits to its citizens and to the Free World. The “Great Forgetting” is intentional, not an accident or an artifact of history. Progressivism is destroying America’s memory so that they may advance their revolutionary agenda, while disarming Americans who know or would come to know their country’s history and who would be able to thwart them.

The pillars of that success, political liberalism, a willingness to forego personal gain for the good of the country, adaptiveness, creativity—what used to be termed “Yankee ingenuity”—and meritocracy, are eroding. With this, and by design, comes profound loss, including the willingness to speak openly and freely about the country’s problems, coherence, and direction.

What is needed is the equivalent of a patriotic Donepezil to stop this forced memory loss, and to do so today. The Trump Administration’s 1776 Commission and similar steps in states around the country, such as in Florida, are good steps forward. But what is needed above all is documentation to make the memory of older Americans vivid to their audiences and able to be preserved in perpetuity. Historians have documented through personal interviews the difficulties and success of America’s Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo space program, wars like World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, and the Civil Rights movements. A similar effort needs to be made to document liberal political principles and Cold War experiences of typical Americans that could explain to younger generations the pride in their country Americans possessed. This would include what they were taught by their grandparents, parents, by their churches and synagogues, in civil organizations like the Boy and Girl Scouts, and in sports the JFK administration’s Physical Fitness Program. It would include expressions of how they thought of America as a country, its values and ideology, why they considered the Soviet Union the enemy, and how they considered older generations of Americans. Additionally, it would include the problems they faced and why young Americans possessed the courage to confront them.

Second, this effort should be broadened to include U.S. allies’ conception of America that would explain to Americans who are Millennials (Generation Y, 1981-1996), Generation Z (1997-2012), and Generation Alpha (2012-) why the United States was admired, why it inspired millions around the world, why so many people sought to study or immigrate to America, and why it was the subject of considerable critique during the Vietnam War and in the decades after.

While most Americans know of their country’s failings, younger Americans might be surprised to learn how their country gave inspiration and courage to millions during the Cold War. Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky was imprisoned in Permanent Labor Camp 35 at that time. He recalled his reaction to President Ronald Reagan’s March 1983 “Evil Empire” speech after Reagan’s death in 2004: “It was the brightest, most glorious day. Finally, a spade had been called a spade. Finally, Orwell’s Newspeak was dead. President Reagan had from that moment made it impossible for anyone in the West to continue closing their eyes to the real nature of the SovIet Union.” He continued: “It was one of the most important, freedom-affirming declarations, and we all instantly knew it. For us, that was the moment that really marked the end for them, and the beginning for us. The lie had been exposed and could never, ever be untold now. This was the end of Lenin’s ‘Great October Bolshevik Revolution’ and the beginning of a new revolution, a freedom revolution—Reagan’s Revolution.”

Third, memorials and museums to the Cold War, including one on the National Mall in Washington D.C, are needed as well to ensure that an understanding of why the United States fought the Cold War, the dangers it incurred, and why it won is developed, sustained, and replicated throughout the country. Remembering, reinforcing, and teaching are essential but insufficient.

At root, countering the regressive memory loss imposed on Americans by progressives requires that older generations teach the tenets of America’s political beliefs and culture to younger ones, while at the same time explaining the totalitarian, perverse, and hollow nature of progressivism. Fundamentally, teaching history is now privatized. Schools, universities, filmmakers, historians, and the government will not do it, but only serve to advance progressivism’s corrosive and weaponized “history” to destroy American identity. So, it is now the responsibility of older Americans.

Ultimately, it is incumbent upon younger Americans to have the courage in the face of certain and strong opposition from their peers, teachers, and social media to be receptive to the message. Every generation of Americans has had their great challenges. Aided by older Americans, restoring America’s collective memory of its greatness is a formidable one for young Americans—we who have lived this experience should help them.

James Fanell is a government fellow at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, a retired captain in the U.S. Navy and a former director of intelligence and information operations for the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Bradley A. Thayer is a Founding Member of the Committee on Present Danger China and the coauthor with Lianchao Han of Understanding the China Threat.

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About James E. Fanell and Bradley A. Thayer

James Fanell is a government fellow at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, a retired captain in the U.S. Navy and a former director of intelligence and information operations for the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Bradley A. Thayer is a Founding Member of the Committee on Present Danger China and the coauthor with Lianchao Han of Understanding the China Threat.

Photo: President Ronald Reagan at Durenberger Republican convention Rally, 1982 (Photo by Universal History Archive/Getty Images)