Failure to Accept Victory

by Henry Oliner

The first Progressive Era from Teddy Roosevelt through Woodrow Wilson established the regulatory and administrative state and changed the nature of our government. It was tainted by an elitist view of race that used the science of Darwinism to justify the eugenics movement and racist policies.  While Darwinism was illuminating as a descriptive scientific theory it was socially toxic as a prescriptive tool.  An idea should not be held accountable for the people who misuse it.

The second progressive period from Franklin Roosevelt through Jimmy Carter lasted much longer due to the length of the Great Depression and its extension of government power through World War II and its Cold War aftermath. The zenith of this second progressive period was the Great Society of LBJ and the great Civil Rights achievements.  Great strides were made in black voting power and women’s rights.  They were painful and often violent, but hostility gave way to tolerance and tolerance gave way to acceptance and respect.  Obama’s election was a crowning achievement of the embrace of the Civil Rights movement, even if one rejects his policy preferences.

This does not mean that race is no longer relevant; there are still pockets of power where progress is delayed. We are still commonly segregated by geography, although this segregation can often be better explained economically.  Coming Apart by Charles Murray explained that unsuccessful behaviors yielded similar results in the white population of Fishtown.

A generation later women are half of the doctors, lawyers and accountants and more than half of the matriculants in graduate programs.  We have even begun to accept women in military combat roles.  Young women may take the feminist revolution for granted, but that is the clearest sign of it success and permanence.

While the progress of blacks in the economy remains disappointing by many measurements we can now see causes beyond the visceral bigotry that was defeated in the Civil Rights era.  Civil Rights was a victory because it was accepted as a just cause by most of the white population.  The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement connects with many blacks, particularly in still segregated urban areas, but it is not accepted by most whites with anything like the significance afforded the Civil Rights Movement. BLM lacks the charismatic leadership of Martin Luther King, Andrew Young, John Lewis, James Meredith and many others.

One of the great roadblocks facing today’s progressives is an unwillingness or failure to accept their victory.  The rejection of identity politics is not the rejection of equal rights, but the willingness to embrace the victories and move on.  Accusations of racism are now used to squelch real debate, and its decay into the intolerance and illiberalism of political correctness and ‘safe spaces’ is being soundly rejected.

The left should pay heed to Bernie Sanders and Barack Obama when they criticize the intolerance of campuses to voices they oppose.  While many liberals may reject these violent protests, they weigh heavily on voters.

Immediately after the shock of Trump’s victory the left reacted with excuses ranging from a dysfunctional electoral college (it isn’t) to inappropriate interference from the FBI and the Russians to fake news and sinister gerrymandering.

Eventually a few came to realize that Hillary was flawed in many respects and campaigned poorly. They were likely aware of her deep flaws before the election, but seriously doubted it would be bad enough to lose to Donald Trump.

Now the Democrats believe that they need to improve tactically with better outreach and support in local elections, but they still refuse to accept their defeat in ideological terms.  The contempt shown by Hillary in her ‘deplorable’ comment probably hurt her far more than any of the excuses. Voters will tolerate a certain degree of corruption, but will recoil from contempt. This contempt was displayed by Jonathan Gruber’s comment about the need to lie because of the “stupidity of the American voter”, Obama’s comment about “clinging to their guns and religion”, or Elizabeth Warren’s comment that “you didn’t build that.”

This contempt is expressed in their demonization of dissent and the creation of pathologies to rationalize opposition.  Race is used as a pathology to avoid debate and introspection rather than a call for justice.  It becomes another excuse for avoiding the failure of their ideology and the rejection of identity politics and its Siamese twin, political correctness.

Fighting terrorism, reducing the debt, stimulating the economy and creating jobs are not about race. The idea that we are black, white, female, Hispanic, or gay first and American second is the reason for the rejection of identity politics.

Race and identity politics are no longer useful, and waste capital on a contest with no opponent, fighting a battle they have already won.

Whitewashing History

From Ben Shapiro at National Review, We Can’t Erase History — Or Simplify It

History is important only if we recognize that it isn’t some sort of Punch-and-Judy drama to be acted out with puppets in black hats and white. Most human beings throughout human history have stood with an evil of some sort or another. FDR, whom leftists embrace, interned the Japanese and turned Jews away from America’s shores during the Holocaust. JFK reportedly attempted to turn Sammy Davis Jr. away from his inaugural gala because Davis was dating a white woman. Bill Clinton drafted “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and did nothing during the Rwandan genocide. Barack Obama opposed same-sex marriage until it became inconvenient to do so, and he stood by while Bashar al-Assad murdered tens of thousands of his citizens. Should all of their names be wiped from buildings? Or should we teach history as it actually happened, with all of its ugliness and all of its bravery?

Leaving names on buildings, and flags in churches, and statues on campuses isn’t about honoring those names, flags, and statues. It’s about recognizing the past, which is brutal and complex. Doing so reminds us that our present isn’t too clear-cut, either, and that anyone approaching current events with the smooth self-assurance of ultimate virtue simply hasn’t been judged by history yet.

Recouping Dignity

The concluding paragraphs of Deirdre McCloskey’s Bourgeois Dignity- Why Economics Can’t Explain The Modern World:

Yet innovation, even in a proper system of the virtues, has continued to be scorned by many of our opinion makers now for a century and a half, from Thomas Carlyle to Naomi Klein. At the behest of such a clerisy we can if we wish repeat the nationalist and socialist horrors of the mid-twentieth century. If we imagine only the disruptions of a pastoral ideal, and reject the gains from innovation, we can stay poor shepherds and dirt farmers, with little scope for intellectual and spiritual growth. If we worship hierarchy  and violence and the nation, we can hand our lives over to the military-industrial industrial complex. If we abandon economic principles in our worrying about the environment, we can revert to $3 a day, and live in huts on a hillock in the woods by Walden Pond, depending on our friends in town to supply us with nails and books. Now in the early twenty-first century we can even if we wish add for good measure an anti-bourgeois religiosity, as new as airplanes crashing into the World Trade Center and as old as the socialist reading of the Sermon on the Mount.

But I suggest that we don’t. I suggest instead that we recoup the bourgeois virtues, which have given us the scope, in von Humboldt’s words, to develop the highest and most harmonious of our powers to a complete and consistent tent whole. We will need to abandon the materialist premise that reshuffling and efficiency, or an exploitation of the poor, made the modern world. And we will need to make a new science of history and the economy, a humanistic  one that honors number and word, interest and rhetoric, behavior and meaning.

Deirdre N. McCloskey. Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain the Modern World (Kindle Locations 6041-6050). Kindle Edition.


Ms. McCloskey brings a new perspective to economics and economic history.  She advocates that the math of economics be tempered with the study of the humanities to understand the development on the modern world. Her book brings history, religion, rhetoric and literature to bear on our most critical questions.

Wholes Apart

From a book review of Conserving America? by Patrick Deneen- review by Micah Medowcroft-  Trump Didn’t Kill Conservatism in The Wall Street Journal:

In our republic, argues Mr. Deneen, a conception of men “not as parts of wholes, but as wholes apart” has dissolved the ties and relationships that are the traditional essence of society. What began in the Constitution as a mandate for government to protect rights and individual freedoms has evolved—reflecting our desire for ever-increasing autonomy and self-definition—into a mission to sever us from our natural contexts of place and family. Alienation and an increasingly expanding state are our destiny, Mr. Deneen fears, “unless we recover a different, older, and better definition and language of liberty.” We must, argues Mr. Deneen, cultivate the virtues needed to find freedom within the limits of human nature and the natural world. That means returning self-government to local communities when possible. It may also mean, he suggests, a greater sensitivity to preserving the environment than classical liberalism typically permits.

Classical and Progressive Liberals

From a book review of Conserving America? by Patrick Deneen- review by Micah Medowcroft-  Trump Didn’t Kill Conservatism in The Wall Street Journal:

The two dominant alternatives to this fixation on the present are progressivism’s focus on the future and what Mr. Deneen refers to as “nostalgism,” which “dons rose-tinted glasses in its high regard for a perfected past.” Consider, for example, the way many Republicans talk about the Reagan era. Or even the notion of “making America great again.” Such nostalgism animated much support for Mr. Trump this past year, and progressivism is easy to identify on the far left. But according to Mr. Deneen, in American politics both sides are actually liberals: classical liberals, often misnamed conservatives in the post-Cold War world, and progressive liberals. The classical liberals seek “a society of ever more perfectly liberated, autonomous individuals,” particularly in economic matters. The progressive liberals seek to build a society of “ever more egalitarian members of the global ‘community.’ ” The author believes that classical and progressive liberalism are “different sides of the same coin.”