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.