The Rise of Modern “Progressivism”

Several questions have been rattling around in my brain the past several months. How is it possible that within a scant single generation that the America that we (the 45-60 year old demographic) grew up with seems to be gone forever?  Is the belief in “American exceptionalism” dead? Is our society so self- absorbed and critical of our own history that we are too paralyzed to lead? Is it even possible to carve out a political solution to our current issues?  Is it really a battle of Right and Left? Is it a purely political game where we swap teams every four or eight years, the only difference being the speed at which we travel the same path?

I think that we can use the sea for an illustration of out American political landscape. Political tides ebb and flow over time – Left and Right have their various times of ascendency and retrograde; however, underneath the tides there is always a consistent current that flows in a predictable direction, albeit with varying degrees of strength.  For the last 100 years or so, that undercurrent has been a march toward a “progressive” society, gradually and incrementally implementing more and more socialist policies and ideals and bringing with it an increase in the power and reach of a central government.

Why are we seeing the rise of “Modern Progressivism”? Why are we seeing the implementation of policies that legislation that would have been unthinkable to most only a scant ten years ago? I’ve been trying to coalesce in my own mind how we came to this point. If we accept the hypothesis that the arc of the political landscape over the past years is little changed in substance, where do we look for answers?

I believe that we have to look to our society in general and our younger generation in specific for both the cause of the current problems and the solution.

A nation of self absorbed, hyper critical navel gazers has been created.

Our educational systems teach our children to BE critical, not to think critically. We teach our next generations to rail against the very industries and institutions that provide the very modern and easy lifestyle that provides them the time and assets to complain about the relative luxury that they live in.

History is examined without context. Slavery is evil, yet there was a time in the world’s evolution where slavery was the norm. This didn’t start with America in the 1800’s, ancient cultures, even those revered as “evolved”, condoned slavery. The key point is that we evolved past it, cost us a war and hundreds of thousands of lives but we moved past it.

Progressives in our political system apologize for who and what we are – it is easy to be sorry for who you are if you only see what our country has done without context.  Look at the “greats” of the Progressive movement – Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Daniel Ellsberg, significant publications include The Progressive magazine, The Nation, The New Republic, The American Prospect, The Huffington Post, Mother Jones, In These Times, Counterpunch, and AlterNet.org. Broadcasting outlets include Air America Radio, the Pacifica Radio network, Democracy Now!, and certain community radio stations. Notable media voices include Cenk Uygur, Alexander Cockburn, Barbara Ehrenreich, Juan Gonzalez, Amy Goodman, Thom Hartmann, Arianna Huffington, Jim Hightower, the late Molly Ivins, Ron Reagan, Rachel Maddow, Bill Maher, Stephanie Miller, Mike Malloy, Keith Olbermann, Greg Palast, Randi Rhodes, Betsy Rosenberg, Ed Schultz, David Sirota, and The Young Turks (talk show). Listen or read five minutes with any of these “outlets” and there will be an apology or a denigration of some aspect of our American society.

Fallacious arguments have been advanced with constructs to fit a narrative that people are suffering under capitalism.

The “poverty line” is a prime example. The fact is that we live in a society where our poor are not poor at all. The poor of 100 years ago had little in the way of personal possessions or means.  They were one step ahead of starvation. Now they are not.  Over the years, of course, many items such as cell phones were once considered extravagant luxuries only available to the rich, but are now ubiquitous even among the poor and would be considered a necessity by many people. A 2006 study from Pew surveyed people on items that were considered necessities in 1996 and 2006 – among increases in the percentage of people defining items as necessities: cable/satellite television, 16%; home air conditioning, 19%; dishwashers, 22%; home computers, 25%; microwave ovens, 36%. Having a high-speed Internet connection did not register in 1996, but was viewed as a necessity by 29% of people in 2006. A 2007 Census study looked at the ownership of once-luxurious appliances among households with incomes below the poverty level. Among the findings: 36% of households in poverty owned computers in 2003 versus 67% not in poverty, and 35% of poverty households owned cell phones versus 67% of non-poverty households. A 2009 MetLife study found the following percentages of people identifying these items as necessities: high definition TV, 8%; mp3 player, 8%; cable TV, 42%; cell phone, 62%; and home Internet access, 75%.

Our poor are wealthy as compared to the truly poor of the world. I have personally witnessed people in the line at the grocery store with kids (that have IPods) while paying for food with food stamps and talking on a cell phone. Food stamps allow the recipient to take aid and use other income to buy these “necessities”…and this isn’t a racial statement. How many of us have driven in rural areas and witnessed a dilapidated mobile home with a monster truck, a bass boat and a satellite TV dish out front. We have a segment of society that believes that they are poor because they don’t have all the things that people of better economic circumstances have.

There is a generational paradox – a generation of entitlement seekers with a need for instant gratification has been created.

Due to our nation’s remarkable post WWII prosperity and growth, we have grown successive generations who are far removed from the means of production. There are younger people who don’t understand how to work or what it means at its most basic level and have no idea what it takes to put food in the grocery store or gas at the pump. Their lives have been built on convenience and the instant gratification of a bountiful US economy. 50 years ago, a crisis meant that your family could go hungry – today it is slow page loads on your computer.

The irony is that if the Left was successful in collapsing the capitalist economy that they vilify, they would likely not possess enough understanding of the means of production or fundamentals of trade to even survive. Arugula isn’t grown inside Whole Foods stores.

Success is punished.

In a Forbes Special Report on the top 500 CEO salaries for 2008, What the Boss Makes, they found that:  “In total, these 500 executives earned $5.7 billion in 2008, which averages out to $11.4 million apiece and computes to less than 1% of total revenues and 3% of total profits of their companies.

11.4 million dollars each, nice bank account. Before we get too excited Forbes also found that the bulk of this average compensation came from the exercise of stock options (over 80%), the value of which came from the value of the company. When I was a kid and heard of a situation like this, my first thought is “what do I have to do to prepare myself for a job like this?” Today, the first thought is that these people are stealing from their employees and must be punished or regulated.

You don’t think that this is true? We all know of situations with our own kids where scores were not kept because of “self-esteem” issues for the losers. Those of us who have participated in sports know what a “mercy” rule is. For those who don’t, if you lead a opponent by a specified number of runs or points at a certain point in the game, it is stopped and you are awarded the win. There is now a new twist on it: a youth soccer league in Ottawa, Canada has implemented a rule that if you win by more than 5 goals, you LOSE the game and the win is awarded to the other team. What does that say to kids? If you are average, you are celebrated. If you are very successful, you are punished. You are born to be mild.

I believe that it is because we have deemphasized competition and success so much that there are those who simply do not believe that they have the drive or talent to succeed at these levels. We are also the victims of our own success. Younger people want it now… if they can’t have it now, it isn’t worth the effort and the next step is to tear down and demonize the people who have “made it”.

The moral compass has gone haywire.

We have stripped society of the concepts of right and wrong through the applications of diversity, multi-culturalism and moral equivalence. We avoid at every turn making a decision about right and wrong and just adopt the “if it feels good, do it” attitude of the 60’s.

Attendance at organized church services has been declining for years. As successive generation of parents teach their children less and less about traditional moral codes, we drift closer to a society with no respect for authority of any kind, either moral or legal.

These are some of the reasons that “progressive” thought has been revived. Taken in combination, they combine to support a belief that the very systems that have proven historically successful are evil, that we should have everything we want without having to work for it and indeed, some are incapable of gaining success because they simply can’t win and there is nothing wrong with taking from productive society to give to the non-productive.

We have to change our current direction. It starts with the individual and a belief in the values that brought us this far. Belief that success is good, that America is the leading light of the world, that personal honesty, credibility and honor still mean something.  We must trust in each other and trust in God. Only then will the ability to compete – and win – be restored.

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