American ‘Progressives’ Needn’t Defend Themselves

As the political theorist Cory Robin observed in his 2011 book, The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin:

“People on the left often fail to realize this, but conservatism really does speak to and for people who have lost something. It may be a landed estate or the privileges of white skin, the unquestioned authority of a husband or the untrammeled rights of a factory owner. The loss may be as material as money or as ethereal as a sense of standing. It may be a loss of something that was never legitimately owned in the first place; it may, when compared with what the conservative retains, be small. Even so, it is a loss, and nothing is ever so cherished as that which we no longer possess. It used to be one of the great virtues of the left that it alone understood the often zero-sum nature of politics, where the gains of one class necessarily entail the losses of another. But as that sense of conflict diminishes on the left, it has fallen to the right to remind voters that there really are losers in politics and that it is they–and only they– who speak for them. ‘All conservatism begins with loss,’ Andrew Sullivan rightly notes, which makes conservatism not the Party of Order as Mill and others have claimed, but the party of the loser.”

“…Unlike the reformer of the revolutionary, moreover, who faces the nearly impossible task of empowering the powerless–that is, of turning people from they are into what they are not–the conservative merely asks his followers to do more of what have always done (albeit, better and differently). As a result, his counterrevolution will not require the same disruption that the revolution has visited upon the country. ‘For or five persons, perhaps,’ writes [Count Joseph-Marie de] Maistre, [a key figure in the counter-revolution who advocated social hierarchy and monarchy in the period immediately following the French Revolution] ‘will give France a king.”

I too often nowadays encounter online reactionaries: Americans who like French monarchists after the revolution, continue to claim that their politic is that of the good, of the just, and of those consecrate to win. They claim that it is liberals (who they term ‘progressives’) who make the nation bad, unjust, and are the political side that will ultimately lose.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines progress as “gradual betterment. Especially the progressive development of humankind.” It defines reactionary as “relating to, marked by, or favoring reaction. Especially ultraconservative in politics“, with reaction defined as “resistance or opposition to a force, influence, or movement. Especially tendency toward a former and usually outmoded political or social order or policy.” From these definitions, it is not difficult to understand who truly might be on the side of the good, the just, and the winner.

Moreover, conservative American reactionaries, despite their knee-jerk habit of wrapping themselves in the United States flag, either don’t know or forget who the winners have been in United States history . I tell them the following:

Know that the United States was founded in Philadelphia during 1776 by a gathering of the most radically progressive men in the world, who declared 13 British colonies to be independent from the conservative force of monarchy. Outraged, the conservatives of those days (known then in the U.S. and still now in the U.K. as Tories) threatened to hang those radical progressives. Instead, the U.S. conservatives of the 1770s lost the American Revolutionary War and fled to Canada or back to Britain.

Three generations later, the Republican party was founded In 1854 by progressives and classical liberals (if you don’t believe me, click that hyperlink). Nine years later, the radically progressive Abraham Lincoln dispossessed southern conservatives from their private properties they owned, by freeing three million African-American slaves. (Image how Fox News, Breitbart, NewsMax, and The Daily Caller would have howled against the governmental overreach of such ‘socialism’ and its deleterious effects on the economies of 11 southern U.S. states, had those reactionary news outlets existed during the middle of the 19th Century!) Issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln made good on his presidential campaign promise to dispossess those conservatives’ properties called slaves, which so outraged those conservatives that they revolted before Lincoln was even sworn into office. The conservatives then lost the American Civil War. By the way, Lincoln also strengthened the role of the federal over the states’ governments before he was assassinated by a conservative sympathizer.

A generation later, the highly progressive Theodore Roosevelt (if you don’t believe me, click that hyperlink) established the United State’s first anti-monopoly regulations, first safe food and drug regulations, first interstate commerce regulations, brought 44 lawsuits against big corporations, and enacted the nation’s environmental conservation laws–all of which conservatives of that time vehemently opposed. Roosevelt also called for the establishment of an federal income tax. When in 1912 his hand-picked successor, William Howard Taft, shocked him by turning the Republican party rightward, Roosevelt unretired and ran again for U.S. president as an independent on the officially named Progressive Party (‘Bull Moose’ party was its nickname) against Taft, splitting the Republican vote and giving Democrat Woodrow Wilson the presidency. Wilson, himself a progressive Democrat, led the U.S. to victory in WWI. In the last years of Wilson’s two-term presidency, the newly conservative Republican party unsuccessfully opposed his laws against child labor in and opposed giving women the right to vote.

Nine subsequent years of Republican presidential administrations of the economy led to the Great Depression (much like how seven years of Republican administration of the economy in this century led to the Great Recession). When three years after the Great Depression began, the very progressive Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Theodore’s junior cousin) was elected to clean up the Republicans’ economic mess, Republicans and other conservatives unsuccessfully opposed Social Security and FDR’s other policies. FDR then led the U.S. to victory in WWII.

Although I must say that I like Ike, which was the moderate Republican former General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s campaign slogan and his policies (“Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history”), conservatives after Eisenhower opposed the Civil Rights laws that the progressive John F. Kennedy proposed and that the progressive Lyndon B. Johnson then enacted during the 1960s.

Conservatives have demonstrably been on the wrong side of American history since the day the Liberty Bell rang. That is United States history. All four men whose profiles are carved into Mt. Rushmore were radical progressives, categorically not the conservatives of their times.  During our lifetimes, the Republican party has always been the minority party by voter registrations. It has lost the popular votes in six of the past seven presidential elections held during the past 28 years. (the sole exception was in 2004, when Republican George W. Bush got a patriotic boost during an American invasion of a foreign country that now everyone knows was done a false pretext (i.e., as the U.N. inspectors always correctly said, Iraq hadn’t any weapons of mass destruction. George Bush Jr. today seems like a liberal compared to the current occupant of the White House. Neither he nor his former president father endorsed Trump.). In the most recent presidential election, Democrat Hillary Clinton trounced the Republican in the popular vote, by a margin that was equal to the combined populations of Wyoming, Vermont, Alaska, and South Dakota. Progressivism, no matter the political party, is demonstrably the will of the majority of the American people.

Donald Trump is in office solely because the antiquated Electoral College gives greater weight to empty land than to the U.S. states in which most American citizens live. For example, Wyoming gets three electoral votes compared to California’s 55, despite there being not 18 but 68-times more Californians than Wyomingites. When the Electoral College was established in 1789, an era when most Americans were farmers, the electoral vote ratio between the most and least populous U.S. states was only 10:1 rather than today’s 68:1 when now the majority of American citizens live in cities. Trump is the first president in American history whose approval rating in polls of American citizens has always been negative, and rightly so. Indeed, the progressive policies I advocate represent the U.S. Founding Fathers’ historical actions and the historical progress of the United States itself, as well as the will of the majority of American citizens today. The side of the good, the just, and the winners.

2 thoughts on “American ‘Progressives’ Needn’t Defend Themselves

  1. I accept your point about the Electoral College, but I’m less convinced that a national majority vote is a good idea. The US is a federal state. Even if flawed, the Electoral College was designed to assure the federal nature of the union (even if an aspect of that was preserving slavery), or at minimum to shield the political minority. This is something not to be thrown away lightly. I wish I could suggest an alternative to abolishing the Electoral College (or neutering it without Constitutional amendment by a legislated pact among the states) that would preserve what it was intended to ensure.

  2. I don’t advocate eliminating the U.S. Electoral College. Rather, I advocate adjusting the number of votes it gives each state. For example, the size of U.S. Congressional districts has been adjusted during the past 231 years as the nation’s population has grown from 7 to 320+ million people (otherwise the House of Representatives would need a football stadium). When the Electoral College was established in 1789, the population difference between the most and least populous U.S. states was 10:1 (compared to 66:1 today). If the minimum number of Electoral votes each state gets is reduced from 3 to 2, this would help rebalance the system. California currently gets 55 Electoral votes and Wyoming 3, a ratio of 18.3:1. Yet by reducing the minimum number per state from 3 to 2, California would have 54 and Wyoming 2, a ratio of 27:1. Small states would still have extra clout, but not the extreme amount they do today.

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