This past July, Bernie Sanders said Joe Biden will be “the most progressive president since FDR.” Democrats agree that theirs is the party of progressivism, while few people challenge that brand and what it represents.
Yet progressivism is the problem in America today. If progressives achieve their ultimate goals, the United States can no longer exist as a self-governing, constitutional republic. It’s long overdue that we call progressivism what it is: the greatest present threat to a free America.
That’s not to say every progressive is a bad person with bad intentions. Many progressives genuinely believe they’re helping others, unaware of how much suffering results from the politicians and programs they support. Their lack of self-knowledge, however, is no excuse for the rest of us to ignore the ideology that fuels divisive and destructive politics.
The Origins of Progressivism
Progressivism is not new. It began as an intellectual movement 150 years old, stretching back to the 1870s. Early progressives tended to be academics, university professors, and administrators who created the first Ph.D. graduate programs in the late 19th century. America’s first progressive president, Teddy Roosevelt, creaked the door open to the vastly more damaging presidency of Woodrow Wilson, arguably the most archetypal and memorable early progressive who made the transition from academics to politics, winning the White House in 1912.
Many early American progressives were German-trained in the social sciences that later fueled socialism in Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich and communism in Lenin’s Soviet Union and Mao Zedong’s People’s Republic of China. In the United States, progressivism took a different path mainly because the Constitution — thankfully — made it difficult to conduct the kind of social engineering experiments they ran in Germany, Russia, China, and other nations.
Following the devastation of the Civil War, American progressives were convinced America had been ill-founded. They set out to establish a better, more scientific, more “progressive” foundation for American politics, policies, government, and culture. In place of the self-governing constitutional republic of the Founding Fathers, progressives started planning for a new kind of republic (as the title of Herbert Croly’s progressive magazine suggested).
Their dream was a regime of total central planning, free from constitutional constraints, where unelected government bureaucrats and other “experts” divide subjects (not citizens) into tribes and decide which ones are “allowed” to do what, as well as how, when, where, and why.
For progressives, the solution to any problem is a government “plan.” Unlike the Founders’ Constitution, the purpose of progressive government is to subsidize, regulate, license, supervise, and otherwise plan every aspect of our lives. Nothing can be left to the private realm of unprogressive, self-interested citizens making their own choices, especially not those in business seeking profit.
Bernie is right about Joe Biden — he’s a model progressive. When asked what he’ll do in various situations, Biden’s answer is typically some version of: “I’ll do whatever the experts say.”
As progressives see it, even elected members of the government should be controlled by unelected experts. This, of course, raises a valid question: Why then, do we need elected members of government at all? Perhaps unelected bureaucrats are the progressive version of the philosopher-kings Plato wished for?
The Awful Record of Progressive Policies
As progressive government becomes involved in everything, everything becomes politicized. In modern progressive America, as virtually every subject now involves some degree of government regulation, funding, or oversight, it’s become nearly impossible to have a discussion that doesn’t become political.
It’s also nearly impossible for citizens to form friendships with those who hold different political opinions. Questioning progressive government programs often gets one instantly accused of being hateful, stupid, or both. Yet the hallmark of progressive programs, now spanning more than a century, is repeated failure, often on grand scales.
During the Great Depression, for example, while promising to provide jobs and resources to those in need, progressive central planners regulated entire industries, dictating wages, prices, and production schedules. Progressives politicians confiscated enormous amounts of private capital, paid farmers not to farm, slaughtered millions of livestock, dumped millions of gallons of milk into rivers, and burned thousands of acres of crops, while hungry, struggling Americans went without food, saw their taxes increase, and remained unemployed.
A generation later, in 1964, progressives declared a War on Poverty. Since then, progressives have spent more than $22 trillion, far more than all U.S. military wars from the American Revolution to today, combined. More than half a century later, after creating hundreds of government programs and hiring millions of bureaucrats, progressive programs have failed to reduce significantly U.S. poverty rates.
In recent decades, progressive politicians have thrown mountains of other people’s money at education, while student achievement measures have stagnated—or even declined—while many public schools have become little more than institutions of progressive indoctrination that line the pockets of union bosses.
Today, we live in the most progressive era of American history, with a government that regulates and controls more areas of our lives than ever before. Never in American history has it been more difficult and expensive for ordinary citizens to start a business, own a home, or provide for a family.
As progressivism spreads across the United States, we see increased rates of child abuse, spousal abuse, partner abuse of all kinds, fatherlessness, substance abuse, neglect, depression, random mass murders, teenage suicides, and other pathologies fueled by idleness, dependency, and lack of responsibility. Coincidence? Unlikely.
And what do progressives offer as solutions? More of the same failed regulations, subsidies, central planning. More progressivism — just the opposite of what we need.
More Progressivism? Just Say No
To be progressive today is to feel morally superior because the progressive politicians, programs, and policies one supports are marketed as “helping” others. Yet slapping charitable-sounding labels on wasteful, counterproductive, unconstitutional, and often corrupt government programs doesn’t help the people who need it most.
So, who does benefit from progressivism? Unelected government bureaucrats, elected politicians who dish out progressive favors in exchange for expanding power, and politically connected corporate cronies who use progressive regulations, subsidies, and special perks to crush their politically unconnected competitors.
After 150 years of American experiments in progressive central planning, the verdict is in: It’s bad. No more. It’s time “progressivism” becomes the term of condemnation it so richly deserves to be. To call oneself progressive is no reason to be smug. And he who would be “the most progressive president since FDR” is precisely the one who never should be president.