…and also featuring appearances by Dred Scott, Happy Gilmore, and the Alien movies.
Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant, written as he was dying, is one of the finest memoirs by a senior Civil War officer (the other is Fighting for the Confederacy by Edward Porter Alexander). In its conclusion, Grant gives his views on the underlying reasons for the war:
Slavery was an institution that required unusual guarantees for its security wherever it existed . . . Hence the people of the South were dependent upon keeping control of the general government to secure the perpetuation of their favorite institution . . . They saw their power waning, and this led them to encroach upon the perogatives and independence of the Northern States by enacting such laws as the Fugitive Slave Law . . . Northern marshals became slave-catchers and Northern courts had to contribute to the support and protection of the institution.
Prior to the time of these encroachments the great majority of the people of the North had no particular quarrel with slavery, so long as they were not forced to have it themselves. But they were not willing to play the role of police for the South . . .
Recently rereading this passage I was struck by the echoes of 21st century Progressive thought with its invocation of “safe spaces” that require ever wider scope to make those feeling threatened be secure (and what was the Dred Scott decision other than making the entire United States a safe space for slavery?). It emphasizes what has become ever clearer since 2008; because Progressivism is a philosophy in which everything in society is political and thus potentially subject to government control, progressives cannot feel safe until all of society is aligned properly with their values. For most of us non-progressives our “happy place” is internal to us, or a portion of our private lives; for progressives it encompasses all of society. That is why progressives so aggressively seek domination of all aspects of society.
The long-standing and flourishing civil society institutions of America can only be allowed to operate in conformance with progressive philosophy; if not, progressives feel threatened. No breathing space is allowable.
That’s why every baker and florist who objects to SSM must be crushed;
that’s why the Little Sisters of the Poor must be forced to pay for contraceptives;
that’s why those who donate to non-profits not aligned with progressive values must be publicly identified and intimidated from making further contributions;
that’s why those who express contrary opinions are fair game to be hounded from their jobs even if those opinions are not expressed at work;
that’s why the First Amendment must be changed so people can’t make movies critical of progressive political candidates;
that’s why the IRS needs to stifle opposition political groups;
that’s why, as Peggy Noonan noted last year, progressives are unappeasable – they simply will not feel safe until all opposition is eradicated, privately as well as publicly.
In the name of diversity and tolerance they seek to impose a stifling comformity of thought, a conformity unprecedented in American history.
It’s a viewpoint captured in Godfather 2, when Michael Corleone points out in response to Tom Hagen’s question about why Michael needed to continue to kill people when he’d already won his gangland war, “I don’t feel I have to wipe everyone out, Tom. Just my enemies“.
The 21st century saw the open eruption of a toxic mix of progressive thought just like the creature bursting from the chests of crew members in the Alien movies; the first generation, which held sway into the 1960s, with its overweening confidence in central government control tempered by nationalism and pro-assimilation, combined with the post-Vietnam generation focused on identity politics and a black armband version of American history. We saw it come to fruition in the second Obama administration. It now seems evident to me that progressives felt the time had come to “run the table“, They held the Presidency, the permanent bureaucracy was staffed by their acolytes, they controlled most of the mass media, entertainment and sports worlds, the courts were increasingly in the grasp of living constitutionalists, academia and the major foundations were in their hands, the tech oligarchs and much of the financial services world on their side, and the rest of the business community mostly neutralized or even supporting parts of their agenda. To top it off, they believed demographics were inevitably playing out in their favor. It was payback time.
We saw how this all works together in practice in 2012. In 2008, candidate Obama assured Reverend Rick Warren that he opposed gay marriage stating, “I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman. For me as a Christian, it is also a sacred union — God is in the mix.” In 2012, President Obama announced he had changed his mind. Immediately, anyone who opposed gay marriage was denounced by all of the institutions listed above as a bigot, driven by malice, and worthy of expulsion from public life (or, in the case of Brandon Eich of Mozilla, from their job). We saw the same dynamic play out more recently on transgender bathrooms. Now these subjects are not even considered worthy of reasoned discussion by progressives; only haters apparently think there might be other considerations that can legitimately be raised.
It is this alignment of a charismatic leader figure, political party and the major institutions of our society immersed in a common progressive worldview that poses an authoritarian threat to the rest of us. They were already feeling angry, frustrated, threatened, and bewildered by the 2010 and 2014 elections when what looked to them like an ignorant, bigoted and substantial portion of the electorate disagreed with the progressive agenda. Now, it’s even worse – the unthinkable has happened and we have President Trump. If the Democrats regain the presidency and congress (which they will do eventually) while still retaining control of these other institutions it is going to be a very grim time for all of us nonconformists and dissenters.
You may doubt their sincerity about feeling threatened. While there is an element of political tactics, I think it is a real feeling for many progressives. We can see it in the way they project their fears and how they act themselves:
During the campaign we heard a lot of rhetoric about the threat Trump supporters posed to other campaigns, yet it was Clinton and Sanders supporters who disrupted Trump rallies, sometimes violently.
Immediately after the election we heard reports of hate crimes exploding across the country, supposedly encouraged by Trump and his supporters. Yet the vast bulk of such crimes turned out to be perpetrated by a diverse crowd of progressives. Imagine the how extensive media coverage would have been, and its tenor, if during that time a mentally disturbed individual in Mississippi killed someone because they thought they were Hillary Clinton? Yet, in Ithaca NY, a mentally disturbed man killed someone he thought was Donald Trump, and it got brief, one time mentions in some publications with no follow up.
And progressives were convinced that after January 20 the new administration would suppress dissent and maybe even arrange for a Reichstag type event to seize power. Yet it’s been progressives in Berkeley, Middlebury and elsewhere who have been the ones violently suppressed opposing viewpoints since Trump’s inauguration.
Donald Trump has a lot of problems, but today the authoritarian threat in this country is from the Left, not the Right. It’s serious and it’s a big problem for all of us.