Since the election of Barack Obama, an admitted progressive, there are misconceptions of the origins, values, and strands of progressivism. Who were the original progressives? Where did their ideas come from? What motivated their actions? What goals for society and government did they have? What social doctrines influenced their convergence? Is past progressive ideology relative to our current progressivism? The past and present Progressive Eras are as dissimilar as heaven is to hell.
Mankind has strived to improve his lifestyle and place in the counsel of others since Adam first met Eve. This is congruent with industrialization, evolution, and societal change that enlightened him to prosper in his environment. Each person on earth has strived for upward mobility with-like minded others. This is called social “progress.” A man who is not goal-orientated is a malcontent for life. It’s sheer human nature not to settle for second place if there is a first. Survival and progress are congruent.
The American Progressive era was reactionary to Victorian and Belle Époque periods in Europe. A period of peace, prosperity and upward social and economic mobility arose after years of conflict and war. It was characterized by political stability in most of Europe. And by the turn of the century, Americans connected with their success and they too wanted to move beyond their status quo to gain equal and just social conditions consistent with our democratic principles. They were resolute to sweep aside the socio-economic barriers between them and prosperity for the greater good of all.
U.S. progressivism was an unorganized response to a multitude of issues. It was a period of social activism and political reform that spanned three decades from 1890 to 1920. Their objective was to eliminate problems caused by urbanization, industrialization, and political corruption. They targeted political machines with political reforms crafted to weaken the power of privileged interests, with direct election of senators, direct primaries and the referendum processes. Progressives instituted reforms structured to counterbalance excessive political power interfering with governing and to gain racial and gender equality.
This era brought us child labor laws, old age and disability provisions. Upton Sinclair’s book, “The Jungle,” an account of conditions in the Chicago meat packing industry, led to food and drug safety laws. The Progressives attempted to correct different standards for the classes. It demonstrated an attempt to improve the status of the working classes. It had a positive influence on the socio-economic change in America.
Unlike today, these reformers did not share a communal creed, political leaning, or a string of common moral values. They spoke one language: “discontent for the status quo,” and a need for social and political reform for America.
Progressives understood they could not change the conditions they were born into, nor erase past injustices. Their concern was to mitigate the inequalities in society to ensure everyone shared the opportunity to live under the moral and legal character of our nation. They strived for true equality for everyone with equal prospects of success from individual efforts. They wanted protection from political and social inequities hampering transition during industrialization. They did this to benefit an entire nation.
Progressivism’s strongest voice was President Theodore Roosevelt, elected in 1901. His domestic program, the Square Deal, brought awareness to protecting natural resources. He believed strong corporations were good for America, but felt their behavior must not mitigate the rights of workers. He was instrumental in the construction of the Panama Canal. He was the founder of “The Rough Riders” in 1898, and was the first American to win a Nobel Prize, in 1906. But with the election of President Woodrow Wilson, who undermined many of Roosevelt’s achievements, the Progressive Era ended abruptly.
When GM was marketing their “rocket 88,” a retooled classic sedan, the car manufacturer claimed, “This is not your father’s Oldsmobile.” This marked the beginning of the end of this brand. The Progressive Era in America, like the trusty Olds, met its demise during World War I when President Wilson broke his promise not to engage in the war.
And today, the far left has defamed that era of reform, calling themselves progressive. Today, if you walk into a town hall event or political rally and claim to be a progressive, you’re either praised or bombarded with rotten eggs like a bad comedian in Vaudeville.
New Age Progressivism is a political cult that has been rooted in America by revolutionary socialist ideologues to attract non-achievers. Today’s progressives are acutely aware the only way they can retain political power is to continually recruit new comrades into their clanship. They have mastered the principles of socialism and egalitarianism from Das Kapital, a critique of capitalism published by Karl Marx.
Marx’s negative analysis of capitalism has influenced socialist and leftist movements for decades. Unlike the Progressive Era social reformers, New Age Progressives are a militant leftist movement, an underground wing of the darkest side of the once proud Democratic Party that is run by socialist elites.
George Orwell wrote, “He who controls the past controls the future.” Progressives rewrite history to appeal to the weak and unproductive members of society; this enables them to redistribute wealth and prosperity. They discredit capitalism as an evil mechanism that gives producers an advantage over non-producers. They are masters of the art of reducing all political and cultural issues to ad hominem assaults.
By attacking everyone who questions them, they avoid accountability for their multitude of policy failures. They deconstruct the values of their chief opponent, conservatism, and its marquis strategy, constitutionalism. Their strongest allies are the youth of America and minority groups unless they are religious.
George Orwell penned “1984” in 1949, as he witnessed remnants of World War II develop into European Socialism. His fictional character Big Brother, one that controlled every move society made, was a vision of what Europe would be like in a few decades if they failed to venerate the second chance the Allied victory gave to them. Europeans must have short memories since they deserted the merits of capitalism to live under the flag of “democratic socialism.”
Today’s Progressives are not those brave reformers of yesterday’s Progressives Era. They are socio-political opportunists who formed an association with past progressives to sell their agenda to America. Their plan is to bring a socialist democracy to the U.S. by simply rewriting our history.
William Haupt III is a retired professional journalist, author, and citizen legislator in California for over 40 years. He got his start working to approve California Proposition 13.
A version of this Op-Ed appeared on the Watch Dog website.
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