Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

The Progressive Octopus

Politics lost, culture won.

By Victor Davis Hanson
National Review

It is the best and worst of times for progressives and liberals.

Politically, their obsessions with identity politics and various racial and gender -isms and -ologies have emasculated the Democratic party: loss of governorships, state legislatures, the House, the Senate, the presidency, and the Supreme Court.

Democrats, for the time being at least, are now reduced to largely a coastal, big-city party. It can certainly pile up lots of blue electoral votes. And, thanks to California, Democrats can capture the popular vote, without necessarily winning presidential elections.

The old liberal idea that the new demography is progressive destiny did not work out as planned. When the Blue Wall crumbled; Hillary Clinton lost a sure-thing election. Large Latino populations in red Texas and blue California are not likely to turn either one into a swing state. Inner-city voters so far have not transferred prior record levels of turn-out and bloc voting to candidates of the Hillary Clinton sort. Identity politics did not ensure that the white liberals who created it were always exempt from the natural boomerang of their own ideology.

24/7 Sermonizing

Yet culturally, the progressive octopus continues to recalibrate popular life according to the new orthodoxies shared by a minority of the population.

Indeed, the octopus has formidable and far-reaching tentacles that reach into every crevice of modern American life. Our progressive mollusk is big, and he swims with us everywhere.

Most Americans are quite willing to concede spheres of partisanship — but not lawlessness. Some colleges, such as Evergreen State or UC Berkeley, while public and tax-supported, are, by definition, leftist in the manner that a private Hillsdale College or Saint Thomas Aquinas are traditionalist and conservative. But whereas the latter are calm and tolerant of dissent; the former, with public monies, are hysterical and often Stalinist when confronted by opposing views. That disconnect is unsustainable.

Most citizens are fine with the fact that Fox News is the conservative cable-channel bookend to the progressive MSNBC. Americans realize that a different sort of crowd goes to a NASCAR race than watches the Tour de France.

But what is bothering half the country is not such ideological birds-of-a-feather tribalism per se. The rub instead is the progressive attempt to undermine all shared public institutions by turning them into left-wing megaphones and in the process condoning the use of violence, obscenity, and racialism.

So it is not quite accurate to complain of the “politicization of everything,” given that the phenomenon is largely a progressive project in which nothing is much sacred from left-wing political hectoring — our vocabulary, the very cars we drive, even the TV shows we watch.

No Escape

Why are the major private research universities such as Yale, Harvard, Duke, and Stanford, not just liberal but fully in service to a left-wing social agenda? Do they not all pile up huge billion-dollar endowments that are not taxed, thus robbing taxpayers of considerable annual revenue, while they turn out more biased yet less educated students?

Network news was always liberal. Yet in the last decade, ABC, NBC, and CBS, along with PBS and NPR, as well as their cable counterparts such as CNN, have become veritable progressive operatives. Mention of transgenderism, gay marriage, abortion, global warming, and identity politics will be massaged to promote a progressive position that was once held only by minority — until the position morphs into an intolerant mainstream orthodoxy that does not allow dissent.

Sometimes the scripted metamorphosis takes just a few years. Obama’s loud support of traditional marriage in 2008 changed to support for gay marriage in 2012. And when he left office, he conformed to the idea that only homophobes agreed with the position he’d held a few years earlier. Bill Clinton’s stance not too long ago on legal-only immigration would reduce him to a nativist racist by today’s progressive standards.

Whether it is a 2006 or 2016 Oscar ceremony, it matters little. Some actor, some screenwriter, some director is eager to lecture the audience (to applause) and a national television audience (to mute disdain) that George W. Bush or Donald Trump (the conservative names come and go; the progressive hysterical outrage stays the same), is a fascist, or a Nazi, or a buffoon, or a criminal.

Thanks, but No Thanks

The result is that increasingly millions of Americans do not watch the Oscars as they once did in the days of the liberal but mostly sensible Hollywood of Doris Day, Paul Newman, Gregory Peck, Sidney Poitier, Debbie Reynolds, Jimmy Stewart, and John Wayne. The Emmy Awards are even more polarizing in their lockstep messaging that resembles the dreariness of a May Day parade on a cold Soviet Moscow morning.

Half of America no longer goes to the movies, for reasons that transcend the advent of cable TV and computer viewing. They are bored with the latest predictable remake of a far better earlier movie — now updated with tattooed, white villains speaking in a Russian, South African, or southern accent, diabolically seeking to harm a young, picture-perfect progressive social-justice warrior as she uncovers the racist, sexist, and homophobic machinations of an evil corporation or government agency, run by a white male cabal, that aims to pollute the water, dirty the air, or rob noble progressive victims.

Much of America finds Hollywood a boring Pravda enterprise. It is hypocritical too in the Soviet style of a privileged apparat — given that movies are the products of huge corporations and multimillionaire actors who live apartheid existences.

Sports used to be sacred. Not now.

ESPN op-eds dressed up as sports analyses are not subtle. The working-class audience is often assumed to be bigoted in some way; the wealthy and elite sportscasters, athletes, and media celebrities imagine that they themselves are virtuous and exempt from their own criticism.

Colin Kaepernick was the straw that broke the viewing audience’s proverbial back. He is lionized as Martin Luther King Jr. rather than portrayed as a confused young man of so-so talent, pampered by a multimillion-dollar salary. He and his newfound followers will not stand for the anthem of the country that ensured that the National Football League would be the most ethnically diverse athletic corporation in the world, with the most highly compensated players, and dependent on fans who would scrimp to pay outrageously high sums for tickets and cable packages just to see a simple football game — only to be insulted as the supposedly guilty party.

The result is Orwellian on two counts.

One, the NFL is an admirably meritocratic enterprise, absolutely immune from the progressive dictums of “proportional representation” (diversity in the workplace and university must reflect the race, gender, and ethnic ratios of the general population) and “disparate impact” (there is no need to show that the NFL is racialist in order to force it to diversify). Otherwise, the NFL, as in the case of universities or other publicly subsidized entities, would demand that player rosters “look like us.” That is, they’d make the necessary adjustments to ensure affirmative action for underrepresented Latino, Asian, and white players — in the manner that UC Berkeley currently takes steps apparently to keep it from becoming an Asian-majority university based on merit and skills.

Two, the subtext of not saluting the flag seems predicated on the notion of a racist white America, which in overwhelming numbers watches, enjoys, and pays for a mostly black NFL. Do the players, then, not wish their viewer base to keep watching, given its supposedly illiberal temperament and contemptible respect for the National Anthem?

The Soviet Strangulation of Thought

Major weather disasters are now almost immediately contextualized in progressive terms (often on the air by news readers) — and not just by politicians. (Do we remember Barack Obama’s saying “10,000” died in a Kansas tornado because George W. Bush had shorted the National Guard?)

A drought is proof of climate change. But so is a deep freeze. Storms or the doldrums, it doesn’t matter: Greedy corporations and clueless, in-hock consumers are the carbon culprits. A tsunami or a receding sea, fog, or sun — climate change did it. When everything is proof of climate change, then nothing is.

Before 2017 there may have been a decade-long dearth of hurricanes into the Caribbean. There may have been a number of scientists who stated on the record that two large late summer storms in 2017 were not proof of global warming. Surely there is room for reasoned debate?

Again, no. All the pop-culture talking heads, from somber pundits to late-night television hosts, explained Hurricanes Harvey and Irma in a drearily similar way: Americans’ wasteful consumption of carbon energies had heated the planet and brought down upon them a Biblical retribution of bad weather.

Some even went so far to point out that the work of divine retribution had deliberately targeted Florida and Texas. The reason was not the obvious one that coastal states have long shorelines on the tropical Gulf of Mexico. Instead, they were hit by Nemesis because they were red states with populations more likely to doubt theories of catastrophic man-made global warming. Even the telethon for victims of the hurricanes turned into yet another media event in which celebrities trashed Donald Trump and his supporters.

When Facebook is caught censoring, when Google fires its employees for talking freely, the sanctimonious high hand predictably comes down on the values of Middle America.

Nothing is spared from rank politicization. Late-night TV? Superman comic books? Marquee chefs?

The weary messaging is everywhere and always predictable: Superman now protects illegal aliens, so we are no longer to imagine him as an oversized cartoon hero but instead as a newly muscled Jorge Ramos.

No Mas

As the progressive octopus squeezes the country, its dominance comes at a price. Lately fewer and fewer want to waste precious time watching the pampered adolescents of the NFL. Fewer wish to blow an afternoon viewing preachy mediocrities from Hollywood.

Madonna is a tiring bore who needs to go away and age gracefully. Ditto ESPN.

Who wishes to pay for the latest overpriced Apple gadget, because an aging zillionaire dressed in black prances back and forth on stage before stockholders as if he were Mick Jagger with a mic?

Most yawn that Mark Zuckerberg and Pope Francis have given one too many sanctimonious rants that project their own hypocrisies. And one too many sober and judicious ex-diplomats (of the sort whose mellifluous prior appeasement led to a thermonuclear North Korea) bores us with warnings about Trump’s “incendiary rhetoric.”

Apparently in 2016, the deplorables and irredeemables struck back. Donald J. Trump symbolically served as a radiologically hot CAT scan that revealed long-festering inner metastases. Next, as deadly chemotherapy, he unpleasantly saturated the patient until the cancers within slowly began to fester and shrink — even as the convalescent resented the harsh therapy as much as he did the symptoms of the disease.

If the diagnosis and treatment are clear, the prognosis is not: Will America the patient buckle under the treatment and its side effects before the malady is mastered?

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About Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. He is also the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History, Hillsdale College, where he teaches each fall semester courses in military history and classical culture.

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