The Sad, Sad Culture of Progressivism
If you’ve ever read anything written by any progressive over the age of forty, chances are pretty good that you’ve been exposed to a certain weary, self-indulgent, spiritually-agonized tone. It is very recognizable, like the smell of decay that’s characteristic of a swamp. By comparison, leftists under the age of forty are likely to have more-or-less the same tone that they were born with -- the high-pitched tone of an infant that is not getting its way. Older leftists have usually run out of this youthful vigor, just like the rest of us. They do not participate in Antifa riots on the streets. They think about such youthful protests with a sense of nostalgia, remembering their wild, radical college days -- whether they actually experienced them or not. Lost in a kind of communal introspection, they gather to have a coffee and a chat about how infinitely, heartbreakingly hard it is to endure the misery of the world. It would be vulgar to point out that a nice income and a nice house in a nice neighborhood can do a lot to ease this unbearable sense of soul-wrenching angst. Moral anguish can actually be quite comfortable if you can manage to do it safely at a distance.
A few years ago, while researching an entirely worthless opposition article claiming Trump supporters are characteristically authoritarians, I ran across an editor at a progressive publication whose full title was “Senior Sadness Editor”. That’s exactly what it said: “Senior Sadness Editor.” No other title has ever so perfectly captured the tone of the intellectual left. A career of virtuous weepiness. A bleeding heart that suffers theatrically for public consumption. Christine Blasey Ford really should, and probably will, get an Oscar for her performance before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Or is it an Emmy, since the movie version isn’t out yet?
To someone raised in a leftist family, the drill is all too familiar. There may be variations, but my experience went something like this:
One is immersed from birth in Marxist critical theory like a chicken cooking slowly in pot -- not that one is ever told explicitly what Marxist critical theory is. In practice, the dogma is practiced as nothing more sophisticated than a lifestyle of continual dissatisfaction -- of one long sad and negative discussion after another. The ideal setting for such discussions really has become the coffee shop -- now a kind of secular parody of a church. There, one can ruminate, virtue signal to one’s fellow left-leaners, and sip slowly at the bitter cup of fair-trade, overpriced java picked by scenically depicted (but always comfortably far away) peasants from a third world hellhole du jour. If you miss the wafer normally offered in a more traditional sacrament, have a biscotti. One can tip the transgender barista graciously, earning a kind of progressive equivalent of merit, though not the least shred of actual grace. One can snub America simply by occupying the repackaged equivalent of a European institution. This is leftism by association.
The pilgrimage to the bookstore is another popular rite, though not compulsory. There, one finds all sorts of new and interesting topics to feel bad about. One can educate one’s sense of moral outrage, refining the palate to the subtler nuances of the same eternal whine. The vibrant Red whine: How bad western civilization is in general. The anti-American White whine: How bad America is in particular. All such reading fuels the same peculiarly self-destructive end. The progressive is taught to believe that an entirely unproductive and pathologically disheartened outlook is the mark of a superior being. Life is to be lamented from start to finish. Ordinary happiness is for the stupid. Such an ongoing narrative is as sticky and as lethal as a Venus fly trap. Try reading a little of the public intellectual Noam Chomsky. See how wonderfully acerbic and languid he is? Read a bit of the revisionist historian Howard Zinn. Such a blistering indictment of the West by a man who hasn’t troubled himself to examine any inconvenient historical data. Even a cursory study of leftist literature will make it plain to any conservative how leftists have developed an unspoken longing for cultural suicide. They have few or no children. They have no reason to be bothered if America is eventually transformed into just another Latin American failed state. They have been told their whole lives that it would serve us right.
Barack Obama was, himself, a master of the progressive tone. Even other progressives became conscious, after a while, that their narcissist-in-chief wasn’t actually going to do much other than express his universal disappointment. It was obvious to them that the world itself fell short of Obama’s grand and ideologically perfect expectations. It was obvious to the rest of us that he had no idea how to do his job. Good progressives made excuses for him. He was just too elevated a being to be anything as innately dirty as an American president. Conservatives were to blame -- it goes without saying. We interrupted Obama’s dramatic soliloquies with our stubborn refusal to swoon -- our meanspirited failure to sink to our knees and weep in adoration. We heckled the eight-year poetry recital that was his presidency. We offended his sensibilities with our loathsome, primitive ideas about “American exceptionalism.” How crude. How unsophisticated. Obama was, and still is, the very embodiment of what it now means to be a leftist intellectual: Pretending to be above it all. Saddened by reality. The only qualities he added to the standard narrative were bitterness, petulance, and vindictiveness. And even these were not uniquely his. Hillary outperformed these negatives on all counts. Obama did his share of damage, of course, but being a man of words rather than action he seldom let industriousness interfere with his persona or his golf game. Being a victim of heroic proportions requires neither brilliance nor effort. It only requires a certain look, a certain pose -- the shallow acting skills of a character not from history, but from a novel. In one sense, and one sense only, he really was a kind of Antichrist: he was a creature who hypnotized the people he inspired -- if the term “inspired” can be used so perversely. Leftist demagogues rot the inner strength of the nations they infest. We must understand that this is their role -- or, in their own pretentious language, their raison d'etre. They are the Svengalis of modern politics, leading their followers incrementally down the road to moral blindness and societal death.
The disease of progressivism is now widespread, though probably not the majority position some imagine it to be. It has infected all classes, from cynical elites who wish to placate the last shriveled remnants of their consciences to the cynical poor who wish to be made unpoor by a government willing to pick pockets on their behalf. The cultural decay is deep, giving people a false sense of goodness based of uttering magic words rather than on the difficult and costly work of genuinely moral behavior. The real obscenity of leftist virtue-signaling isn’t merely that it’s unproductive and self-serving, but that leftists are so blinded that their own hypocrisy is lost on them. What does virtue-signaling accomplished that could not be done more honestly with a secret gesture or a secret handshake? What does the middle-class progressive really want other than identification with “the enlightened,” the intelligentsia, and with those who wield power?
I will hardly be the first to observe that the left long ago lost the battle over facts. Ghettoes, crime, and overdose deaths are facts. The chaos in Western Europe is a fact. The degeneration of Detroit into semi-rural scrub forest is a fact. The “arc of history,” pretty as it sounds, is nothing but a literary dream. A castle of mere words. Socialism has always been, at heart, a literary façade for the same old centralization of power -- a petty tyranny at the hands of self-appointed and self-righteous planners and intellectuals. It’s a lie. In its death throes it has even lost the charm of being a beautiful lie.