Raymond M. Berger
Real Bullet Points

How the Left Stole the Progressive Movement

A modern manifestation of anti-Semitism is prettied up

 in the trappings of a phony social justice and anti-colonialist movement.

The American Progressive Era took place from the late nineteenth to the first part of the twentieth century. The progressivism of that era was based on the belief that modern societies could and should improve over time, with attention to efficient and honest government.

Like today’s progressive movement, the earlier one was largely a response to the social ills of the day—-ills such as the exploitation of workers by capitalists. Progressives believed that these ills were due to the rapid industrialization of America, the growth of powerful business monopolies, and unrestrained laissez-faire capitalism. Progressives devoted themselves to fighting government corruption and to promoting forward-looking policies like child labor laws, workers compensation, minimum wage legislation, a graduated income tax and women’s right to vote. They advocated government legislation to drive these progressive reforms.

Today’s Progressives

Contemporary progressives also believe in using government policy to promote the betterment of society. But they have gone so far beyond the early progressives, that their beliefs and policies would be unrecognizable to their earlier namesake.

What do today’s progressives stand for?

Disparities

Today’s progressives believe that every social and economic disparity constitutes an injustice. They believe that these disparities are not due to group differences in talents, interests and abilities, but rather to institutional bias. For example, if engineering schools graduate more male than female engineers, that is an injustice that must be corrected by institutional and government policies—-say, affirmative action to increase the enrollment of women in engineering schools. To modern progressives, government should play a leading role in “fixing” this and other disparities.

Progressives blithely ignore research evidence that shows that men prefer disciplines that focus on things, while women prefer disciplines that focus on relationships. They will not abide the notion that men and women are inherently different. This inevitably leads to the kind of inefficiency that the early progressives railed against, as people are channeled into fields for which they are ill-suited. Other side effects include discrimination against males in college admissions, hiring and promotion, and constant bemoaning of the “failure” of government policies to achieve “fairness.”

How progressive is it to stick to these ideas even in the face of contrary evidence and policy failure? It isn’t progressive at all because it leads to economic inefficiency and societal stagnation rather than progress.

This was in evidence recently when an engineer at the high tech company Google, wrote a reasoned paper expressing the opinion that men and women have different vocational interests and abilities, and that men might be better suited to be engineers. The outcry from the tech community was so great that this poor fellow was fired from his job. The result is that technology companies exclude talented men from their workforce and they quash the type of dissent that is needed to challenge established practices. How’s that for progress?

Income Inequality

This bug-a-boo has become a staple of the progressive narrative in the current campaign for the presidency.

Admittedly, great wealth disparities are not good for societal stability. But progressives are so fixated on the “injustice” of economic disparities that they ignore incontrovertible facts. For example, intelligence tests have shown that some people are smarter than others, and other research has shown that intelligence is correlated with occupational success. If some people are smarter than others, have better skills or work harder, is it unfair that they have higher incomes?

Progressives seem to think so.

One hair-brained scheme promoted by many progressives goes by the name of universal basic income. Under this scheme, government guarantees a minimum income to everyone. The income is unconditional. It is independent of employment status, family size, housing costs, or any other factor. Individuals who choose not to work receive the same benefit as everyone else.

Perhaps progressives do not understand that government handouts disincentivize work and thereby damage the economy. They may not realize that pumping money into the economy without increasing production or productivity will cause inflation, and that inflation will, in turn, cancel out the effects of the enhanced incomes of recipients.

But no matter. To the progressive, government ought to make everyone equal—-in the name of fairness, of course.

Much of the rhetoric behind the income inequality narrative is phony. An example comes from the presidential campaign of self-described socialist, Bernie Sanders. Mr. Sanders has railed, ad nauseum, about the “one percent.” Sanders is referring to the one percent of Americans who earn a disproportionate share of national income. What Sanders fails to tell his young audiences, eager to receive free governmental largesse, is that most of the “one percent” are people and families who earn a top income from the one-time sale of a home, business, or farm. Most of these people return to lower income brackets after the year of the sale. For the most part, they are not a permanent moneyed class, as the progressives would have us believe.

Fairness and Diversity

Progressives of an earlier era fought for the betterment of society as a whole. Today’s progressives only pretend to do so.

Today’s progressives favor a narrative more reminiscent of religious righteousness than social reform. Just as in an earlier era, when religious moralizers divided the world into righteous men and sinners, today’s progressives divide the world into the oppressed and the oppressors. As in the past, one’s deserving status is in the eye of the beholder. Facts matter little.

In the modern progressive playbook, one’s role as oppressor or oppressed depends entirely on one’s group membership. In the oppressed camp, the progressive places people of color, women, refugees (if they are the right color and refugee status), people from the developing world, gays, lesbians and transgender people. In the oppressor’s corner we find white males, Christians, and people in developed nations (with some exceptions).

Of course, progressives pretend this makes sense although none of it does. It helps a bit if an oppressor admits his sin—thus we see politicians apologize for their presumed “white privilege.” Progressives don’t know what to do with poor whites. Are they oppressors because they enjoy white privilege? Or does their reduced economic status make them oppressed?

Many women of color have complained that white women hide behind their white privilege and steal resources and attention from black women. Lesbians have made similar claims against gay men. Which takes precedence? Race? Gender? Sexual orientation?

In progressive circles, the most deserving people are those with “multiple oppressions,” a highly valued status.

The Dreaded Western Civilization

One of the most destructive successes of the modern progressive movement has been its devastating impact on university education. At universities across the country, courses on Western Civilization have been dropped, often in favor of courses that portray various minority groups as victims of a rapacious and racist western culture.

This is astounding. It is also ironic. The very professors, who belittle western civilization, and their willing students, are the beneficiaries of centuries of western institutions, tradition and ethics.

The university would be inconceivable without the liberal values that were born and nurtured in Judaism, Christianity and Greek philosophy. The gifts bestowed by these sources are so much a part of our free and open society that many take them for granted. These gifts include cultural innovations such as respect for human life, respect for the individual, empiricism, rational argument, experimentation and observation, questioning of authority, freedom of opinion, and free and open debate.

The Grass is Greener on the Non-western Side

A corollary to the progressive’s contempt for western civilization is the idea that North Americans and Europeans, by their nature, are colonizers and oppressors. This makes people in the developing world, victims.

For example, progressives rightly condemn slavery, which was practiced by Americans and Europeans for a few centuries. They never condemn the far lengthier and more brutal practice of slavery by the Muslim world. I have listened to progressives complain about racism on university campuses (where there are few or no signs of it) while at the same time they ignore the black slave market active today in Libya; the killings, forced displacement and land theft against white farmers in Zimbabwe and now South Africa; the mass killings of Tamil people in Sri Lanka; or the forced confinement of a million Uighurs in Chinese concentration camps.

Behind all this is the progressive claim that the world’s greatest oppressors are white people in Europe and North America.

Today’s progressives equate nationalism with white nationalism. They condemn it. But they are oblivious to aggressive nationalist movements in Iran, China, and Russia, to name a few. These three countries are enemies of the US; are repressive dictatorships that stifle the free expression of ideas that progressives say they support; and aggressively use their militaries to expand their power in their regions. But progressives seem not to notice. They express their ire only towards the west.

What about the Jews?

Although modern progressives claim to be all about justice and fairness, this is belied by the precarious position of Jews in their organizations and in their world view.

The Jews are among the most persecuted and maligned minorities in the history of humanity. Fully one-third of Jews were murdered—-for being Jewish—-within the lifetime of many people alive today.  Throughout the world today, levels of violence and hate crimes against Jews have increased, often dramatically. In the US, of all religiously-motivated hate crimes—-the great majority are committed against Jews. Even in democratic countries such as France and Britain, Jewish schools and synagogues require armed protection, and Jews court attacks when they wear Jewish religious symbols in public.

With the progressive’s adoration of victims, you would think that Jews would be the darlings of the progressive movement. They are not. Instead, the modern progressive movement has adopted a sinister and centuries-old narrative of the Jew: Progressives assign to the Jew whatever traits are most abhorred by them.

For example, progressives believe that capitalism is unjust. Unthinkingly, they see Jews as capitalists, and therefore deserving of scorn. They see the current economic successes of western Jews, not as a result of their intelligence or hard work, but rather as a cause for suspicion.

Progressives have used the existence of the modern state of Israel as a tool to demonize Jews who do not agree with them. They have unquestioningly adopted the false narrative that Jews have no history in the Land of Israel. Jews have only had a country in the modern era for 70 years. They established the Jewish state at the very end of the colonial era. And yet, progressives insist that Israeli Jews are colonialists.

Few progressives appear to have any knowledge of Middle Eastern history. If they know about the vast and lengthy Islamic colonization of the Middle East, North Africa and much of Europe—-they choose to ignore it. They ignore lots of other facts of history—-for example, the Arab war of genocide against the Jews that began in Palestine in 1920, or the forced ethnic cleansing of 850,000 Jews from Arab countries after Israel became a modern nation.

Instead, progressives have adopted a narrative that paints Jews as oppressors. They say that the Jews of Israel are all white, all of recent European origin, and they are thieves who have stolen the land of another people. None of this is true. The truth doesn’t matter to the progressive. Thus, a modern manifestation of anti-Semitism is prettied up in the trappings of a phony social justice and anti-colonialist movement.

A Movement Gone Astray

Today’s progressive movement reflects a few elements of the progressive social reform movement of an earlier period. But it is now a deformed shell of what was once a sensible effort for societal betterment.

The policies and narratives promoted by modern progressives have little to do with societal betterment. Rather, they ignore the role of individual differences in talent and initiative in creating social and economic disparities; they promote income redistribution policies that will wreck the economy and destroy opportunity; their phony appeal to diversity is a cover for favoritism and pay-back against groups of people they dislike; they reject tried-and-true Judeo-Christian moral values that underlie our freedoms and economic success; they are un-American; and many of them engage in rank anti-Semitism.

The left has stolen the progressive movement.

About the Author
The author is a life-long Zionist and advocate for Israel. He believes that a strong Jewish state is invaluable, not only to Jews, but to the world-wide cause of democracy and human rights. Dr. Berger earned a PhD in Social Welfare from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and has twenty-seven years of teaching experience. He has authored and co-authored three books as well as over 45 professional journal articles and book chapters. His parents were Holocaust survivors.
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