The Conservative Corruption of Progressive Thought

As one who has always tried, with varying success, to be progressive in my thinking, I'd like to make a few personal observations on the contemporary progressive movement. I want to preface my remarks, however, with the assurance that I have long since recognized that I corner the market on neither knowledge, wisdom, nor intellect, but I'd like to share my thoughts nevertheless - not as a condescending edict handed down by a self-appointed pundit, but in the hope that the thoughts of an average man with common facility are worthy of public discussion.

It is my firm belief that the appropriate attitude for a progressive to bring to every discussion is a firmness of thought and an open mind to divergent ideas. A progressive, by definition, should have the intellectual capacity to recognize that one can neither scream, nor insult, one's way to a solution to any problem. And what should always set a progressive apart from all others is an affinity for humanity, independence of thought, and a fierce determination to remain a seeker of truth above all else, regardless to where that truth may lead.

But those values no longer seem to be the case among many who define themselves as progressives today. Many contemporary 'progressives' tend to possess the very same rigidity of thought, and meanspirited, knee-jerk adherence to ideology that the progressive movement was created to combat. The response that many of these people bring to even the slightest divergence from their rigid ideological beliefs can only be described as one of radical reactionism.

That concerns me greatly, because while conservatives and today's so-called progressives remain completely divergent in their views toward governance, in terms of intellectual disposition they've become different sides of the same coin. I've often heard it stated that the regimented intolerance of reactionary conservatism is reminiscent of Nazi Germany. That may, or may not be true. But if it is, it must also be acknowledged that the intolerant regimentation of many contemporary radical 'progressives' represent the USSR at best.

Many modern progressives have allowed themselves to become infected with the exact same kind of intellectual rigidity that we previously associated with the radical conservative mindset. In fact, many who define themselves as progress today could very accurately be called latter-day conservatives. They have a slightly updated set of values, but their rigidity and rabid defense of those values will surely morph into the closed-minded conservatism of tomorrow.

That's the primary reason that the conservatives' reckless campaign of rampant disinformation is winning the battle over reasoned and logical thought. So many contemporary progressives have taken on the conservative mindset of anger before contemplation, and reaction over reason, that there's no one left who's actually thinking. Everyone is simply reacting through anger, ignorance, and disinformation. That's an environment in which the Republican Party thrives, since as any thinking person would know, radical conservatism is reactionary by definition.

Progressives cannot out-scream the Republican Party, and we shouldn't try. The disinformation that's currently being disseminated by the GOP must be met with facts, a well thought-out plan of action, integrity, and character.

The American people are not stupid. They desperately want these qualities in their governance, but the current progressive movement is not giving them a viable alternative. Regardless to what our intent, we're acting with just as much thoughtless anger and reckless abandon as the Republican Party.

The problem is, we have not coalesced into a solid front with a clear and viable agenda. We've divided ourselves into so many factions with so many different agendas that the people no longer know what we represent. And the reason for that is that too many of us really don't know what it means to be progressives ourselves.

Too many of us fail to understand that the primary goal of the progressive movement is to create a viable democracy that serve, respect, and honor ALL of the people. But due to the destruction of our educational system, the corrupting influence of Republican governance over the past twenty years, and an irresponsible media, our ideals and what we represent as a people is only a rumor up for debate for an entire generation of Americans.

But what's worse, and the subject of this contemplation, is the above is also true of young people of the left who consider themselves progressives. The fact is, while they know that their political orientation is liberal, what they don't know is there's a vast difference between being simply liberal, and being a progressive. As a result, many of these young people approach our democracy like it's a sporting event - our team against their team. Period.

What they fail to realize is that the progressive movement is much more than just a synonym for left-wing liberalism. Progressives have also served as America's philosophers, intellectuals, and conscience. Thus, true progressives don't see conservatives as the enemy. They understand that both liberals, and conservatives, play an important role in our society. They recognize that both are necessary in order to maintain a balanced America. And they clearly understand that while there's a burning need for a Martin Luther King to remind America of its humanity, there is also a need for a Gen. MacArthur to ensure our security.

Thus, the progressive movement is not so much a political ideology as it is a philosophical attitude towards human behavior. A true progressive, as oppose to an ideologue of any stripe, will always give truth, logical thought, and the interest of humanity priority over ideology. And regardless to how much he or she may admire any politician, he will always hold that politician accountable for truth, justice, and his fidelity to mankind.

I can cite an example of that in my personal life. I'm a huge supporter of President Obama because I agree with more of his positions on public policy than I do with the Republicans. But I have both friends, and family, who go absolutely crazy on those occasions when I write a column critical of him when I disagree with something that he does, or something that he fails to do. They take the position that I'm only serving to help the Republican Party drag him down.

I take the position, as both a journalist, and a progressive, that while I support Obama, it is not my job to censor information when in my opinion he's taken a position that's not in the best interest of the people (failing to follow the rule of law regarding the atrocities of war committed by the Bush Administration, for example). Neither is it my job to protect Obama's presidency. It is Obama's job to protect his presidency, by making the right decisions in office.

Barack Obama is a politician, and a democracy can only remain viable by holding EVERY politician's feet to the fire. So it doesn't matter how I feel about him personally, as a journalist, and as a progressive, all I'm concerned with is what he does to, or for the people.

In my opinion, that's what it means to be a progressive, and I find it extremely disheartening to watch the corruption of such an essential component of our political environment. What's even more disheartening, however, is the impact that it's loss is sure to have on American life. With the demise of a vigorous and thriving progressive movement America is becoming a place where power and political ideology takes precedence over justice and the welfare of humanity, and that's a scenario that can only lead to our ultimate destruction.

Eric L. Wattree

Religious bigotry: It's not that I hate everyone who doesn't look, think, and act like me - it's just that God does.


dhavid 9 years 3 weeks ago

Hi Eric, it seems to me that your definition of a progressive fits into the analogy Thom has used - That we see life through many windows, but the first window is either "me" or "we." This first window is foundational in all that follows. Obviously "we" would be the starting window for the progressive. But "me" seems to be the starting point for most.

So it might be seen that the country has become like the "me" generation of the 80's. It was a period when narcissism officially became part of the DSM. It could be viewed like a spiritual dis-ease of the culture. The central religion has broken down, and has been hijacked by the right. People have lost the vehicle which can bring them to be more in touch with themselves, and therefore humanity. Or, it could be seen that the natural result of capitalism is greed. It just brings it out in people. Or it could be that in hard times people tend to become more nationalistic, conservative, with a "us" and "them" mentality: they dumb down. Or perhaps it is a byproduct of all the technology whose toll is a sort of dehumanization.

But i think I agree with you, except I might add to:

Religious bigotry: It's not that I hate everyone who doesn't look, think, and act like me - it's just that God does..........

.......And the reason I believe God feels this way is because it says it in the Magic Book, the one God wrote and which doesn't have any errors. If you ever have a question just go to the Magic Book.

DAN 1's picture
DAN 1 9 years 3 weeks ago

This seems to me to be a well thought out and stated article Mr. Wattree. I am in the process of trying to get a better understanding of the different disciplines of thought of Our Society and your article helps a lot. The following remark seemed especially reasonable and clarifying to me:

"What they fail to realize is that the progressive movement is much more than just a synonym for left-wing liberalism. Progressives have also served as America's philosophers, intellectuals, and conscience. Thus, true progressives don't see conservatives as the enemy. They understand that both liberals, and conservatives, play an important role in our society. They recognize that both are necessary in order to maintain a balanced America. And they clearly understand that while there's a burning need for a Martin Luther King to remind America of its humanity, there is also a need for a Gen. MacArthur to ensure our security."

Heretofore, I was making the mistake of thinking of "Liberals", as another term for Progressives. I see the error of this now. I believe you rightly place "Progressivism" more in the middle of American Social Thinking, along with "Populist"...and have the responsibility of finding the best that the Liberals and Conservatives offer, in order to establish a wide sweeping balance between the two. Ideally I mean and I know We are a long way from this achievement. Of course there are areas of "overlap", which can be confusing, but also declares the possibility of a balance between these opposed polarity positions.

Basically, I can't imagine that the majority of Liberals and other "Left" oriented agendas, would totally eradicate the values of the Conservative Establishment, anymore than I can imagine that the best of the Conservatives would totally deny the importance of the Social aspects of a healthy nation. But then again, I realize that there are the few extremists who do want these imbalances of fear and hate.

For the most part, I believe that "defense" should be done here, not all over the world. Out there it is really not defense, but offense. I need to see America stop being empire.

Anyway. Good article. Thank you for writing it. DAN 1

philosophical-ron 9 years 3 weeks ago

Dear Eric,

I'm with you on the problems of rigid thinking on our side, although in my experience when you get off the blogs and into actual conversations with physical people in the course of political work, those on "our side" do tend to have an appropriate amount of doubt and humility.

However I would urge you to perhaps think deeper about achieving a "unity" on our side that matches that on the conservative, and also about your statement that progressives have divided themselves into factions. I am very much against trying to seek a false unity on the progressive side. The conservative side has a unity, because they essentially all come from the same social base ( characterized by rigid Christianity and naive American nationalism, and with authoritarianism and paternalism, racism and sexism following close behind).

Progressives, on the other hand -- many of whom were born into and raised by more conservative families -- come from a much greater variety of backgrounds and experiences which have made them progressive. Labor union progressives have different sources and traditions than academic progressives; Black progressives have, and should have, different roots and emphases than Latin progressives or white progressives. Our side cannot easily achieve the level of unity that conservatives can; instead we need to focus on making strength from our diversity. Their side can easily coalesce on a few ideological points (no taxes, strong military, fundamentalist Christian obsessions); for our side to try to do the same is a trap, a time-waster. We can and should focus on a few common political GOALS: ending/changing the mainstream media nonsense machine, and forcing elected Democrats to serve their base rather than corporate lobbies are two basic goals that I'm focused on, without which we won't be able to make positive changes in our society.

It's not that we've divided ourselves into factions: it's more like we were each "born" as progessives in separate struggles that individualize our political passions. We need to learn how to build on that individuality, not to either force us into an artificial unity, or to have a "laundry list" of all possible politically correct viewpoints and goals that we all must endorse before we can work together.

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