By Victor Davis
May 2, 2017
Oh! What a tangled progressive web we weave . . .
Red/blue, conservative/liberal, and Republican/Democrat
mark traditional American divides. But one fault line is not so 50/50 — that
of the contemporary hard progressive movement versus traditional politics,
values, and customs.
The entire menu of race, class, and gender identity
politics, lead-from-behind foreign policy, political correctness, and radical
environmentalism so far have not won over most Americans.
Proof of that fact are the serial reliance of their
supporters on deception, and the erosion of language on campus and in politics
and the media. The progressive movement requires both deceit and euphemism to
mask its apparently unpopular agenda.
What the Benghazi scandal, the Bowe Bergdahl swap, and the
Iran Deal all had in common was their reliance on ruse. If the White House and
its allies had told the whole truth about all these incidents, Americans
probably would have widely rejected the ideological premises that framed them.
In the case of Benghazi, most Americans would not fault an
obscure video for causing scripted rioting and death at an American consulate
and CIA annex. They would hardly believe that a policy of maintaining
deliberately thin security at U.S. facilities would encourage reciprocal local
good will in the Middle East. They would not agree that holding back American
rescue forces was a wise move likely to forestall an international confrontation
In other words, Americans wanted their consulate in
Benghazi well fortified and protected from seasoned terrorists, and they favored
rapid deployment of maximum relief forces in times of crises — but,
unfortunately, these were not the agendas of the Obama administration. So, to
disguise that unpleasant reality, Americans were treated to Susan Rice’s yarns
about a spontaneous, unexpected riot that was prompted by a right-wing video,
and endangered Americans far beyond the reach of U.S. military help.
Ditto the Bowe Bergdahl caper, the American deserter on the
Afghan front. Aside from the useful publicity of “bringing home” an American
hostage, there was an implicit progressive subtext to both his earlier flight
and eventual return: Young introspective soldiers are often troubled about their
nation’s ambiguous role in the Middle East and so, understandably, sometimes
err in their search for meaning. When they do, and when they perhaps “wander
off,” the government has win-win resources to address their temporary lapse
— in this case, killing two birds with one stone by downsizing the apparently
repulsive Guantanamo Bay detention facility and returning punished-enough
Taliban combatants to their families.
What Susan Rice (ostensibly the go-to consigliere in such
deals) could not say is that the Obama administration released five dangerous
terrorists in order to bring home one likely deserter, whose selfish AWOL
behavior may have contributed over the years to the injury or even deaths of
several American soldiers tasked with finding him. Instead, we got the lie that
Bergdahl was a brave solider who served with honor and distinction and was
captured in mediis rebus on the battlefield, with the implication that his
personal odyssey inadvertently led to the bonus of returning in-limbo foreign
detainees and reducing the population of an embarrassing gulag.
We keep learning about all sorts of disturbing and leaked
secret side agreements to the Iran Deal. Without them, the progressive agenda
underlying the concessions was bound to be unpalatable to the American people:
secret nocturnal cash ransoms to obtain American hostages (hostage-taking is an
Iranian theocratic specialty), secret side deals with international agencies to
define down on-site inspections, and secret “flexibility” on Iran
But on a deeper level, the Obama administration apparently
either did not believe that Iran was a truly belligerent, anti-American
theocracy bent on a baleful Middle East hegemony through acquiring nuclear
weapons, or else assumed that Iran’s regional ambitions were understandable
and morally equivalent to any large nation’s desire for such strategic
influence. Either way, the results were deception and lies rather than honesty
about these assumptions.
The foundations for the unspoken, progressive faith in
catastrophic man-caused global warming are self-evident. Many Western elites
believe that modern, free-market industrial growth and consumer capitalism
endanger the planet. They bring out the worst in both the bourgeoisie and the
undereducated, victimized poor: greed, acquisitiveness, and shallow material
values. The remedy and indeed duty for reflective and enlightened elites (who
alone have transcended the rat race and by their very success have grown immune
from, and wise to, the contradictions of capitalism) is to change the economic
foundations of modern Western life — in a radical fashion akin to the
19th-century romantic yearning for a pre-industrial, less environmentally
The catch, however, is that most Americans believe that oil
wells, mines, freeways, dams, cars, reservoirs, and factories — and the
granite counters, stainless-steel fridges, and big-screen TVs that derive from
them — are largely godsends, ensuring a good life undreamed of by their
grandparents. Or they believe that most accompanying deleterious effects on the
environment, such as slight and periodic changes in temperatures, are outweighed
by the benefits of industry and can be soon ameliorated by rapidly advancing
scientific and technological remedies.
The result is an impasse. To square the circle, progressive
vocabulary adjusted. Global warming became “climate change,” on the theory
that when droughts naturally were followed by snow and rain, snow and rain were
only further proof of man-caused rising temperatures that needed immediate
redress through larger government intervention. It was not enough to warn that
the industrial age might have contributed to an acceleration of natural and
episodic warming of the planet (a documented cyclical pattern of the past);
instead end-of-world, apocalyptic scenarios were necessary to reconfigure the
very industrial base of modern life.
The result is that today, any natural climatic extremity
— ice to searing heat, snow or drought, both mud and dust, receding or
advancing waters, normal or abnormal temperatures — becomes media fodder for
the narrative of man-caused, excessive carbon releases that can be remedied only
by costly reduction of the West’s modern commerce and industry that fuels
extravagant, self-indulgent consumerism.
Yet imply that, and the public would revolt. Instead, it is
wiser to suggest that the climate is being altered by human shortsightedness and
extravagance and that the change can be stopped by altruism and moral sacrifice.
Inefficient and subsidized solar and wind power therefore become ethically and
culturally preferable to more practicable but retrograde nuclear power,
hydroelectric, and natural-gas generation. As for a publicly green Bono, John
Kerry, or Al Gore, who in his private life might gulp down an inordinate amount
of aviation fuel or hoard too many square feet of living space, we appropriate
the implied Soviet argument of the apparat and the dacha: Only by
revolutionaries faring well can the revolution itself fare well.
No one wishes to discuss candidly that universities are no
longer free bastions of inquiry but are descending into would-be boot camps to
train progressive shock troops. Careers, reputations, and lots of money are
invested in stifling free expression, a project predicated on changing the
nature of students, the curricula, and the very atmosphere of the traditional
The predicable result is again linguistic subterfuge.
If unprepared students are frustrated that special
admittance does not de facto equate to college success or graduation, the
university must make the necessary Animal Farm–like adjustments. Segregation
by race and gender becomes “safe spaces.” Ancient stress, the stuff of
cramming for finals and paper deadlines, gets embedded into politics, as
snowflakes are “traumatized” by a culturally appropriated earring or a
gendered pronoun. Free speech that can be challenging and liberate young minds
becomes “hate speech” and is banned. Odious censorship is redefined as mere
Confederate nullification that reminds us of the chaotic
consequence of states’ defying federal law becomes “sanctuary cities,” as
if illegal-alien lawbreakers were 21st-century versions of fugitive slaves
seeking sanctuary from plantation bounty hunters.
When “sexual liberation” of the 1960s eventually led to
a crass and crude dating atmosphere that disadvantaged young women (the male was
assured that mutually consenting sexual congress demanded not even momentary
commitment or even postcoital gentlemanly behavior and deference), it was
recalibrated as “sexual assault” — as if occasional female naďveté and
frequent male boorishness and selfishness in matters of sex were now criminal
matters (though exempt from the bother of the Bill of Rights).
Nowhere was the progressive project more in need of stealth
than the proverbial War on Terror that followed the mass murdering on 9/11.
Apparently, it was impossible for the Obama administration to concede that
terrorism and indeed global conflict in the 21st century were largely dividends
of the radicalization of Islam, and fueled often by the inability of traditional
Muslim societies to adjust to the radical globalization — and indeed
Westernization — of the planet.
Conceding that would imply the culpability of autocratic
and theocratic Muslim leaders (along with traditional and endemic gender
apartheid, tribalism, anti-Semitism, religious fundamentalism and intolerance,
and statism). It’s far easier to fault the pernicious legacy of 19th-century
Empiricism would have allowed discussions of inherent
differences between a post-Reformation Western Christianity and a
pre-reformation Islam; instead, progressives adhered to boilerplate
multicultural moral equivalencies. Identification of widespread abhorrent
practices in Middle Eastern societies — female genital mutilation, honor
killings, state violence against gays, and racism – would lead to difficult
intellectual and political truths. But keeping the focus on the ’Wests
supposed post-colonialism, imperialism, and exploitation provides easy fodder
for the race, class, and gender appetites of careerist Western elites.
To square that circle, terrorism then became “man-caused
disasters” (as if Buddhist and Christians were on a rampage in Europe).
Anti-terrorism was “an overseas contingency operation” (as if hunger in
Haiti was morally equivalent to the battle in Anbar Province), while jihadism
became a mere personal odyssey or journey (who is to say that bin Laden was not
misunderstood by followers seeking spiritual growth?). The Muslim Brotherhood in
Egypt was rendered “largely secular,” as if Mohamed Morsi sought to bring
what he learned at USC to good governance in Cairo. “Workplace violence” was
murdering 13 soldiers in cold blood at Fort Hood while shouting “Allahu
akbar,” on the theory that deranged employees sometimes have shot many on the
job, though without the loud religious proclamations.
History got into the act as well. President Obama assured
us on no evidence that a Cordoba without Muslims in the late 15th century, at
the time of the Christian Inquisition, was a bastion of Islamic tolerance (and
later added that we “high-horse” Christians should remember the Crusades of
a millennium ago). For the progressive project, history is not tragic. It’s a
melodrama to be used for contemporary political agendas, through separating bad
people from good people of the past, as ascertained through contemporary
progressive standards retroactively applied to earlier centuries.
In fairness, what is the anti-multicultural, anti–morally
equivalent, anti-utopian pacifist alternative? To tragically confess that
religions are not mostly alike? That blowing up somebody on the pretext of
ending oppression does not mean there is real oppression rather than inherent
selfishness and evil? To assume that those who most damn the West are themselves
the most eager to flee to the West? To accept that deterrence sways behavior
more than does concession, given the unchanging nature of man?
Without ruse, there can be no progressive project — as
was true in the past of any illogical and unappealing ideology.
In short, you gotta lie.