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Monday, August 14, 2023

When Progressives Go Bad - The Conservative Epiphany Of A Social Justice Warrior

Bob Curtain had been a progressive all his life, suckled at the breast of the Reverend Cabot Griffin, nurtured by Martin Luther King and the Freedom Riders, and at the barricades of every march for social justice.  He was in the front ranks of the Women’s March on Washington, first in his seat at conferences to discuss climate change, income inequality, affordable housing, and gun control.  He was a liberal’s liberal, found no progressive cause that he didn’t espouse, and was a champion of women, The Black Man, gays, and the poor since his tutelage with the Reverend Griffin.

It wasn’t until many decades later that this passionate progressivism began to wear thin.  Not that he doubted the truth of the matters – the warming of the climate would lead inevitably to humanity’s demise; the recalibration of human sexuality from two to infinity was right; and blackness, the native African tribal origins of American former slaves was paramount – but that there was something niggling and scratchy about the progressive canon.

How could anyone ignore the dysfunction of the inner city – the disproportionate rates of crime, drug use, child abandonment, single motherhood, family violence, and chronic unemployment? Wasn’t transgenderism only a twisted sexual anagram? And how could even the most casual observer ignore the free market successes of India and China?

Besides that, the causes were becoming Baroque, far from their original intent, platforms for corruption and stages for Amos and Andy vaudeville.  Where did all that Black Lives Matter money go?  How many millions of walkin’ around money got spent on malt liquor and Kools? Where did all these kindergarten drag queens and the hysterics of environmental Armageddon freaks come from?

He couldn’t sleep, such was his confusion. How could he possibly be turning the corner? Sunken costs, long-term equity, a seminarian who realizes that Jesus is not for him, a swimmer without a suit, a horse without a bridle – all these tormenting images circled him in the middle of the night.

Welfare was negative entitlement, affordable housing was a disincentive to mobility and social adjustment, affirmative action prejudicial and demeaning….Again and again, the litany of the ‘other’ was chanted in his ear.

His was a political community that brooked no dissent.  Solidarity was the meme, the ethos, and the operational ordre du jour.  Doubting Thomases would be expelled, and deniers put out with the trash. The problems of the world were too serious for self-serving questioning.  Settled science was what it was – undeniable, absolute, unchanging truth.  One word of disagreement, let alone criticism would be tantamount to excommunication; and with a lifetime invested in progressivism, he would be a bare, naked forked animal on a storm-blown heath without shelter..

Worse was the assumption that he might be in league with the devil, a MAGA maniac out to destroy America and put an end to progressive reform.  The cold, unfeeling world outside the big tent was sobering enough without the calumny of ‘J’accuse! Trump!’

After Yale, Montgomery, and Selma, Bob headed to Northwestern for a PhD, and wrote a pre-Derrida/Lacanian deconstructionist dissertation, foreseeing an academia of textual relativity and ethical disharmony. “In a transfinite, cloying, ur-egalitarian world, shades of color are meaning, distinction is God, inversion is the new conversion”, he wrote.  He went on a tenure track in the Communications Department at Duke, celebrated for his ironic musings about ‘inversions’ and the ‘duplicity’ of conflict.

Academia was not for him, and he joined a non-profit activist association in Washington and from there became a leader of liberal opposition; and it was there, in an office overlooking the Washington monument, that he had his first doubts.

He felt like what a lapsed Catholic finally returning to the Church must feel in the confessional after a 50 year lapse.  “I am heartily sorry”, he would have to begin, but sorry for what? Intelligent doubts about a political movement gone Rococo and irrelevant. 

He had long ago been invited to a colloquium at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank on lower Mass Ave; but he demurred.  He might be seen and branded as an apostate, a Judas; but now he would go there in mufti, sit in the back row and listen.

Tempted by Cato’s objectivity and intellectual distance, he went more and more often; but he found their dalliance with his old liberal agenda unsettling.  The more time that passed the more impatient he became with what he now called the progressive claques and shills on the Hill and in the White House.  It was time for more radical movement.

And so it was that Bob Curtain, died in the wool progressive, descendant of La Follette and Gompers, heir to Jewish Upper West Side intellectualism, turned coat.

Not unlike fundamentalist Protestants who from the moment of finding Jesus change their lives, Bob became a conservative.  ‘Not possible’, said his classmates, colleagues, family and friends; but it was.

Far from the early liberalism of Brandeis, Dewey, Lippmann, and Lafollette who at least grounded their fanciful notions on a practical, populist activism, progressivism today had become a circus side show, a shell game, all quick fingers and no substance; a burlesque show with tits and pasties, booty and promise but nothing for sale but wiggle; a vaudevillian act with a pull-by date, an exhausting show of face-paint and mime; a familiar, predictable, crude repertoire; and Bob knew he no longer wanted any part of it.

The progressive bolus of sanctimony and righteousness has finally been coughed up.  Conservatives and many moderate Republicans have had enough hectoring and badgering; and are rolling back the most offensive measures imposed by the hysterical progressive claque in Washington; and mirabile dictu, Bob joined them in unison.

Although he was too old and with too checkered a past to be taken entirely seriously, conservatives were well aware that Jesus was particularly favorable to those who saw his light. Besides, there were no more faithful, committed, and true believers than converts.  So Bob was admitted into the cabal, reluctantly at first, but warmly and generously after all.

A progressive early, a conservative late, a historical imperative as conclusive as quenching a thirst.

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