"Liberalism" used to denote an emphasis on individual liberties and civil rights. Liberals certainly believed in a strong welfare state and higher taxation to support it, but they would never have supported endless wars and the military-industrial complex that profits from them, the weaponization of federal agencies — including law enforcement — and surveillance of private citizens. Or denial of First Amendment rights by major multinational corporations serving as de facto censors, state propagandists and spies for the federal government.
Ah, but that was liberalism. What we're dealing with now on the left is progressivism. So, we're in lefty la-la land now. Today's leftists defend corporate control of information and government surveillance of private individuals — and even call those who object "anti-American," as MSNBC analyst Henry Weissmann said about Tucker Carlson last week. Today's leftists excuse, admire and even aspire to emulate Communist China, arguably human history's most brutally repressive regime.
Two major cultural shifts have contributed to this sea change in Democratic Party politics.
In many respects, it started with the baby boomers and their "Don't trust anyone over 30" mantra. By dismissing the older generation as hopelessly "square" and out of touch with freethinking 1960s sensibilities, the boomers lost much of whatever wisdom their parents' generation had to impart — which was, by the way, the so-called "Greatest Generation," lauded for their service and sacrifice in World War II. I think we should have heeded what they knew. As we have seen in the ensuing decades, a culture that prizes youth and ignorance over age and wisdom hurtles headlong toward its own demise.
The second major cultural shift has been in our attitude towards education, which used to be fundamental, practical and grounded in the values upon which the nation was founded. Most people did not go to college, but many of the best colleges and universities — including within the Ivy League — were institutions with faith-based mission statements.
It is still true that most Americans do not go to college (two-thirds of the U.S. population does not hold a bachelor's degree). The vast majority of our most prestigious institutions of higher education abandoned their religious affiliations long ago. And in place of the worship of God, we now worship the students.
I'm only half joking.
For at the least the past 30 years, countless bright, little college-bound minds have been told their entire lives that they were "special." The "cream of the crop." The "best and the brightest." It was not enough to be intelligent and hardworking citizens; they were told to go out and "change the world."
Inspiring hope for the future and gratitude for one's gifts are all well and good. But along the way, something was lost — most notably, a sense of humility and a belief in the fundamental rights of competent adults to run their own lives. In other words, the message of responsibility to one's fellow man morphed into something else entirely — a belief among our best educated citizens that they are better than their fellow men, and therefore entitled to rule over them.
They deserve the cushy Wall Street positions and control of the nation's financial institutions. They are the ones qualified to hold political offices. They — not those ignorant people who call themselves "patriots" — decide what science is, what history is and what truth is.
It is shocking to realize that we have — among our most elite, educated population — a significant number of people who are, in fundamental ways, unprincipled. I'm not merely referring to the Harvey Weinsteins and Jeffrey Epsteins with their sexual predation and other wretched excesses. I am referring to those who have goals that they firmly believe are for the betterment of society. So, by "unprincipled," I mean that they do not view any principle as being equal or superior to those goals. So convicted are they of their moral superiority, there is little they can't justify to achieve those goals: Lie to Congress, the press and/or the American public? Check. Present falsified documents to the federal courts? Check. Deceive, silence and censor Americans — including other members of the press? Check. Break rules — and even laws? Check. Excuse, or even encourage, violence? Check.
Steal an election?
This group — and it is a bipartisan aggregation, to be sure — despises Donald Trump. They claim it is because he is rich, brash and boorish. They pretend to be afraid of his dictatorial aspirations.
Nonsense. They love strong opinions, vulgar displays of wealth and authoritarian impulses as long as those things are confined to their like-minded colleagues on the coasts, Silicon Valley wunderkind or Hollywood glitterati.
No, the real reason they can't stand Trump is because he believes in, appeals to and inspires the average Joe, the everyman and everywoman, including millions of minorities, immigrants, working class folks and aspiring entrepreneurs. Those are the people that the elites have been groomed to believe they are superior to. Those are the people who are supposed to take the largesse and government handouts the educated dispense, and be grateful. Those are the people who are supposed to shut up and do as they are told.
Trump blew a C4-sized hole in just about every narrative that the elites see as their raison d'etre. He not only won the 2016 election — he got 13 million more votes in 2020, including record-breaking numbers among constituencies that the elites claim as their own.
For all of that, Trump became patrician enemy number one. But those who voted for him are the real targets of today's left, increasingly demonized as "violent extremists," "white supremacists" (even when they're not white) and "domestic terrorists."
A small cadre of true liberals are pushing back against these trends. It remains to be seen whether they will succeed. Progressivism is destroying liberalism, which is bad enough. But it will destroy the country if it is not stopped.