In my book, Progressivism: A Primer (2014), I advanced a bold thesis: that progressivism, properly understood as the belief that aggressive state violence in the form of various interventions into the market and private voluntary behavior will improve human life, is America’s ruling ideology, dominating the thinking of both parties and accepted to a large degree by the vast majority of Americans including Republicans. I provided evidence that no major progressive programs were abolished during Republican administrations, even during periods when the Republicans controlled the Presidency and both houses of Congress. The question now is, has anything changed in light of the election of Donald Trump and subsequent events?
Trump’s own ideology, to the extent that it can be discerned, does not contradict my thesis. He is a pragmatist with no clear or firm ideology beyond his populism and nationalism. As explained in my book, pragmatism melds nicely into progressivism as it leads to a desire to experiment with various government interventions that a rigid ideology might preclude. Populism can be defined as the desire to do what is good for average people as opposed to elites, which, in the absence of ideological libertarianism, could very well involve a variety of progressive programs. Nationalism is yet another fuzzy concept susceptible to many meanings including a libertarian interpretation. Trump’s nationalism manifests itself mainly in the form of increased trade protectionism. Using tariffs and other legal means to restrict and regulate trade with foreign counties is itself a clear example of progressivism. It is the use of aggressive government force—force against peaceful people–to make human life better.
Progressivism: A Prime... Best Price: $3.93 Buy New $11.49 (as of 07:45 EDT - Details) Moreover, the whole point of protectionism as advocated by Trump is to prevent the country from being flooded by cheap foreign goods and causing harm to many American firms and workers who, given the gigantic costs imposed on them by progressive taxes and regulations, cannot compete with foreign competition. Thus, protectionism crowds out a better approach to improving American competiveness: slashing progressive taxes and progressive regulations which hinder our business firms. In this sense, what Trump’s protectionism protects is progressivism! Trump’s protectionism is progressive in itself and it protects a wide range of domestic progressive programs and policies.
Thus, Trump’s ideology does not represent a major threat to or shift away from progressivism properly understood. One problem here is that, like many terms, “progressive” has other meanings. The term is often used to describe the left wing of the Democratic Party. That may be a fair use but it is not how I am using the term so spare me the emails. Having a clear set of terms in politics is extremely important which is one of the reasons I wrote the book in the first place. Long story short, many people use the term “progressive” to mean leftist when the better term for leftist is “leftist.”
What about Trump’s actual job performance in the last 22 months? I have already covered trade. Trump has reduced taxes and some regulations. However, these moves do not arise out of any firm ideological opposition to taxes and regulations per se, but out of a pragmatic belief that regulation and high taxes were crippling business and needed to be reined in to some extent. For example, he endorsed two key elements of Obamacare—protection for pre-existing conditions and retention of adult children on family insurance policies. At the same time, Trump has also favored increased military spending and spending for infrastructure and drug treatment. On military spending, it might be argued that even a minimal state needs an army; however, the United States proper has not been invaded by a foreign power’s army since the War of 1812 and there is no country on the planet today capable of safely landing a large force on our shores. Thus, the bulk of U. S. military spending is designed to prop up our foreign interventions and alliances and hence this type of central planning can safely fit under the broad definition of progressivism propounded in my book.
More important than tax rates is actual government spending as that is the true measure of economic resources expended by government as opposed to the private sector. After all, progressivism presumes that money spent by the government is better than money spent by the free market. Under Trump, both military and domestic spending are up while no major progressive programs were abolished. It is true that Trump has rolled back some significant regulations, however, this rollback appears to be ad hoc and there is no indication in Trump’s ideology of any hostility towards regulations per se or any serious move towards rolling back the existing edifice of all-encompassing regulations over every aspect of American life.
That brings us to the recent election. The most important ideological sign was the Democratic takeover of the House with probably the most left-wing group of newcomers in history. Given the chance, they will accelerate the long-term trend towards government growth. Worse yet, three Republican states voted to expand Obamacare—Idaho, Nebraska and Utah. Even Republicans can’t resist voting themselves free stuff—the essence of the progressivist fantasy. Along the same lines of watching what Republicans do when they have total control—as much as conservatives like to rail against progressive public schools, they have never moved to abolish them even in conservative states where the GOP controls all the branches of government. Government Schools Are... Best Price: $3.56 Buy New $5.01 (as of 07:55 EDT - Details)
A little-noticed but important win for progressivism was the uber-progressive Democrats taking control of the New York State Senate from the moderate-progressive Republicans. That gives the Democrats total control over New York, a state Reagan won twice, basically forever. That frees up the Democrats to focus their resources on the increasing number of closely-balanced “purple” states. On the other hand, there are no guaranteed GOP states among the fifteen largest states! In these times, a purple state can be defined as a state that used to be red and is about to be blue.
The trend towards progressivism is likely to continue. The closeness of the election in some previously solid red states does not bode well for the GOP’s future. Although the GOP is a reliably progressive big government party judging by what they do, not what they say, the Democrats are generally more enthusiastic about their progressivism. Republicans won close races in Texas and Georgia, two states Republicans need to retain the Presidency.
Progressives have planned for the future. They took control of the schools where they can manufacture new progressives by the millions. The GOP response has been a complete absence of any response. Increased immigration in recent decades also favors the Democrats. On the present trajectory, we are facing the imminent prospect of a one-party uber-progressive regime that will not be easily displaced.
Summary—based on demographic changes and the total domination of the schools by progressives, it is likely that, unless interrupted by unexpected events, the progressive trend of American politics will only increase in the coming years. If this surprises you; if you are perplexed that rational argument has not driven back the progressive mindset, this is probably because you do not realize that progressivism is not a rational system of thought but a form of therapy. See my book for the details.