Is this the end of progessive America? By Joel Kotkin for Unherd

"When the US sneezes the UK catches a cold." So the saying goes. Yet Von Metternich's original 19th century aphorism - describing the effect of France's constitutional upheaval of 1840 on its European neighbours - is entirely apposite.

From Vietnam and the war in Iraq to Black Lives Matter and Campus Cancel Culture, the parallels between the US and the UK are striking - flashpoints on one side of the Atlantic triggering firestorms on the other.

To those who despair at what is going on, Professor Joel Kotkin offers up some hope. Assessing the situation from his seat at Chapman University, Orange County, California, he believes the familiar litany of misconceived policies currently poisoning the well on both sides of the pond is finally being challenged.

"Increasingly, the “march” has started to falter. Like the French generals in 1940 who thought they could defeat the Germans by perfecting World War One tactics, the progressive establishment has built its own impressive Maginot Line which may be difficult to breach, but can still be flanked.

That is not to deny the progressives’ limited successes. It has certainly developed a remarkable ability to besmirch even the most respected institutions, including the US military. But that is where its achievements stop.

While the Pentagon’s top brass focused on “domestic terrorists” and a progressive social agenda, it calamitously bungled its withdrawal from Afghanistan and appears utterly unprepared for Chinese or Russian competitors. And the effect of this progressive march is plain to see: the percentage of Americans who feel “a great deal of trust and confidence in the military” has dropped in just three years to 45% from 70%."

The loss of trust in institutions in America is also taking place in Europe:

"This decline in trust in major institutions, so evident in America, is also rife across Europe and Australia. In Europe, for example, young people express less pride in their cultural and religious heritage, and are almost three times as likely as their elders to believe that democracy is failing.

The battles are geographical too:

The great paradox of progressivism is that nowhere are its shortcomings more evident than in its geographic heartland: the dense urban centre. Conventional wisdom has dictated that America’s high-tech economic future will be shaped in dense urban areas, where superstar companies stand the best chance of recruiting superstar employees."

People are moving out of the cities in protest:

"But while the upper crust of the labour force continue to head to the dense urban cores, on the ground people are moving in the other direction. Across the high-income world, not only in America but Europe as well, the vast preponderance of growth has taken place in suburbs and exurbs. In the last decade over 90% of all US metropolitan population growth and 80% of job growth took place on the periphery. On the ground, then, the progressive dream is withering.

Likewise in education, people are taking matters into their own hands:

"Criticism of Critical Race Theory buoyed the Republican win in Virginia in November, and has become a rallying principle for parents around the country, including a recall drive against San Francisco school board members.

Other parents are trying to opt out of the public system altogether. The pandemic saw the departure of more one million American students from public schools, while 1.2 million families switched to home-schooling last academic year, bringing the total number of home-schooled students to 3.1 million, roughly 11% of the total. According to the Census Bureau, Black and Hispanic families now have the highest estimated rates of home-schooling, at 16% and 12%, respectively."

And in relation to the news, people are side-stepping the mainstream media such is the level of distrust:

"There is a definite challenge not just from the traditional Right but a plethora of new publications which offer intelligent analysis outside the establishmentarian party line, as well as from Substack. Unless the media oligarchs find ways to repress these elements, a resurgence of free thinking may rescue journalism from progressive editors and journalism schools.

The shift in the media parallels that in mass culture. As late as the Fifties, mass culture was seen as largely neutral. But in recent decades, it shifted towards a more monochromatic look — one which a significant portion of the public are fed up with. Gender flipping may excite progressive creatives, but politically correct remakes of household favourites have proved box offices disasters. Indeed, it’s striking that openly conservative presenters, such as Fox’s Greg Gutfeld, now do better in ratings than their more established network rivals like Jimmy Kimmel and Jimmy Fallon."

The author urges his readers to be optimistic:

"So, here’s the good news. On what sometimes seems the inexorable course towards progressive capture, we can see multiple fronts of resistance, and the early congealing of independent-minded forces, from the rational Right to the traditional liberal-left. Our society may never regain the feistiness of previous eras, and our new elites might continue marching through our institutions. But as they become increasingly discredited, they would be unwise to forget that all long marches one day come to an end."

This is an article for our times. It speaks to people on both sides of the Atlantic and covers the same areas of concern.

It can be read in full here with a link to the original beneath it.

Article for Unherd by Joel Kotkin - Is this the end of progressive America - 04.01.22
Download PDF • 141KB

62 views1 comment