Democrats step up appeals to racial resentment as their ethnic base continues its gradual erosion.
My colleague James Freeman, who writes the Journal’s Best of the Web column, noted earlier this week that the term “progressive” might be falling out of favor with some Democrats following the midterm election results. If so, it wouldn’t be the first time.
The Progressive era of the early 20th century produced such presidents as Woodrow Wilson and such intellectuals as the British economist John Maynard Keynes. Following World War I, however, voters began repudiating progressivism, and by the time the political left was ascendant again in the 1930s under Franklin D. Roosevelt, erstwhile progressives had rebranded themselves as liberals. That label would stick though the 1980s until calling a candidate liberal became almost a smear, and by the end of the 20th century Democrats on the left were self-describing as progressives again.
One of the things that progressive elites in both eras share is an outsize role in promoting racism. Keynes co-founded a eugenics society at Cambridge University. Wilson hosted a White House screening of “The Birth of a Nation,” a movie that glorifies the Ku Klux Klan, and one of his first acts as president was to segregate federal employees. Madison Grant, a lawyer and leading conservationist, wrote the 1916 bestseller “The Passing of the Great Race,” a pseudoscientific screed arguing that blacks, Native Americans, Jews and the peoples of Eastern and Southern Europe were members of inferior races.
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