I’m intrigued by the notion that despite their futuristic ideals, liberals are obsessed with the past in nostalgic ways. On the one hand they reject days-gone-by as politically and culturally retrograde, on the other they seek the past’s simplicity in what they eat and drink, the clothes they wear, and the homes that they live in. The ’60s hippie ethos paradoxically yearned for a utopian political model built on the solid foundation of Norman Rockwell’s America.
Take food. One could argue that the current fad of organic farming is simply the practicing of 19th century subsistence agriculture. Animal manure and other compost used for fertilizer instead of chemical compounds. Pesticides didn’t exist back then and are shunned as dangerous to the environment and human health. The problem with this model is that a century ago it took many farmers to feed large populations compared to many times fewer using more efficient and mechanized agricultural methods now. In 1900 there were 5.7 million farms with 30 million Americans working the land to serve a population of 76 million. 2014 shows us 2.2 million farms with 6 million people farming to feed 318 million Americans, and surplus for export. Do the math. The 1900 figures show that roughly 40% of the American population was employed in agriculture compared to 2% now.
Farmers markets. Along with being popular with foodie tourists these promote the false narrative that locally-grown food will solve the world’s vast scourge of famine, which is related mostly to politics and bad economic policies (See North Korea, Venezuela, sub-Saharan Africa, et al.) Taken to the extreme, progressives have always been good at starving people through bad ideas, i.e. Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot. Today’s liberals believe produce and coffee beans picked for pennies by peasants in the Third World will improve their living conditions. You might notice that the produce you purchase at your local summertime farmer’s market is more expensive (though not much more fresh) than what you buy at the supermarket. Do “heirloom” tomatoes keep well enough to be passed down through multiple generations?
We don’t brew beer anymore; we “handcraft” it. The large-scale mechanization of America’s foremost beer producers such as Anheuser-Busch and Coors are a turnoff for progressive suds connoisseurs, who prefer their handcrafted lagers, porters, and ales to follow traditional recipes, ingredients and fermentation methods based on European antecedents. Hence the local microbrewery revolution of the last two decades, though inebriation is gauche nowadays. For liberals, even enjoying a beer has its politically correct aspects. Likewise, “artisan” distillers, bakers, et al., appeal to upscale niche markets.
As for transportation, elite progressives prefer that the masses take public transportation or drive electric and hybrid cars. Their green-inspired hatred of the internal combustion engine means that they favor those latter noted expensive vehicles unavailable to most consumers. And urban bike lanes are de rigueur. This hearkens back to a period in American life (the first half of the 20th century) when relatively few people owned automobiles and got around using buses, trains, trolley cars, and city subway systems. Before that it was horse-drawn conveyances. It’s amusing how hypocritical billionaires like green icon Tom Steyer and Hollywood airheads like Leonardo DiCaprio lecture us on energy consumption while zipping around the world on their private jets. As for Al Gore, well, give him credit for gaming a movement to get rich.
This loathing of individual mobility is in tandem with the liberal distaste for the very idea of suburban living. Modern progressives favor a return to city life, to places like Brooklyn, New York, abandoned by their parents and grandparents in the post-World War II era because it was crowded, dirty, and crime-ridden. Today Brooklyn is home to great coffee, Whole Foods, and venerated historical sites such as the vacated offices of the 2016 Clinton presidential campaign. While liberals encourage people to embrace city living, they work very hard to make it an expensive and — ironically — unsustainable proposition. Witness the retro- state of the New York City subway system (Mayor de Blasio nostalgically promoting the joys of 1970s public transportation in New York), and the vast homeless tent cities seen in Los Angeles and San Francisco today.
And some of those cities are surrounded by “greenbelts” (think Portland, Oregon). According to Thomas Sowell, who — until his recent retirement — wrote regularly on the sociological excesses of liberalism, these promote much higher home prices in places like Portland and San Francisco due to a dearth of land available to build on thanks to a plethora of federal and local environmental regulations discouraging development and encouraging property value inflation and higher rents. Sowell wondered why an upper middle class home in suburban California costs much more than a comparable one in, say, Texas. (“Advocates of “affordable housing” seldom — if ever — seek to remove government restrictions that have led to higher housing prices”). Much of this is thanks to the California Coastal Commission, a bureaucratic entity that is partly responsible for the economic and social decline of the Golden State in the last decades. The Bay Area — with Silicon Valley elites living in high tech luxury and at close quarters with thousands of homeless people — is a microcosm of California’s economic dilemma.
When homes are constructed they should be green, of course, not the color but the modern environmental pose. Solar panels are de rigueur. The small-is-better-tiny house movement popular in the Pacific Northwest (it was even satirized on “Portlandia”) is a good example of progressive nostalgia. There is an annual tiny home festival in Colorado featuring renovated boxcars, shipping containers, and one hundred square feet cottages and cabins. That’s the progressive housing model for the future. Though it actually might solve the problem of 35% of millennials continuing to camp out in Mom and Dad’s basement, thanks to crushing student loan debt and leftover Obama-era economic policies. Just install a tiny house in the backyard for an economical extension of adolescence.
The silly antics of the cultural Left will still be with us in more hysterical forms, but marginalized at the same time, as they are more and more disconnected from the actual reality of American life. Half the country will always be amused by the spectacle but otherwise uninterested in insistent sanctimonious rhetoric. The other half will continue to promote its utopian fantasies, as it strives to push us forward into the past to live in the progressive Museum of Quaint.
Bill Croke is a writer in Salmon, Idaho.