Contemporary liberals fondly recall their progressive forebears from a century past, who railed against trusts and fought for social justice. Certainly, their forebears did much to make them proud; after all, who now could argue against measures that purified the water, ended child labor, compensated workers who suffered disabling accidents, and launched political reforms such as the initiative, recall, referendum, and party primary? And no doubt, Upton Sinclair’s maggot-gagging account of the meat-packing industry with the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act is widely hailed by progressives as one of the greatest triumphs of their era.
Those were heady days, inspiring rosy-cheeked blushes of pride on the faces of every true progressive, as he or she contemplates those decades that saw the passage of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. And there was President Woodrow Wilson’s contemptuous disregard for minorities, the chorus of bellicose cheering for American imperialism, and the passage of censorship laws during the war years, and ….
“Stop the presses!” a progressive might say. After that anti-trust thingy, the pride stops there. What’s this business about progressive racism? And taking such a superior attitude of one’s own country, that—gasp!—even imperialist adventures abroad were lauded? Further, did progressives suppress free speech? No way! Actually, “yes, way”—on all three of these shameful scars in the American experience.