Defining terms is a nice thing to do when utilizing labels as shorthand for points of view, philosophies, ideologies, and the ways and means of getting things done.
The term "progressive" has been bandied about kind of willy-nilly -- and more and more incoherently -- on the internet as both a term of endearment as a denunciation as well as a means of identifying like-minded travelers on the pathways of life. It's used as a dreaded "tribal" marker.
Years ago, I started a series of essays on the Progressive Movement fully intending to get from its origin in the Republican Party to its present day locus largely within the Democratic Party as an answer to a former brand of Republican Conservatism, but I had to stop about midway because I really couldn't get from there to here. What passes for "progressive" today doesn't have much to do with any political philosophy or ideology, nor is it an operating system for government, nor does it have much to do with progress in a general or abstract sense.
Progressives and Progressivism are still around, of course, but many of those who claim to be "progressive" on the internet either know nothing about what Progressivism is or has been in this country, or they don't care, because they are now declaring themselves to be the "progressives" and whatever their particular desire might be is what "progressive" is.
Most of these people, as I've said many times, are some variety of Libertarian, which is not even remotely a Progressive political philosophy. Libertarians who try to mask their political interest and point of view by claiming rights to some other philosophy or point of view, such as those who claim to be liberals or progressives are what I call "faux-gressives."
False "progressives", in other words. They are trying to con liberals and progressives into buying their Libertarian snake-oil, and when they are exposed -- as they often are -- they screech and scream like naughty children who have been caught pulling the wings off flies.
But now I'm seeing the term "fauxgressive" used to describe any Democrat (who claims to be "progressive") who disagrees with the White House. Thus, in a form of ju-jitsu, the White House is trying to re-claim "progressive" for itself and its policies and deny it to all the others who claim to be "progressive," even the genuine ones.
In my view, the Democratic Party has long been the Conservative Party in the United States, not a Progressive Party or a Liberal Party. It is Conservative because it is primarily concerned with maintaining the status quo and with stability. The Republican Party is both Rightist and Radical, primarily concerned with forcing a very reluctant nation into a kind of twisted up modern version of a highly predatory past of depredation, exploitation, imperialism, and constant war -- in other words, instability and overthrow of the status quo -- whatever it may be, it doesn't matter, because the Republican Party has become akin to an Institutional Revolutionary Party constantly seeking to overthrow or overturn just about anything the Institutional Stability Party values.
Internet "progressives" find themselves left out of this uber-contest that goes on constantly way above us. With the White House claiming the "progressive" mantle, thus in effect denying it to others, the term seems to have little meaning at all.
A case could be made, I suppose, that the White House and its operatives and fans are re-claiming more of the original meaning of Progressive, which was a highly process oriented yet authoritarian way of doing things. It was highly organized and directed, too, and I don't see that from the White House at all. They seem to have no real direction of their own. They appear to be the pawns of other interests... the dreaded corporate sector.
Who are the Real Progressives? From my point of view, they are mostly the government drones and institutional operatives who do the real scut work to keep the system going at all. There are seemingly fewer and fewer of them all the time, inside the belly of the beast, if you will. They have largely been replaced by... well, con artists, whose primary belief system is based on falsifying facts to market fraud. They are everywhere in government, its bureaucracy and in institutions today, and they are simply overwhelming remaining Progressives inside the system.
Real Progressivism is a way of doing things, an approach, intended to yield positive material and social results -- ie: "progress", which over time is supposed to improve the lives of everyone. It is a way that relies on extensive regulation and control with an almost Puritan rejection of uncontrolled impulse. It is a way that relies heavily on the advice and often the rule of experts, on research, and on experiment.
It was at one time imperialist and racist to the core. (And that's part of how it has become conflated in the minds of some Rightists with Fascism and Nazi-ism.)
Eugenics and Social Darwinism were at one time accepted "Progressive" scientific points of view.
That's the Progressivism I grew up with and my parents came of age believing in. It was not necessarily socially "pretty," but it was a highly successful means of material progress for the many. It's hard to overestimate the material progress made during the 20th Century under Progressive leadership and ideals. But at the same time, there was a tremendous amount of destruction at home and abroad, some of which was corrected (such as through the agencies of soil conservation and pollution controls) and some of which ended in cataclysm (WWI. WWII. The various other wars of the era, etc.)
Those outside the White House who claim the Progressive mantle today seem to want specific items on a fairly extensive menu of Things That Ought To Be, but in many cases their desires and their heroes look kind of whack from a distance. WikiLeaks style doc dumps and Bradley Manning style security breeches do not a stable governmental operation make. Someone like Russ Feingold, who speechifies real pretty but doesn't actually do anything for better or worse hardly seems like the kind of hero to follow. Ron Paul should not even be remotely considered in a Progressive pantheon. Please.
Real Progressivism is neither "left" nor "right" on the political measuring rod. It was at one time considered strictly non-partisan though its advocacy started within the Republican Party and only shifted over to the Democratic Party during the FDR period (and many old line Progressives stayed with the Republicans up to the era of Reagan.)
I tend to be far more "leftist" in my point of view than most Progressives these days, or historically for that matter. So it is with many who claim a "progressive" tribal affiliation, but many more who do so have no "leftist" sentiment or cred at all. To confuse actual Progressivism with "Leftism" is a fundamental category fault in my view. Progressivism is an operating system, a way of doing things, not a political ideology.
But as the political sector deteriorates and reconceives itself to serve the New American Imperial State, concepts of "left" and "right" have almost as little relevance as accurate descriptions and definitions. Post-modernism rules.
It is what you think it is.
Some recent uses of "fauxgressive:" [Courtesy of Teh Google Machine]
And so on...