by Joseph Backholm
March 18, 2022
Emergency situations often have the effect of rearranging our priorities. When horrible things happen—even if they happen in faraway places and don’t personally affect us—they can remind us of what is most important. Weeks into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, however, it does not appear that the Left is spending much time engaging in self-reflection.
Modern progressivism is built on the belief that psychological safety is a fundamental right. As a result, it has sought to leverage the power of the government to protect people from ideas, people, or situations that would make them unhappy or uncomfortable. This is why, in the minds of many progressives, the possibility of people being called the “wrong” pronouns, for example, merits government intervention in the form of restrictive speech codes.
Ironically, the result of these ideological commitments is that the most prosperous, comfortable, and privileged people in human history are also some of the most ungrateful. One might think a war outbreak would provide some helpful—if not sobering—perspective. Families being torn apart could even make us grateful for our lesser problems, and images of real violence might motivate us to permanently abandon the silly suggestion that peaceful speech that expresses an unwanted or unpopular opinion is violence.
Sadly, this does not appear to be the case.
Only hours after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the head of British Intelligence took to Twitter to say, “With the tragedy and destruction unfolding so distressingly in Ukraine, we should remember the values and hard won freedoms that distinguish us from Putin, none more than LGBT+ rights.” It seems strange to be thinking about progressive gender ideology hours after a war breaks out. But evidently, virtue signaling was at the top of the to-do list for Britain’s top spy. Perhaps he was concerned the visibility of real victims might diminish the victim status of others?
That’s exactly what should happen.
A few days later, President Biden used the State of the Union to make sure people knew he had not forgotten the importance of identity politics. He lamented the “onslaught” of “anti-transgender” laws, referring to legislation in many states that would prevent the chemical and surgical castration of children who experience gender dysphoria.
Two days later, Vice President Kamala Harris likewise took a moment to show her support for the Equality Act, tweeting, “Let’s send the Equality Act to President Biden’s desk. We must increase protections for LGBTQ+ Americans across the country. The onslaught of state bills targeting transgender Americans and their families is wrong.” The Equality Act would, among other things, make sure men are allowed to participate in programs and opportunities previously reserved for women; anyone who dissents from these policies would be ineligible for government contracts or education funding.
About the same time, CBS News ran a story expressing sadness that “Transgender acceptance in Ukraine is not widespread” and shared the concerns that a Ukrainian man who identifies as a woman would not be able to leave the country because men are being asked to stay and fight. For progressives in the media and those serving in Western governments, the point is clear: They will not let a war distract them from what they deem to be more important matters.
Still, the sexual revolution is not the only cause the war in Ukraine threatens to distract from. Their environmental agenda remain top of mind as well.
John Kerry, the former senator and secretary of state who currently serves as President Biden’s Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, expressed his hopes that Russia, despite their invasion of Ukraine, would “stay on track” with their commitments to combating climate change. Likewise, The Atlantic ran an article lamenting the environmental damage that would result from a nuclear war.
These priorities are not merely academic. In fact, concerns over environmental impact appear to be driving the Biden administration’s reluctance to stop purchasing Russian energy. Officials don’t want to increase domestic production now for the same reasons they reduced domestic production in the first place. They believe reducing emissions is worth the cost, even if it is a human cost. As a result, they would rather send money to Russia during their invasion of Ukraine than abandon their emissions goals.
This tells us a lot about their worldview. Progressives aren’t going to let a war disrupt their efforts to help men pretend that they are women because they see the issues as similarly important. Likewise, they aren’t going to stop sending Russia money if it means increasing energy production because they see reducing carbon as a way of saving a life.
The universal condemnation of the Russian invasion shows us that there is still some moral common ground in the United States, but the Left’s continued prioritization of their policy agenda, even in the midst of a war, is revealing. If war does not inspire self-reflection, nothing will.