The Progressive "Togetherness" Cult

The Progressive "Togetherness" Cult

By Heather Wilhelm - July 3, 2014

“Government,” former Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank once said, “is simply the name we give for the things we choose to do together.”

Depending on your point of view, the word “choose” might sound just a bit off, a little dicey, or even borderline hilarious. Various layers of taxes, along with the often-dubious enterprises that they fund, obviously aren’t voluntary. One can’t really ignore the good folks at the IRS. For those stuck in sub-par, Zip code-restricted government schools, lack of educational choice might also come to mind. Speed limits, as 99.9 percent of the driving public has learned through that one heart-sinking, timeless one-liner—“Do you know how fast you were going?”—are hardly optional.

“Choice,” of course, is a politically loaded word, with a meaning that can veer all over the map, depending on whom you ask. Many of today’s most contentious political debates—on abortion, gun control, or whether someone like 9-year-old Spencer Collins can legally run a “little free library” in his Leawood, Kan., front yard (answer to be determined!)—center on various concepts of “choice.”

More recent news suggests, however, that this could be an obsolete paradigm. The more significant and upcoming political quagmires facing the United States, I would argue, can be traced back to an entirely different, more troublesome word in Barney Frank’s quote. That word is “together.”

Ah, “togetherness.” It sounds really nice, at least to most people—and voluntary togetherness, which pops up in the form of civic groups, charitable causes, churches, social circles, festivals, and more, is a beautiful thing. But what about an endless, walls-closing-in, mandatory corporate “retreat” or a mind-numbing, teacher-assigned middle school “group project” where you ultimately end up doing all the work? This is forced “togetherness,” which can turn groups of otherwise pleasant people into either sulky teenagers or festering hives of raging bees. One sharp poke with a stick and you better be ready to run. (Forced “togetherness,” it should also be noted, is also a key feature of, well, jail.)

This week’s contentious Hobby Lobby ruling offers a clear case in point. After months of nail biting by partisans on both sides of the aisle, the Supreme Court ruled, 5-4, that the craft store company cannot be forced to pay for drugs it considers morally objectionable—namely, “birth control” drugs that may technically cause abortions. Even though Hobby Lobby already covers a large variety of alternate birth control options for its employees, the decision inspired fury, disbelief, and near-apocalyptic levels of dismay in progressive circles across the country.

Why is this even a question for the Supreme Court to decide, let alone an inflammatory, nationally divisive issue? Why should some 300 million Americans care how a private company runs its business—and why are certain people convinced that a craft store’s contraception coverage policy will ruin their lives by forcing them to bear 12 consecutive children? The answer comes from our nation’s most recent exercise in forced togetherness, the Affordable Care Act. Obamacare, when you think about it, could be the ultimate nightmare version of your worst middle school group project, complete with free riders, out-of-whack-incentives, foggy transparency, and distorted reward structures.

America is a fantastic place. It is wide, diverse, and one of the most tolerant nations on earth. Unless you’re, say, a serial killer, most Americans are just fine with letting you be you. Want to be a cross-dressing pirate and live on a houseboat with your parrot and pot-bellied pig? Great! Want to start an off-the-grid, clothing-optional Wiccan retreat? Fantastic. Want to get married and have kids and live in the most normal, boring house you can find? OK! Want to breed a bunch of organically fed chickens, roosters and goats on your quarter-acre “urban farm”? I really, really, hope you’re not my neighbor—but good for you!

Diversity is great, but it doesn’t work without freedom. This includes the freedom to disagree, part ways, and do your own thing. Taken to its logical conclusion, the new progressive insistence on government-backed “togetherness” is like trying to make each and every American craft an elaborate, five-course dinner while chained to a squirming, razor-toothed, mythical Greek Hydra, each head loudly insisting you cook according to its “identity”—or else. The result is not going to be pretty, and no one is going to be happy.

National discord, misplaced panic, and slow, simmering resentment: These, unfortunately, are the fruits of forced “togetherness.” Ironically, many progressives saw the Hobby Lobby debacle as a call for more government command and control, not less. Employers shouldn’t be in charge of health care, they argued—the government should! The progressive assumption, of course, is that the government will always be on the “right” side.

The more elegant solution, of course, would involve putting free people—not the government or employers—back in charge. Strong, diverse civil societies aren’t built by restrictive government mandates or one-size-fits-all policies. Modern progressives, interestingly, tend to love anything local, organic, or naturally grown, especially if it involves farms or food. What they miss, of course, is that the government is the ultimate factory farm. 

Heather Wilhelm is a writer based in Austin,Texas. Her work can be found at and her Twitter handle is @heatherwilhelm.

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