Progressivism is, at bottom, a philosophy of history, a faith in the providential unfolding of morality and human flourishing in the world. In the past, things were worse. In the present, they are better. In the future, they will be better still. The victory of a more moderate Republican after eight years of Barack Obama would have generated anger at the prospect of progress stalling for a time. But an overtly sexist and racist white man prevailing against a woman and then acting immediately to advance the policy priorities of the conservative evangelical faction that helped to make his victory possible? That isn’t supposed to happen. It smacks not of a pause in the historical advance of morality but of its outright reversal.
For someone reared on providential thinking, it can be exceedingly hard to break the habit of thinking in terms of historical inevitability — even when faith in one’s own side prevailing gets shaken by events that seem to falsify it. In such cases, the contrary evidence becomes the occasion for entertaining a narrative of anti-progress or decline in which the forces of darkness gain ground over time, eventually banishing the moral light altogether.