At least for my entire lifetime, there has been a tension to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The general sense in the ’90s that it leaned a little left transitioned in the ’00s to a period during which libertarian or even conservative supporters of the group could say things like, “But they’re still good on [this] and [that].” Now, aided by the wave of available donations for anti-Trump activism, the organization has made a decision, as Scott Greenfield suggests:
This is no civil liberties program, prepared to stand up for constitutional rights no matter whose are at risk. This is a progressive political group, riding the legacy coattails of a group that may still be called the ACLU but has made the active decision to change its mission from the defense of civil liberties for all to promoting a distinct political ideology for its adherents. And it’s gotten fat and rich as a result. …
There are still state organizations, old-time members and staff, who have a certain lust for constitutional rights. When they can support them, stand up for them, without offending their groundlings and piggy banks, they will likely do so. But they will not defend the Constitution if it conflicts with the popular whims of progressive change.
Glenn Reynolds adds that the Trump Era is something of a “Great Revealing, where once-revered institutions turn out to be cheap, partisan shams.” That may be a little harsh, if only because even shams have to do enough to keep people believing the hype if they want to be perpetual players. What appears to be happening with the ACLU is that the rewards of letting its freak flag fly have swept away that long-term view and allowed the progressive organization to more overtly be itself.
There is still a need for organizations that promise to defend civil liberties across the board, so perhaps we’ll see right-leaning organizations take up some of the more-leftish causes in order to gain the market of the center. Meanwhile, the ACLU will be just another far-left activist group, and someday, the tide of the Pubescence will recede, and the various flavors of activism will have to compete with each other for dwindling funds.