If we think of a religion as a worldview that holds up an Ultimate Concern (as Paul Tillich called it, if I recall), I believe Progressivism or Liberalism or Leftism, as a huge number of liberals espouse it, is very religious in nature. Dennis Prager, a religious Jew who is politically conservative, thinks that Leftism is the most dynamic religion of the 20th Century. He and other conservative commentators have claimed that the "Trinity" of Leftism is Gender, Race, and Class. I think the politics of victimization is but one important aspect of liberalism as embraced quasi-religiously.
Tentatively, I would say that if there is a sacred "Trinity" of Progressivism/Liberalism it is something more like this: (1) subordinating liberty to security, (2) subordinating liberty to fairness/equality, and (3) subordinating community determination to centralized power. If it does one of these three things, generally progressives will be for it. Downplaying the uniqueness of the U.S. Constitution and associated American exceptionalism to exalt international interests? (What does China think? What does France think? What does Pakistan think?) Think of Obama's involvement in Libya, not with the approval of our elected representatives (which is what our Constitution calls for), but with the approval of the nations (well, the nations with power, anyway.) State decisions over community control ; federal decisions over state control; national interests subjected to international interests. The most sensitive decisions in the U.S. in the hands of nine unelected scholars, many of whom take a very broad view of the scope of their powers.
Centralizing, concentrating ultimate authority into the hands of the remote and few is the key to fairness and security; perhaps for some, security and fairness are mere cynical rationales for centralizing ultimate authority. Oligarchy.
The politics of victimization has, since the Republican party made Civil Rights win the day, become (a la LBJ) the Democratic Party's lever for increased national control. Increased powers for redistribution and a justifiable cause for federal troops appearing in the streets of a state without any national emergency. A fascist's, er... central planner's dream! LBJ also channeled FDR (and his Second Bill of Rights) into his Great Society, which allowed the federal government to use the contributions to your Social Security "fund" as a discretionary piggy bank for today's recipients (ah, the power to buy votes!).
The reason that global climate change (the scientific doomsday prediction formerly known as global warming) is of such great interest to progressives is that the more dire the predictions, the more leverage for subordinating smaller authorities to larger, national interests to alleged international interests. Population control (abortion and eugenics are historically both progressive darlings), environmental resources, food genetics, nuclear dangers (both missiles and reactors), etc. All things related to interests that will be neatly "solved" by having a world authority regulating our affairs. (This is enlightened; just watch Star Trek, or listen to John Lenin.. er, Lennon's "Imagine.")
Making our awesome space program (a symbol of American exceptionalism) into a program for Muslims to feel proud of their contributions to science is an example of deflating national importance to spread the "wealth" of accomplishment around. Fairness. What makes you so special, Britain, that we should talk to your ambassadors? You're just one of 200 nations. What makes you so special, Israel, that we stop what we're doing to talk to you? You're just one of our important allies in your region of the world. What makes you so special, successful entrepreneur? Your success is the result of either accident or cheating; you sure didn't get there by being especially smart or hardworking.
Progressivism is primarily interested in issues that can be used to centralize power. Bullying has been going on in schools for years and has afflicted all kinds of kids. You stick out in any way, and some kid might want to destroy your sense of self-worth. But liberals are very interested in those kids in particular that are picked on specifically because they are homosexuals (or perceived to be), the picked on kids that commit suicide specifically for a certain reason, because that emboldens the government to intervene in local affairs and provides liberals the comfort of using centralized government power to change society for the better, regardless of the consent of the governed.
Rather than campaign at a strictly municipal or state level, liberals opt for a nationalized program that can take a national economy hostage and dip into a bottomless debt reservoir if it proves financially unsound. If Romneycare is essentially the same as Obamacare, then why not encourage the states to implement something similar, if the popular support is there? Because that entrusts something to the People that is much too precious; it must be rather be put in the hands of the Central Planners.
One of the early causes of Progressivism was eugenics. Genetic health (as understood in the Darwinistic framework that influenced the academic generation of Woodrow Wilson) was a problem requiring governmental intervention. Government decides who is fit to breed. The roots of Planned Parenthood were in a movement to keep black people and other "inferior" minorities from outbreeding white people (and MLK's niece Alveda King considers abortion to still have racist implications).
John Dewey, the "father" of modern education ("free" government-run education?), promoted the idea of children being trained to be global citizens. He said, "You can't make socialists out of individualists. Children who know how to think for themselves spoil the harmony of the collective society, which is coming, where everyone is interdependent." A global, fair society is too precious a thing to leave in the hands of parents. The Central Planners will decide what point of view children should have, thank you very much.
Emancipation and protecting children from their parents are also up-and-coming problems: Getting girls the right to have abortions without their parents knowing. Allowing new adults to choose educations (with their subjects of study) without being tied to their parents' purse strings (it's all "free"!). Protecting children from the narrowness of their parents' religious beliefs, their heterosexism, their irrational bias against transgenderism, their misplaced priority on abstinence, their primitive skepticism of the grand metaphysical claims of biologists, their Taliban-like policies on whether their underage daughters get abortions, etc.-- these are things that requires the intervention of liberally educated policy-makers.
Because of the specious claim of the Democratic Party on Civil Rights, Republicans are loathe to challenge the nationalizing, intrusive roots of their own party, a party whose two major planks at Lincoln's inauguration were imposing a federal anti-slavery agenda on the states (challenging the 10th article of the Bill of Rights) and imposing a federal marriage agenda on the states (mostly with economic and political sanctions on the LDS church for control of the Utah Territory). Their national railroad ambition also reflect the nationalizing aspect of the National Republican party (as opposed to the Democratic-Republican party that was committed to Jefferson's Anti-Federalism). Around the social tumult of the 1960s, the Democrat party realigned itself fully away from the 10th Amendment and channeled the old paternal racism of the Progressive movement into victimization politics. (Remember: The Tenth Amendment is Republican code for slavery -- "He's gonna put y'all back in chains!!!")
"Those rights are too precious and too fragile to be left up to the whim of states and the tearing winds of modern partisan politics." -- NY Times Op Ed
Why climate change? (Or global warming, as it was called before the weather got so unpredictable that they couldn't tell it was cooling, warming, or causing extreme weather the likes of which we've seen this century.) I've heard it argued that it doesn't matter whether there is sufficient proof (or how often the predictions have been wrong)--we are hurting the environment and that is bad. Honestly, I think conservatives would respond better to the "fouling the nest" argument. However, that argument gets you to state solutions only. A planetary crisis... well, that gets you nationalization, centralization, and world-wide regulation by a world-wide authority. It's a Progressive's dream. The danger of it, from a conservative point of view, is in the enormous power that impending doom offers to people who love and worship power, and the enormous prestige that scientists take on by being involve in something so momentous. You know that politics is especially attractive to people who love power, and that it tends to bring out the worst in people that take positions of power with good intentions. But saving the planet sounds and feels so wonderful... and as with most Progressive preoccupations, it evokes a sense of superiority over the terrible do-nothings that want to destroy the planet.
Environmentalism sounds almost... conservative. Conservation. I think most people, even most right-leaning citizens, are open to conservation of resources and believe in "not fouling the nest" so to speak. Many, including left-leaning citizens, haven't thought of the importance of biodiversity. (It's unclear that biodiversity is much more than a shibboleth for environmentalists, since an understanding of its importance, I would think, make for a much more nuanced understanding of the role of corporations and venture capitalists in a flexible economy.) But I believe much of the less rational reactions to environmentalism are due to the uncritical acceptance of its claims and the complete lack of real dialogue on the matter. Don't question whether the experts have a stake in upholding grand claims; just drink the Kool-Aid and shut up. Every instance of extreme weather is now being blamed on global warming/cooling/climate change, without an expert coming on the air and putting it into perspective.
On the other hand, we have much more reason to think that biomes can adapt to changing environmental conditions than we have reason to think that one can radically change age-old human cultural adaptations and not have a situation that spins out of control. The massive rise in unwed pregnancies, rapes, serial killings, crazed killing sprees, rampages in schools, suicides, etc. since the mid-20th century should tell us (and many take it to heart) that progressive "enhancements" of our culture have destabilized our society in a fundamental way. We've been fundamentally transformed.
However, conserving nature at any cost to human economy and transforming human society at any cost to social stability both involve ... intrusion and imposition of centralized government into local affairs. And as the Waco incident demonstrated, the government is all for putting any infidels in their place (this was for gun control reasons, another Progressive favorite) even if it means incinerating a bunch of children. No one, absolutely no one, tells the federal government it's none of their business. Everything is their business, since this government is "the one thing we all belong to," and if you believe the rhetoric, is responsible for creating all our jobs.
(In progress...Updated 11/16/2012)