Moderates drag the country rightward, yet it’s foolish for Progressives to sit out this November and welcome another four years of Trump. What solutions exist when the electoral and legislative systems are unresponsive?
Watching the news unfold means following specific events. Each story, each day is like a pixel, providing color and detail, but not the whole picture. That’s only available through longer term observation, reflection, and fitting puzzle pieces together as history plays out over time. For example, watching political trends over decades, it’s much easier to see the rightward drift in American politics, and how moderates put us on this unfortunate path.
The strange bedfellows that pass for the American Left would not be lumped together in a single party in any country with a truly diverse political spectrum. On one hand, we have the Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wing. That they are perceived as wild-eyed radical socialists, despite being moderates or even center-right politicians on a international scale, tells you how far rightward the United States is skewed. (Really. Ignore the Republican “Socialist!” hyperbole and consider how close the Green New Deal is to, say, the bottom-up culture of the Zapatistas. Hilarity will ensue.) Then, there are the mainstream Democrats, like Joe Biden. Due to an inherent yet mistaken sense of balance, Democrats are widely perceived as being the left-wing alternative to the GOP’s right-wing, but that notion is highly flawed. More about that later.
There are a great many voters who don’t see any good choices on the 2020 Presidential ballot. Perhaps they prefer a candidate like Bernie Sanders, but the DNC would never seriously allow a takeover of their party by such riffraff. However, there is still virtue in voting against a worst-case scenario, which is why some Berniecrats (and even some Republicans) are considering signing off, however reluctantly, on Joe “lesser evil” Biden. Voting is about the second most minimal political action one can take, though, after slapping a sticker on your car, and real change takes so much more. A potential President Biden should be held accountable, pressured to nominate progressives to fill Cabinet and other appointed positions. Lesser-evil voters should also work on raising candidates they like better up through the ranks, beginning locally, so that they have a deeper, broader pool to draw from in future elections.
Unfortunately, doing so also sets us up for unpleasantness. These efforts look like existential threats to the conservative base, and will be marketed as such by their favorite pundits. Progressive actions lead to angry reactions by frightened and alienated conservatives who feel pushed into a corner. This fed the militia movement during the Clinton administration. This (and corporate money, of course) spawned the Tea Party. It carried Trump to Washington. If the Right doesn’t feel empowered and represented, it seems likely to spark Civil War v2.0, and remember, “representation” often means controlling all seven mountains (whether they call them that or not).
This is where the moderates come in. Despite framing themselves as centrist compromisers, moderates do the work of the right. Consider healthcare. For years, liberals pushed for universal, collectively funded health care. (It’s not the leftist community-based care of the Zapatistas, but it’s on par with the rest of the industrialized world.) The Republican alternative, at least since Nixon, has been to guarantee affordable health coverage through the private insurance market, with the conservative Heritage Foundation conceiving the “individual mandate” in 1989. Mitt Romney (R-UT) adopted this plan as Governor of Massachusetts.
As a centrist, President Obama did more than compromise to pass healthcare reform, he copied the Republican plan almost completely, even abandoning a public option. He then become the benchmark for what the Right considers wild-eyed “socialism,” and new moderates, like Joe Biden, step in to compromise further, suggesting reforms that drag healthcare policy still rightward, while the Republicans conspire to kill off what used to be their signature health care plan.
When this happens across multiple issues, over time, moderates don’t merely yank American politics to the right, they give cover for the GOP to veer even more ridiculously rightward. Citizens skew further leftward than the government (regardless if Team Red or Team Blue is in power). Lawmakers lose touch with the majority of Americans. When neither the electoral nor the legislative processes respond to the public will, pressuring politicians to enact the changes you want becomes impossible.
Once, rising prosperity might have assured Americans that they would have enough without fearing that minorities and immigrants would take their money and jobs. We no longer live in a world so flush with resources. As the capitalist economy ratchets downward, the supply of human sacrifices dwindles. Peaceful protest is ignored, cities burn, property is destroyed, law enforcement cracks down, and people die. There does not appear to be a path out of this cycle. The future looks increasingly fascist. I’m open to ideas to get us out of this particular handbasket, but they are not obvious at this time.
Related: Socialism. You Keep Using That Word…