By John Wright
The surge in support for Bernie Sanders’ bid for the Democratic nomination for the upcoming US presidential election, in conjunction with Donald Trump’s success on the Republican side, reveals that the center ground in US politics is collapsing.
Currently, in the United States, received truths are being demolished one after the other as more and more people reject the thin gruel offered to them by establishment politicians and candidates. The global economic recession that swept the country in 2008 not only decimated incomes, livelihoods, and savings, it also decimated faith in the status quo. It sparked a willingness to regard hitherto radical ideas and the politicians who advocate them in a fresh light.
The result has been a resurgence of left and right wing ideas – embodied by Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump respectively – at the expense of those who occupy the center ground; for decades the only ground politicians would dare occupy if serious about winning elections.
The march to the center from the left and right of the political spectrum was undertaken in service to consensus at the expense of the clash of ideas. The net result has been political manifestoes and programs for government that have differed only in the name of the party or candidate printed on the cover. On everything from the economy to foreign policy mainstream parties and candidates have for decades stood united, prioritizing the interests of the banks, major corporations and vested interests at home, and US hegemony abroad.
In the Republican primaries, Donald Trump has confounded political pundits and the entire Washington establishment with a campaign in which the billionaire has ripped up political correctness by the roots and thrown it in the garbage can. With each outrageous campaign pledge – e.g. building a giant wall along the border with Mexico to deal with illegal immigration, implementing a moratorium on Muslims entering the country – rather than cause his campaign to lose support, his numbers have increased. It is evidence that when it comes to measuring the temper of the public, it is Trump rather than any of the other more established candidates in the field with his finger on the pulse of conservative America.
On foreign policy, while he is no pacifist, Trump has spoken of his admiration for Russia’s President Putin and his intention of forging a better relationship with Russia if he ends up in the White House. It marks a radical departure from the current administration’s stance, which – rather than a strong potential partner in the struggle against terrorism in the interests of peace and stability – considers Putin and Moscow a threat.
When it comes to the Democratic race for the nomination, Bernie Sanders is giving Hillary Clinton a run for her money that none could ever have predicted when he first announced his intention to run. Not only has the senator from Vermont broken the taboo when it comes to advocating socialist ideas in a country in which the mention of the very word was at one time enough to spark hysteria, at 74 years old he has also delivered a rebuke to the idea that youth is all.
In his debates with Clinton, Sanders has repeatedly raised the former Secretary of State’s close relationship to Wall Street, from where she’s received most of her campaign funds, as he lambasts the role of big money in funding political campaigns. He understands that currently the United States has the best democracy that money can buy: a corrupt political system that refutes the country’s claim to being the land of the free.
Moreover, in pledging to reverse a status quo of wealth distribution from the bottom to the top, responsible for entrenching gross inequality and social and economic injustice, Sanders is educating the American people on the importance of class rather than race, religion, gender or sexual orientation when it comes to understanding the state of the nation. The only divide that matters in society, he has spares no opportunity in pronouncing, is the one that exists between the super-rich and everybody else.
The way things are heading in both the Republican and Democratic Party primaries sets up the tantalizing possibility of a contest for the White House between a flamboyant and outspoken billionaire on one side, and a hitherto anonymous senator and socialist on the other. If so, it would see not only a clash of policy but also a clash of ideology, producing a real choice when it comes to America’s future for the first time in over a generation.
It is not only in the US where the center ground has collapsed. In the UK, Jeremy Corbyn romped home in last year’s Labour leadership contest against all odds and predictions, attracting thousands of new members to the party in the process.
To illustrate just how much of a radical departure Corbyn’s leadership of Labour is, you only have to consider that the same party that was once led by Tony Blair, who slavishly supported the war in Iraq, is now being led by a man who believes that the war was illegal and that Blair should be tried for war crimes. He also has the radical idea that millionaires should pay their fair share of tax.
Also in the UK, Nigel Farage on the far right of the political spectrum has gone from the status of political pariah to voice of reason when it comes to Britain’s continuing membership of the EU. With a referendum on whether to remain in the EU or exit due to take place in the UK sometime in June, support for coming out has grown in the opinion polls to the point where many pundits are predicting that Britain will exit. If so it would constitute a crushing reverse for a European project that has grown evermore undemocratic in the process of hitching its colors to the banks and financial institutions, while pursuing a bellicose foreign policy when it comes to Russia.
Taken together with the rise of the right in France with Marine Le Pen’s National Front enjoying success in recent elections, the electoral success of Syriza in Greece, along with the rise of socialist and left wing parties in Spain and Portugal, we are witnessing the collapse of the center ground as the era of consensual politics draws to a close.
In its place the clash of ideas is resounding as never before.
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About the author:
John Wight has written for newspapers and websites across the world, including the Independent, Morning Star, Huffington Post, Counterpunch, London Progressive Journal, and Foreign Policy Journal. He is also a regular commentator on RT and BBC Radio. He wrote a memoir of the five years he spent in Hollywood, where he worked in the movie industry prior to becoming a full time activist and organizer with the US antiwar movement post-9/11. The book is titled Dreams That Die and is published by Zero Books. John is currently working on a book exploring the role of the West in the Arab Spring. You can follow him on Twitter @JohnWight1