Progressives Wake Up: It’s Time to Put Centrism to Rest

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Progressives Wake Up: It’s Time to Put Centrism to Rest

Argument for a new bold vision of progress

(Photo: Kevin Ambrose/WaPo)

The prospects of a Trump presidency appear more deplorable by the day. In the first week of presumptive reign he has installed a confirmed white nationalist as head of his transition team and threatened to register all Muslims. The "quiet man" behind his gilded electoral victory – Mike Pence – is the disquieting personification of the mainstreaming of Conservative extremism.

These rapid developments—outpacing in their speed even the most fretful Liberal fears—are even more galling in light of Clinton’s growing popular victory. Racism may have won the election but lost nationally by upwards of 2million votes.

"This is not the time to curl up—we must wake up."

In her first public appearance since giving her concession speech, Clinton admitted that she was tempted to "curl up with a good book and never leave the house again."  While this is an understandable sentiment for a candidate who just suffered a historic defeat, it also reflects just how tired her brand of Centrist politics has become. It is time for progressives to wake up from its false dreams of "moderate" progress.

Putting Centrist Dreams to Rest

In the wake of Trump’s shocking triumph and now almost total Republican control of the government, Democrats and those on the reinvigorated American Left are doing much needed soul searching. The party as a whole must temper their well earned laments with stark acceptance of how utterly out of touch and outdated their policies and values are. The attempt to appeal to a "moderate center ground" is politically delusional and substantively misguided.

In her recent speech Clinton urged her supporters to keep fighting, proclaiming

"The divisions laid bare by this election run deep, but please listen to me when I say this. America is worth it. Our children are worth it. Believe in our country, fight for our values and never, ever give up."

Beneath her high minded rhetoric though, lies a less savoury reality. Clinton and her ilk represented not just a bulwark against the worst aspects of American Rightwing reaction. She also promoted in her "private" dealings not fit for public consumption a strong penchant for militarism abroad and oligarchy closer to home.

Amidst the justified anger and despair at Clinton’s loss, there is an old lurking temptation for progressives to re-embrace her moribund call for Centrist reforms. This is especially so in light of the growing violence being inflicted upon minorities and the country’s historically disenfranchised. The prospect of a more tolerant and slightly less oppressive free market is appealing in the face of these very real threats. Yet it was precisely such dreaming that have led us to our current waking nightmare.

Waking up Progressives

The ascension of Trump to power has brought thousands of people onto the street as they rail against his explicit and implicit support for hate. There is a renewed sense of urgency for protesting against intolerance in the name of promoting progressive values. Such passion is undoubtedly welcomed and required. Trump must not use his victory as a mandate for taking the country even a single step backwards.

Yet it is equally crucial not to repeat the Democratic mistakes of the past in fighting the progressive battles of today. The present situation was in no small part paved by the first Clinton presidency. Responding to the Republican domination throughout the 1980s, he promised a "third way" that would mix market reforms with traditional social justice goals. In practice its commitment to deregulations and neoliberal dogma led to rising inequality, progressive alienation, a financial crisis to come and the disastrous neo-conservatism of Bush.

History is now threatening to repeat itself. Obama was propelled to victory on the demand for "hope and change" but delivered only a slightly better version of more of the same. Trump rose on the back of an unenthusiastic left and a Democratic elite that was deaf to the concerns of Main Street after decades of being firmly in the grip of Wall Street.

There are encouraging signs, however, that this politics of cynicism and half measures is withering away. That the struggle for change goes beyond a less openly prejudice and aggressively intolerant status quo. Trump’s unpredicted conquest has started to finally wake progressives and the radical promise of progressivism.

A New Progressive Morning in America

In his bid to be re-elected in 1984, the Reagan campaign famously proclaimed that it was "morning in America again." In truth his policies ushered in decades of elite rule, deepening social division, untold misery internationally in the name of spreading "freedom." Democrats who followed in his footsteps revealed how easy it was to lose even in victory.

The old-party guard are licking their wounds and attempting to weather the storm. For their own political and financial gain they would plunge the country full speed ahead back into an entrenched partisan "culture war" that emboldens the Racist Right and deadens the Left’s willingness to struggle for actual social transformation. Needed is a new beginning in American politics, that seeks to build solidarity in the fight for common progress rather than a vicious cycle of finger pointing and fearmongering that only profits those on the top.

Already there is a progressive counter-attack underway against this compromising and compromised "center." There is a cry arising to completely "tear it down" with the belief that "every person at the DNC should be fired." In this spirit, Keith Ellison is waging a progressive campaign to run the DNC and Pelosi’s once unassailable leadership in the house is being dramatically challenged.

Still these Party level reforms only go so far. Required is a broader progressive vision of a 21st century democratic socialist society. Specifically one that links these values to the present struggles and aspirations of as many Americans as possible. That the best hope for the future is found in coming together across our racial, class and identity differences to struggle in common against capitalism and for social equality, material freedom and individual liberty.

This is not the time to curl up—we must wake up. The deep dreams of Centrism must finally be put to rest. It is a new morning in America for progressives.

Peter Bloom

Peter Bloom is a lecturer in the Department of People and Organisations at the Open University. He has published widely on issues of 21st century democracy, politics and economics in both scholarly journals and in publications including the Washington Post, The New Statesman, Roar, Open Democracy, The Conversation and Common Dreams. His books include Authoritarian Capitalism in the Age of Globalizationand Beyond Power and Resistance: Politics at the Radical Limits which will be released in November, 2016.

 

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