After months of predicting a landslide, the Democrats at best appear to have barely won a contested presidency, lost seats in the House and failed to decisively take back the Senate. Even if Trump loses, his brand of Far Right populist politics has won. November 3rd was a rebuke to the idea that a vast swath of US citizens would fundamentally reject white nationalism or the spread of authoritarianism at home.
Before the final vote tally has been counted “moderate” Democrats are already looking for someone to blame. Not surprisingly, their target is Leftists whose movements and demands for such “radical” things as ending racist police brutality or addressing climate change, they claim are making them close to unelectable. The fact that the evidence shows the precise opposite means little to them. In a moment of profound electoral disappointment, the status quo continues to hold true to their faith in old and fundamentally conservative political beliefs.
Such Centrist push back against social movements and voters that departed too far from their middle class and rich comfort zones are more dangerous than ever. Five years ago, it could be credibly thought, that they simply held down a growing nationwide desire for genuine change. Now though it is precisely the type of backward and uninformed thinking that will continue to bolster Trump and the growth of modern fascism.
The Center Reacts!
The established and conventional line about Centrism and Centrist is that they are committed to incremental change. A movement that gained prominence in the 1990s as a vehicle to win elections against an established Conservative majority, has evolved into an entire worldview of its own. Like all ideologies, what this belief system is varies depending on the context and what is required of it in a given historical moment. However, it rests on two abiding bedrock principles above all others – that “moderate” market-based policies actually work and that any attempt to stray from them to the Left will invariably lose.
Ironically, this Centrist ideology has its roots in fighting off a Conservative Reaction to Liberal principles gaining traction from the 1950s onward. The rise of Reagan was a direct response to progressive social movements and cultural changes combined with increased pessimism regarding the ability of once accepted Liberal orthodoxy to provide for basic economic wellbeing. A decade later, Clinton won and continued to win politically by presenting a softer and kinder version of this neoliberal pro-market orthodoxy against seemingly “out of touch” Republic zealots.
The crimes and misdemeanors of this morally compromised “winning” strategy were multiple. It was an embrace and a willingness to take even further mass incarceration of minorities, the War on Drugs, US militarism with bloated defense budgets, and a refusal to even consider the merits of any ideas that had the stench of being “too left-wing”. When Clinton declared that “The era of big government is over”, he was proclaiming the defeat of progressive change for a generation, if not permanently.
This position of triumphant surrender has crystallized into a dangerous force of reaction. Two decades ago, there may have been credible arguments that such Centrism was the only bulwark the nation had against a full-scale hyper-capitalist and retrogressive Republican majority. Fast forward to the present, and the exact opposite is true. They are now the very thing helping to keep the Far Right, ironically, alive and well.
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As the election approached, the Democrats were expecting a landslide. Trump was the most unpopular sitting President in history and the country was experiencing a major epidemic linked to a near economic depression. Polls – which were so wrong in 2016 – were music to their ear, predicting a “Blue Wave” where Biden would win in a landslide, the Democrats would take back the Senate, and increase their lead in the House. It was meant to be more than just a Democratic victory, it was being prophesized by Party Leaders and mainstream pundits as a repudiation of the explicit racism and incivility central to “Trumpism” generally.
When the results did begin pouring in though, a different reality quickly emerged. While Biden was making up serious ground and flipping states, charting out a near-certain path to victory, Democrats overall were the ones who were being rejected. They lost seats in the House and will most likely not take back the Senate. Their brand of faux – respectability appeared less popular and “safe” politically as ever.
Still, rather than reflect on this near-disastrous night, Centrist Democrats went immediately on the attack. It was leaked that Virginia congress person Abigail Spanberger threw the first grenade against progressives, declaring on a conference call with the Democratic Caucus that “Defund the Police” and the painting her as “far-left” by Republicans almost caused her defeat. This has led to a tidal wave of Centrist recriminations against progressives, as Nancy Pelosi has is already claiming that in the Georgia runoff the Democrats cannot risk running to far to the “left” if they want to take back the Senate. Yet the evidence is showing that the real risk is running to back to the “Centre”.
The Rise of the "Safe Left."
The facts clearly and totally contradict claims the left was to blame for Democratic defeats. Progressive policies such as “Medicaid for All” and raising the minimum wage are popular among both self-proclaimed Democrats and Republicans. They also consistently win when put on the ballot as referendums. In this election, progressives were the only candidates from the Centre to the Left who consistently won and the DSA claimed victory for 26 out of the 30 races they ran in. Further, it was high profile Centrists such as Amy McGrath in Kentucky and Jamie Harrison in South Carolina who went down to defeat despite massive war chests and DNC support. Meanwhile, progressives held strong across the board, even in swing districts in places like Oregon and California.
Perhaps ironically, it is Georgia that will ultimately deliver Biden the Presidency given that it serves as a playbook for how to actually bring down Trumpism. Rather than seek out the false mirage of “moderate Republican” voters or the fickle allegiance of middle to upper class “suburban” voters, activists on the ground inspired by Stacey Abrams sought to mobilize the real “silent majority” – a diverse cross-section of working-class and poor traditionally non-voters. They also put on the ballot a progressive candidate for Senate, Reverend Raphael Warnock, who offered the opportunity to bring real change if elected. And in one of the few real Left-wing upsets of the night, Georgia looks close to going Blue for the first time in a generation and even possibly bring two new Democratic Senators to Washington.
Over the past decade, as inequality has grown and the system has been revealed as corrupt and rigged for the rich, Centrists have told anyone who would listen that basic reforms such as single-payer healthcare or a reduced Defence budget or defunding the police were politically impossible and mere fantasies policy-wise. Even more worrying, by attacking movements like “defund the police”, they are giving in to the racist politics of Trump and seeking to gain political advantage by blaming non-whites for fighting for their lives and rights.
Centrists have positioned themselves as a “sensible” political oasis that can stave off the forces of Right and Left-wing extremism. In reality, their fear of progress is grounded in their concern that they will lose massive amounts of corporate funding. In the best of times, this would be a callous unwillingness to do any more than lip service to fighting economic, social, and political injustice. In our current era of Far-Right populism, it is a dangerous force aiding and abetting, however inadvertently, the rise of 21st-century fascism in the US and around the world.