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January 6 insurrectionists storm the barricades

Trump supporters clash with police and security forces as people try to storm the US Capitol in Washington D.C on January 6, 2021. (Photo: Joseph PreziosoAFP via Getty Images)

Let's Be Clear: Only the Right Has Become More Extreme Over the Last 50 Years

Like in the early 1970s, the left is still against the war machine, still pushing for civil and voting rights, and still fighting the power of big corporations. But the right has moved far, far rightward.

Robert Reich

 by RobertReich.org

How did we get so politically divided? Well, it's NOT because both sides have gotten more extreme.

I got my start in American politics 50 years ago. My political views then — to grossly simplify them — were that I was against the Vietnam War and the military-industrial complex, strongly supportive of civil and voting rights, and against the power of big corporations. That put me here: just left of the center.

Back then, the political spectrum from left to right was short. The biggest political issue was the Vietnam War. The left was demonstrating against it, sometimes violently. Since I was committed to ending the war through peaceful political means, I volunteered for George McGovern, the anti-war presidential candidate. Even Richard Nixon on the right was starting to look for ways out of Vietnam.

Twenty-five years later, I was in Bill Clinton’s cabinet, and the left-to-right political spectrum stretched much longer. The biggest change was how much further right the right had moved. Ronald Reagan had opened the political floodgates to corporate and Wall Street money — bankrolling right-wing candidates and messages that decried “big government.”

Bill Clinton sought to lead from the “center,” but by then the “center” had moved so far right that Clinton gutted public assistance, enacted “tough on crime” policies that unjustly burdened the poor and people of color, and deregulated Wall Street. All of which put me further to the left of the center—although my political views had barely changed.

Today, the spectrum from left to right is the longest it’s been in my 50 years in and around politics. The left hasn’t moved much at all. We’re still against the war machine, still pushing for civil and voting rights, still fighting the power of big corporations. But the right has moved far, far rightward.

Donald Trump brought America about as close as we’ve ever come to fascism.He incited an attempted coup against the United States. He and most of the Republican Party continue to deny that he lost the 2020 election.And they’re getting ready to suppress votes and disregard election outcomes they disagree with. So don’t believe the fear-mongering that today’s left is “radical.” What’s really radical is the right’s move toward fascism.


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.
Robert Reich

Robert Reich

Robert Reich, is the Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and a senior fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies. He served as secretary of labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time magazine named him one of the 10 most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. His book include:  "Aftershock" (2011), "The Work of Nations" (1992), "Beyond Outrage" (2012) and, "Saving Capitalism" (2016). He is also a founding editor of The American Prospect magazine, former chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and co-creator of the award-winning documentary, "Inequality For All." Reich's newest book is "The Common Good" (2019). He's co-creator of the Netflix original documentary "Saving Capitalism," which is streaming now.

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