While I do relish a good debate, I’m not a fan of arguing for no good reason. Admittedly, my battle with cancer has made me a little less patient, but I’m simply not a fan of some in the extreme “left” and their myopic view of “liberal” politics AKA the Democratic Party. That “left” opposes many of the liberal ideas and policies that created the EPA, civil rights movement, women’s reproductive rights, public schools, social security and much more. I see more people calling themselves “liberal” while using Trump-like tactics from the “left” to beat back any form of moderation and too often creating liabilities. Take the Russia inspired “Bernie Bros” and their resoundingly bad karma as an example.
I first felt this trend when disenchanted Bernie Sanders supporters refused to support Hillary Clinton… yeah, just like the 89,000 in 3 states that arguably gave the election to Trump. Here are the numbers in black and white in case you’ve forgotten:
Michigan by 10,704 votes (0.2%)
Pennsylvania by 49,543 votes (0.8%)
Wisconsin by 27,257 votes (0.7%)
Needless to say I’m saddened and somewhat bitter about “Demexit” people using Russian troll conspiracy theories and misinformation via social media posts against anyone including Clinton and then voting the way they did, if they voted at all. But now they’re raising their heads in local politics demonizing progressives and liberals.
Our shifting local politics
We’ve all seen it in the attacks on Boise’s progressive former mayor Dave Bieter in the last election cycle, toward a new Boise library, and new vitriol toward progressives and liberals who hold local office. We see it in the left’s support of vindictive GOP legislation at the state level toward Boise. Laws like restricting eminent domain and urban renewal (liberal ideas), and I see them supporting positions of groups like the Koch brothers’ funded Idaho Freedom Foundation when arguing against locally funded community and community/city partnerships and projects.
The latest is their embrace of a GOP city election district bill that supposedly creates more “geographical representation”… of course the preferred liberal option to geographic districts is more and better electoral representation. A subtle distinction lost on right wing ideologues, and apparently, the left. So what’s happening?
In a great 2019 article by Zack Beauchamp, a senior correspondent at Vox, entitled “The anti-liberal movement“, I discovered a key to understanding my uneasiness with “Berners” and the far left of our political spectrum. I am speaking of course about the folks that don’t think our liberal ideals of democracy – the rule of law, individual rights, and equality are powerful enough to overtake the far right ideology and fascist leanings of people like Trump or can be directed at anyone who may have a more all encompassing view of virtually any issue.
In her compact, succinct analysis “Understanding liberals versus the left”, Elizabeth Bruenig opens with a cautionary statement about what she intended to impart. The article, available here via Medium, is “not intended to be a distillation of the total difference between liberalism and leftism: it’s a distillation of what is meant by the terms ‘liberals’ and ‘leftists’ in our particular, post-2016 historical moment here in the USA.”
Is she ever right. So let’s start there. What is the difference? Bruenig suggests these “nuber” leftists (sorry about that) are content splitting hairs with liberals over whether or not liberals are socialists enough, embrace any form of capitalism or not and so on. Pretty sure I’ve hear that before. Check it out…
Recently, she says (as of 2017 when she published the article) there have been a spate of pieces about the post-2016 American left versus American liberals. Per Nikil Saval’s New York Times piece, “For the committed leftist, the ‘‘liberal’’ is a weak-minded, market-friendly centrist, wonky and technocratic and condescending to the working class.” Per Jon Chait’s New York Magazine piece, “ The “neoliberal” accusation is a synecdoche for the American left’s renewed offensive against the center-left and a touchstone in the struggle to define progressivism after Barack Obama.” That essay itself appears to be a protracted response to a Corey Robin post and Jacobin article, in which Robin describes neoliberalism as “…a program to roll back the welfare state and social democracy, to revalorize capital and the capitalist as a moral good, to proclaim the ideological supremacy of the market over the state (the practice is more complicated)….” And so on.
So, how does capitalism fit into a liberal’s idea of policy. It’s simple… taxes on capitalism is how we fund social programs like public schools, social security, Medicare, Medicaid, SNAP, WIC, housing vouchers and so much more. It is the only alternative to the free market ideologues of the right that have hijacked the Republican party who are actively engaged in defunding them.
There is consensus among liberals that many on the left are convinced they must reclaim the label of “populism,” which is too important to concede to demagogues and bigots like the right as defined by Trump and the new GOP. As a result, liberalism itself is under attack from both the left and the right. We see this everywhere. It is happening globally and locally. Political scientist Ronald J. Deibert has noted the use of social media to control, confuse, mislead and divide a public is just as effective in the hands of anyone seeking power in a democracy as it is for established authoritarians. What’s also fascinating to me is the amount of outright gaslighting (PDF link) practiced by both ends of the political spectrum on our citizens.
That’s when the echo chamber becomes dangerous.
Political Typology Reveals Deep Fissures on the Right and Left
So if that headline doesn’t grab you, the wonkiness of the information surely will. Our friends at the Pew Research Center does a great job of dissecting the American body politic. In this analysis available by clicking here, Pew researchers sort Americans into cohesive groups based on their values, attitudes and party affiliation, and provides a unique perspective on the nation’s changing political landscape. If you’d like to see where here do you fit in the political typology, there’s a quiz here!
As my focus is on liberalism and the left, Pew identified two contrasting groups of note – solid liberals and disaffected liberals. While both dislike Trump, relatively few disaffected liberals (what I feel make up the “left”) believe their family has achieved the American Dream, and 24% believe it is out of reach for their family. Most say the government should do more to help the needy and that poor people have hard lives because government benefits do not go far enough to help them live decently. In contrast to other Democratic-oriented groups, a majority (63%) characterizes government as “almost always wasteful and inefficient.”
Solid Liberals are the most Democratic of all typology groups: nearly two-thirds (64%) identify as Democrats, another 35% lean toward the Democratic Party. Basically 99%. This is in contrast to the disaffected liberals who say voting gives people like them only some say about how the government runs things, the lowest percentage of any typology group – liberal or conservative.
There have been seismic changes in the nation and politics over the past three decades – and these are reflected in the political typology. The country has become far more racially and ethnically diverse. In 1987, both parties were overwhelmingly white and non-Hispanic; today, only the GOP is, while more than 40% of Democrats are nonwhite. Thirty years ago, one of the largest groups in the political typology were the New Dealers, an older, mostly white, mostly Democratic group who were relatively conservative on social issues but favored activist government. There is no equivalent group in today’s political typology.
My take aways
There are problems on all sides of politics and political discourse. The issues are inside both parties and without. According to another Pew Research poll, there are partisan differences when it comes to opinions about how comfortable Republicans and Democrats are expressing their views in their local communities. Yet these opinions vary depending on the partisan composition of the local community. This is very evident in Idaho when you see a GOP super majority trying to suppress the local government in Idaho’s capitol city in a number of ways.
There are significant ideological differences within each party. Republicans who say they are “very” conservative ideologically (37%) are more likely to score high on the scale of comfort with conflict than Republicans who say they are moderate or liberal (29%).
Patterns are similar between Republicans and Democrats when it comes to conflict. Among Democrats, a greater share of very liberal Democrats (the 37%) than liberal (27%) or conservative and moderate Democrats (28%) have high comfort with conflict. That also corresponds somewhat to age with very liberal democrats being on the younger end of the age scale. This may explain the combativeness of younger “very liberal” Democrats which seem to fall into the disaffected liberal topology as well.
It seems antithetical to me that the “very liberal” (read the left) like “disaffected Democrats” are most willing to embrace conflict. The good old nonviolent, love and peace branch of liberalism is somewhat isolated to college educated women over 40 and most men and women over the age of 60. The more militant generation and the most disaffected are Millennials. My personal observations confirmed again by Pew is many of the younger demographic is also more connected and more reliant on social media for voicing their opinions and feelings. In 2010, when the last wave of new Millennial voters were teens, they reported contacting their friends on a daily basis using texting (54%) than interacting with them face-to-face outside of school (33%). Some recent commentary suggests that this is evidence that teens are becoming less social.
Is this the root of the confrontational styles of activists on the left and right? They see each other as the problem in a divided America while older Americans – conservative and liberal – are willing to find ways to compromise and “talk it out”.
Or is it civility that’s at the core of our problems. According to Adam Serwer of the Atlantic Magazine, “there are two definitions of civility. The first is not being an asshole. The second is “I can do what I want and you can shut up.” The latter definition currently dominates American political discourse. ”
I tend to agree that the nature of our Republic or our city council can’t be left to an entitled minority, the 1% or any other vague alliance of left and right.
Thanks for your time and consideration!
A side note on prosperity and it’s failure under liberalism
Where this leads me is to where and when the problem may have started. I think it is pretty obvious. When times were relatively good for most Americans people tended to base their politics on the liberal notions of individual rights, secularism and equality. When economics changed in the 80’s and people began to feel more powerless, politics changed. We didn’t manage the transition to a global economy and the extreme wealth being generate by the capitalist class. The transition should and could have included a fresh approach to wealth redistribution and taxation, domestic and global social policy, and how our changing domestic demographics and immigration would affect and assist in a more fair, shared prosperity. We didn’t do well at all.
I suppose the question is, do we have time, while the new millennium’s economic expansion continues, to change the course of the country’s politics to allow for change.