Thursday, March 10, 2016

When Conservative Anger Crashs Up Against Progressive Idealism

A singularly strange phenomenon -- Trump's supporters lining up with Bernie's crew -- creates a false sense of equivalence: The two groups have little but angst in common.

This is the face-off of the election cycle, whether either is the candidate or not.

Philosophically, both U.S. parties are moving toward their political extremes, but don't mistake this for equivalence. The Dems started from center-left and have organically moved toward progressivism, while the GOP started from far-right and went farther-right. The reasons, though, are surprisingly similar.

So, in this view Donald Trump and and Bernie Sanders were products of a similar shift, at least as political phenomena. Trump doesn't get near the nomination if the newly minted Republican base weren't mad-as-hell. And Bernie would have found no traction without the Occupy Wall Street insurgence laying the foundation.

But that's where the similarity ends. Both sides are mad-as-hell but for differing reasons. Sure, the right is just as pissed about their shitty jobs and shrinking standards of living as the left is, but, among other things, Trumpanistas hate labor unions and immigrants, while FeelTheBerners despise banksters and billionaires. Obviously different crews, right?

The Slovakian People's Party: When Europe
moves right, this is the way they roll.
Right. In this political season, it's not surprising that extremists are on the rise, but the far-right extremists that fall in line behind Trump are more in the mold of the supporters of the far-right movements of Le Pen's National Front in France, Marian Kotleba's People's Party in Slovakia, the Dutch Freedom Party, and the goons of Hungary's Jobbik party than anything else. Bernie Sanders seems downright mainstream by comparison. What Trump and his European counterparts share is their overriding hatred of "the other" who, in their eyes, have stolen both their livelihoods and their national pride.

Bernie's minions bear no resemblance to those on either extreme. Sanders' progressive followers are idealistic, with none of the nihilism of far-right extremists or the anarchism of the anti-global far-left. Bernie's people are puppy dogs against such a backdrop. When they occupied Wall Street, Main Street, and even Oakland, they were a cool crew, at least until, in the case of Oakland, the anarchists and the police stole the show. (Also, the Occupy movement went cold because they had zeal but scant policy proposals.)

Turns out it wasn't, but points for trying.
This is not an indictment of the movement Sanders has spawned. They have real ideas that, despite what the labels progressive and socialist imply, are in no way extreme. Tax the 1 percent and redistribute the bounty? Sure. Like the European left, give everybody the healthcare they deserve? Absolutely. Stop trade agreements that mask giveaways to corporations that don't need welfare? You bet. That doesn't make you much of a socialist. It makes you a Canadian, which is pretty North American if I remember correctly.

 When all is said and done, we're likely to not get the game-changing movement in U.S. politics that both sides crave. Donald Trump has only a slight chance at election, but if that weird aberration should come to fruition, he'll move toward the center faster than you can say yuuge. And as likely as Hillary Clinton's nomination and election seem preordained, if Sanders gets anywhere near the White House, he'll be left cooling his jets more because of realpolitik than a revanchinist and resistant Republican Congress.

I've left links out of this post and urge you to do some research into areas you may be unfamiliar with, but I'll offer one link -- to a Paul Krugman blog post -- that shows how fired up Sanders supporters are and how anti-Hillary fever is a real feature of the slightly farther left. Read the comments to see what I mean. An honest-to-goodness liberal thinker like Krugman is brutally savaged for postulating that a pragmatic Hillary is more honest that a progressive dreamer like Bernie. I get why. But the vitriol is out of place in what should be a reality-based and reasoned discussion of policy goals and how to get there.

If Trump and Sanders supporters do have one thing in common, it's this wish to burn down the house and start over. I feel the Bern, too, but, like Krugman, would rather remodel the house than bring it crashing down around us. But I lived and grew up through the cultural movement of the 1960s, and all I got was long hair and Richard Nixon as president. Didn't quite work out the way we thought, especially the disco.

No comments:

Post a Comment