Should the left compromise?

These unsettling times. Nigel Farage is back on the radio, and the TV, and in the papers, telling us that “too many members of this government said too many nasty things about the President-elect” and “a lot of members of Trump’s inner circle are pretty unhappy”. Boris Johnson has joined in, and while in May he was “genuinely worried that he (Trump) could become president“, he is now ordering us to end our “collective whinge-o-rama“. Marine Le Pen, who even UKIP condemn, was invited onto the Andrew Marr show to explain the future she sees forming.

Forces aligned against everything we once stood for assemble before us. From all quarters those on the left are being urged to take 2016 as a sign that they are excessively progressive, have alienated the majority, and must discard their values.

Mural of Donald Trump and Boris Johnson kissing
Mural painted in Bristol

Satirical online magazine The Daily Mash summed up my concerns with these reactions to the election as they wrote on Sunday ‘People who disagree with Donald Trump and Nigel Farage are responsible for their success rather than the gullible idiots who vote for them.’ The same article went on to conclude, facetiously, that ‘Trump’s victory and Brexit could have been avoided if everyone stopped having reasonable views and agreed with mad, barely coherent grievances.’

A friend on my Facebook feed wrote that “we have created the impression that we care more about the rights of transgender individuals to use the appropriate toilet than we do about poverty”. Did you hear that transgender people? Trump is your fault. If you’d just go back to being utterly marginalised, verbally and physically abused with regularity, lie down and accept that 41% of you have attempted suicide, then we could worry about real issues like all the white men who don’t have jobs handed to them on a platter anymore because they have to compete with African Americans, Latinos, women, and machines. You just need to shut up about things that are existentially important to you like not being abused every time you go to a public toilet, and being recognised as full human beings, and the world will reach its equilibrium again.

Women faced this kind of ‘priority dismissal’ for decades as they campaigned for the vote through colonial war, world war and economic crisis. As did the Irish, fighting for independence through similar circumstances. As did Black civil rights protesters when Americans were supposed to be united against Soviet Russia. Now is never the right time for the privileged to give up any of their advantage. Is that how we look back upon these histories, as mistakes? Of course not.

As I wrote about on election day last Tuesday, during my lifetime the United States has always been a politically very polarised country. This year the two most unpopular candidates ever, coupled with the all-encompassing echo-chamber we now live in, divided voters like never before. Certainly the majority of Trump voters and Clinton voters held diametrically opposing views on almost every political topic. However, in the end the American right have won the election. Is it now for the left to abandon their positions and compromise?


False Equivalence

Such calls are based on false equivalence – the erroneous belief that because every issue has two sides, both sides must be equal in veracity, utility and justice. On a number of policies the standpoint of the left and the Democratic Party is backed up by far more evidence and a stronger moral basis. Nor is the divergence equal. The Republican party has become much more conservative than the Democrats have liberal.

Ideological balance in the US congress over time
Full Washington Post Article

As Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said earlier this year, “it just shows you that we have shifted the center far to the right, in a good way”.

Outrageous Opinions

In summer 2015, between 43 and 54% of Republican voters believed that Obama is a Muslim. How do you bridge that gap? How exactly are Democrats supposed to compromise with such views? They can’t.

Interviewed by Gallup this January, 29% of respondents felt that abortion laws in the United States should be made stricter. Laws that include, in 17 states, mandatory counselling designed to make women feel guilty and afraid to have the procedure and in 37 states, mandatory parental consent or notice. 32 states specifically prohibit the use of state funding to pay for abortions. In 2011, 89% of U.S counties had no abortion clinic. Considering that a woman’s reproductive right was constitutionally upheld by Roe v Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, just how much stricter can it get?

Such strong views about abortion were regularly expressed by ‘reluctant Trump voters’ in interviews in the lead up to the election. One quarter of all voters in the election self-identified as white evangelical Christians, of which 81% voted for Donald Trump. To put into context, 79% voted for Romney and Bush, and 73% for McCain. These are people for whom their belief that the (potential) ‘life’ of a 1 day old foetus is worth more than the actual life of a grown woman, and their great hatred of homosexuals exceeds any and all of Trump’s manifold Christian sins. Again I ask, why should Democrats compromise with such viewpoints? Are we to believe that acquiescing, relegating women to backstreet abortions or trapping them in homes with abusive partners, denying them a full life of individual opportunity is going to make America more successful and prosperous for all?

Asked to rank 23 policy issues, Republicans put climate change between ranks 21-23 (the least important). I could understand scepticism towards anthropogenic global warming in the early 2000s, but come 2016 the evidence is completely overwhelming. For the left to compromise with such beliefs and agree to scale down plans to limit carbon emissions would be to accept the destruction of the entire planetary ecosystem as we know it.

 They must not.

White Privilege is a Problem

America is such an individualistic country, from its history of the frontier and the mindset of one man battling to civilise a hostile land, to modern scepticism about redistributive justice and the widespread libertarian economic outlook. America is also such a white country. A country created by white men for white men to develop their wealth and freedom. Into this, politicians stopped explaining policies in terms of their benefits to white heterosexual males.

USA Settled Area in 1860

The idea that white freedom might have to be lost is inexplicable, because American history is witness to its glorious, limitless expansion. During my lifetime, white men have had a discovery thrust upon them, it is the discovery that their freedom and opportunity isn’t always beneficial to everyone else. They have been told that just because they didn’t realise a minority were offended, abused and oppressed, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t happening. Everyone else stopped asking them for permission for a slice of the pie and just took it. Government, ‘infiltrated’ by women and minorities began to actively help those who were once only helped when white men felt so inclined. Many have exhibited the most instinctive response to this, to news you don’t want to hear – denial. It’s a conspiracy, we’re the oppressed now, we’re being deliberately singled out, it’s our land and our right to be the permission givers.

Immigration stopped being talked about as beneficial toward the existing economy of white, natural born, heterosexual males. Instead high-minded ideas were put forward about how it is just right, a human right, for all to make a life anywhere on our collective planet.

This is particularly true of Hilary Clinton, who said in 2015 that “the fight to insure that America’s immigrants are treated with dignity… [is] bound up with all the other fights to advance human dignity and human rights”. Obama, by contrast, a year earlier spoke a voice white men could understand, saying ” I know some worry immigration will change the very fabric of who we are, or take our jobs. . . . I hear these concerns. . . . And I believe it’s important that all of us have this debate without impugning each other’s character”. I got these quotes from the New Yorker long read “In the Heart of Trump Country“, which I strongly recommend if you want to learn more about political attitudes in rural America.

Initiatives such as affirmative action, so despised by so many white heterosexuals, weren’t explained in terms of the historical white power and privilege they uphold. Because they don’t, so they can’t be. Because they’re about slowly slowly, step by step beginning to redress the obscene power and opportunity differential between white heterosexual males in Western democracies and everyone else in those countries and around the world.

When white police officers, unprovoked, use grossly disproportionate force in subduing or arresting a suspect, resulting in their death, the president cannot and should not support that. It is not a “war on cops” to articulate the racial disparity in the criminal justice system. This year is not characterised by “attacks on our police [that] threaten our very way of life”, as Trump described it. Rather video recording and worldwide transmission technology have finally developed to the point where racial bias and inadequate training in parts of the police force are exposed in all their inhumanity.

Lifetime Likelihood of Imprisonment in the USA
Full attn: Article

By what twisted morality can the entry of China into the WTO, a move that lifted more than double the entire American population out of grinding, systemic poverty, be condemned because living standards stagnated among a few hundred industrial towns in the Midwest? Industrial towns that machine automation was already on the cusp of making obsolete anyway.

The proposed solution, then, is to roll back these policies that white heterosexual males find so intimidating and unsettling. First ensure their standard of living and overall utility is increased, restore their voice that once commanded, and then they will mete out permission to the ‘others’. One abortion clinic per county, a few hundred Syrian refugees a year, research into the economic benefit versus environmental downsides of coal.

The left must not accept this prognosis.

have Principles

One common complaint of voters who had elected Obama for two terms, but were now going to support Trump, was that they liked Obama and his policies – he still holds a 57% approval rating today – but were disappointed in how much he hadn’t achieved and how little their lives had changed. Obama the compromiser. He didn’t fight enough, so in 2016 they voted for a fighter.

Healthcare reform had to be so watered down just to get all the Democratic senators reliably onside and prevent a filibuster by Republicans (because none of them were prepared to ever vote for any kind of reform anyway). As Democrat Howard Dean said “No one will think this is health care reform. This is not even insurance reform.”

Even worse, he couldn’t even get the same filibuster-proof majority of 59 Democratic Senators to pass the Employee Free Choice Act that would have significantly strengthened employee rights across the whole country. This alienated the white working class in once heavily unionised and Democrat-voting, now economically depressed and staunchly Republican areas in West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana.

Fight On

If the next four years go swimmingly for the Trump presidency, this will simply prove the stubborn, partisan, Republican congressional leaders right. They can stop government. They can stand in the way of the entire presidential mandate for 8 years and wait, as long as it takes, until a Republican president is elected or the left give in and acquiesce.

The Democrats have to fight. Senators have to filibuster. They have to walk away from meetings and organise protests. Their local legislatures have to bring constitutional challenges to every bogus law Trump passes. Not only for their own moral integrity, but for the majority of Americans. For all the oppressed individuals and groups who they alone have the mandate and power to represent and defend.

In 2020 they have to put forward a candidate who hasn’t been nominee-in-waiting for the past 10 years and who doesn’t have a negligence in public office scandal perpetually derailing her campaign (and no, not Bernie Sanders). Above all, as the turnout figures now show us, they have to get out and vote. Well informed, liberal, progressive Democrats are the majority of the American population.

As Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon stood up in the Scottish Parliament on Thursday and said, “I never want to be, I am not prepared to be, a politician that maintains a diplomatic silence in the face of attitudes of racism, sexism, misogyny or intolerance of any kind.”

Right on.

2 thoughts on “Should the left compromise?”

  1. An interesting analysis, but I fear that I must disagree with your fundamental conclusion. If the left does not compromise, it will perish.

    You write in internationalist terms about policies the left believes will build a better world, but these are not policies that win votes now. In the case of globalisation lifting millions out of poverty in China, at the expense of American industry… No doubt this is a good thing for the world as a whole, but why would you expect the former employees of American industry to gleefully give up their jobs for it? These may well be “towns that machine automation was on the cusp of making obsolete anyway”, but that is scant consolation for the workers in those towns. Similarly, on immigration, the left as you say espouses “high-minded ideas about how it is a just right, a human right, for all to make a life anywhere on our collective planet”. This is not a policy which can command an electoral majority.

    On globalisation, on automation, on immigration, on the capture of government by capital, it seems to me that the Establishment left has seemingly nothing to offer the people who once voted for it: there are no answers, just “yeah, it’ll be rough, suck it up”. This is a particularly bitter pill to swallow when the left-wingers delivering it are multimillionaires. Meanwhile the populist right at least pretends to give a damn what these people want, and people are voting for it in droves. Of course, the populists have no real solutions either.

    To me it seems that the purpose of political power – as opposed to activism – is to gain power to implement ideas. Merely moralising is not enough; first you have to espouse policies that people want to vote for. Significant fractions of the left seem to have rather forgotten how to do this part.

    1. Yes this would be the reasonable criticism of my article. My retort is that once I saw I’d written 2000 words I thought ah I can’t fit everything in, and it would take quite a bit of research to empirically back up my strong hunches on the subject which, at least in America are as follows; People voted emphatically for Reagan as he dismantled worker rights, and at the state levels, all over the country people voted for ‘right to work’ laws that effectively made unions untenable, because anyone could get all the benefits without paying membership. So the people voted out their best voice at keeping quality jobs and having a strong say in company decisions. Take the UK as an example, to even become anything close to electoral, Labour had to put in manifesto pledges to curb union power beyond what even Thatcher had curbed. So, people hate unions even though it is clearly provable that they would keep their good training good jobs voice at the table (see Germany, see income inequality pre-1975).

      In the more recent present, the Democrats definitely have questions to answer about what on earth they did in ’08-’10, but after ’10 the population elected tons of hyper libertarian really religiously conservative right wing representatives, senators, governors and local legislators, all over America, in ’10, ’12, ’14 and again this year 2016. So Barrack couldnt do anything. To list some things; he tried to limit campaign funding to individuals only and limit individual contributions – declared unconstitutional by the Republican stacked Supreme Court, he tried to pass proper healthcare reform so the risk is actually pooled across the whole population and everyone can get cover, get the safety net – Republicans refused to even think about voting for it and filibustered every single ammendment to waste so much congressional time on it and so he had to get 2/3 majority in both Houses to pass it, so he had to water down the plans, he tried to pass a fiscal stimulus similar in scale to what Trump is proposing to accompany all the QE he was doing, so the recovery can be more fairly distributed – completely denied in Repub controlled congress, and he cant do it by presidential decree because it’s tax and spending. When it comes to immigration, net migration has been to Mexico from the USA for about the last 10 years. Unlike in the UK where the issue does need to be explored, in the USA it’s completely a problem fabricated to stir up hate and galvanise votes. There are lots of reports of journalists going around small towns in America, there are job adverts everywhere, especially since many states have laughably low minimum wages, but the jobs suck, so only immigrants will do them, which again goes back to my original point, the people voted themselves out of unions, and now you expect the left to what…do a Corbyn? tell people ah cmon guys you secretly love the unions, you know they’re good for you…27% of the popular vote in the last poll I saw….

      So my conclusion is people voted for neoliberalism, Thatcher, Reagan, Blair, Clinton, super popular, never lost an election. Don’t get me wrong, I despise neoliberalism, but ‘the people’ appear to disagree. But the recovery from the financial crisis which was ‘managed’ by the centre-right, from the ECB enforcing austerity, Obsorne enforcing austerity, Repubs in the USA enforcing austerity and hapily shutting down government to stop it spending on infrastructure. This ‘management’ kept inflation low, employment relatively high, but depressed economic growth, relied on consumption so never thought about job quality just bottom line gdp and company revenue figures, and the rich got much richer. In china where the govt led proper Keynesian recovery everyone is getting richer (although the rich still getting even more rich), so it looks like ‘they took our jobs’, really their government just actually invested in r&d, infrastructure, and of course workers accept conditions that we rightly wouldn’t tolerate.

      The left 100% failed to come up with / articulate a counter to these failed recovery strategies, except, did they? Because any time Labour looked like they were beginning to say, hey we managed the economy just fine, we have a large deficit because we had to bail out the banks, but that’s ok, and it can grow because borrowing is cheap and we’re going to take this opportunity for counter-cyclic investment, every front page was ‘Labour want to wreck this country and destroy the economy’ and their polls would drop 5 pts. In Greece, well we all know what happened there.

      So, my assessment is that people are total f–king morons, and realising the recovery has been anything but, but not understanding that alternatives did exist but were more difficult to articulate / not sufficiently articulated, they have knee jerked into decisions like ‘it must be the immigrants fault, or free trades fault, or corrupt global elites fault’

      So no, the left should not compromise, because what people have voted for in the last 6 years in the Western world is incomprehensible.

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