The Gravity of the Center: A Rant about Centrism
The Gravity of the Center: A Rant About Centrism
One of my fears with the Trump administration is that it will make George W. Bush look like Che Guevara. To most people, almost anything looks like liberation in comparison to Trump. There has been astonishing resistance to his policies and person. Who could imagine that the National Park Service would rebel and create alternative social media accounts to promote environmentalism, science, and fight climate change? Who would have thought that thousands people would protest at airports against the Muslim Ban or that taxi drivers would go on strike? All of this after a women’s march of over four million participants! There is an enormous outpouring of rebellious sentiments and participation in actions. Yet, I worry that all this zeal will be funnelled into the same-old pro-capitalist centrism that brought us to this point to begin with. To many, the pre-Trump status quo will look like a lighthouse of liberation. This beacon of light is illusion. It is the light that is suspended in time, just before the black hole at the center devours it. Here is how one might go about identifying the center, hopefully so its intense gravity can be avoided.
Lately, it seems that there has been a certain amnesia about the negative impacts of globalization. Many people seem genuinely upset that Trump wants to renegotiate NAFTA and has backed out of the TPP. While it is easy to believe that everything Trump does is terrible, it is important to evaluate each policy in their own right. NAFTA, which went into effect on Jan. 1, 1994 was signed and supported by Bill Clinton and 129 Democrats. Its passage launched the Zapatista movement in Chiapas, Mexico. In a way, it was the Standing Rock of the 1990s, if Standing Rock was on steroids. The Zapatistas rose up because they believed that NAFTA would hurt indigenous people and widen the gap between rich and poor. They also sought land reforms and the democratization of Mexico. NAFTA hurt Mexican farmers because cheap American corn flooded into the country, causing them to lose their livelihood and created further incentive to immigrate to the U.S. Multilateral free trade agreements have been the way of things since the end of World War II and especially since the 1970s. While I don’t want to discuss this point at great length, these agreements generally have negative impacts on the environment, workers, and developing countries. Consider the EU, which is essentially a free trade agreement for Europe. The integration of markets and currency means that member countries must play along with the rules. So, when economies like Greece, Spain, and Italy. floundered, the EU solution was austerity. That is, government spending had to be curtailed Thus, in Greece, at least as of 2015, ⅔ of youth were out of work and wages were down 50% since before the economic crisis of 2008. Free trade seeks the free movement of capital, but also labor, which leads to social strain as workers from poorer regions of Europe are blamed for taking jobs. At the center, there is unquestioned support of globalization. In fact, it is looked upon positively because it is shrouded in internationalism and multiculturalism. Well, colonization and imperialism also are forms of internationalism and “multiculturalism.” The globalization that occurs through free trade agreements and organizations is simply modern colonialism.
The Vilification of Enemies to U.S. Hegemony:
Another characteristic of the dark center of politics, is the vilification of enemies to U.S. hegemony. Both Republicans and Democrats do this. Basically, the U.S. has enemies. These enemies tend to be countries that don’t agree that the United States is a beacon of democracy and hope for the world. These countries might critique U.S. militarism or pose some threat to the U.S.’s military right to have over 600 bases in 148 countries. Our number one enemy right now is Russia. Bizarrely, standing against Russia is seen as progressive. Much is made about Russia’s militarism and conservatism. Recently, I saw that many progressives were sharing an article about how Russia has legalized domestic abuse. Yes, that is truly terrible. But how many of those people know any of the other 19 countries in the world with no laws against domestic violence? How many are paying attention to the domestic violence laws elsewhere in the world? Or even in our own country? This is an example of the vilification of Russia. Russia is a country of Neanderthals who make war, abuse women, and punish the LGBT community. Now, I certainly am against war, abuse, and for queer liberation, but it seems suspicious to me that this critique of Russia fits very nicely with our own militant foreign policy. Considering that the Cold War cost the United States over 5 trillion dollars in nuclear weapons and weapons spending, I am very cautious about the fear mongering over an enemy. Villains create a wonderful justification for militarism. Villains sell war. They also paint us as morally superior and therefore justified in our foreign policies.
Russia has been blamed for spoiling the U.S. election. The internet is rife with homophobic memes of Trump and Putin. It is odd that Russia is critiqued for its LGBTQ repression and yet homophobia is used as a vehicle to poke fun at Trump. What purpose does vilifying Russia serves? I don’t think it is conducive to building solidarity with Russians. We all have a shared stake in ending homophobia, sexism, and militarism. And, at the core of this vilification of Russia is the notion that they are somehow different and incapable of democracy or peace. Let’s remember that Russia (then the Soviet Union) was the first country to legalize abortion. They did this over fifty years before abortion was legalized in the United States. The Soviet Union decriminalized homosexuality in 1917. In the United States, sodomy laws were not overturned by the Supreme Court until 2003. Russians are capable of standing up for progressive causes. I am not a Russian apologist, but I certainly can’t stand the vilification of a country. If we want to change the world, we should first look in the mirror.
Closely related to the vilification of certain countries is endless war. Both parties have stood for war. War goes unquestioned, as if it is an American right to destroy the world. The thing that I dislike the most about Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton was their commitment to war. President Obama authorized ten times the drone attacks than his predecessor, George W. Bush. Yet, he is seen as just and the embodiment of hope. His administration normalized drone attacks and certainly ended the hopes and dreams of the 3,000 + people killed by them. 74% of the U.S.casualties in Afghanistan actually came after 2009, when Obama sent more troops to that country. If Trump increased the troops in Afghanistan, wouldn’t we be raising a raucous? Often times, there may be peaceful solutions. Muammar Gaddafi actually wanted to negotiate to step down from power. Yet, war and regime change in Libya were sought anyway. And when it was all over, Hillary Clinton said, “We came, we saw, he died.” Perhaps Trump won because the alternative is repulsive. At the very least, I am repulsed by U.S. war mongering, whether it be from Democrats or Republicans. A person can’t really be pro-environment or pro-women if they are pro-war, or at least quietly ignore that war is occurring.
An idea that drives our war making, foreign policy, and domestic policy is that the United States is exceptional. John F. Kennedy said, “More than any other people on Earth, we bear burdens and accept risks unprecedented in their size and their duration, not for ourselves alone but for all who wish to be free.” Bill Clinton justified the war in Bosnia by saying, ““America remains the indispensable nation” and “there are times when America, and only America, can make a difference between war and peace, between freedom and repression.” Although Obama was criticized for not actively embracing American exceptionalism, he did say “I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being” to graduates of the US Military Academy. Apparently, everyone has forgotten that American exceptionalism was supposed to be insulting. After all, the word was coined by Joseph Stalin. Oh well. In any event, politicians and many Americans embrace the idea that Americans are special, with a special place in history and the world. We’re not just another country. This is dangerous. It can be used to justify anything from blocking refugees from entering our country to building walls…to endless war. It means that the people of other countries are somehow less deserving of autonomy or inferior because they are less like us. It justifies our role as the world’s police officer. Since most people alive today are accustomed to U.S. hegemony, it is almost impossible to imagine that perhaps the US does not have a higher mission or purpose in this world. More fearful is the idea that we could be eclipsed by another great power. This fear keeps us locked to the two capitalist parties. It limits our imagination that we could perhaps have some shared interest with the people of the world in dismantling capitalistic and militaristic hegemony period.
The Invisibility of Class:
Finally, the dark center of politics lacks any concept of social class. Class is an obscure concept. Everyone is a part of the mushy, middle class. What is the middle class? What is its relationship to other classes? Its relationship to capital? Our exceptionally large middle class, whatever that may be, is another thing that makes America exceptional. After all, look at all those other countries. All the countries without middle classes. They just have poor people and a handful of rich people. If only they had it so good. We have homes, cars, and college educations. Nevermind that we also have credit card debt, student loans, bankruptcies, foreclosures, etc. to finance the illusion of the middle class. Nevermind that we also have trade deals to get all those cheap goods made it sweatshops far away so we can feel wealthy at Walmart. Or, nevermind that the middle class is nothing more than a social construct. At best, it is operationalized by ranges of income. But, if it were operationalized as a household making $42,000 – $125,000 a year, this says little about education, kind of work, and more importantly, role in this economic system. It also implies that a person who makes $41,000 is working class or poor, but the person who makes $1000 is magically middle class. This lack of a concept of class or acknowledgement of the working class obfuscates the economic well-being (or lack thereof) of this country and limits the possibility of class consciousness. People might be encouraged to join unions or fight for higher minimum wage if they saw themselves as workers or part of a large working class with common interests.
I am not sure what will happen after Trump. I hope that perhaps this outburst of activism against him can push America further away from our xenophobia, racism, sexism, environmental destruction, and war making. I hope that the outrage cannot be contained by the two parties. That perhaps new institutions will arise or old ones will be revitalized. I hope that mass mobilizations of people make the 1960s look like a 4th of July Parade. I hope we can make 2017 look like 1917. But, my fear is that the lure of centrism will draw people back to oppression wearing the shroud of liberation. I worry that the old way of things…the muted version of all that is happening now, will look positively cheerful. But, I suppose all of this depends on our ability to build movements that are independent of both parties and revitalize the labor movement. For now, I hope that people keep on fighting. I hope they don’t forget how to fight when it seems that things have returned to normal. Normal is unacceptable.