December 27, 2020
Pearl River Maybe I’m wrong, but over the Trump years, as the media has groped around trying to figure out a way to characterize him and his supporters, the old poles of liberal, moderate, and conservative seemed to have disappeared in the polarity of right and left.
My hunch is that among the political and journalistic intelligentsia, there was resistance to labeling Trump and his team conservatives because he had abandoned the normal pillars of that politics like free trade, globalism, and fiscal restraint, like balanced budgets. The “never Trump” caucus didn’t want to lose their claim to conservatism, so the Trumpers had to be populists, whatever they thought that might mean, and, furthermore, rightwing populists.
Once they had committed to that description, perhaps not through some decision or change in the stylebook, the evolutionary discourse drifted towards new poles. If there was a right, there had to be a left. If there was a rightwing, then by god, there had to be a leftwing. If there wasn’t, then one had to be fabricated so that there was a shorthand way to brand and label political viewpoints.
All of a sudden, it seemed to me, we couldn’t hear or read about some research outfit or thinktank and their offering of facts and opinion without seeing it labeled as “left-leaning” like the Center for American Progress, as one example. What does left-leaning really mean? The founder was a former chief of staff in the White House, and the current director has been nominated to run the Office of Management & Budget. How could that be left? At best it’s a liberal shop, and these are liberals. In this reckoning, what is left anyway? Is that self-described socialists like Bernie Sanders and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez? Maybe, but most of Sanders and AOC’s program on even bright sunny days would be aligned with standard liberalism with perhaps a progressive tinge.
It’s a problem. Poor Georgia Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler attacking her Democratic opponent Rev. Raphael Warnock from Atlanta’s historic Ebenezer Baptist Church has been forced to call him a “radical liberal.” Is that actually a thing? And, if so, what kind of a thing is it? I don’t really think it’s possible to be a radical and a liberal. It’s a contradiction in terms. For example, an average, run of the mill, radical like myself, can read The Economist, which I had always thought gave me a good look at conservativism, and find out that they see themselves as the standard bearers of classic liberalism. Who knew? Not me!
We need some clarity on these issues, and the media needs some discipline before branding this one and that. I would think this might even be a cause for the newly minted right. Look at the problem they had labeling Joe Biden in the recent race as a radical socialist, when every Suburban Karen and Joe Six Pack knew he defined moderation in the middle ground, if anything. Biden is miles away from being a radical liberal, even as progressives hope and pray that he will at least be a liberal.
We need different definitions for discourse or maybe no labels at all, because this trend towards sloppy is just mudding the political waters so that no one knows what they are drinking.