Mired in the Middle

Artwork By Brittany Wetherspoon


Following the United Kingdom’s recent snap election, which resulted in Teresa May forming a Conservative minority government, the matriarch of leftist Twitter, J.K. Rowling let out a series of tweets decrying the sexism of supposed progressive men. Writing that ‘[f]emaleness is not a design flaw. If your immediate response to a woman who displeases you is to call her a synonym for her vulva, or compare her to a prostitute, then drop the pretence and own it – you’re not a liberal.’ She, obviously, makes a valid point here. Yet, Rowling’s defence of May followed an unmitigated rejection of Labour’s progressive candidate, Jeremy Corbyn.

In September 2016, Rowling tweeted that she despaired Corbyn as a leader, due to him being unelectable. Now, bemoaning progressive idealism in the face of a rising right is hardly new. It certainly hurt Bernie Sanders chances of being appointed as the Democratic presidential nominee in the 2016 US federal election, and then backfired on them with candidate Hillary Clinton’s election chances due to her centrist ties which could not match Trump’s evocation for change and greatness. What should be gleaned from Trump’s election is that centrism faces electability issues and where the right is offering to fight for their supporters, the left needs invigoration, or at least inspiration. Yet, for many proponents to call out the left as veering into the middle of the road, and denouncing their failure to fight for the progressive ideals so many of their voters hold is to let the right win. Critiques of centrism masquerading as progressivism are essential in holding politicians accountable. Clinton’s vacuous echoes of “I’m a progressive who gets things done” is a haunting epitaph on not only the election itself, but the state that the Democratic Party was left in following the maelstrom they were engulfed in.

Rowling’s dismay of Corbyn, some might argue, is due to his policies which would have significantly threatened her tax threshold. Whether that was the impetus for her public disavowal of the Labour leader is hard to say, yet her appeals for a likely more moderate leader shows someone whose political leanings are more antiright than proleft. Whilst Rowling continues to infantilise Trump through jocular tweets carving a foothold as the ultimate cool liberal billionaire, she failed to call out centrist Emmanuel Macron for the threat he posed to a leftist boycott harming En Marche’s prospects against the right’s Marine Le Pen in the recent French elections. Rowling, who is being used here as a placeholder for much of the milquetoast left, should be aware of the dangers in colluding with the right by speaking out against a progressive left. Critiquing leftism in the favour of moderates is an evocation for continued class warfare as centrist leaders merely wish to dim the right’s fire, rather than extinguish it.

Whilst Macron can put himself in good stead by lowering France’s unemployment rates; stripping workers of their rights and their wage guarantors is hardly a considerate, or measured, response that the left want to combat the rise of the right with. So, when the socially woke keyboard warriors spread their resist hashtag, this should be extended within their own circles. Rowling was willing to call out problems with the liberals she identifies with, and similarly that same spotlight should be turned on herself. Her liberal peers need to resist a gravitational pull and inertia towards the left’s centrist envelopment. The fight for progress is not merely against the right, but also of a leftist malaise that is willing to take a pittance of progressivism against the threat of the right’s power.

The left are not simply fighting the right, but also need to acknowledge a moderate infection whose wound weeps and spreads with ideological totality within non-conservative parties. Where neo-cons are quick to laugh at Trump’s failings and scoff at Sanders’ popularity, they fail to acknowledge any responsibility within their own political shortcomings. Clinton was quick to denounce sexism and Russia’s involvement in Trump’s success without recognising that the polls had declared Sanders as the safest bet in beating Trump at an election before her appointment as nominee. Her political platform was tenuous and the Democrats mishandling of their political offering is proving more than just a blight on their past. Nancy Pelosi, following the election, appallingly stated: “I don’t think people want a new direction.” This, in spite of the election of a man who was a complete political outsider beating a Clinton.

Whilst the toxicity of Trump’s movement might prove significantly more galling to many than the prospect of centrist triumvirate Trudeau, Macron, and Merkel, the latter’s politics merely aim to re-centre ideological leanings that have shifted either too far left, or too far right. The platform of equality and resistance that many of these radical centrists push is merely a repackaging of old ideas, infused with a neoliberal spin. Equality as an exercise in distraction, recommitting old ideology that has begun to pull at the seams of voter tolerance. Justin Trudeau has wielded inclusivity in the hopes of obscuring his frightening carbon emissions and his country’s weapons export. Yet, leaders of a far-right movement like Trump, and Taro Aso in Japan, create a revisionist history of politics for many. President George W Bush, following Trump’s inauguration made some unfavourable comments surrounding the President which media proponents hailed him for. Despite the historically disastrous tenure Bush led, any critique of the commander-in-chief is seemingly good enough despite such sentiment merely pedalling basic decency. Similarly, Republican Senator John McCain was hailed for sinking the ‘skinny repeal’ of Obamacare and likewise Attorney-General George Brandis was praised for condemning Pauline Hanson’s burqa stunt in the Senate.

Furthermore, in the lead up to Trump’s appointment, and more recently following the Charlottesville attack, President Obama’s wrongdoings are glossed over with sublime glee by many. Obama’s tweet that stated ‘[n]o one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion,’ which had an accompanying picture of the former President greeting a racially diverse range of children became the most liked tweet of all time. Yet, where was the love for the civilians of colour (including children) in Pakistan, Somalia, Libya and Afghanistan? The ones his administration led drone strikes against. The hypocrisy of such a tweet is glaring in the aftermath of his presidency. The continual reproach of Trump as an infection within American governance is perhaps more logical considering his relative transparency, yet the concealment of problematic elements of predecessors proves troubling revisionism that further thwarts a leftist movement that is so desperately needed.

Yet, perhaps this confrontation of political harm is necessary. Hillary Clinton, at a rally in Nevada on the 25th August, 2016 noted this transparency stating “I know that some people still want to give Trump the benefit of the doubt. They hope that he will eventually reinvent himself…but here’s the hard truth, there is no other Donald Trump. This is it.” Her words were ominous, and have indeed proven true. There was no other Donald Trump. He is the bigot that he was continuously criticised as. Yet, half of Trump’s platform was reliant upon an understanding that he would resurge the right, and on maintaining the white supremacy that has characterised US history by harkening America’s greatness. Moreover, Clinton’s words could have granted her some introspection, or at least given more of her supporters pause. Many were looking to give Clinton the benefit of the doubt, knowing that at least she wasn’t Trump. Others were hoping that Sanders’ ascendancy would push Clinton’s reinvention, veering away from centrist ties. Yet, there was no other Clinton. In Trump’s continued destruction of political office as he fumbles to obfuscate any political evils that those before him were more apt at doing so, the reality, and danger, of the American polity is at least better exposed.

Who is more combative then: Trump in his calls to make America great again, or Clinton and Obama’s retort that America is already great? Obama’s response typifies the message of these centrist radicals. The type that Rowling can get behind; rather than true revolution they wish to subject society back to a moderate position. A position that has manifested a divide between a fascist right and the call for a socialist left. Yet, the question that remains is: when will the left fight for their people?

In Australia, the Labor Party has proved wanting on many instances. With an upcoming, non-binding postal vote on same-sex marriage for the Australian public the two major parties have left many unimpressed. Yet, where Labor, and Bill Shorten, are now able to lap up the sweet tears of voters who are infuriated at the colossal waste of money being doled out for the Prime Minister’s self-serving agenda, they only need to look back when Labor was in power to see that anger should also be forwarded to Shorten et al. This sudden push for same-sex marriage with almost cataclysmic force is opportunistic progressivism. Historically, Australia’s fear is not one of intolerance evident from the continued mistreatment of First Nation people and asylum seekers but rather, as so much of the country’s insecurity has been conceived, due to its distance from the rest of the world. Playing into the idea of backwardness which has long plagued Australian national identity. New Zealand, a country that is so often pitched as playing second fiddle to Australia, has seen both the right for (white) females to vote and for same-sex couples to marry before their neighbouring country.

Surely it is transparent that the ALP is trying to save face and hope that voters don’t pay too much attention to their major backflip on marriage equality. Shorten’s sanctimonious address to Parliament looked to wedge himself in good favour with citizens who are fed up with political misrepresentation and, despite the fact that his party has directly contributed to this narrative today, aimed to place Labor on the right side of history. Addressing LGBTI people, Shorten finally mustered some passion for the queer community on his party’s behalf avowing:

I give you this promise, we stand with you. When you don’t feel like you have a voice we will speak up for you. When you feel attacked we will defend you. When we hear prejudice and discrimination we will not cross the roads and pretend it is not happening we will call it out.

Yet, where was this fiery gusto by Labor when former Prime Minister Julia Gillard failed to support same-sex marriage? Her excuse of critiquing the institution of marriage left wanting and proved transparent. Rather, she paid favour to the conservative union faction whose support she was reliant upon. Labor can see their own opportunities for election by finally throwing themselves in support of a community who have been there for them with very little to show for it. In the manner that Rudd tried to wrangle support in a last-ditch attempt in 2013, and miraculously once Gillard left The Lodge, she was suddenly woken to the virtues of marriage equality. Too long have the LGBTI contingent been sidelined by progressive parties on the account that at least we aren’t them. Yet when do the crumbs these parties want to throw the community no longer suffice? In the face of criticism that the rhetoric an open debate on people’s right to marry will prove too disarming, it could similarly be levelled that what is more dangerous is the misconception for young queer people that their government representatives care more about them than the popular vote. Labor’s refusal to unequivocally support same-sex marriage when they had the chance should not be considered a non-issue for the impetus of what is merely a glorified hundred-million dollar survey.

Yet in their recent elections, Austria saw the two embodying ideologies fighting it out: the green candidate and the far-right opponent, Alexander Van der Bellen and Norbert Hofer respectively. In Austria’s case, the left proffered a political candidate willing to stand up for their contingency, and reaped the political gains. The narrow defeat of Corbyn and (non-)defeat of Sanders should not dispel the possibilities the left should be offering, but rather invoke a stronger front that is needed to fight a rising, and resistant, right in the face of centrist hindrance.


Timothy Davies

The author Timothy Davies

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