No more mushy middle: 2018 will be the end of centrist politics

Across the West, mainstream politicians have preached centrist compromise, but the cracks are showing and a reckoning is due.

A Vote to Leave campaigner holds a placard as Leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), Nigel Farage campaigns for votes to leave the European Union in the referendum on May 25, 2016 in Bolton, England. Nigel Farage took his battle bus to Bolton encouraging British people to vote to leave the EU on 23rd June 2016. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

A Vote to Leave campaigner holds a placard as the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), Nigel Farage, campaigns for votes to leave the European Union in the referendum on May 25, 2016 in Bolton, England.(Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

The political left, especially in post-9/11 America, has long found itself pulled rightward out of fear and pragmatism, and into the political framework of centrism. It’s a fear that resisting the surveillance state and the prosecution of endless war could cause them to be blamed, should another massive terrorist attack succeed on American soil. And that pragmatism comes from the conventional wisdom that embracing the “identity politics” of feminism and racial equality would only alienate mainstream voters.

It’s a neoliberal doctrine that often presents solutions to social problems through the lens of capitalist interests. Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, for example, was sold as an expansion of coverage that would leave the profits of the insurance and health-care industries intact.

Indeed, through 2017, we have seen the Obama White House’s compromise-centric governance style play out across Western nations. A stubborn refusal to end the world’s dependence on oil in the face of pipeline spills and impending climate disaster, stagnant wages and job insecurity in the midst of ever-widening income inequality, and a general obsession with middling compromise on urgent social issues shows how corporate interests are allowed to flourish under the guise of centrism. This approach has allowed the status quo to remain intact, eroded the left’s public trust in government, and empowered the far-right to seize the reins of power. In Europe, austerity measures in response to the 2008 financial crisis—caused by rampant fraudulence and malfeasance in the financial sector—managed to fray the social safety net and effectively punish students and low-income workers for the disastrous greed of the billionaire class.

And that is why 2018 will be the year of collapse for centrist politics.

Centrist thought, when converted to policy, not only puts off the consequences of poor decision-making, it prolongs conflicts that should have long ago come to their natural end; it’s a Faustian bargain that comes with a heavy deferred cost. In the United States, the centrist obsession with “compromise”—which included its approach to slavery and which, as The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer writes, laid the groundwork for lasting racial conflict—has led to a deeply fractured society, perpetually entangled in foreign wars and vulnerable to wedge politics.

Most recently, the centrist view of the country’s foundations in white supremacy allowed Trump’s victory to be passed off as “economic anxiety.” But as more data and journalistic profiles of Trump voters surfaced, that theory soon withered. And now, concerns over race and racial status have so deeply permeated the thinking of Trump supporters that white supremacy has once again taken hold of a major political party, allowing neo-Nazis to march confidently in the streets.

READ: Freedom declines worldwide as terrorism, authoritarianism rise

The emerging social fractures as a result of decades of centrist politics are far from confined to the United States. Currently, the U.K. finds itself pushed from one worst-case scenario to another, as Prime Minister Theresa May struggles to negotiate the country’s exit from the European Union. The unexpected success of the Brexit campaign, championed by nationalist party UKIP and the far-right wing of the governing Conservative Party, was also once explained via the centrist rubric of “economic anxiety.” But while drastic cuts to health care, housing, and social security, on top of a public-sector pay freeze have indeed caused anxiety, the campaign for Euroscepticism in the United Kingdom was couched in the language of national sovereignty, and antipathy towards the political elite: A study from the University of East Anglia showed that immigrant engagement was a key factor for Brexit supporters. Those working-class anxieties, inflamed by a campaign of erosion against social welfare programs, not only drove voters into making a short-sighted change to European financial and trade policy, they were successfully weaponized by the populist right against people of colour.

Indeed, few Western nations seem immune to the accelerating breakdowns. In post-austerity Germany, radical right party Alternative for Germany (AfD), commonly described as “hostile to democracy” by mainstream media outlets, won 94 seats in the September general election. A collection of business leaders, right-wing populists, and Christian Democrats dissatisfied with the Merkel government’s 2009 Euro-Rescue policy, as well as its acceptance of more than a million Syrian refugees between 2015-2016, German support for AfD has steadily climbed since its 2013 founding. But Merkel’s centrist policies in the post-austerity era wound up producing support from 12.6 per cent of voting Germans for a party that deliberately stoked fear of religious minorities.

Elsewhere, the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats—currently the third-largest party in the country—have a legitimate chance at winning the 2018 election; they’re currently polling higher than the governing Social Democratic party. And in Austria, the Austrian People’s Party, led by anti-immigrant leader Sebastian Kurz, rode the strength of nationalism into largest-party status for the first time since 2002. In each of these instances, the neoliberal policy of alienating the left by eschewing social welfare, and then courting the right through corporate welfare and deregulation, have only managed to empower the revanchist far-right.

These breakdowns along ideological lines are no coincidence. Centrist politics have, for decades, allowed Western governments to avoid a reckoning with the urgent economic crises of poverty and class immobility. That reckoning, fertilized by regulatory neglect and a failure to rein in the influence of the corporate class, has finally come due. In short order, those governments will find themselves answering to the consequences of substituting populism—and even dog-whistle politics—for substantive labour and financial policy when opportunities presented themselves. There are emerging socialist democratic movements like the Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour party—but it’s becoming apparent that for the left, the middle way has failed.



No more mushy middle: 2018 will be the end of centrist politics

  1. Who is Andray Domise?

    • Andray Domise is a Toronto writer, activist and one-time electoral opponent of Rob Ford in Etobicoke.

  2. Political parties are only cable bundles of opposing beliefs that create conflict and cancel each other out.

    Get that? You’re being told there is no middle. Gotta choose, right or left, fight and some die so the elite get richer.

    You recite “left right con lib” like a good little patsy and the propagandists and their co conspirators don’t even throw you a bone.

    Newsflash, the issues aren’t right and left, they’re right and wrong.

    To determine right from wrong, we need to know the truth, not propaganda. No middle eh?

    • I hear what you’re saying, and generally agree with you, but I’m not sure you can say the issues are ‘right’ vs ‘wrong’
      if you take a more left leaning view, you will accept that your gov’t will provide some services exclusively (say health care). In this scenario some people will get help they otherwise could not afford while some would wait longer than they otherwise might have.
      If you reverse this then the opposite would be true.
      in both instances some people suffer while others benefit. It is not clear which is ‘right’ and which is ‘wrong’ from a global perspective since that depends on the individual situation. Finding the centre helps reduce the harm all the way around. If you have to wait 2 months for a knee replacement that is a small price to pay vs providing cancer care to a child to select some examples.
      that said, I do agree with your sentiment that we live in dark times, ruled by emotions. I’m not sure how we got here, or how we get out, but I hope we sort it out sooner than later.

      • By arguing, you’re trying to help me recognize the truth, demonstrated by what is right.

        Why else would anyone bother?

        Right and wrong doesn’t change in any situation.

        Logically, if we are supposed to have equal opportunity and the right to life then health care should be provided to all. We can’t work or live when we’re ill. Gainfully employed healthy people help all of society. It’s got to be at least as important as good infrastructure.

        That’s just logic demonstrating right from wrong. The left is on the correct side of that issue.

        Abortion is murder. The left is on the wrong side of that issue.

        The right is also both correct and wrong as well.

        It’s foolish to choose both right and wrong decisions.

        That’s how we got to the dark ages.

        • ahhhh … you’re one of those …. of course you have all the answers! What a moron.

          • Having the answers is better than the alternative.

            It takes skill and practice.

            Sucks to be you.

  3. There are some very true observations in this article but I’m not sure what he thinks is going to happen in 2018 since in Ontario anyway we have nothing but one left center and two right centre parties. Nothing but mushy center.

  4. if the center is being vacated, it’s because the only people occupying it were conservatives in search of a common middle ground that the left never approached honestly. The left never accepts compromise over the long term. It demands, takes, and then demands some more. Every concession from conservatives is met with further demands.
    Take LGBT issues. 20 years ago, activist gays asked for respect. A decade on, it was “equality”. Then it became “bake a cake for our weddings, you bigots”, and now it’s morphed into “use our invented pronouns or we’ll sue you into bankruptcy.”
    This pattern repeats repeatedly over the entire spectrum of “progressive” issues. The left never compromises or eases up. Never. worse, defeats at the ballot box are never met with acquiescence. Rejections of issues leftist dogma by the common citizenry are merely progenitors of leftist hysteria and rage.
    “Progressives” consistently paint themselves as being motivated by compassion and human decency. However, the reality of their actions paints a different picture. Those who displease the compassionate left invariably find themselves on the receiving end of varying levels of thuggery. From the thought police of the Law Society of Upper Canada to the screaming mobs of “anti-fascist” arsonists to the prisons and death camps of Lenin, Mao, and Castro, running afoul of leftist dogma always has a serious downside.
    That some form of injury (financial or personal) or violence is the inevitable result of besmirching the left’s so-called compassion suggests that the biggest motivator of the left isn’t love and compassion but anger and hatred.

    • People so inclined have already chosen sides. No differently than choosing a religion with all the zeal.

      In living post truth lives, emotion is God and truth is rejected. We are living in dark ages.

      I’ve chosen truth as my side. I’ll take fact and reality every time. I’ll wait out the lunacy here as most others choose “right or left”.

    • Don’t think for a moment that anger and hatred reside primarily with the left.

      A review of comment boards on Fox, Breitbart and any number of right wing sites, and particularly the vitriol that has been the stock and trade of conservative talk radio for the past few decades puts the lie to your fantasy.

      If some of you need to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century, then so be it.

      • So far, the 21st century is a dark age.

        There may be some kicking and screaming.

  5. This article is could not be more wrong in describing the reasons behind the rise of extremism today. You state that poverty and economic anxiety are what is fueling white nationalism. You suggest that the reason for poverty is because government ‘centrist’ policy has pushed governments to the right to the detriment of society as a whole in favour of corporations. You have it completely backwards. ‘Centrist’ policies throughout Europe as well as Canada have, in reality, created social programs that are unsustainable, created crippling debt that has grossly hampered the economy of the vast majority of Western democracies. Crippling government debt in most European (and North American) economies is what has led to the stagnant growth and increased poverty this article has mentioned. You advocate a strong move to the left to ‘fix’ the problems of white supremacy and poverty. The policies you are suggesting are exactly what has gotten us into the mess we are in.

  6. Why do Liberals and Democrats presume their opinions are centrist?

    • GRMR- Funny you should ask that question. Years ago, when I wrote a weekly column for our local daily, I would occasionally have the opportunity to crack a few cold ones with the reporters. To a one, they were all slightly to the left of Jack Layton of Tom Mulcair, but considered themselves “centrists.” This lack of self-awareness is endemic of the left.
      It’s a rare journalist who is capable of articulating their own biases, unless they are conservative. A conservative knows that he/she is a conservative. Those who are more liberal/progressive seem unable to account for bias in the same fashion. By extension, Liberals and New Democrats have long loved to proclaim to anyone within earshot that their ideas and policies are middle of the road thinking, when they’re anything but.
      Simple logic dictates that any social/economic ideas and policies that seek to change or upset long-standing and well working norms are anything but centrist. Much of what stands for “progressive” thinking simply amounts to giving a pejorative name to some fact of life that you don’t like, and using that as a pretense to foment change.
      “White privilege”, “heteronormativity”, “micro-aggressions”, are but a few examples of this kind of nonsense that constantly erupts from the left. It doesn’t matter what it is we dig our heels in about, any resistance to some lefty idiocy or another is met with dries of bigotry and accusations of hatred. Concessions to the latest round of stupidity from the left are not met with acquiescence, but renewed vigor for even more sacrifices and intrusions.
      Some of us left the middle a lot longer ago than others, but we have left nonetheless. Our absence from the middle is growing more noticeable because we were the only ones there. The left never was in the middle.
      But, here’s where the rubber meets the road, in a manner of speaking. The left never contributes. It only takes. It only consumes. But, it can only consume what others contribute. Each expansion of the consumption state only reduces the resources (i.e. tax dollars) available for welfare state to re-distribute. What happens when the there are not enough contributors to go around? What happens when the right becomes as angry and unhinged as the left? What happens when the right decides it no longer wishes to contribute to a state apparatus that openly despises them?
      Then what?

  7. I have a theory, a lot of the problems with politics seems to be the sliding scale of left/right. Its to simple of a scale to describe something like a political opinion and does not allow for someone’s actual expression. I myself am fairly libertarian in my views and see both left and right as having lots of crazies. If everyone started to use a more inclusive way of digesting political views, you know like an x,y axis system.

    Socialism Capitalism

    I tend to find myself in the lower center right, a good place to be in my opinion. Most of our political parties would scare the feces out of you with were they end up on this scale. So called Left or Right parties in Canada tend to be centrist or left, but on the upper side of that middle line between authoritarian and libertarian. The USA’s parties both tend to be centrist right, but still high up on that upper side of that middle line. And it does not need to be that way, what happened to an individual being accountable for their situation? Why does the government always need to swoop in to “save” people with more government control?

    • Bingo! Advocates of nanny-statism fail to grasp two harsh realities. One is that some people don’t deserve help. It’s a sad, harsh truth, but it’s still a truth. Another is the cost of the nanny state itself. Every day, hard working and taxpaying Canadians find themselves asking why it is that the nanny drives an Escalade, vacations in Cabo, and has her own maid, while they’re schlepping a ten-year old mini-van, clean up after the nanny, and vacation down at the far end of the back yard.
      The nanny state can be a mean, ugly dog that’ll chew yer arm off.

  8. Governance is about making correct decisions for society. Not right or left decisions, correct ones.

    If you want to categorize people by decisions, and establish political parties that represent them, the fewer groupings, the greater the error.

    Two groupings, left and right, are ridiculously error prone. People recognize that neither choice represents their democratic preferences.

    To accurately categorize voters in a hypothetical society with only 10 yes or no issues you would need to have 1024 political parties.

    It’s a fools errand.

    Only a referendum based like the Swiss model has a chance to approximate democracy.

    Anything else is fraught with error and conflict.

    • In addition the more political parties the more people whose sole job is to undermine the party in power.