The United States is not “a center-right country”

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Photo shows view of the huge crowd from the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument, during the March on Washington. Original black and white negative by Warren K. Leffler. Taken August 28th, 1963, Washington D.C, United States (@libraryofcongress). Colorized by Jordan J. Lloyd. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA https://www.loc.gov/resource/ds.04417/

There are many reasons political pundits say the United States is a center-right country. None of them hold up to scrutiny. First, let’s start from the origin of the Left-Right construct:

  • “The Left” refers to the left side of the French Revolutionary Assembly — who favored a democratic republic.
  • “The Right” refers to their opponents — who favored a return to absolute monarchy.

Just starting there, even the most conservative Americans are much further left than we generally acknowledge.

  • Libertarianism cannot fit into “The Right”;
  • small-town local government as the leading lever of national decision-making cannot fit into “The Right”;
  • pro-business conservatism cannot fit into “The Right”;
  • the right of the people to compel government to tax the people less would have no place under the autocracy of the original “Right”;
  • religious liberty has no place in the absolutist mindset of “The Right”, where the monarch claims to be a political agent of God’s will.

In its original sense, “The Right” is antithetical to American democracy. Shocking as it may seem, in the true sense of the Left-Right construct, Americans who favor climate action, or the principle that Black Lives Matter, or who want tax fairness, or who defend the 2nd Amendment, are all more “Left” than “Right”, because they believe people’s aspirations, priorities, and justice, should govern, not the whims of autocrats.

Americans lean progressive in their voting habits.

The second point is that the people of the United States do not vote “center-right” in the modern sense either.

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  • Adding the 2020 results, Democrats have won the popular vote in 7 of the last 8 US presidential elections. If there were no Electoral College, no one would ever tell the lie that the United States is “a center-right country”.
  • Democrats also consistently win the majority of votes for both the House and the Senate. If the Congress were apportioned according to national popular vote, no one would ever tell the “center-right” lie.

The legacy of anti-democratic institutions haunts us.

Third, US history is sadly full of examples of people seeking to normalize authoritarian politics, to degrade the rights of many in service of the power of a few.

  • Those who wished to maintain a kind of absolutist feudal rule in North America a) opposed universal suffrage, b) defended the inexcusable tyranny of enslavement, c) established an appointed Senate, not an elected one, and d) created the Electoral College.
  • It was these anti-democracy authoritarians who imposed the evil of the Fugitive Slave Act on all of the people of the United States, denying not only the right to escape enslavement, but also punishing anyone who would aid an escaped slave.
  • These narrow forces of tyranny spent centuries working to convince white Americans who were poor, oppressed, and abused, that their enemies weren’t the slave-owners, but those who believed no one should be enslaved.

The American people do not favor authoritarianism; we reject the oppression of individual rights and are far more comfortable with progressive expansion of those rights than cruel reversals of progress.

There is no “communist” threat in the United States.

We must also note here that in the modern context, proponents of the “Left-Right” construct have sought to associate “the Left” with authoritarian communist regimes. Those regimes are not “left-leaning”; they are authoritarian tyrants.

  • In the French Assembly, the Left opposed the authoritarian tyrants. The term is misapplied to stage a false equivalency, in which people who support particular policy preferences are unfairly associated with extremists and dictators.
  • The progressive “left” of American politics is not interested in communism. The most “socialist” Americans believe in owning property, work for private-sector institutions, build and own homes, and fiercely defend individual rights and liberties. Many also believe in small government and local control, which the conservative “right” has been told they despise and want to destroy.

Every human being is of infinite worth.

Can we say that the Biden-Harris ticket is more representative of the United States than the Trump-Pence ticket was in 2016? They might have the same Electoral College majority of 306, when all the votes are counted, but there are major differences.

  • Trump was born to wealth and selected a self-described conservative from a mostly rural state, to help make the case he was — as he so absurdly claims — a man of the people.
  • Biden was born to working class family in Scranton, PA. He selected Kamala Harris, because — as he has often said — she is the kind of person he wants to be the last person in the room when the biggest decisions are made.
  • While Trump and Pence actively persecute immigrants and denounce calls for racial justice, Kamala Harris is a daughter of immigrants from Jamaica and India and has spent a career in public service working to ensure the laws protect the rights of all people.
  • Trump and Pence lost the popular vote in 2016, and again in 2020. Biden and Harris have earned the most votes of any presidential ticket in US history, more than 74.5 million at this writing.

As President and Vice President, their job is to serve every person, to ensure that every person is honored and welcomed.

  • Joe Biden responded to the news of his election, by saying: “America, I’m honored that you have chosen me to lead our great country. The work ahead of us will be hard, but I promise you this: I will be a President for all Americans — whether you voted for me or not. I will keep the faith that you have placed in me.”
  • Kamala Harris has been eloquent about the mission to serve the whole country, saying “we may not agree on every detail, but we are united by the fundamental belief that every human being is of infinite worth, deserving of compassion, dignity and respect.”

It should go without saying, but when Democrats or “the left” say they want to “transform America”, they don’t mean turn it into a communist utopia; they mean eliminate injustice and honestly protect the rights and dignity of all people, something we have strived for but never yet achieved.

That kind of transformation is a shared value of most Americans, from all corners of the country.

The republic belongs to all of us.

There is a reason that two short preambles resonate so broadly with so many Americans:

  • 1776: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”
  • 1789: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

The United States — with all of the cruelty of its failings, and even as it was instituted with enslavement and disenfranchisement as the law — was created to be a space where no person would have to define their identity or wellbeing as contingent on the oppression of others.

  • The progressive liberation of human beings, as individuals and as communities, is the main current in our public discourse, even though narrow forces of oppression have always sought to disrupt this discourse and reverse progress.
  • It is conservative in American society to be progressive about basic human rights —to hope for and celebrate progress toward a world where self-government and not authoritarianism is the rule.

Land doesn’t vote; people do.

On Election Day this year, Fox News reported the views expressed by voters on key issues. They found that by overwhelming majorities, voters are far more progressive than the views and positions that are generally considered to be “center-right”, if you use that construct:

  • 72% favored “changing to a government-run health care plan”.
  • 71% favored leaving Roe v. Wade “as is”.
  • 55% thought gun laws should be “more strict”
  • 72% thought undocumented immigrants should have a “pathway to citizenship”.
  • 72% were “concerned about the effects of climate change”.
  • 70% favored “increasing government spending on green and renewable energy”.
  • 58% felt “Trump’s approach to Russia” was “not tough enough”.
  • 60% felt government “should do more”.
  • 78% favored “requiring people to wear masks outside of their homes”.
  • 78% felt racism is a problem in US society.
  • 73% felt racism in policing is a problem.
  • The largest group (44%) responding to the question as to whether Trump had made the US safer or less safe, with regard to crime, felt he had made the US less safe.

The American people are consistently more progressive in their political views, and in their voting patterns, than our public discourse suggests. Maps that show electoral outcomes geographically often mislead as to the distribution of political views.

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  • Huge areas of land with relatively few people give the appearance of a massive “red” consensus, when in fact, the clear pattern is that more Americans support the policies and priorities of the “blue” candidates.
  • As this study notes: “Colored maps depicting electoral results may exacerbate perceptions of polarization, rather than merely reflecting them.”
  • The map of how Americans vote is actually far more purple than red, even when laid out by land.
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Map from Purple States of America — PurpleStatesOfAmerica.org

This is not to say the United States should be classified as a Democratic country, or even as “center-left”, but it is a country where common sense, decency-driven progressive politics is more popular.

Something more human than “left” or “right”

In summary:

  1. The original “Right” was anti-democracy, pro-dictatorship; all Americans favor some version of republican democracy.
  2. The American people tend to vote progressive — what the “center-right” crowd would call “center-left”.
  3. The “right wing” American argument is not one of ordinary conservatives, but of those seeking to limit democracy.
  4. There is no “communist left” in the United States; American progressives are also advocates for republican democracy — with a focus on economic and social justice.
  5. “[E]very human being is of infinite worth, deserving of compassion, dignity and respect.”
  6. Land doesn’t vote; people do. Americans’ views are more progressive in general, and more progressive than before.

All parties should be courting — with policies that genuinely merit support — 21st century progressive-inclusive voters.

People have a right to count votes safely

There never should have been any risk to people doing the noble and necessary civic work of counting votes. That supporters of Donald Trump have created not only physical threats, but terror plots, to put vote-counters at risk, is beyond shocking; it is criminal.

Everyone who has worked diligently and forthrightly to make sure every vote is counted, in this environment, is a genuine hero.

Today, we begin the work of reflecting that more universal value around which all of American culture is ultimately built: Everyone is welcome. Everyone is sacred. Everyone deserves protection, equally. It’s time to start building back better, together.

——

Originally published on Medium.

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