See most any media analysis of what’s happening in the Democratic Party right now, and you’ll find that the group hacks call ‘the left’—a movement long frowned upon in American politics—is having a moment. This is how the press presents it to us: Spearheaded by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, a branch of ‘leftist’ outsiders are now looking to transform the Democratic Party from within. And it looks like they’re going to succeed, too. With the Democrats panicked and desperate, defeated by a man who in any other year would have been unelectable, a set of apparent leftie radicals now seem set to take a position of real influence in the country’s oldest political party.
This is the story we’re being told. The truth is that there is no ‘left’ or ‘right’ anymore—those descriptors have become meaningless. There aren’t wishy-washy liberals or proud American conservatives. Instead, there are progressives and there are regressives: those who wish to take us forward, and those who wish to drag us back into the past; those whose views are supported by experts, and those whose aren’t; those whose views reflect the wider world, and those whose don’t. As we head into an uncertain four years, a few things appear likely: that the new Republican America under President Donald Trump will introduce measures that increase inequality and the likelihood of economic uncertainty, decrease everyday Americans’ access to healthcare, roll back on LGBT rights, relax gun control, limit women’s reproductive rights and reject decades of climate change science as conspiracy theory.
Considering how perfectly they represent a reversion to the positions of governments past, these are what you’d call regressive policies. They are, according to the experts, unsafe policies. They’re also, nationally, unpopular policies. More than ever, the average American (64%) is concerned about climate change. More than ever, the average American (55%) supports stricter gun control laws. 63% of Americans think wealth distribution as it stands—pre-Trump—is unfair; 61% think higher earners pay too little in tax, not too much, as Trump’s tax plan assumes—a tax plan which economists say will stifle economic growth and leave many Americans worse off.
Similarly, on women’s rights (a slim majority now describe themselves as pro-choice), LGBT rights (61% support same-sex marriage) and healthcare (Obamacare is more popular than ever, while 58% want universal healthcare, a model used by every other major country on Earth), Americans oppose not just what this new government stands for, but what so-called Republican ‘moderates’ like Paul Ryan stand for as well. Ryan, the sane, acceptable face of Republicanism who has distanced himself from Trump and team for their being too ‘out there’, is for scrapping the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare, for those who still think there’s a difference), believes in criminally prosecuting women who have abortions, claims climate change is a hoax and is a strict opponent of LGBT rights. In his time, he has voted against hate crime protections, same-sex marriage and the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
We call this a moderate. For the likes of lifelong independent Bernie Sanders and former Republican Elizabeth Warren, who, like the experts, most governments of the developed world and the majority of Americans, support universal healthcare, reproductive rights, LGBT rights, progressive taxation and addressing the reality of man-made climate change—we use that dreaded moniker ‘left’. And this is a problem. Though most Americans actually tend to agree with many policies considered socialist, they balk at the label. For years now, the Republican media, led most notably by Rupert Murdoch and Fox News, has gone out of its way to demonize terms like ‘liberal’ and ‘left’. The issue for Sanders and Warren isn’t that what they stand for is widely disliked, then, but that they’re stuck with labels that American voters have been taught to instantly recoil at.
For those we traditionally call ‘the left’ in America, it might be time to rebrand. Around the world, in developed countries from left to right, gun control that prevents daily massacres, healthcare that keeps the poor healthy and out of debt, reproductive rights which allow women control over their own bodies, progressive taxation which doesn’t drive a wedge through the classes and stringent climate policy which seeks to prevent environmental catastrophe…are all very normal. America’s new President and his administration of billionaires are not normal. Not even those we now refer to as ‘moderate Republicans’ are normal.
A movement whose policies have the support of both experts and the majority of Americans, on the other hand, should not be considered ‘left,’ but the very definition of normal. Perhaps now is the time to insist that policies which would usually be referred to as of the dreaded ‘liberal left’ are in fact simple common sense. Not just because it would make support more palatable for the Fox News crowd, and not just because the American ‘right’ has now ceded all right to the term ‘common sense,’ but because it’s true. If the Warren and Sanders movement successfully transforms the Democratic Party, this will not become a party ‘of the left.’ It will be a party for everyday Americans. With the status quo about to turn absurd, this ‘fringe movement’ should use the opportunity to lose the labels and start presenting itself as America’s sane option.