2020 Should Be a Wake-Up Call For the Left: It Is Time to Take the Gloves Off and Fight Dirty, Too
Despite one of my New Year’s resolutions being spending less time on social media, one of the first things I did on the first day of 2020 while my morning coffee was brewing was to go on Instagram. There, my feed showed me a post by Salma Yacoob of the UK’s Labour Party who is also running to be the candidate for West Midlands Mayor:
“Happy New Year! What New Year’s resolutions do you think Labour should make?”
My compact, but detailed reply began with “To fight fire with fire.” Labour in the UK and the global Left from the Americas to Australia who can’t seem to buck the trend of losing election after election to right wing bigotry and sometimes downright fascism would be wise to heed my five-word advice.
Let me be clear: the only reason the Right is winning in democratic countries (where leaders are elected by the people and not installed by force) is that it keeps bringing knives to fist fights. Or gloves to bare-knuckle fights, whichever metaphor you prefer.
And the only reason the Left (in the U.S.’s de facto two-party system of a neoliberal rock and a slightly less neoliberal hard place that would mean the Democrats) is losing is that it keeps refusing to do the same and keeps believing in the cerebral decency of all human beings. Including the ones that are recklessly making the world a worse place by voting for people who mirror their own hearts of darkness.
This is where the progressives of left-leaning persuasion who are on the righter side of history are still getting it wrong. Excluding those who “feel the bern” and are “indignez-vous”ing the hell out of themselves, the Left in general still refuses to shed its inherent naïveté towards how bad people actually can be if they feel like being “that guy” (the Marine Le Pens and Jeanine Anezes of the world are proof enough that in this day and age, bigotry knows no gender).
But this starry-eyed idealism of the Left has long been rendered anachronistic and impotent by the Trumpian re-writing of the rulebook of political discourse in which there is only one rule: indecency. Leaving the perplexed Left to still wonder what went wrong and why the traditional rules of political correctness that they are so used to abiding by don’t get them anywhere anymore. Especially not into elected offices.
Key to the proliferation of this Indecent New World are equally indecent electorates: spanning the democratic parts of the globe from Órban’s Hungary to Dirty Duterte’s Philippines, from angry white masculine America to angry white masculine Australia, they would rather see their countries, regions and the world go to feces by voting for cheap populists than address their own toxic indecencies in a constructive manner.
Or is there anything decent about electing a crypto-fascist and highly dangerous ignoramus like Donald Trump who panders to everyone from womens-rights-hating evangelicals to the Palestinian-rights-hating Israel lobby to the highest office in the land?
Is there anything decent about electing a populist Pinocchio like the UK’s Boris Johnson as Prime Minister of one of the most significant polities in the world, thereby fast-tracking Brexit and the corresponding self-imposed downfall of the Ununited Kingdom into global irrelevance and even further nether regions of social inequality, one that is already routinely exacerbated with each incoming conservative government?
Is there anything decent about electing a full-blown fascist like Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro who is waging a sadistic, multi-pronged war on Brazil’s indigenous population, the environment and the LGBTQ+ community among others as leader of Latin America’s largest country?
Is there an iota of decency in casting your vote for a Hindu extremist like India’s Narendra Modi or a Jewish supremacist like Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu and his even more racist coalition partners who are all misappropriating their democratic mandates in order to sow the seeds of ethno-nationalism and wage their juridical and military wars on disenfranchised and occupied Muslims and Palestinians respectively?
So to add 2 and 2 together: If you vote for a racist, you are a racist, too. If you vote for a misogynist, you are a misogynist, too. If you vote for a fascist, you are a fascist, too. If you vote for evil, you are evil, too. You see where I’m going with this?
No more making excuses for the irresponsible conduct of reckless people who misuse the privilege of universal suffrage as a passive-aggressive outlet for their pent-up frustrations, moral deficiencies and general heartlessness.
In democratic states you get what you vote for. The ultimate responsibility lies with the electorate, not with elected officials. They are merely symptoms, not causes.
And what we are getting today is democratically elected fascism. Even Hitler came to power through the democratic process of the Weimar Republic. Once in power though, he quickly dismantled it and renamed Germany the Third Reich. We all know how that went.
That right there is what makes fascists so dangerous: they sweep to victory in a completely legal manner, and then swiftly begin replacing democratic participation with authoritarianism at best and totalitarianism at worst.
So how to get these reckless and irresponsible voters who are hitting the self-destruct button by voting for reckless and irresponsible officials like themselves to stop doing so and instead get them to vote for people that don’t turn the world to irreversible pulp? To get them to vote for kind-hearted ideologues who still believe in human decency & human rights, equality & equity, peace & prosperity for all, rather than squander their precious votes on mean-spirited and egomaniacal tribalists hell bent on defending the patriarchy in their medieval War on Progress?
If the global Left wants to get to a point where it is relevant again, it quickly needs to re-evaluate its traditional tactics. Even if that means compromising its own value system, however painful that may be.
Meaning: it needs to realize that the tried and tested kill-em-with-kindness approach doesn’t work against the kind of angry, post-truth populism coming from the global Right that we are sadly witnessing today. And that it desperately needs to start fighting fire with fire.
Like with the environment, time is also running out with regards to the political climate emergency.
Furthermore, the Left needs to not only take a page out of the right-wing populists’ playbook, but also from that of more moderate centrist neoliberals like the UK’s Conservative Party which swept to a landslide electoral victory last month.
How did it do that? By successfully demonizing the political opponent as anti-Semitic, no matter how hair-raising the claim. By shamelessly profiting from public ignorance and apathy. And by having no qualms in exploiting right-wing agendas for its own political gains which are pretty damn simple: to keep being able to protect the rich and the privileged.
Yes, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s flip-flopping on Brexit and underestimating just how fed up the electorate actually is with the B-word definitely helped facilitate the party’s further demise into political oblivion.
The Conservatives’ key strategy on the other hand was brilliant in its simplicity. It was pretty much the same one Donald Trump employed in 2016: Telling lies and bringing a knife to a fist-fight. Or engaging in bare-knuckle, heavy-weight pugilism against a gloved featherweight, who at that time was a Hillary Clinton whose hubris (and personal, “progressive” version of the same sense of „aggrieved entitlement“ the sociologist Michael Kimmel’s aforementioned “Angry White Men” experience) alone was key in costing the Democrats the election.
Last month, on the other side of the pond, that gloved featherweight was Jeremy Corbyn, and Boorish Johnson the bare-knuckle boxer who dealt the former — a real progressive unlike neoliberal, status-quo-politician Hillary — a crushing electoral blow.
Again: choose whichever metaphor you like. But the gist remains the same: the Right has been fighting dirty for quite some time now and the catatonic Left needs to finally acknowledge the end of the Age of Innocence, accept the new paradigms laid down by the Right and do the same.
The rules of the game have changed. Since that fateful Tuesday night of November 8, 2016, nothing is sacred anymore, not even facts and universally accepted truths. Politicians in “liberal” democracies have always lied to the people that elect them, but never in post-1945-times have they done this so shamefully, so brazenly, so belligerently and so downright proudly.
2 and 2 not only don’t equal 4 anymore, they equal 5 in the most matter-of-fact manner. That makes 5 the new 4, however incorrect, absurd and downright schizophrenic that might seem to the rational mind. But don’t forget: these are highly irrational, absurd and sometimes even downright schizophrenic times we are living in today.
It is sad that we have reached this boiling point, but it is what it is. The Left has a choice: to keep crying over spilt baby milk, or to finally grow up, get down to brass tacks and start breaking bad. That is the only way it will become a force to be reckoned with again in this here dishonest and dangerous muck that is democratic politics in the second half of the second decade of the 21st century.
2020 is an election year in the U.S., still the world’s leading power for the near foreseeable future. So let us begin that long overdue progressive revival by kicking the guy out of office who started this whole fascist renaissance in the first place: Donald Trump. By whichever means necessary: through impeachment or at the ballot box.
No man is an island. Not even Donald Trump. Which is why his downfall will have a ripple-effect on the rest of the world, just like his surprising rise to power did. A world that still likes to think of the U.S. as a force for universal good, despite all the suffering brought on by its seemingly endless chain track of foreign wars and coercive military interventionism. And by more recent blemishes on its national conscience such as the Gestapo-like persecution of immigrants at home since Trump proved Sinclair Lewis right who already in 1935 – way before the Simpsons – foresaw fascism’s rise to power in America when he wrote his chilling “It Can’t Happen Here.”
Whatever happens this year, we should all start rehearsing our “LOCK-HIM-UP!” chants. Not because there is a realistic legal perspective of hauling his heinie off to jail, but as a battle cry.
We are at war. And the sooner the global Left accepts this new fact of life, the sooner it can win that war.