Tuesday 9 July 2024

Has Progressivism Peaked?

Let’s Go Crazy! AOC (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) rarks-up the voters of New York’s 16th Congressional District.

HAVE WE MOVED past peak progressivism? Across the planet, there are signs that the surge of support for left-wing causes and personalities, exemplified by the election of the democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (AOC) to the US House of Representatives in 2018, is fast losing momentum.

In the recent elections for the European Parliament, for example, the Green contingent shrunk from just under 60 MEPs to just over 40 – a drop of nearly 25 percent. Green economics would appear to be an acquired taste.

Then, less than 48 hours ago (25/6/24) there came another straw in the wind. Jamaal Bowman, a member of the so-called “Squad” of left-wing legislators who followed AOC into the House, was trounced in his Democratic Party’s primary election for New York’s 16th Congressional District, by George Latimer, a moderate backed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Bowman had been an outspoken supporter of the Palestinian cause. Keffiyehs, it would seem, cost votes.

It gets worse. As the United Kingdom counts down the days to its General Election on 4 July, electors are confronted by a Conservative Party straining to hold its position on the centre ground against powerful forces (led by Brexiteer Nigel Farage’s Reform Party) urging its supporters to move further right; while the Labour Party, with a 20-point lead in the polls, has spent the last five years emptying its ranks of the left-wingers who delivered Labour’s leadership to Jeremy Corbyn in 2015.

Now, it is always possible that Labour’s leader, Sir Keir Starmer, may prove to be another Clement Atlee – the Leader of the Opposition Winston Churchill described as “a modest little man, with much to be modest about” – and gobsmack the world by unleashing a second socialist transformation of the United Kingdom, but that is not an outcome upon which even a British MP would place a bet!

Not that the centrist political space is anything like as comfortable as it used to be. In France, where the centrism of President Emmanuel Macron has held sway since the implosion of the French Left in 2017, there is now a good chance that the right-wing populist “National Rally” of Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella will soon command at least a plurality (and maybe even a majority) of seats in the French National Assembly.

By calling a snap parliamentary election, Macron hopes to see moderate and radical France unite to repudiate the National Rally’s spectacular gains in the elections for the European Parliament. But, France shows little sign of wanting to be reasonable. Not this time. “Marianne” is in one of her moods.

The most compelling visual example of the progressive Left’s fatal failure to fire, however, is the extraordinary rally organised in support of Jamaal Bowman’s doomed candidacy by AOC herself. Bouncing around the stage like a cheerleader on speed, as if she could roll back the influence of Latimer’s $25 million spend on television and social media attack ads through sheer physical exertion, Cortez, in her radical manqué phase, became the unwitting poster-girl of a political movement floating on an ebbing tide.

As is so often the case, New Zealand anticipated the world’s direction of travel by several months – if not years. Jacinda Ardern became our very own AOC a whole year before the abbreviation was coined. And, if one is looking for surges, no party anywhere in the democratic world has yet delivered a progressive result as decisive as Labour’s 2020 election win. (Always assuming one can call the Covid-19 pandemic “progressive”.)

But, well ahead of their peers once again, New Zealanders have learned the dispiriting difference between what political progressives are winningly quick to promise, and what they are then unwilling and/or unable to deliver. New Zealanders have also learned how little stock progressives place in even the plainest evidence that the policies they have managed to deliver are both unwanted and unpopular.

The triumph of Brexit and Trump in 2016 was all the evidence progressives, worldwide, needed that the masses could not be trusted to make the right decisions. Left to themselves, the progressives reasoned, ordinary voters will likely opt for policies and politicians that are racist, sexist, transphobic, destructive of the environment, and generally hostile to everything the progressive movement stands for.

What progressives could not work out, however, was what to do and where to go with this depressing estimation of their fellow citizens. Trying to impose unwanted and unpopular policies on a majority of the population, in a democracy, can mean only one thing: your party is going to lose. Attempting to do so by stealth, subterfuge and misrepresentation, no matter how tempting, merely guarantees that your party loss will be even more painful.

But if progressives have left the voters infuriated, and determined to be rid of them, then the formula for getting rid of deficient progressive policies, without being landed with a whole set of even more deficient conservative policies by the right-wing parties elected to replace the offending lefties, remains elusive.

It would, of course, be extraordinarily beneficial for Labour and the Greens to devote their energies to discovering a formula of this sort. Certainly, it would hasten their return to the Treasury Benches. Sadly, convinced of their rectitude, progressive politicians and activists would condemn such a quest as a betrayal. And it is this unwillingness to abandon their ideological positions (an unwillingness shared by their equally uncompromising opponents on the right) that explains the electorate’s falling out of love with progressive politics.

It is also the explanation for the evident global appeal of populist parties of both the left and the right. They have embraced the idea that hardline, ideologically-driven progressives and conservatives consistently refuse to accept. That democracy means giving the people what they want; or, at least, what a skilled populist politician is able to convince a majority of the people is what they think they want.

This is, of course, a trick that only a politician who is willing to listen to the people can pull off. But, as luck would have it, that is exactly the sort of politician most of the people are looking for.

This essay was originally posted on The Democracy Project substack on Friday, 28 June 2024.


The Barron said...

Thatcherism began in the UK, this week the Tories lost her former electorate of Finchley (and Golders Green) comfortably to Labour. Like much of the recent western electoral results, Gaza played a part, but symbolically the neo-liberal economic revolution may have ended where it began. Well, maybe now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning. It is not peak progression, but Britain has shown the limits to neo-liberalism within democratic societies.

There are reasonable criticisms of both the proportions of the vote and the turn out, but, as in rugby, you can only play what is in front of you. If we take the progressive votes, Labour, Lib.Dems, Greens, SNP, Sinn Fein, Plaid Cymru and the Alliance - we have a significant rejection of the policies of the Conservatives. Little wonder if we look at the absolute social and economic devastation that their policies have done to a once green and pleasant land. Was it more anti-Tory than pro-Starmer? Probably, but that rejection is the take that we should rejoice and learn from.

Liz Truss' brief tenure (hardly salad days)showed that the dogma of the right will be pursued by the entitled no matter the consequence for the people and the environment. The direction and programs have been a proven failure, yet reduction of government services and austerity remain the ideology of the Luxon government.

In France, the so-called centre were forced to come to terms with where the danger to the state and to the people was coming from. A step to the right would have been a (Rocky) horror. Realisation that the left was he only option to maintain the fifth republic as a functioning state. The people understood that liberté, égalité, fraternité could only be an ideal if the centre and left cooperate against the threat to the republic.

Peak progressive? Or, the beginning of the fight back against the existential threat to democracy that the right has become?

Gary Peters said...

"But, as luck would have it, that is exactly the sort of politician most of the people are looking for."

Sadly we are bound to be disappointed as the "political system" will continue to dish up inconsequential grey people who believe men can be women and visa versa, that racist indoctrination is the way to progress a country and where those that can make a difference and do are taxed into obscurity to gain and the retain the votes of those that add little but a vote for those that promise the most.

We live in weird times but when 50% of people in our country pay little or no tax and receive the bulk of their income from those that do work hard via state beneficence we are doomed to continue to lag behind the rest of the world.

If you have any, take your money and run.

Little Keith said...

Yes, those who are "progressive" think they're superior, they "care", they're "kind", forward thinking, tolerant and "wise". They're are none of the above. They're, ironically, the opposite.

Labour drove home the sheer insane contradictory reality of progressiveism. That all their imaginary perceptions of people and their problems and their solutions to those imaginary issues achieved the exact opposite.

Being more accommodating to radical Maori demands did not make us a more tolerant and did not improve race relations, quite the opposite. The whole thing reeked and it's quietly behind more citizens quitting NZ altogether.

Treating crime with caring and tolerance like it was a health issue to improve lives let a very dangerous genie out of the bottle!

The modern progressive is a signed up member of the fun police, obsessed with staggeringly petty identity culture matters and woe betide anyone who disagrees . And the puritanical judgement on others is approaching a religious fervour. They're arseholes, in short. And no one likes them.

Being labelled "progressive" is now an expletive!

And as for UK Labour. They are infinitely more woke and less tolerant than our lot and that is saying something. I really feel for the UK. It's toast!

John Hurley said...

A brown woman on a bus hit a Chinese youth in the mouth with an iron bar. There is nothing for those people in the mass migration (beyond not being called racist).
Paul Joseph Watson nailed it when he said (re France) "the center-right will always side with the Far-left, because they are against the nation"; the nation draws a circle around "her" people.
The progressives are calculating: "they won't send those migrants to Martha's Vineyard"

Anonymous said...

" 50% of people in our country pay little or no tax and receive the bulk of their income from those that do work hard via state beneficence "


Gary Peters said...

So you had to cast back to 2017 to try to prove me wrong. A lot has changed since 2017 and net tax payers have reduced not increased.

Yes, gst is a thing but when they are spending a benefit surely that just "book entry".

Another "rueism for you.

Over 50% of people in NZ receive the bulk of the "spendies" courtesy of taxpayers!

New view said...

IMO so called progressive thinkers who become politicians are often guilty of thoroughly thinking through their progressive agenda at the expense of economic realities. Worse than that many seem to have no knowledge of those economic realities and in some cases appear to show their distaste of those realities. Many NZrs may like the direction progressive policies are heading, whether they are cultural or environmental, but draw the line when those policies either hit them in the pocket, or are shown to be impractical or unnecessarily damaging to the economy. The last Labour coalition was full of such politicians who had good intentions but in their desire to show us the right way, forgot the country has to pay its way.