My Turn: America’s ‘radical left’ and other myths

For the Monitor
Published: 8/25/2020 6:20:22 AM

Trump administration spinmeisters, Fox News bloviators, and other members of the chattering classes like to blame anti-racism demonstrations and other disruptions on “the left,” usually amplified with adjectives such as “the far left’ and “the radical left.”

They might as well blame unicorns or Sasquatch. The fact is, there is no “left” in this country and there hasn’t been since at least the 1930s.

While progressive ideas like universal health care, higher education for all, and reducing income inequality may seem quite radical in this country, they are decidedly mainstream, and in the political center, in most of the industrialized world.

In fact, they aren’t even new ideas.

The first nationwide social insurance program, including old-age pensions, worker’s compensation for people injured on the job, and unemployment compensation, was introduced in 1883 – in very conservative imperial Germany under Chancellor Otto von Bismarck and Kaiser Wilhelm I.

We are the ones behind the curve on this.

Terms like “right” and “left” are tossed around in a false equivalency so that one would think the American political spectrum is a neat, symmetrical, bell-shaped curve, with most people in the middle and fewer and fewer out at the extremes on both sides.

This results in what Nobel Prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman calls “whataboutism.” This is the notion in American journalism and political discourse that both sides of an issue have equal merit. Even if one side is lying or denying what is obvious.

What we really have in this country is a political spectrum that is heavily skewed to the dishonest right. The left side of the curve is severely truncated close to the center while the right extends out into space.

Does any of this matter? Of course it does. This is part of an on-going campaign by Trump and his Republican enablers to stoke fear of “The Other,” whomever that might be.

Refugees fleeing violence in Central America? “An invasion of our country by drug gangs and rapists.”

People demonstrating against police violence? “Riots organized by radical leftists.”

QAnon, the Deep State, “the-Sandy-Hook-massacre-was-staged-to-take-your-guns” all create alternative realities that too many people actually believe.

Whipping up hysteria against “The Other” worked for Joseph Goebbels in Germany in the 1930s, and it works for Trump and his enablers today. How else to explain the fact that white working-class people have been voting against their own interests for years. The simple GOP strategy is: “Keep ’em distracted with nonsense while we’re picking their pockets.”

In our present weird state of national politics, if many people believe that a mythical “radical left” is causing all the nation’s problems, what other fairy tales might they believe? That COVID-19 is a hoax? That voting by mail is rife with fraud (even though it’s been done successfully since the Civil War)? That Hillary Clinton is running a child-sex-trafficking ring out of the basement of a pizza joint in Washington?

Yes. All this and more. Conspiracy theories like QAnon and the “Deep State” are tossed around in the halls of Congress, presidential tweets, and the right-wing media as if they were true.

The fact that they exist only on extremist internet sites just seems to reinforce their appeal.

I don’t have a solution for this problem. We can only hope for a blue tidal wave on Nov. 3 to get rid of Trump and as many Republicans as possible up and down the ballot. That will be just the first step to returning this country to something resembling normal.

(James C. Van Dongen lives in Concord.)

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