America is an inherently liberal country. ‘Radical Left’ is just a buzzword used by politicians like Donald Trump – yes, he technically is a politician – to scare their base into voting for more conservative policies. Without going too far into demographics and voting patterns, the people who voted for Trump and other Republican candidates are mostly low-income, not college-educated, rural, blue-collar workers, who would be the ones harmed the most by Republican policies like defunding essential services like social security and Obamacare. They are drawn to the Republican Party mostly because of religious or nativist views, which supports the argument that people rarely vote for things that are in their interest.
The political spectrum is different in America compared to Britain. Whilst America is an inherently liberal country, its political parties and politicians appear more conservative than the ones in Britain. To put it in perspective, Bernie Sanders, AOC and that camp are considered ‘radically left’ in America, but in Britain they all would be quite comfortable in the Labour Party. Their views are quite standard and common-sense for most European and Scandinavian countries, but in America, they are pretty radical (we will return to this cultural issue later). Most Democrats would actually find more common ground with Conservatives or Liberal Democrats in Britain. This is where Biden fits into the spectrum. Many Democrat policies are liberal, but not exceedingly so. Think of their policies like putting duct tape over a large crack in the wall; it helps but doesn’t actually solve the problem. They’re very middle of the road because they do need to have some Republican support in order to pass. This shift really occurred around Clinton’s presidency, where the Democrats wanted to be liberal, but not too liberal because that would scare off moderate voters.
The current Republicans are uber conservative. In Britain, they would be the most extreme right wing of the Conservative Party or could even be considered UKIP. The Republican Party is really hard to define now; the Republican Party of Lincoln was very different to Reagan’s, and even the Republican Party that existed during both Bush presidencies is very different to the one that we have now. These are of course generalisations; there are a wide range of political beliefs within each party that do not fit into these descriptions. This is due to the federalised system in America but ultimately, it means that party members are not beholden to the head of the party (the President) and can vote however they like, which may not even be along the party lines. The easiest way to tell the difference between the two parties is that Democrats tend to like a large central government that funds lots of different programmes that are supposed to help people and decrease military spending, while Republicans like a small government, which defers a lot of key decisions to individual states and expands the military. This has been the main and most consistent split throughout the various party systems that have existed since the Declaration of Independence.
There are about 4 periods of change in American political history: The Revolutionary War and its aftermath, the Civil War and Reconstruction, the Cold War, and the Fall of the Soviet Union to the present. Each period has defined and added to the amalgam that is the American political system. Now, you may remember that I mentioned that America was an inherently liberal country. But then why do people seem so scared of liberal policies? Well, that can be attributed to the Cold War and the ‘Red Scare’, or communism, as it is colloquially called. In the 1950s, people could be accused of and prosecuted for being members of the Communist Party by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) led by Senator McCarthy. If they refused to name other members, it could lead to them being blackballed which meant that they could lose their jobs, made it harder for them find employment in the future, and in some cases, go to prison (mostly for contempt of Congress). This led to the concept of McCarthyism, which is the practice of making accusations of subversion or treason, mostly related communism, without any proper regard for evidence. This is also what influenced Arthur Miller to write ‘The Crucible’, because McCarthyism was essentially a witch hunt. People were prosecuted for their beliefs or being ‘too left’, a violation of the First Amendment. It has led to ‘socialism’ and ‘communism’ becoming buzz words for Republican or simply conservative figures to use in order to discredit more left-wing politicians amongst those who would benefit the most from left wing policies, who are the traditional Republican base. It’s not necessarily the people who are scared, it’s the politicians.
This is what Trump meant when he accused Biden of being ‘radically left’. It was meant to be an insult. Trump couldn’t really accuse Biden of being a socialist, so he said, ‘radical left’. Either that or he was appropriating language that left-wing politicians use to describe his base. The word ‘radical’ makes whatever comes after it seem more extreme, so there is also a possibility that the phrase ‘radical left’ was just a rhetorical device to try and scare moderates into voting for him. Trump has a history of repeating and using phrases that he does not really understand in the hope that it would whip his supporters into a frenzy. So, it’s hard to tell what his motivations were or what he really meant.
America is an inherently liberal country. Research shows that overwhelmingly Americans do tend to favour more liberal policies, like legalising gay marriage or funding universal healthcare. However, the parties themselves seem to have a more conservative bent in America than in other countries. This ultimately suggests that the parties themselves are not representing the views of the voters and are instead pursuing personal policies. This could also be the by-product of umbrella parties, as in the parties themselves are trying to fit in as many issues as they can under their slogan, but by doing so, end up not having a real position on anything. This is why many Democrats, especially in the party leadership, come off as being centrist. They are not taking a definite stance on anything because they don’t want to come across as divisive and lose voters. Not taking a real stance on any issue – apart from getting rid of Trump- leads to disaffection amongst potential voters and the belief that nothing will really change. And the people at Trump rallies wielding guns and refusing to wear masks? Technically a minority. They just get more media coverage. Probably because what they are doing is more shocking or interesting than someone properly wearing a mask or saying that vaccines don’t cause autism.
The recent election is proof enough; the country voted overwhelmingly for the more liberal candidate. The representatives contesting the election and the people who chanted ‘Stop the Count’ on election night? A minority that has so much media coverage that it seems like they are speaking for the entire country. The ‘radical left’ is just a euphemism that Republicans use, a mere rhetorical device to scare voters, and yet another relic from the Cold War that America is yet to get rid of.
[Katerina Partolina Schwartz – she/her – @katpschwartz]
[Photo credit: Rosemary Ketchum]