Left, Right, We No Longer Get This Fight!
1 May 2024

The traditional political spectrum, with its dichotomy of left and right, has long served as a framework for understanding and categorizing political ideologies. It was never entirely accurate… maintaining, for example, that fascism was a wholly right-wing ideology, when Nazism clearly showed far more traits considered traditionally ‘leftist’. In recent years this simplistic paradigm has come under increasing scrutiny – not only for its historical inadequacies and failures – but as populist movements increasingly depart from the script. The overuse of slander as a technique has also rendered several loaded terms completely meaningless, and de-fanged once severe accusations. It is hard to take the term ‘bigot’ seriously, for example. Given the empirical data – the spike in use of terms like racist and racism also indicate that such words, once clearly defined and understood, now simply refers to anyone who disagrees with the most fanatic elements of the populist left. These traditional notions of left and right no longer adequately describe the political landscape, and contributes to the widening gap between ordinary voters and political elites.

The traditional left-right divide was largely based on economic issues, with the left advocating for social equality and government intervention in the economy, while the right championed free markets and individual liberty. But I can think of several left-wing movements that are socially conservative… in the American example even elements of a left that is positively regressive. Likewise, Trump is described by his opponents as dangerously right wing – and yet he advocates for protectionist tariffs. Gay marriage was made legal in Britain by the Conservative Party. Populist movements often defy traditional ideological labels, combining elements of both left-wing and right-wing rhetoric to appeal to a broad swath of disaffected voters. Populist leaders capitalize on grievances against the political establishment, tapping into a sense of frustration and alienation among ordinary citizens who feel marginalized by traditional parties and institutions. We always knew this about the right, but it is mainly a technique of the left these days.

In addition, the fragmentation of political ideologies has led to the proliferation of niche parties and movements that defy easy categorization. In many countries, voters are presented with a bewildering array of options, ranging from far-left socialist parties to far-right nationalist movements, as well as a myriad of single-issue parties focused on specific issues such as environmentalism or Euroscepticism. The disconnect between ordinary voters and political elites is exacerbated by the perception that traditional parties are out of touch with the concerns and aspirations of ordinary citizens. Political elites, often drawn from privileged backgrounds and insulated from the daily struggles of ordinary people, are viewed with suspicion and distrust by many voters who feel they no longer represent their interests. This sense of elite capture undermines the legitimacy of democratic institutions and fuels disillusionment with the political process.

But place on top of that the tendence for these political elites to claim to be on the side of empathy, and humanism, while accusing their disaffected voters as bigots – an exercise so commonplace and widespread it is now pretty much at the point of being a long in the tooth cliché. There are serious consequences to the targets of slurs, and for too long there has been no consequences for those doing the slurring.

If nothing else, we now can look forward to a period where such a blunt, obvious and lazy tool has been rendered entirely useless. The bluff has been called. It’s not slowly going… it’s dead and buried.

Traditional parties continue to fail to address the pressing issues that matter most to their constituents – and swing terms like ‘’economic inequality’’, ‘’social justice’’ and ‘’environmental sustainability’’ and other such theoretical or universalist concepts around to make up for their gargantuan and spectacular failures at getting even the most rudimentary basics of governance right.

It will be some time before those who are professional politicians catch up to the realities that the regular people already understand (you can tell because they strut around as if they are respected, when the truth is they are not).

But unlike seeing these trends as failures on the part of democracy, or irreversible doom and gloom, it might best and more safely be interpreted as a kind of long-suffering exhaustion on the part of voters, making them, for the moment, rather tolerant. Traditional explanations seem to serve the comfort of politicians –and professional opinion-havers working in the biased press – as if there never were nor could be revolutions where the middle management classes had their heads chopped off in town square.

Given the gargantuan strides made by the kind of tripe concocted by the likes of McKinsey and Company in the public discourse, such a very rude awakening might well be on the cards for those who think of decent and ordinary people as a perpetually powerless proletariat. At some point, that game becomes dangerous – for those who play it, not those who tolerate it. You can play ideological games all you want – but when their patience runs out, so will your time.

And I might not feel particularly weepy on that day.

Hashtag just sayin.