“Democrats have been a reliable source of fake progressivism and real imperial policy.”
The era of Trump has been described by the US corporate media as an extreme deviation from the “centrist” politics of mainstream Democrats and even many Republicans. The Republican Party has for decades provided a reliable home for white racists. Republicans gained this reputation for their overt policy attacks on women, Blacks, and undocumented immigrants. Ample room was left for Democrats to court the support of unions, Black leaders, and immigration advocates under the tent of Wall Street and war. Democrats aligned themselves with the political ideology of centrism, which was born from the bowels of the neo-liberal stage of capitalism
Centrism thrived in the neo-liberal political environment. Unions were broken up and their leadership bought off. New opportunities for political advancement for a small section of Black America buttressed the explosion of the mass incarceration regime designed specifically for the Black poor. Both Republicans and Democrats subscribed to “tough on crime” and “counter-terror” positions to erect the most expansive and technologically advanced police-state known to man. Austerity ravaged the public sector and siphoned what little social safety net was available for the poor into the coffers of banks and corporations. These conditions arrested the political development of the masses and the battle of ideas was temporarily lost to the ruling class.
“Both Republicans and Democrats subscribed to ‘tough on crime’ and ‘counter-terror’ positions to erect the most expansive and technologically advanced police-state known to man.”
The basis for centrism was laid. Centrism normalized the policy manifestations of Wall Street’s fleecing of the poor and working masses both in the US and outside of it. The political center represented the enlightened faction of the ruling class. Centrism bore the fruits of the fall of the Soviet Union and the socialist bloc. Without a political and economic challenge to its rule, Wall Street financiers and monopolists found increased space to dominate the sphere of ideology. Neo-liberal and neo-conservative economists, politicians, and strategists marketed the destruction of the public sector, the erection of the police-state, and the declaration of endless war as policies that benefitted the “national interests” of all Americans.
The political center prevented the illusion of democracy from collapsing by setting aside certain issues that were left open for debate. These issues included the question of women’s reproductive rights, the rights of LGBTQ people, and the degree to which the rich would become richer through the US tax code. To this day, neo-liberals have largely co-opted these issues into tax-deductions in the form of non-profits while the right has strongly opposed any impediment to the white, patriarchal rule of the rich. The last forty years of inter-ruling class debate around these issues has brought little material benefit to the masses. It has, however, allowed so-called centrists to rationalize the exploitation of the poor and oppressed by privileging rationality and reason over justice.
“The ruling class depicts King as one of those political moderates he railed so much against during his time as an activist.”
In the neo-liberal era, rationality and reason have often been attributed to Democrats. Democrats have been a reliable source of fake progressivism and real imperial policy. They have diligently worked for Wall Street and the war-makers while claiming to stand on the side of justice when it comes to questions of race and gender equality. Democrats and their non-profit industrial complex have given leadership roles to women and Black Americans. None of these cosmetic changes have come at the expense of Wall Street or corporate profits. In fact, Democrats have been the staunchest advocates of policies such as the deregulation of Wall Street and “tough on crime” measures. These policies have enriched the profits of the 1 percent at the expense of millions of poor, especially Black, families across the US.
Martin Luther King Jr’s political legacy has been wrapped up in the ruling class effort to advertise its political project as reasonable, logical, and “centrist” in character. Each year, Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday is celebrated in the US to remind the masses that progress is in fact possible. The ruling class depicts King as one of those political moderates he railed so much against during his time as an activist. His leadership in the Civil Rights movement is heralded for making US imperialism a truly representative democracy for Black America, leading to the rise of political figures like Barack Obama. Such a depiction of King buries his true legacy and legitimizes the existence of centrist politics.
Yet if King were alive today, he would certainly criticize the political representatives of centrism as something worse than even the white moderates he so derided early in his political life for their inability to stand up to injustice with any conviction or courage. By the end of his life, King’s politics were transformed by both the imperialist war in Vietnam and the rebellions led by Black Americans in cities across the US. He called the US government “the greatest purveyor of violence around the world” and cited materialism, racism, and militarism as the most pressing problems for the future of humanity. King went on to denounce the so-called “centrist” Johnson Administration’s role in the war and organize the Poor Peoples’ Campaign.
“There is nothing left to expect from US imperialism but war and austerity.”
In 1999, the suspicions of many were confirmed by a Memphis Jury when it ruled that the US government was guilty of conspiracy in the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. King had fallen under the watchful eye of the FBI’s COINTELPRO apparatus well before he was assassinated in 1968. COINTELPRO’s architect, J. Edgar Hoover, was obsessed with suppressing King’s leadership and attempted to pressure him to commit suicide before plotting his assassination. King was one of many Black freedom fighters to be harassed, murdered, or imprisoned by the US government for political reasons. It was under the leadership of a so-called centrist Presidency that King’s murder was orchestrated.
King’s legacy is instructive in the era of Trump. What is being witnessed now is the collapse of centrism under the weight of crisis. The days when US imperialism could institute meaningful reforms to appease sections of the working and oppressed masses have long passed. There is nothing left to expect from US imperialism but war and austerity. The increasingly impoverished masses struggle to survive and fear the next economic crash that disposes of their jobs or their homes. Deep feelings of resentment directly led to Trump’s ascendency. The orange billionaire magnate took advantage of the divided, crumbling two-party duopoly to fill a political vacuum regardless of whether he wanted to or not.
“It was under the leadership of a so-called centrist Presidency that King’s murder was orchestrated.”
More decay and collapse can be expected if the politics of centrism are in command of US society. If centrism means Democratic Party in the US, then centrism is a ruling class ideology. The time has come to walk in the steps of King and denounce the ideology based on the conditions it produces and not the ideology’s proximity to some idealized white supremacist, fascist apocalypse. US imperialism is a system ruled by monopoly and finance capital. It has concentrated wealth to the greatest extent seen in human history. The politics of centrism have proven time and again to be complicit with such an arrangement.
Democratic Party-led centrism does not feed the hungry, it starves them. Centrism doesn’t employ the unemployed; it subsidizes monopolies and automates existing jobs. It doesn’t free the incarcerated, it builds more cages. Centrism doesn’t bring peace, it drops more bombs. The fight against the triple evils of materialism (capitalism), racism, and war is a fight against centrism. When the corporate media laments that the center is collapsing, we should not lament with them but prepare to take advantage of a new opportunity to develop revolutionary consciousness. There is no better way to follow in the footsteps of Martin Luther King Jr. then to ensure that the center’s collapse means the rise of revolution.
Danny Haiphong is an activist and journalist in the New York City area. He can be reached at [email protected]