How did we get so politically divided? Well, it’s NOT because both sides have gotten more extreme.
I got my start in American politics 50 years ago. My political views then — to grossly simplify them — were that I was against the Vietnam War and the military-industrial complex, strongly supportive of civil and voting rights, and against the power of big corporations. That put me here: just left of the center.
So don’t believe the fear-mongering that today’s left is “radical.” What’s really radical is the right’s move toward fascism.
Back then, the political spectrum from left to right was short. The biggest political issue was the Vietnam War. The left was demonstrating against it, sometimes violently. Since I was committed to ending the war through peaceful political means, I volunteered for George McGovern, the anti-war presidential candidate. Even Richard Nixon on the right was starting to look for ways out of Vietnam.
Twenty-five years later, I was in Bill Clinton’s cabinet, and the left-to-right political spectrum stretched much longer. The biggest change was how much further right the right had moved. Ronald Reagan had opened the political floodgates to corporate and Wall Street money — bankrolling right-wing candidates and messages that decried “big government.”
Bill Clinton sought to lead from the “center,” but by then the “center” had moved so far right that Clinton gutted public assistance, enacted “tough on crime” policies that unjustly burdened the poor and people of color, and deregulated Wall Street. All of which put me further to the left of the center—although my political views had barely changed.
Today, the spectrum from left to right is the longest it’s been in my 50 years in and around politics. The left hasn’t moved much at all. We’re still against the war machine, still pushing for civil and voting rights, still fighting the power of big corporations. But the right has moved far, far rightward.
Donald Trump brought America about as close as we’ve ever come to fascism. He incited an attempted coup against the United States. He and most of the Republican Party continue to deny that he lost the 2020 election. And they’re getting ready to suppress votes and disregard election outcomes they disagree with. So don’t believe the fear-mongering that today’s left is “radical.” What’s really radical is the right’s move toward fascism.
Robert Reich is the Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and a senior fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies.
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