Edward Plaut | Wednesday 21 September 2016 | GMT 16:00 | firstname.lastname@example.org
The furore over the seeming polarisation of the political spectrum that we hear so much about seems to have a major flaw. We’re always being told of how political debates and contests such as the Trump vs Clinton presidential election are more polarised than anything before. However, I believe a close analysis of the recent political trends in fact prove that the labels like “far left” or “far right” are dead.
Instead, I believe the political world is divided between two fundamental and easily distinguishable polarities: those who support smaller government (libertarians) and those who support bigger government (authoritarians). Although not perfect, such a division is simple and easy to apply, and helps to outline the issues with the current spectrum, especially in terms of political and economic problems where there is a clear alternative to government (i.e. the market, the private sector etc.).
Firstly, despite all the outrage at Mr Trump’s policies, a comparison between his policies and Mrs Clinton’s is worth considering in proving their similarities and thus the redundancy of the left-right political spectrum.
Both want to expand the military and keep the American military powerful and both want to continue to infringe the civil liberties of Americans through the hellish mass surveillance and bulk data collection that the CIA and NSA were revealed to be carrying out by Snowden and others. Clinton last December called for an “intelligence surge” that would no doubt increase the powers of the NSA, with Reuters recording that “she [Hillary] said she wants technology companies to be more cooperative to government requests for help in countering online propaganda, tracking patterns in social media and intercepting communications”. Trump is no different, stating, “I support legislation which allows the NSA to hold the bulk metadata”, and saying that he’d vote to renew the PATRIOT Act in an interview in December 2015 with Hugh Hewitt.
Both want to increase the government’s role in the economy by raising protectionist tariffs against foreign goods. As PRI record, “Donald Trump opposes the TPP as well. Trump also says he’ll amend or rip up NAFTA”, the former being a pending free trade deal across the Pacific region and the latter being the trilateral free trade bloc between America, Mexico and Canada. Mrs Clinton is the same, recorded by On the Issues as stating “the Trans Pacific Partnership, which includes the US and 11 other nations, is the largest regional trade agreement in history. But as of today, I am not in favor” and “that NAFTA and the way it’s been implemented has hurt a lot of American workers”.
The bottom line is that under either as President, the government will grow. The point I’m making here is that Clinton and Trump, despite being starkly juxtaposed on the traditional left-right spectrum, actually share a great deal of policies, and have the same answer to America’s problems: the government. This is where the right-left spectrum fails, as both sides have turned to greater government to solve issues. So by describing Mr Trump as “right-wing” or even “far-right” as many commentators have, they are really implying that he’s anything different to Mrs Clinton, the “centre-left” or “centrist” candidate who supports the vital core of Mr Trump’s policies – that the government and coercion are more effective than freedom and the markets.
The situation in France serves to further underline the redundancy of the left-right paradigm through which we view politics. The “left-wing” Socialist party and the “far-right” Front National both support increasing the role of government in the economy, with the Socialists calling for “the creation of 300,000 subsidised jobs…60,000 new public service teaching posts”, and the FN calling for “huge investment in re-industrialisation of France”. This extends to protectionist tariffs, which the Socialists support on non-EU goods, being opposed as it is to TTIP and to tariff reform in the EU, and the FN believe should be levied on all non-French goods in their ideal scenario of a French exit from the EU.
In the justice sphere, the Socialists want to give “the police and justice system…another 1,000 state sector jobs per year”, and the FN reflecting their shared love of big government by pledging that “the justice department is to be given a 25% increase in funding” and “the creation of 40,000 new prison places.” The FN and the Socialists also both support the increase of surveillance and phone-tapping to boot. Here, we can again see how describing the parties as polar on the left-right spectrum neglects the massive similarities in policy between them in this area. Instead, it’s time for the political world to realise that the left-right spectrum is broken, and to reflect that we may need an authoritarian/libertarian scale to better identify our political positions.
“You’ve forgotten immigration policy!” I hear the reader ask, worried of being tarnished with the same brush as their sworn opponents. It is true that in both of the examples used the immigration policies of the respective parties are very different, with Mr Trump and the FN favouring a restrictive policy, and the Socialists and Mrs Clinton supporting a more open policy. However, I believe that this doesn’t seek to undermine my argument. Perhaps the only place where the right-left spectrum still works is in the realm of immigration, which seeks to highlight the issues of its simplicity.
As we’ve seen, many of the major parties across the political spectrum have very similar economic and political policies, as it tends to be a broadly binary choice in these areas between ‘more’ government or ‘less’ government. Any party concerned with immigration and limiting numbers of migrants is classed as “right-wing” in the media as it is seen as a classic, common tenet of being “right-wing” (whatever that is). This is where the old grouping of right-left makes sense.
However, just because it makes sense on immigration doesn’t make it the right choice for the broader context. For example, the FN and UKIP are often both mistakenly seen as counterparts in the media as “right-wing”, just because they share concerns about immigration (admittedly, FN’s policies are a lot more radical on immigration). However, this is where the similarity ends between the two – the FN want a protectionist, statist, government-run economy, whereas UKIP “seek to establish free trade agreements across the globe” and to cut taxes. This shows that placing parties in the same boat on basis of immigration policy, which is what the current spectrum often does, is greatly flawed. The best way of combatting this would be on an authoritarian/libertarian scale.
Even social issues such as gay marriage, LGBT rights and indefinite detention fit on an authoritarian/libertarian scale a lot better than a spectrum, because again the question is – to what extent is this the government’s problem to regulate? Or has the government no right to legislate on personal issues? “Right” or “left” are too complex and confusing to try and put all issues on, and we find the meaning of “right” or “left” changing and mutating so often (hard-left, centre-left, post-left etc.) that surely it’s time for a binary system.
The fundamental question in world politics is, and I believe has always been: is the government better at solving problems than the people? The answer to that question is one for another article. But for now, it’s time for the political vocabulary to reflect a change in polarities and for us to reject the broken “right-left” spectrum.