Turn left at the next intersection: Why the US needs a viable third party by Donald Earl Collins

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The past few months of student protests against Israel’s war on Gaza, and the way they were suppressed by the authorities and maligned as “violent” and terror-adjacent even by supposedly left-leaning, progressive political leaders exposed an important truth: the United States is in desperate need of a viable, left-to-centre-left third party committed to democracy.

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It’s not just the Republicans and their open embrace of fascism that is the problem any more. The response of President Joe Biden and other leading Democrats to the student protests made clear that these days even the party supposedly representing the left in America is leaning right, and has an obvious anti-democratic bent.

“Order must prevail … Vandalism, trespassing, breaking windows, shutting down campuses, forcing the cancellation of classes and graduations. None of this is a peaceful protest,” Biden said referring to the Gaza solidarity protests at Columbia University on May 2. “Smashing windows with hammers and taking over university buildings is not free speech. It is lawlessness,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer had said a few days earlier.

Not only are their characterisations of what has occurred at Columbia and dozens of other universities just plain wrong, but their words sound like they may have been lifted directly from Richard Nixon’s famous “Silent Majority” speech from 1968. “When the nation with the greatest tradition of the rule of law is plagued by unprecedented lawlessness,” Nixon had said then, “when the President of the United States cannot travel abroad or to any major city at home without fear of a hostile demonstration – then it’s time for new leadership for the United States of America.”

Democrats today are sounding like the Republicans of the past for one simple reason: both parties have moved significantly to the right in the past 50 years.

Indeed, since Nixon’s time in power, administrations from both parties pushed for laws and policies that favoured corporations over working people and created the conditions for “dark money” to shape and dominate American politics. They allowed large corporations and the billionaire set to avoid paying their fair share in taxes, deepening inequality and enhancing societal divisions.

Now and again, the Democrats did criticise the Republicans for their ruthlessness on social welfare entitlements and public spending, but they always supported the annual near-trillion-dollar defence appropriation with enthusiasm, exposing their right-wing tendencies.

Democratic leaders still talk about “empathy” and how they “feel the pain” of everyday Americans. They still claim to be the party of democracy and justice – the only force that could “protect” America from the increasing authoritarianism of Trump’s far-right Republicans. But their continued military and political backing of Israel’s apartheid regime amid its war on Gaza and insistent characterisation of antiwar protests as a national security threat says more about their priorities, and approach to justice and democracy, than any of their speeches.

And its approach to the war in Gaza and protests against it in the US is just one issue among many that underscores the Democratic Party’s massive leap towards the right.

Take reproductive rights. President Donald Trump’s appointment of three anti-abortion justices to the Supreme Court may be the immediate cause of the Dobbs decision (2022) that overturned Roe v Wade (1973). Yet it was the failure of Democratic majorities in Congress under Presidents Carter, Clinton, and Obama to codify reproductive rights in the 1970s, 90s, and 2000s that paved the way for the eventual dissolution of women’s reproductive rights in this country.

The same is true about climate change mitigation. Sure, Biden once promoted a national climate change initiative that has included a ban on oil and fossil fuel drilling for more than 40 percent of the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska. But he has also approved in 2023 the controversial Willow oil-drilling project in Alaska’s North Slope region, deep in the Arctic Circle. And despite Congress’s passage of the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, with $500bn in tax incentives to make the US a zero-emissions nation by 2050, it will unlikely meet its initial 2030 goals, much less achieve carbon neutrality in 26 years. There are also several high-ranking Democrats, like Senator Joe Manchin, who do not want the US to take any meaningful action to mitigate the climate crisis, exposing the ever-expanding reach of right-wing positions within the party.

With the Democrats proudly assuming positions which were once reserved solely for the most right-wing Republicans, on issues ranging from foreign policy and climate change to social security and women’s rights, the need for a third, left-wing party is obvious.

The US may be a historically right-leaning country which has consistently moved further to the right over the years, but this does not mean it is lacking truly left-wing voices.

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There has always been a left, albeit fractured, in the US and it seems that constituency is growing and becoming more vocal. From the so-called “war on terror” to the Great Recession and the emergence of Trumpism, the last couple of decades of crises have radicalised many Americans and pushed a considerable number of them to assume solidly left-wing and even far-left stances. Leave it to a pandemic, economic recessions, the mainstreaming of the far right, and the ever-present threat of mass shootings and domestic terrorism to move a sizeable minority to see American society as one in need of a radical, social justice-oriented shift.

If these left-wing Americans – folks who unapologetically advocate for universal healthcare, universal basic income, prison and police abolition, against American-backed wars and for an aggressive climate change agenda – are to form a party that is electorally viable, they need to make some hard choices and major sacrifices.

If they want to see a truly left-wing party on the ballot with a chance to win, first they will need to swallow their pride and help re-elect the “soft-right” Democrats in the upcoming elections. To build momentum towards a viable left-leaning third party, they need a US that is less autocratic than the one that would exist if Trump takes the oath of office again in 2025.

Second, they would need to forget their many differences and disagreements and unite for the greater good. Any movement to build a new party should bring together decidedly progressive politicians like Chokwe Antar Lumumba, mayor of Jackson, Mississippi, and Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights CEO Maya Wiley, with somewhat centre-left Democrat Representatives such as Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar.

Building an American coalition among different left-wing factions, from Christian Democrats and Social Democrats to Democratic Socialists and Neo-Marxists, would not be easy. Left-wing infighting has long been a major obstacle in the way of building a viable, leftist third party in the US. Many radical leftists (like some in the Antifa movement) also stand in complete opposition to any political alliances to wrestle power away from Democrats and Republicans. For them, the system is simply too corrupt to participate in – it needs to be dismantled before something better is built in its place.

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This, however, appears to be an impossible feat. Even under the worst of historical circumstances, like during the Great Depression, most Americans – though desperate, pro-union, and radicalised by the violence and poverty of those years – ultimately remained loyal to the two-party system.

Green Party is the only left-wing organisation that has had some minor success with its presidential candidates in recent history – Ralph Nader, for example, received almost three million votes under the Green ticket in 2000. Yet, even he did not come anywhere near real power.

Today, the Democratic Socialists, which count among their members Tlaib, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and several other state-level representatives, is perhaps the left-wing movement with the highest chance of building momentum for a leftist coalition that can have real electoral success. Yet the movement’s ongoing affiliation with the Democratic Party and its neoliberal policies like social welfare austerity and business deregulation also makes them unpalatable to many US leftists.

But the challenges ahead should not intimidate those who want to have a left-wing governance option in the US. Every viable party had to start somewhere. In the aftermath of President Lyndon Johnson’s romp over Barry Goldwater in the 1964 election cycle, conservative insiders like Goldwater, William Buckley Jr, and Richard Nixon went ideological soul-searching. Through the formation of organisations like the American Conservative Union (the parent organisation for the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC), new Republican National Committee agendas, and the perfection of the Southern Strategy, the GOP remade itself. The new Republicans welcomed the far-right Jim Crow segregationists who began joining the party in the wake of the Civil Rights Act of 1964’s passage. Between Nixon, the Reagan Revolution, and the Contract with America, the GOP’s transformation into a party of conservatives and palatable far-right fascists took three decades. Building a leftist third party from scratch, and uniting all left and centre-left factions behind it, before convincing enough Americans to vote for it, would take even longer.

Under the two-party system, this November Americans will be forced to make a choice between allowing the US to become a right-wing semi-fascist hell hole under Trump and his MAGA Republicans, or re-electing Biden and trying their chances with a smooth-talking but hypocritical, and at its core perhaps equally right-wing, administration. Under these circumstances, building a viable third party is necessary work. The alternative is a status quo that will ultimately sound the death knell for America’s long-struggling democracy.

Donald Earl Collins
Professorial Lecturer at American University in Washington, DC
Collins is the author of Fear of a “Black” America: Multiculturalism and the African American Experience (2004).

By Naija247news
By Naija247newshttps://www.naija247news.com/
Naija247news is an investigative news platform that tracks news on Nigerian Economy, Business, Politics, Financial and Africa and Global Economy.

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