I’ve decided to bench once again the term “center,” as in a political coalition of the center and left. That’s where it had been for years. But in the wake of Trump’s election, I decided to bring it back into action. My hope was that it would give emphasis to the necessity of constructing a coalition that is broad and diverse enough to contest the Trump administration and the Republican controlled Congress.
Or, to put in a little more polemically, I thought it would offer an alternative to the small-ball, ideologically driven, “blow up the Democratic Party” politics that were making the rounds on social media. The latter has a militant tone for sure, but, in dissing people, organizations, and sections of the Democratic Party occupying the middle of the political spectrum, they become a very poor strategic counterweight to resist the concentrated power of the extremist juggernaut entrenched in Washington and a majority of state capitals now.
On their best days, small ball politics can make some ripples, but what they can’t do is set into motion and sustain powerful waves of opposition to effectively oppose Trump. Only a dynamic, broadly constructed – and at times contentious – coalition that includes the center as well as progressives and the left, older establishment organizations as well as new social movements, and Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer as well as Bernie Sanders has that capacity. And even if assembled, albeit through dint of great effort, compromise, and creativity, the going will still be hellacious in present circumstances.
Moreover, much of center is trending in a progressive direction, realizing that the days of a centrism that turns on the unalloyed blessings of globalization, financialization, and triangulation are over.
So, you might be thinking, why bench the term? What’s the problem? The term, I found, in its brief run over the past few months, confused more than clarified. Rather than being understood as a broad and fluid political current that evolves and is an absolutely necessary part of the far flung opposition to Trump, it is, for some people, nothing more than a term of derision, signifying an attempt to recycle the corporate driven policies and ideology of the Clinton presidency. For others, less ideologically inclined and new to politics, it is too vague a term to shed much light on what kind of alliances and coalition relations are necessary, if we have any chance of turning back the anti-democratic and authoritarian impulses and polices of Trump and gang.
Now I realize that no terminology is going to magically put everybody on the same page. Nor will any term resolve longstanding political differences of the varied groupings that make up the resistance to the Trump administration. We’re still going to lock horns, for example, over the Democratic Party – its nature and reform (and radical) possibilities. No doubt differences will crop as well over the role of the labor movement and other traditional social organizations aligned to the Democratic Party. Nor will everybody be on the same page as far as how to engage the Trump administration. Finally, the discussions will continue on the merits (or weaknesses) of an economic-working-class populism that subordinates (and sometimes is deaf to) issues of race, gender, sexuality, and nationality.
None of this, however, changes my decision to bench “center.” I haven’t quite figured out what I will put in its place. But I do know this: what I won’t bench is is my conviction that broad and flexible strategic and tactical concepts of struggle that unify people and organizations, politically and socially varied in outlook and composition, is imperative at this moment.