Somewhere, out in the depths of political discussion and theory, exists a strange place. Everyone wants to be there, but no one can tell you how to get there. It is a magical, mythical place where everyone is friendly and there are no problems at all. It is the area known as ‘centre-ground politics’ or simply ‘the centre.’
Exaggerations aside, there is a clear longing for an alternative type of politics. The idea of an all-encompassing centre ground is an attractive one for both sides. Many theorists and analysts have written on the subject of the good that moderate positions can do. Many independent candidates run on a centrist platform though this varies between individuals. Donald Trump’s deal with the Democrats could also be taken as heralding a new era of bipartisanship with politicians working together for workable solutions. It’s a big stretch since, well, this IS Donald Trump but one can hope.
Centrism can have many meanings, but the general definition is that it is a brand of politics that focuses on balancing social equality with social hierarchy. Centrist politics oppose any shift that would cause the country to lurch either left or right. Despite its appeal, politicians in the USA are likely to run into a few problems.
The first problem is the political system in itself. Political parties are constrained by their activist base and their donors who often hold minority views that contradict the public. For example, a party with big business donors is likely to lose that support if they turn pro-regulation. Another party, buoyed by armies of pro-gun control activists, will see its support disappear if they change their stance. Republicans and Democrats have to push majority views while obscuring minority ones. This is the crux of their dilemma. The voting system, electing the president through states rather than people, complicates efforts to create third parties. A third party either make little headway or find their ideas absorbed into the bigger parties if they make any progress.
More than the system itself, America has many divisions in its political ideas. The dominance of the two parties means that most of the issues that might need centrist policies the most are often the most divisive. Gun control, abortion, freedom of speech, the list goes on. There are divides between the liberal urban centres and the rural conservative areas. Race, gender, creed, even the state you were born in can define your political beliefs from an early age. Centrist policies aren’t impossible but there are so many dimensions to the political discussions in America that true consensus on a solution is impossible. What works in one place might not work in another and the various layers of legislation mean that no law will turn out the same everywhere.
Centrist politics aren’t the whole solution. Even if a centrist party and President were elected to the White House, there is one major stumbling block. Beyond the divisions in America, centrist policies lack substance and focus. Centrist politics will inevitably try to please everyone and end up pleasing no one. It often fails to provide a robust defence of controversial topics like immigration and can be slow to adapt to sudden changes. Even if it pleases everyone, it’ll often fail to go far enough to solve the root of the problem it hopes to solve. In some cases, like in the UK, centrist ideas often fail to change anything significant or respond quickly to major issues in the system.
None of this is to suggest that centrist politics can’t work in America. The main thing to consider is that the system itself and the way politics work in America needs to change. Anyone claiming to be in ‘the centre’ needs to have substantial policy ideas and robust arguments to succeed. None of this will be easy. For a start, you’d need to find a politician willing to dismantle the system that gets him or her into office. Good luck with that!
America needs an honest and clear-headed discussion about its own politics. The political system needs immediate change, up and down. Anyone who claims to be centrist needs to get their arguments out there and they need to be good enough to tackle the most difficult and controversial issues out there.
Centrist politics won’t solve everything, but it’s a start in the right direction…if it ever happens.