In a fiery debate last month on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, co-host Piers Morgan tried to takedown left-wing journalist and guest Ash Sarkar. Morgan accused Sarkar of having double standards for protesting against Trump when in fact the Obama administration had deported millions of immigrants. Ignoring her responses, in which she asserted she had long been a critic of, and protested against, Obama, Morgan doesn’t listen. Eventually, he accuses Sarkar of being “relentlessly pro-Obama” and of Obama being her “hero”. Sarkar exclaims: “He’s not my hero! I’m a communist, you idiot!”
It’s not hard to see that Morgan predicated his claims on a false assumption:
Obama = Democrat = left wing
+ Sarkar = anti-Trump = left wing
∴ Obama = Sarkar’s hero
Simple and basic assumptions are rife in political debate. It’s common for one side of debate to make their arguments appear stronger by miniaturising the other side’s perspective. But this simple and basic assumption is part of another trend, too. Growing confusion spans today’s mainstream political discourse on the right — and it’s fuelling the far-right.
Many right-wing people essentialise the left as one unit. For example, the right perceive figures from mainstream political parties as left wing. To name some such figures, I’m thinking here of Obama*, the Clintons, and Tony Blair. These figures are responsible for mass immigration, the perceived loss or ‘giving away’ of their hometowns, and so on.
*Note the contradiction here with Morgan’s claims in the context of many Trump supporters branding Obama a socialist.
More often than not, the figures whom the right declare left wing actually turn out to be centrists, proponents of neoliberalism — our invisible current system which peppers right-wing economic policies such as market fundamentalism with the odd left-wing social policy.
The actual left is hugely critical of these figures and their policies. Leading figures are Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders. For them, centrists are gatekeepers and protectors of corporate interests, big profits, and the financial sector, and centrists enable the continued exploitation of the working class and diminished the middle-class, thus resulting of socio-economic starving in vast areas of countries (e.g. American Mid-West, the North of England) and hegemony.
Here’s the thing. The far right categorically does not understand that the far left doesn’t fall under the banner of ‘liberals’. Liberals are pro-capitalist; the far left are socialist. Liberals are actually not all that popular with the left.
So how has this conflation between the left and centre ground arisen? To me, it seems fairly obvious that it’s down to lack of discourse and understanding. It might also have something to do with the ambiguity of the word ‘liberal’ itself, which could, for instance, be taken to suggest openness, freedom, anything goes.
I’m not convinced by the theories that say the far right and far left have more in common with each other than each have with centrists. But both far right and far left do share several concerns in common — take political correctness, mainstream media, and establishment politics.
Obviously, each articulates their critiques in very different ways (the left attacks the system, corporations and the financial sector in terms of power and hegemony; the right attacks people they perceive as being part of a group, such as immigrants).
What’s quite worrying is, many people on the far-right radicalisation spectrum watching the Morgan-Sarkar fracas were presented not with a thoughtful debate in which both sides articulate their points of view. Instead they saw a potential debate become sensationalist television at the hands of Morgan.
While the TV sensationalism was in no part the fault of Sarkar, on social media much of the left has been intent on counterattacking the right’s arguments, calling them racist, fascists etc. I’m not saying the right are not fascists. But to put the daily social media shouting matches into a kind of totalising perspective, the right has been attacking the consequences of neoliberalism (socio-economic starving) by giving us Brexit and Trump and turning their backs on liberal values. The left have been countering Brexit voters by calling them racist and fascists and by flying big baby Trump balloons — in other words, trying to negate their arguments.
Most people get a kick when they see someone with whom they agree be horrible to someone with whom they don’t agree. But simply saying, “That’s not true, you’re racist”, as many left-wing social media warriers have been doing, feels good but isn’t all that effective. In the end, it all just adds to the enjoyment of the shouting match and makes the sliding scale into far-right radicalisation even slipperier.
We really should be debating how to make neoliberalism fairer. We need to be talking about how to make the ideology, which argues for individuality, give equal power to its human subjects. Many people believe it’s in a bit of a fragile state these days, but it’s actually probably never been stronger. We’re all doing such a good job of keeping debate away from it.