Who is a moderate now? Who’s a centrist?
Until recently, the answer to such questions was primarily ideological. Centrists were middle-of-the roaders who rejected the purity of the ideological left and right. I will confess: I used to have considerable scorn for such people. They often acted as if being in the middle was a sign of intellectual superiority.
But the way I saw it, that ignored the fact that on some issues the ideologues were 100% right. Moreover, difference-splitting can be the worst option: If one side wants to build a bridge over a canyon and the other side doesn’t, the wisest possible position isn’t to build half a bridge that stops in thin air.
In recent years, though, the definition of centrism has been changing before our eyes as the culture has become more partisan. For instance, I haven’t changed my conservative views on most issues, but because I am a staunch critic of President Trump, many liberals now treat me as if I am a moderate or centrist. That makes sense if you think of Trump as a giant magnet next to our political compass. He serves as the true north for much of the right, which means much of the left reflexively marches south. That puts me somewhere like halfway between the two at east or west.
But I’ve come to believe there’s something else going on. Karen Stenner, an economist who studies authoritarianism, has identified what she calls an “authoritarian predisposition.” She is quick to note that authoritarianism isn’t synonymous with conservatism or any other ideological framework. Authoritarianism, she writes, “is a functional disposition concerned with maximizing ‘oneness’ and ‘sameness’ especially in conditions where the things that make us one and the same — common authority, and shared values — appear to be under threat.”
Historically, American conservatism has balanced conflicting impulses. It has been antagonistic to sudden, drastic, social change while at the same time it fully embraced — at least in theory — the free market. The problem is that economic liberty fuels change more than almost anything else. Joseph Schumpeter called the process “creative destruction,” as outdated means of production are replaced with new ones. Moreover, most conservatives were defenders of existing traditional institutions and norms. This deference to courts, elections and the rule of law put structural limits on the reach of culturally conservative programs.
A similar uneasy fusion endured on the left. In economics, capitalism was seen as something that needed to be harnessed and controlled. But in the cultural marketplace, the left had its own version of creative destruction.
These twin equilibriums have been breaking down before our eyes. Both left and right have their own versions of “cancel culture” now. Leading conservatives routinely heap scorn on “market fundamentalism,” championing everything from protectionism and industrial planning to state meddling in social media platforms (despite the fact that the right dominates the very outlets they insist are “censoring” them). Prominent intellectuals flirt with authoritarianism, and even monarchy.
On the left, hostility to free speech and open debate is at least as intense. In July, when a collection of intellectuals and writers — including such leftist luminaries as Noam Chomsky and Todd Gitlin — issued an open letter calling for a renewed commitment to free speech, leftwing blowback was intense.
It’s not just on issues of expression that the left’s liberal consensus has come apart. Due process on college campuses is now seen as reactionary. Religious liberty is fine, so long as it doesn’t permit deviation from progressive values. It is rapidly becoming a mainstream position on the left to favor packing the Supreme Court as soon as possible. It already is mainstream to favor abolishing the electoral college, the legislative filibuster and other bulwarks of republican government.
Stenner argues that the authoritarian predisposition is triggered when the settled order becomes unsettled and an instinctive panic sets in. Whatever the cause(s) of these chaotic times may be (I have my theories), I think the chaos has triggered vast numbers of people on the left and the right to embrace illiberalism.
Both movements share an antipathy toward the bedrock American and liberal right to be wrong, to live differently, to care about unfashionable things, or simply to not care about fashionable ones. Dissent is a kind of assault that must be policed and silenced, either by state or cultural power — or both. Conformity must be imposed. The twin fads of socialism and nationalism are best understood as competing attempts to impose sameness and order on each side’s own terms.
In this climate, the new centrists can be ideologically conservative or liberal according to the old definitions, but east and west share a common discomfort with the constant demand to catastrophize our politics in order impose orthodoxy on everyone. And amid the cacophony, such centrism can be quite lonely.
Politics Briefing: Legault to address rising COVID-19 cases as Quebec, Ontario see surge – The Globe and Mail
COVID-19 cases in the country’s two biggest provinces are of great concern to health officials.
Ontario is reporting a surge in new cases of COVID-19, with nearly half of them in Toronto.
The province reported 700 new cases on Monday that included 344 in Toronto, 104 in the Peel Region, 89 in Ottawa and 56 in York Region.
As of Sunday, Quebec had reported 896 new cases of COVID-19, which amounted to its highest jump in a single day in months.
Quebec’s Premier François Legault is to hold a news conference this afternoon.
Ontario and Quebec have been most affected by COVID-19 and represent close to 80 per cent of all cases in Canada.
This is the daily Politics Briefing newsletter, usually written by Chris Hannay. Kristy Kirkup is filling in today. It is available exclusively to our digital subscribers. If you’re reading this on the web, subscribers can sign up for the Politics newsletter and more than 20 others on our newsletter signup page. Have any feedback? Let us know what you think.
The Liberal government is asking Parliament to fast-track its latest COVID-19 economic recovery package. Government House leader Pablo Rodriguez proposed Monday to limit debate on the bill which establishes more flexibility to qualify for employment insurance. It would also set up three new benefits for Canadians who won’t qualify for EI but are still affected by the economic crisis generated by COVID-19.
The parliamentary budget office says Veterans Affairs Canada can clear its backlog of disability benefit applications in a year if it hires nearly 400 more people. The number of pending applications for benefits reached almost 50,000 by the end of March, up from about 21,000 in March 2017 and almost half the applications were considered complete and were waiting only for decisions by the department.
The Correctional Service of Canada is suspending visits to its institutions in Quebec to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 in federal prisons and community correctional centres. The agency said it is also stopping inmate work releases and temporary absences except for medical and compassionate reasons and the rules apply to 16 facilities in the province of Quebec.
Warren Fernandez (contributed to The Globe and Mail)on why real news matters amid the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and fake news: “At a time when so much has been turned on its head, this much has become clear: Real news matters. The truth matters. Objectivity matters. Balance and fairness matter. In short, quality journalism matters.”
Dr. Stephen Hwang (contributed to The Globe and Mail) on why it is possible to end chronic homelessness if we act now: “The pandemic has forced us to confront the consequences of having allowed homelessness to persist in our cities for far too long. Canadians living on low incomes in crowded conditions have been disproportionally affected by COVID-19. In Toronto alone, more than 500 people experiencing homelessness have been infected with the coronavirus. As case numbers rise and the colder months move us indoors, adequate shelter is more important than ever.”
David Shribman (contributed to The Globe and Mail) on why the presidential debate won’t be a game changer: “They will clash on Washington’s response to the coronavirus. They will battle over tax rates. They will scuffle over health care, climate change, federal regulation, race, the Supreme Court and the fate of the American middle class. They will trade barbs over whether one is a business-hating socialist and the other a power-loving tyrant. But don’t expect Tuesday’s debate between the two men running for the U.S. presidency – Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden – to make much of a difference to the election outcome.”
The Globe Editorial Board on why the carbon tax is on trial at the Supreme Court, with the Trudeau government’s green plans at stake: “As a matter of science, greenhouse gases are clearly a national concern. But as a matter of constitutional law, a federal victory at the Supreme Court is far from assured. Our Constitution, and more particularly the way it has been interpreted over 153 years by the courts, has created a highly decentralized federation.”
Colby Cosh (The National Post) on the B.C. NDP and federal Greens showing sharp contrast in styles: “We have the B.C. NDP, who showed little bashfulness in perpetrating what any New Democrat would call racial and sexual discrimination in any other context, and the Greens, who are dedicated enough to democratic principles and written rules that they immediately repaired a mistaken application of them.”
New EU Asylum Rules: Even the Bare Minimum Will Require Radical Politics – World – ReliefWeb
For the past five years, European Union leaders have tried but failed to reform the block’s rules on asylum. The main bone of contention was the Dublin Regulation, in particular the rule of first entry, which specifies that the first EU member state that an asylum seeker enters is responsible for hosting them and processing their asylum claim. Because of fundamental disagreements on how to reform “Dublin”, all other reform proposals have gathered dust on shelves in Brussels. Meanwhile, thousands of asylum seekers still languish in dangerous camps at Europe’s borders.
On Wednesday, the EU Commission finally unveiled the Union’s new reform ideas. On responsibility for asylum applications, they aim to replace the rules of the Dublin Regulation by – drumroll – the rules of the Dublin Regulation. In other words, the basic rules will continue to apply, with some tweaks like member state cooperation in the event of numerous asylum seekers arriving at one member’s borders at the same time. Fundamentally, the proposal cements the sad truth that the EU’s asylum policy has become a sinister race to the bottom on who manages to host the least asylum seekers. Even this lackluster proposal on distributing responsibility was met with immediate and fierce opposition in some member states – including by Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who declared it dead on arrival.
But the EU has few alternatives to reform. In 2015 and 2016, when the numbers of asylum applications spiked, illiberal political parties all over Europe were swift to exploit them for political gain. And they will do so again if member states fail to break the deadlock and sensibly reform the Dublin Regulation. Indeed, the current system leads to frustration everywhere: the EU’s border states like Greece will repeat their mantra of being left overburdened, while others like France or Poland will complain that most asylum seekers who end up further north should have been accommodated in the countries of their first arrival.
Given this protracted situation, the upcoming negotiations on the proposed new laws will have to address two questions: What is the bare minimum that would make a reform better than no reform? And how can the champions of this bare minimum mobilize a majority for it? We think that, above all, a new governance would have to stand the test of being a more solidary system. But reaching – and salvaging – such a compromise will require radical political action.
Call the bluff with a different resettlement option. The EU Commission proposes that states who are unwilling to host asylum seekers as part of a relocation effort “in times of crisis” can instead contribute to collective effort by organizing returns of asylum seekers whose claims have been rejected (“return sponsorships”). This idea could prove a slippery slope into a situation where virtually every member state wiggles out of a commitment to admit asylum seekers – a recipe for more disasters and human rights violations like the ones the world is currently witnessing in Moria, Greece. To prevent this, the EU should cap the total number of such “return sponsorships” to 10 percent of all asylum seekers who are being relocated in the EU. Member states that still refuse to accommodate asylum seekers could be offered the alternative to accept the equivalent of their share of recognized refugees from outside the EU. Refugees are recognized as such by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, so that this compromise would call the bluff on the argument that redistribution creates a “pull factor”, as well as popular claims that only the most resourceful people manage to reach the EU.
Push through a low threshold for mutual support. The pact is vague on the criteria that would trigger any new mechanism in support of an overburdened EU state. For instance, it does not define the kind of “crisis” that would oblige member states to support each other. To address this flaw, the EU should set a threshold for each member state, depending on its economic power. This would send a signal of serious intentions to the states at the EU’s external borders. In addition, any mechanism for mutual support would have to kick in automatically. Anything else would be an invitation for anti-EU governments to blame the European Union once the numbers of asylum seekers go up.
Up the stakes for spoilers. The single most important leverage the EU has over its member states is its budget. EU leaders have just adopted a new budget for the next seven years, following a 90 hour-long summit. The ball is now in the European Parliament’s court – MEPs have yet to accept the carefully hatched proposal. One of the main points of contention is budget conditionality: many parliamentarians want the EU to be able to withhold funds when a member state does not comply with the principles of democratic rule of law. The EU parliament should explicitly include systematic violations of the rights of foreigners under EU jurisdiction – including during returns procedures – as part of its definition of democratic rule of law. This would finally give the EU leverage when a member state undercuts its minimum standards on asylum. It would also help to address the perverse incentive structure of the current system in which member states are “rewarded” for sub-standard asylum systems, because such systems bar the returns of asylum seekers who have traveled onward to other EU states.
Hammer home the message of international credibility. The EU’s current treatment of asylum seekers is harming its international standing when advocating for principles like cooperation on migration policy, democratic rule of law and human rights. In several African states, EU officials have had to deal with rebuttals and accusations of hypocrisy when trying to argue for upholding the human rights of migrants. In private, German Chancellor Merkel has shared how China’s President Xi – of all people – has also confronted her with the failings of EU migration policy. A new, more humane compromise on asylum policy is a crucial step for the EU to regain some of its credibility on the international stage.
The chances are slim that the “pact’s” proposal on the Dublin Regulation will lead to concrete reforms worth fighting for. But the moment is more promising than it has been for a long time. The numbers of asylum applications in the EU have shrunk by almost 50 percent when compared to their peak in 2015. Since then, governments should have learned that the EU cannot afford a perpetual political crisis on asylum – and asylum seekers even less so.
Politics and relationships – Newsroom
Podcast: The Detail
Can you date, marry, or even just be friends with someone who holds the opposite political views to you? In the US that’s generally a hard ‘no’ – here, it’s a bit different
An Auckland political psychologist says New Zealand’s become more polarised in the Covid-19 era.
We’re not quite as divided along blue-red lines as the pro and anti-Trump brigades in the US but Danny Osborne says the tone of the debate has definitely intensified.
Osborne was born into a poor, Republican-voting family in a right wing city in California.
But when he discovered punk music as a teenager he switched politics.
It’s made for some awkward meals.
“You’re basically born into a party in the US,” says Osborne, associate professor at the University of Auckland’s school of psychology. “I’m a black sheep.”
He’s been in New Zealand for nine years, teaches political psychology, and is part of the team working on the 20-year-old Attitudes and Values study of 60,000 New Zealanders.
“Politics are all about identities,” he says. “So people are National supporters, they’re Labour supporters, they’re Green supporters. Same thing with the US which is an exponentially more polarised environment.”
Osborne talks to The Detail‘s Sharon Brettkelly about the growing polarisation of politics, what happens to families and friends when politics becomes more divisive, and the impact of the pandemic on attitudes.
The latest Attitudes and Values research, looking at political segmentation in the last 10 years shows that until 2018 there was very little polarisation, says Osborne.
But there are signs of Covid’s impact on peoples’ attitudes.
“Everything from managed isolation, to how we’re dealing with debt etc, it has really taken on a partisan flavour that I haven’t seen since I’ve been in New Zealand,” Osborne says.
“I think what the Trump election in 2016 shows us is that democracy is incredibly fragile and you know within the period of four years you can just completely change your way of thinking.
“We used to view the US as this paragon of democracy and in one administration that’s all changed. So I think the same thing can happen in New Zealand, we can very much see these issues start to polarise.”
Studies show that families tend to stick with the same party, says Osborne, though he fits with the small percentage who break the mould. His own close family members are Trump voters and Osborne says he was “a bit of an outcast” growing up in right wing towns in California. Any visits home to the family avoid political discussion.
Osborne cites a study published after the 2016 election which looked at cell phone data from people over the Thanksgiving holiday. It showed that people who had voted for Hilary Clinton, who were returning home to see family in Trump-voting counties, spent on average an hour less at the family home before they headed back to the “blue” counties.
He says as a general trend people are uncomfortable with cross-party conversations but he urges voters to keep having them to keep the debate alive.
Want more from The Detail? Find past episodes here.
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