Back in 2007, British journalist and political commentator Nick Cohen published his book ‘What’s Left?’, an essay which explored the contradictions and confusions of modern day liberal and left leaning politics. By the time the book reaches its ten year anniversary on 21 January 2017, either President Donald Trump or President Hillary Clinton will have just undertaken their first full day in the Oval Office, ushering in a new age of liberalism far different to the kind that Cohen bemoaned.
In his text, Cohen talks of liberal strife in the foreign policy perspective; he questions the progressive stance on Palestine, international Judaism and China and asks why there is so much conflict with the general consensus regarding these issues.
But ten years and a new edition of his book later, it is perhaps prophetic that Cohen’s original copy asks ‘What’s Left?’, as it seems that domestic liberalism is disintegrating on the current political spectrum in countries where it supposedly reigns supreme.
‘Brexit’ was an outright rejection by the British taxpayers of free movement, continental collaboration and post-war values. France’s ban on the Burkini is myopic, reprehensible and entirely antithetical of the notorious ‘Liberté, égalité, fraternité’ tripartite motto. Now in the Land of the Free, liberalism is on it’s way out – no matter who wins the election.
Donald Trump can be scalded for his comments on women, he can be condemned for his vitriloic rhetoric towards Muslims and people can pour scorn over his spiteful words towards Mexicans, but the fact is that he is still running to become President of the United States of America, the supposed leader of the ‘free world’.
Those who firmly believe in left wing and libertarian customs are being aided by high profile Republicans like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Paul Ryan who have officially denounced and de-endorsed Trump’s candidacy but Trump is still riding a wave of populism. It’s not even correct to call it ‘right-wing populism’ anymore because that’s simply not true. Americans are supporting Trump without attaching themselves to a ‘right’ or ‘left’ label; instead, they’re advocating straightforward authoritarianism and rejecting the last eight years of Obama’s liberalism. Donald Trump is a man who explicitly said he would imprison Hillary Clinton if he becomes President yet he is still able to magnetize support from socialist Bernie Sanders supporters. It’s not that traditional far-right and far-left values are closer than we think; it’s not even an anti-establishment ideology uniting Trump and Sanders fans given that neither candidate really proposed to rip up the constitutional amendment. It’s fundamentally a rejection of liberalism in the United States.
Bernie Sanders, however, has himself been a victim of this cultural erosion of liberalism, only instead he has suffered from a practical demise rather than an ideological one, which perhaps explains why Hillary Clinton is so unpopular with people you would usually expect to be of Democratic allegiance. The Democratic National Convention’s role in propping up Hillary Clinton as their candidate exploited a clear lack of free choice for the people, an irony so rich that you could be forgiven for thinking it was a sketch from a political satire. As a consequence, supporters of the New Hampshire senator took up Trump’s mantra of ‘lock her up’ regarding Hillary Clinton – a phrase Sanders himself immediately did not condone. Clinton is not perfect by any means; the email controversy was a monumental oversight of judgement and her stance on same sex marriage was very illiberal until 2013, but it is worrying nonetheless that they would sooner side with a man whose policies can seem dictatorial rather than Hillary Clinton.
Perhaps it is because America and other Western nations are so shrouded in basic liberalism that the very notion of it can be abused; after all, there would be no such furor over Trump’s many comments if there was no freedom of speech. In Britain, France and the USA it seems that some liberalism is OK but too much is almost incomprehensible; we take it for granted, and whomever wins on November 8th will represent a victory for democracy but a defeat for its liberal foundations.