A YDN September poll found that 33 percent of Yalies support Elizabeth Warren’s candidacy, and nearly 13 percent support Bernie Sanders’. Such results would make you think that the Yale community is a bastion of progressivism — a veritable “leftist echo chamber.” Beneath that mask, however, lies a different Yale — a Yale committed to incrementalist reform and maintaining the status quo.
I often hear my peers emphasize a need to gravitate towards the political center. This language is everywhere — one student airs their support for the Green New Deal, and another immediately criticizes its cost and political feasibility. One student questions why the university offers a platform to a misogynist while countless self-identified “liberals” immediately defend the right for everybody to voice their beliefs, even those who deny historically oppressed groups’ right to exist.
The left must regain its courage and wholeheartedly champion its values, disavowing any attempts to compromise those values in the name of bipartisanship or electability.
Moderation is not the answer in a world where belief systems are not created equal. The left and the right don’t deserve equal respect: one ideology aspires to equality, while the other vigorously disavows it in favor of hierarchy and exclusion. Even if conservative (and some “liberal”) politicians mask those beliefs behind tough-on-crime language like “securing our border” and “keeping our streets safe,” their policies nonetheless reveal a robust commitment to maintaining oppressive systems of power.
In our current political climate, compromise is never reciprocal. The Republican Party rarely yields unless there’s some perceived strategic benefit. Just look to Obama’s presidency. From judicial nominees to the Affordable Care Act, the second Republicans caught a whiff of progressivism, they refused to budge. Republicans would only come to the table once Democrats first shifted towards the center. Now, as a result, the Democratic establishment gladly silences progressive voices.
The solution is not to begin the conversation from the middle. We must stop pursuing bipartisanship for its own sake and instead pursue policy and activism from the progressive left, making concessions only when absolutely necessary.
Now, governance obviously requires compromise. I acknowledge that compromise is often the only way to achieve legislative change and has done so over the generations. And yet, most of the change we have achieved in the last century is attributable to bold and sweeping policies. Our present moment calls for the return of political guts, for extensive political and social transformation.
Serious issues require serious solutions, and incrementalist reform frankly isn’t sufficient. As the Great Depression required the bravery of the New Deal, so too the economic and environmental crisis of our time requires the bravery of the Green New Deal. Rather than focusing on the costs of such a plan, we should already be well on our way to implementing it. Climate change is an existential threat — don’t let anybody tell you moderation is the answer.
Centrists frequently object that unadulterated progressivism alienates a so-called “silent majority” that merely desires a return to “normal” and “civil” political life in Washington. This normal, however, often functions as a euphemism for the exclusion of those considered “not normal” by the dominant social order of the past and the present.
This attitude appeals to respectability politics — the idea that conforming to what is deemed socially acceptable is necessary to gain political legitimacy. It requires the erasure of alternative modes of political participation rooted in identity and emotion, thus revealing its insidious nature as a tactic of targeted gatekeeping. At the end of the day, respectability politics prevent historically excluded groups from engaging in the political process.
The other primary line of attack against truly progressive policy boils down to a supposed lack of electoral viability. Surprisingly, perhaps, it’s quite the opposite. Voters value authenticity and big ideas. Don’t believe me? Believe the numbers. A July poll conducted by the Marist Institute of Public Opinion and PBS NewsHour found broad support for a litany of progressive policies, including 63 percent of adults supporting the Green New Deal, 62 percent supporting a wealth tax and 56 percent favoring a $15 minimum wage. Among Democrats, both those who self-identify as moderate or progressive, all those numbers skyrocket to upwards of 80 percent.
Clearly, the Democratic Party is moving in the right direction. However, we cannot afford to lose the momentum made visible by the wide popular support for “The Squad” and Bernie’s and Warren’s campaigns.
The Democratic Party fails us and the country when it capitulates to Republican demands, when it sacrifices its values for the sake of bipartisanship. The Democratic Party wins — not merely in an electoral sense, but also in a moral sense — when it embraces what it means to be progressive, to unflinchingly fight for equality, justice and peace, for an expansion of government to serve the collective public good.
The political and social conditions of our time demand substantial change. The rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer. People can’t afford health care. We’ve been at war longer than I’ve been alive. Corporations control our government. Our planet is dying. We don’t need incremental reform. We don’t need compromise. We need transformation.
AKO NDEFO-HAVEN is a first year in Davenport College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .