The Center

Author: Gary Hart

We are frequently reminded of W. B. Yeats’ quote: “The center cannot hold.  Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”  For those immersed in political ideology this reference to the “center” conjures up Clintonian refrains regarding triangulation and even Jerry Brown’s great response to a question about whether he was liberal or conservative: “I paddle a little on the right,” he said, “and I paddle a little on the left.”

For those of us in public service who were repeatedly being analyzed as to whether we were liberal or conservative, the traditional lateral construct of left to right became sufficiently tedious that, at least in my case, I created a contrasting vertical pole that went from the past at the bottom to the future at the top.  I’m not sure I ever sold it to a political journalist because that industry is totally wedded to traditional left-right, liberal-conservative categories so helpful to its shorthand purposes.

Now comes Donald Trump who, in his own way, resists categorization.  The Trumpian resistance grows with every sharp, 180 degree reversal he is currently patenting.  The resistance to the still undefined Trumpism convinced itself that if he carried out, with a compliant Republican Congress, all of the startling reversals from accepted (should we say mainstream) policies at home and abroad the United States would become a totally different country, Ebenezer Scrooge in its disregard for those left out, and isolationist—with a rightward tilt—in its relations to the world.

Suddenly, the “center” took on new meaning.  The many of us wedded to a plodding and sometime erratic progressive domestic agenda and internationalist foreign policy based on alliances, treaties, and agreements found what might be a new center, not one looking to avoid categorization but one that represented truly bipartisan consensus and most of all stability.

The institutional defenders of this post-World War II center included, among other institutions, the U.S. military and Wall Street.  Contrary to those on the left who traditionally think the Pentagon is a hot-bed of crack-pot generals conjuring up new wars to fight, those of us who know better see senior military commanders as a bulwark against wacky Strangelovian adventurism.  Remember, Dr. Strangelove was not military man.  The right-wing plot to invade Iraq did not emanate in the Pentagon but in a White House populated by those who had never worn a uniform.

On the other hand, Wall Street presented ample evidence of wackiness in the run-up to the financial collapse of 2008, and forfeited any claim to reasonableness, true conservatism, and maturity.  Because of its greed, it enabled an unprincipled group of twenty-somethings to experiment with other people’s money and put the entire U.S. economy in the ditch.

But today, some more traditional bankers and money managers, including one or two in the Trump administration are closing doors to Mr. Trump’s more bizarre schemes to alienate our largest lender China, our neighbor and trading partner Mexico, and even greater Europe itself.  The most serious economic thinkers know we live in a global trading market with currencies calibrated to the dollar, huge corporate enterprises linked to multiple nations, jobs dependent on exports, and trading rules meant to level playing fields.  Nothing like having tens of billions of dollars at stake to sober up most mature bankers.

Obviously, there are a variety of other private and public sectors with a stake in stability and maturity that form a center resistant to Trumpian excesses.  A rudderless, erratic, inexperienced national leader must sooner or later respond to the adults in society who care about the nation’s long term future and their children’s future.  Only a few “advisors” with little or no governing experience are at liberty to pursue dangerous and destabilizing ventures in a twilight word of conspiracy, demons and dragons, and bet-the-farm dice rolls.

After a chaotic opening round of Trump government, or version thereof, a head-snapping series of 180 degree turns on NATO, Russia, China, taxes, health care, and daily U-turns still to come give evidence that the cool-aid drinkers of the campaign are sobering up.  Perhaps there is a real center to America that flirts with excess for a time but then sees the cliff toward which the nation is heading and the peril its experiments in novelty and hilarity represent.

Too soon to say.  But a few days of sober Trump suggest reality may be setting in and that the world he promised is not only impossible to achieve, it is downright dangerous.

 

15 Responses to “The Center”

  1. Gary Hart Says:

    Thoughts:
    The monster bomb in Afghanistan was meant as a demonstration for North Korea.

    The White House does not belong to Donald Trump. It belongs to all the people of the United States and we have a right to know who goes in and out.

    Miss DeVos has never read Thomas Jefferson on the absolute connection between public education and American democracy.
    GH

  2. LORENZO CHERIN Says:

    We need the sort of analysis our host provides, and could do with more of it.

    Senator, and all good men and women and true, in the great USA, would you avoid using, liberal and conservative , left and right , as the same run on sentence.

    After Bernie and bust, you have it spelt out.

    There is socialist, liberal and conservative, left , centre , or as you say center, and right.

    Liberals since the New variety in my country in the Britain of the early 1900s, have been social liberals as well as classical ones.

    Keynes does not obliterate Mill.

    Roosevelt was centre left , a self described liberal.

    Kennedy was more or less in the centre, a self described liberal.

    Many parties in Liberal International are to the right of the liberals , and those who are , the Democrats, in the US, and the Liberals, and the successor party , mine , the Liberal Democrats , in the UK. In fact some liberal parties are even centre right to the right , just, of the centre. But their liberalism, is an emphasis on human rights, equality of opportunity , more than outcome, good basic state help and provision, and health care, and , particularly, civil liberties and opposing an intrusive state.

    The centre, is where Macron in France , a natural liberal in the European tradition of not left or right, is going to win if France has a seeing of sense.

    A more radical centre and moderate centre left, a revival in the centenary year of his birth , is , in the tradition of President Kennedy , what your country needs .

    A new exciting successor , like one , Gary Hart a generation or two ago, is what you need , and a platform with him or her !

  3. Gary Hart Says:

    Mr. Cherin provides a good perspective on the ideological spectrum but is characteristically too kind to the host. GH

  4. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Lorenzo,

    There is only up-wing and down-wing, as in future-oriented or stuck in the past. 🙂

  5. Chris R. Says:

    President Trump has made no secret of how he plays the media with outrageous comments and hyperbole. To take such comments literally is to demonstrate a total lack of understanding of the man and how he operates, and his methods have gained him no small measure of success in life. As a negotiator, President Trump begins with an outrageous position, i.e., Germany must pay its fair share to NATO, etc., then uses that as leverage to get what he wants. He appears to have used threats of trade sanctions against China to compel the Chinese to exert more pressure on North Korea. In a few short months in office, he has accomplished something there that eluded the previous administration. Eliminating nuclear weapons in a Stalinist North Korea, which starves its ordinary citizens to fun its military, is something all Americans should support, especially those in rage of potential North Korean ICBMs.

    As for Thomas Jefferson, regardless of his views favoring the necessity of state and local involvement in education, he would oppose the U.S. Dept. of Education as not an enumerated power of the U.S. Constitution, and thus a matter not delegated to the Federal government in accordance with his strict constitutional construction views.

  6. Eric Jacobson Says:

    Senator: I can’t help wondering what’s happened to good ol’ Gary, the pragmatic idealist former presidential candidate I once knew and ardently supported?

    This blog post appears to be an addendum to your March 29th main blog essay titled “Stop, History: We’re Going Back”. In both you defend post-modern “globalist” neoliberalism at home and abroad and dismiss President Trump and other critics of same as (in sum) feckless adventurers (without using that exact phrase or either word).

    But the central idea you put forth: that unwinding the historical trends promoted by ruling elites of a preceding historic period is necessarily unwise or ruinous, is simply fallacious. It all depends upon one’s qualitative evaluation of what has gone before.

    For you, pre-Trump America and the world was (and because Trump has now been largely neutered politically) still is a time of (in sum) “plenty” at home and stability abroad, one (you imply) that no reasonable person would have been dissatisfied with in 2016. America was and is, you (hyperbolically) aver, a country that had and has “the largest, most productive economy on earth, that had the most powerful military in history, that led coalitions to maintain stability, address climate change, and create trade regimes built on policies we promoted, and that built coalitions against terrorism.” (March 29th)

    You now double-down in what appears to be a defense of what many thoughtful people have for years now derided as the infernal “new world order”: “The most serious economic thinkers know we live in a global trading market with currencies calibrated to the dollar, huge corporate enterprises linked to multiple nations, jobs dependent on exports, and trading rules meant to level playing fields. Nothing like having tens of billions of dollars at stake to sober up most mature bankers. ¶Obviously, there are a variety of other private and public sectors with a stake in stability and maturity that form a center resistant to Trumpian excesses.” (April 13th)

    Suffice it to say (and this is ironic in view of your anti-political reputation) this is a partisan, not objective, view of the recent history, one which ignores baleful developments such as hyper-extreme inequality, and decreased security and public safety at home and endless wars abroad, and a matrix of international institutions (including the makings of a “1-world economy”) that have methodically stagnated Americans’ wages, living standards and quality-of-life metrics while doing virtually nothing abroad to dethrone the four horsemen of the Apocalypse: Conquest, War, Famine, and Death, respectively. (On the contrary.)

    I agree that Donald Trump is clearly not any kind of savior but rather a charlatan and bounder. If you or anyone else is interested, I have penned two mea culpas for ever having expressed qualified support for him in this space and elsewhere. See here: https://www.facebook.com/ECJLA/posts/1258164797554467 (March 14th) and here: https://www.facebook.com/ECJLA/posts/1277270845643862 (April 5th).

    But to imply, as you do, alas (in sum), that our nation and world did not need saving in 2016 (as Sen. Sanders energetically asserted) or (worse) that “the new world order” (coined by president George HW Bush of all people) is some kind of good thing, is (and I say this highly respectfully) both mistaken and totally out-of-touch with public opinion. As is your further unfortunate implication that returning power to centrist neoliberal Democrats in 2018 and 2020 would be any real panacea.

    Contrary to Margaret Thatcher’s famous TINA doctrine (“There is no alternative” to globalist capitalism and Western world policing) a far better and more equitable, decent and idealistic nation and world IS possible.

  7. Gary Hart Says:

    History will judge whether Mr. Trump’s unconventional and increasingly contradictory behavior is effective. The host requires no instruction where Thomas Jefferson is concerned. He believed in a government of, for, and by the people that has evolved over time to accommodate the needs of a growing and changing society. GH

  8. LORENZO CHERIN Says:

    The Senator is characteristically generous and modest !

    If he was younger today more would see his worth. Those of us who are need to say it as it is .

    Elizabeth as often , gets it about right !

  9. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Why would President Obama take $400,000 from a Wall Street firm for delivering a speech?

  10. Gary Hart Says:

    He will have to account for that himself. Let’s hope much of it goes to child nutrition efforts such as Share Our Strength or Chicago University’s Institute of Politics. At the least it will not be used to build a hotel with his name on it. In his position, I certainly would not have done it. This is an aspect of the corruption of the Republic. GH

  11. LORENZO CHERIN Says:

    Elizabeth

    The question you ask is of interest.In my country, apart from the Iraq fiasco, what has discredited Tony Blair, an otherwise intelligent man and talented politician, is his money spinning big , and I mean big speech-making and “advice ” business !

    As the Senator says with regards to President Obama, and in the same mode as the Clintons, one hopes, as with Blair, much is given to charity.

    To any of us not well off at all, yet who not only stick to our principles , but pursue much in our lives and work with them at the front not back of the priority list, it seems grubby.

    I remember Sir Ian Mckellan, a wonderful man and actor, say , ” I don’t do trashy voice -overs ” and , as a young actor then starting out , thinking, you don’t need to, some of us could use them ! Some might say , Sir Ian has , since later huge success, been in trashy films, others would say the x men is better than a car commercial !

    Senator Hart says he would’t if , let’s be blunt, as rich as Obama do as he has in his Wall Street excursion !

    Neither would I.

    One of my heroes , who I actually briefly worked with, Lord Attenborough, as in Richard , spent years trying to make Ghandi, raising money became a habit, he used to speak and input for inumerable causes.

    Another of my heroes I met , Sir Peter Ustinov, when down on his uppers during a difficult divorce, apologetically did commercials, but he was so dedicated to good causes he almost made a parallel career as an ambassador.

    We must watch the former president.

    Carter ? Clinton ?

  12. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Lorenzo,

    I know enough about Senator Hart to know, like you do, that, all things equal, he wouldn’t have done it because he understands all the ramifications of such a move, even if all of it is given to charity.

    Thanks for the kind words!

    I was quite surprised to learn about Obama’s Wall Street speech.

    Because, by agreeing to take an unprecedented sum of money from Wall Street to give a keynote speech at a Wall Street firm’s healthcare conference (and have no public comment to make about accepting that outrageous sum, as of yet), President Obama, who arguably compromised too much on healthcare and Wall Street reform, has added – in a big way – to a debilitating level of cynicism that is already out there, built up over years, which leads many voters to the conclusion, dangerously faulty as it most decidedly is, that there is no difference between the parties and which has, in no small part, led us to the current mess we are in.

    For me, it calls for a reassessment of certain critical aspects of his presidency and who he really is as we are talking about the perception of “cashing in” on a presidency that often veered away from the path of doing what was right for the sake of compromise and, consequently I’m seeing his choices as president in a somewhat different light. It’s almost as if nothing was learned during the last election cycle!

    Now, if he plans to advocate for a ‘single-payer’ government-run healthcare system in his keynote address, then his speech may just be worth the handsome sum he has agreed.

  13. Gary Hart Says:

    Strongly agree with Ms. Miller on that last sentence. GH

  14. LORENZO CHERIN Says:

    Elizabeth

    You deserve the words, you are a very important part of the discussion on here with the sort of liberal approach that revives American Liberalism as something more than vocal leftism !

    I think if the former president doesn’t make a habit of it and soon starts a terriic new not for profit organisation to put the cash in, we should forgive him his temptation to do the vulgar thing for the right one , or is that the right wing thing for the slightly more left wing one ?!

  15. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Lorenzo,

    Let’s just say that the former president has a lot of explaining to do!

    As for being part of the discussion here, I am fortunate indeed to have found this place and, since then, have always enjoyed reading your interesting comments.

    And, that goes especially now, when a site like this is a very welcome calming influence on an otherwise chaotic planet. 🙂

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