“The center cannot hold,” wrote William Butler Yeats, Anglo-Irish poet, right after World War I. These words, crafted almost exactly 100 years ago, capture today, don’t they?
The years between World War I and World War II were a test of the political center’s capacity for leading Western nations through revolutionary change. Europe’s political center failed the test.
President Franklin Roosevelt navigated the United States to a stronger place in those years because he delivered social and economic policies and investments that produced a bubble-up economy. Income grew from the bottom up rather than dribbling from the top down. There’s a moral to this tale: When governments work upward, society is centered in a way that’s sustainable.
The country is divided into roughly three parts. The Trump party comprises some very unhappy and angry people on the right. The Bernie Sanders party comprises some very unhappy and angry people on the left. The center contains some very panicky people worried about both Trump and Sanders. Trump people trend older. Sanders people trend younger. It’s now evident that active young voters’ policies will win in the long run. As of the night before Super Tuesday, Democrats in Colorado from 18-44 years of age have returned a record-breaking number of ballots for a primary. For 60 years Sanders has shouted his criticisms about U.S. capitalism. Now a growing one third of the nation’s voters agree with him.
The political parties, which until Trump and Sanders were run by the center, are cratering into irrelevance. That’s the only explanation for these three facts: Trump used to be a Democrat and finally registered Republican; Sanders has never been a Democrat, and Mike Bloomberg — the guy representing the center until his withdrawal from the race — has registered, appropriately, Republican, Independent, now Democrat.
None of this is unexpected. Colorado’s parties have plummeted in their shares of voters this past decade, with 40 percent of Coloradans now unaffiliated. To understand the reasons for political party decline, the political center should check itself out in the mirror. For younger voters, the list of decades-long, “center policy” failures is long and dreary:
• Corporate dominance of the political system via money and unfettered power causes grossly inadequate action on climate change and a host of other “existential” threats.
• Wars fought for inexplicable reasons don’t end.
• The Great Recession took down the economy and job prospects for anyone graduating from high school or college for a decade.
• Big bank misdeeds and consequent bail outs resulted in no criminal charges including for Wells Fargo’s ongoing fraud.
• Individuals caught in the big bank maelstrom still contend with economic hardship.
• College education costs have jumped not just sky high, but to-the-moon high, pressuring low-income and middle-class parents and grandparents. Education debt has soared not just sky-high, but to-the-moon high, with government and corporate malfeasance on loan abatement exacerbating the pain.
• Housing expense climbs without stop in many U.S. cities, turning that buy-your-own-house dream into inherit-your-parents’-house-if-your-parents-can-afford-to-keep-it reality.
• Harsh and unequal criminal justice for minorities, especially African-American and Latinx communities, embeds poverty and daily struggle for prisoners and their families.
• An inadequate minimum wage, unchanged since the 1990s, assigns many Americans to lifelong economic insecurity.
• The immigration system doesn’t work for anyone.
• More guns in households than adults in the country have turned schools and churches into hide or flee nightmares worse than atomic bomb duck and cover exercises for OK, boomers.
• And probably most vexing and very frightening, medical care costs aren’t just sky high, or even moon high. They’re next-galaxy high.
These issues have been heating in a frying pan on the front burner and now have pork fat piled on top. It’s taken exactly the lifetimes of Donald Trump, Michael Bloomberg, Joe Biden, and Bernie Sanders for the center to get the nation to this exact moment of truth.
Because Bernie has pointed out these issues to everyone for 60 years, he gets credit as the light at the end of the tunnel. He may not be the guy who actually gets anything done, but his clarion call is why the senator draws young voters and the center does not.
Paula Noonan owns Colorado Capitol Watch, the state’s premier legislature tracking platform.