All too often we hear how Boris Johnson or Donald Trump has “destroyed our country” or “destroyed our democracy”. We are told that Britain and America no longer have “moral authority” to speak on human rights and democracy around the globe following recent domestic illegality and brutality. Yet, these narratives are not only false but play into the hands of the establishment.
It can be tempting to fall into the trap of believing current circumstances are the worst they have ever been and that political enemies are worse than anything that has gone before. It is a trap we have fallen into ourselves. Yet, this belief in a glorious past serves only to erase prior criminality and to push an agenda of western exceptionalism.
We say that Boris Johnson is the worst Prime Minister Britain has ever had, comparing the man to a fascist. Yet, can we honestly say that his actions have done more damage to the cause of the working class than Margaret Thatcher? Can we say that his efforts on the international stage have set the Middle-East aflame? Equally, how can people across the globe possibly understand how Americans laud the Presidency of Barak Obama as a high-point of modern politics sitting in the rubble of their homes in Syria?
The belief that America or Britain ever had a “moral authority” to speak on human rights abuses is outright erasure of our past. Did this moral authority come before or after the British Empire? Or the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Did it come after Bloody Sunday? Or after Vietnam? Proclaiming that these incidents, alongside countless other abuses, fall within a period of “moral authority” for our nations, only declares them to have been righteous.
We have every right to be alarmed and outraged at the current actions of our governments. They continue to exploit the working class to the point that economic inequality is now at the levels of the French Revolution. They have, through subservience to The City and Wall Street, led tens of thousands to their unnecessary deaths through COVID-19. They imprison journalists, are willing to break the law and continue to agitate with a war against Iran, Venezuela and China.
Yet, none of this is new. Blair and Bush invaded Iraq. They tortured and killed. Obama expanded the American military presence around the globe and unleashed his murderous campaign of drone strikes. Before that, Thatcher laid waste working-class communities and Reagan funded crimes against humanity in Latin America. The actions of a Boris Johnson and Donald Trump in the context of modern political history are not exceptional, nor unique. They are entirely in-line with a national character of imperialism, exceptionalism and subservience to the modes of capital.
Yet, here we are. This is a world where Democrats are openly praising the likes of George W. Bush, John McCain and Colin Powell because they speak out against Trump. It is one where British liberals are praising former Thatcher ministers such as John Major, Ken Clarke and Michael Heseltine simply because they have the “right” stance on Brexit. All is eventually forgiven so long as you remain inside the modern establishment bubble.
Following the Second World War, Britain began a period of “post-war consensus” when both the Conservative Party and Labour broadly aligned on many significant issues and agreed on a consensus to find an agreeable path through two very differing ideologies. Labour would leave private schools alone, the Tories would keep the NHS, and so forth. The consensus led Britain through the rebuilding process after the WW2 and through the initial period of The Cold War.
So too through the 1990s and 2000s, a new consensus existed. Voters have long agreed that there were very few political differences between Cameron and Blair, Bush and Obama and now Starmer and Johnson. While there were undoubtedly token differences and the candidate may have stated more traditional opinions, the reality is that guns were not abolished under Obama and abortion wasn’t abolished under Bush. The consensus on liberalism at home and imperialism abroad remained unchallenged.
There are few would say there is any similarity between Donald Trump and either Bernie Sanders or Jeremy Corbyn. Yet there is one. The threat to this neoliberal consensus. Trump brings that threat from the right while Corbyn and Sanders brought it from the left. Hence why “mainstream” politicians in their own parties have been happy to join with so-called political rivals to destroy them. The consensus of neoliberalism is all that matters.
So when Joe Biden and Trump opponents speak of returning American democracy or the West reassuming “moral authority”, nobody should be fooled into believing that this is an actual call for freedom, tolerance and liberty. It is not. It is a call to once again return to the neoliberal cross-party consensus that has benefitted capitalism and imperialism so well. It is a fraud.
What the Western establishment have come to see as “the good old days” of a Blair or an Obama is in line only with this centrist view of politics. The days when liberalism could rain at home and the middle-class were happy to look the other way while the bombs dropped in the Middle East so long as they remained financially comfortable. It is an individualist view of politics that erases the experiences of not only those targeted by the imperial adventures of our twin regimes but equally the economic suffering of the millions under neoliberal economics. This American and British exceptionalism presents itself in many forms. It deceptively may even appear to align with the left when it targets the right-wingers who also challenge this centrist consensus. While socialists must never be seen to stand with the likes of Trump, neither must they fall into the manipulation of the centre by erasing an eternal history of war, oppression, slavery and imperial belligerence.
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