Americas becoming Seattle?
America's becoming Seattle? simonkr / Getty

In a new column, the Seattle Times' Danny Westneat described the increasing popularity and electability of Bernie Sanders as the Seattleization of national politics. What does this mean? His words: "...we may now be getting a showdown between right populist nationalism, under Donald Trump, versus left populist socialism, under Bernie Sanders. It’s a polarization smackdown." Seattle's City Hall, he believes, has be polarized by the presence of Kshama Sawant. She is seen as a polarizing politician because she is fully committed to improving the lot of poor people—they should not live on the streets, they deserve wages that correspond with economic reality, they should have access to health services. If these are your only goals, you are polarizing, the assumption being that those on the left must also represent the rich. Listening to just the poor is not fair. It is polarizing. And here we hit upon an idea that's also found at the center of mainstream economics, namely: there is no social power in money.

In this reading of daily economic life, money is classified as neutral. It is only a matter of either having a lot of it or not, and nothing more than either this this (money) or that that (no money). Politics, in this imaginary, is then a domain of society where the poor and the rich meet and work things out, find a middle ground. This is the sensible thing for the left to do. But you are considered unhelpful and polarizing if you happen to correctly believe that money is not neutral, that we live in a society where the interests of those with great wealth are vastly overrepresented. This is what Westneat means by this expression and by conflating Sanders with Trump. The center is the ideal for moms and pops across America; money is not important. And there is more...

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Those on the center right and center left want the whole of the left to be devoted to rebuilding faith in centrist politics. This is not something the right is asked to do. Indeed, the vacuum in the center was created by them. What everyone has seen for the past three years is the repeated decimation of political customs that once connected even a George W. Bush to a Barack Obama. The continuum of presidential power was based on the imaginary of centralized rules that could not be broken without serious (if not fatal) political repercussions. With Trump, however, these middle-positioning rules have been smashed to pieces. And yet, he is still in power, and running to retaining this power.

Grabbing pussy, tossing brown children into cages, blatantly colluding with the Russians, the attempt to use public funds to force a foreign power to meddle in US elections—all of this and much, much more does not seem to matter to almost all of the GOP. And what we on the left are asked to do is really appreciate and retweet some critical words on the current situation from what remains of the center-right, and Never Trumpers, and retired generals and intelligence officers and admirals.

But Trump is still in the White House, still destroying centrist policies and customs by the hour.

And so the mainstream turns to the left, to the Democratic Party, and demands that it do the work of putting good old Humpty Dumpty back together again, and not focus on major social issues like universal healthcare, the persistence of low minimum wages, and out of control military spending. In this imaginary, those who are polarizing are those who do not want to spend their energy and political resources putting back together again a centrism that they did not even break.