Chukka Umunna recently published a proposal that went something like this. “The UK should accept controlling immigration from the EU because immigration has problems”. This is fairly typical Third Way centrism, in that it positions itself to where the electorate is perceived to be.
Rather than speak the objective truth to that electorate, the entirety of the Third Way model of politics is to embrace the electorate’s misconceptions and run with it. The alternative, to convince the electorate that they are wrong and argue their case from the facts, is never contemplated. It is too hard, and doesn’t pay off in the polls as quickly as a well-prepared political meme known as a sound-bite. Third Way centrism is about exploiting memes to pass the barrier of cognitive dissonance by speaking to people’s already formed opinions. “Look here, I believe as you do. Vote for me!”
Umunna’s proposals were in the same territory as Ed Miliband’s attempt to control immigration trough robust mug messages. I can’t believe that either Miliband or Umunna believe what they’re saying, and I have to believe that they’re engaging in triangulation. The academic consensus is, after all, fairly robust. Immigration leads to public good, and it’s difficult to imagine how any European nation could function well without it. If the research clearly states one thing, and politicians choose to ignore the research and go with a gut-instinct for where the electorate is, then they are, in my opinion, engaging in post-truth, and they have been for a long time.
Triangulation is, in a way, all about accepting defeat, and going to where the voters are perceived to be based on press reports and half-baked public sentiment where certain underlying economic pressures have been pushed into the wrong channels. The populist response has been to blame ‘the other’ for political choices made by the same people who engage in triangulation.
I mean, Inequality and austerity leads to decimated public services through political choice in White Hall or Rosenbad or Washington. These political choices are in themselves post-truthy, because it is expedient for the politicians to let the public misidentify the culprit as ‘the other’ in their midst. There is stark consensus among academic economists that austerity is a heads-in-the-sand policy. Yet the Conservatives in Britain, who have taken up the mantle of Tony Blair’s Third Way centrism to get elected, as well as Angela Merkel in Berlin have embraced austerity as a feasible policy tool.
It is fairly clear what needs to be done to get Europe and the UK out of its economic duldrums, and for the population to start to feel like they’re a part of society again. It is to end socialism for the rich and blood-on-claw-and-tooth capitalism for the poor. It is to belatedly rebuild trust in institutions by actually punish the people who created the 2008 financial crash. It is to tax the wealth of the rich till the pips squeak to balance budgets and rebuild the social contracts of European nations. It is to build roads, houses, train tracks, and other infrastructure projects, and it is to increase the take-home pay of working people so that local economies can start to function again. That’s the recipe that works, because it is clear that European recipes aren’t working, and the control groups we can use show that the alternative does work.
First, we can look to when we were last in this situation, the 1930s. Then, we can look to what America did after 2008 which set them on a much better path than us. Hell, we can include the wars that took place during the same time, and point to them being powerful financial stimulus packages. First you bomb a country to smithereens, and then you rebuild it with the Marshall plan. That does wonders for GDP growth. Even manufacturing the goods that destroys the countries is a financial stimulus package, perversely enough, and reduced unemployment and poverty in both the United States, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.
While the 2008 rescue package in the USA didn’t start to tax the rich, the 1930s New Deal did. Between 1930 and 1970, the world was utterly transformed economically. Most countries were agrarian based countries with a large segment of the population living in rural areas and in poverty. By 1970s most people were well paid, educated, and living in cities. Technological transformation was profound, with the horse being the main engine of economic activity in 1930 still, compared to the advanced manufacturing economies in 1970. In 1930 we had just taken our first flights a decade earlier, and aircraft and cars were in their infancy. By 1970 everything had changed. The world changed far, far more between 1930 and 1970 than it has changed between 1970 and now.
Third Way centrism is as much post-truth as Donald Trump standing up on the debate stage claiming he saw thousands of Muslims cheering as the airplanes crashed into the Twin Towers in New York. And that has been with us for forty years now, ever since Dick Morris formalised the method in his and Bill Clinton’s relaunch of the US Democratic party as the New Democrats, and ever since people like Tony Blair and Gerhard Schroeder and Göran Persson imported the method to Europe.
The difference between the post-truth of the Third Wayers is that the Third Wayers will respond like liars when they’re confronted. They will publically fidget and protest about the accusation, even when all can see their lies. People like Donald Trump doesn’t act like that. He persists in the lie with bravado, and his extraordinary statement from the primary campaign that he “could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and people would still vote for me” is true.
Donald Trump’s narcissistic psychology enables him to pretend it’s not a lie. Third Wayers know they’re lying, and know why they’re lying, and when confronted they still feel a bit of shame. This is the saving grace of the Third Wayers, and it is what is damning about Donald Trump. But for the love of God, let’s not pretend that post-truth is a new phenomena. It’s been with us for forty years, and the standard-bearers of it, and the platform builders for Donald Trump, are the liked of Blair Schroeder and Persson.
They’ve made this mess. They’re not the people who will fix it because their primary focus will be to return to what worked for them, and to shift blame toward ‘the other’ by triangulating into public misconceptions about foreigners and immigrants. That way, they’ll get to keep their policies of Third Way centralism, austerity, and “long term economic plan” going for a while longer.