Jason Reed is a student at the LSE. He is Deputy Editor of 1828.
Watching America’s quadrennial political reckoning from across the pond, one thing is becoming clearer than ever before. The US’s rigid two-party system and increasingly polarised socio-political discourse are leaving liberty-lovers and freedom-fighters politically homeless.
I believe in freedom. I want the government to get out of people’s lives. I think people should be allowed to conduct themselves however they wish. On economic issues, I am a tax-slashing capitalist; on social issues, a forward-looking progressive. This is neither a radical nor unusual political standpoint.
In the UK, the centre-right Conservative party caters to my politics. Sure, it’s a broad church – there are many whose views differ from mine, on both social and economic issues – but there are more than enough free marketeers and social liberals to make me feel politically represented, despite the occasional blip here and there. In America, though, neither party caters to what I believe in. Very few American politicians seem to believe in freedom.
In the UK’s two-party system, the Conservative Party – of which I am a member – is the right-leaning one. So, I should support the Republicans, since they represent the right-leaning half of America’s political dichotomy. Right?
If only it were that simple. The British political landscape is not at all mirrored by its trans-Atlantic cousin. The Republican party is not the same as the Conservative party. We Conservatives are much more moderate on the whole – centre-right, rather than right-wing – and, crucially, the Tory party is a much broader church than the GOP, which is narrow and dogmatic.
That means there is a great deal of overlap between the Conservatives and Democrats. Rory Stewart, who was a leading candidate for the leadership of the Conservative party just last year, is a former adviser to President Obama.
If Donald Trump were a British politician, he would be Nigel Farage. Too nationalistic for the Conservative party, claiming to speak for the silent majority, hinging his political relevance on the white working class and dishing out equal parts fear and anger in his politics.
Farage was only prevented from rising to the top of British politics in the same way Trump did in the US thanks to our electoral system. The ‘mother of parliaments’ does an excellent job of keeping populist crackpots at arm’s length. Trump’s political career would have failed in the UK, too.
This brand of politician can only win power when a presidential system allows them to exploit personality politics – and the hefty bank accounts of their donors – in order to soar to the top in one fell swoop, independent of establishmentarian party machinery.
Trump could never be a Tory. Republicanism means something fundamentally different to conservatism.
The GOP has no regard for fiscal conservatism. It embraces a backwards mercantilism, which it combines with its heinous nativism, resulting in a soup of nationalistic dogma. ‘Britain First’ is the name of a fascist group which was expelled from the political mainstream a long time ago. ‘America First’, in much the same way, represents everything fans of freedom ought to stand against.
Donald ‘Tariff Man’ Trump is the walking, talking reality of everything wrong with nationalism – and he single-handedly unlocked American politics, winning millions over with his hollow, affirming rhetoric. He and his ideological brethren will dictate the direction of the Republican party for at least a generation.
Although the British government’s current position on trans rights, for instance, is unsavoury, there is a genuine, vibrant debate within the party. A group of backbenchers, elected by the alleged tradcon loyalists who supposedly make up the northern Red Wall constituencies, recently banded together to call for a change of direction. A U-turn on this issue is not unforeseeable.
Conversely, Trump embracing trans rights and representation could hardly be any less likely. The man who banned trans people from armed service, citing fictitious “health concerns”, is not going to change his mind on his issue, and neither is anyone else in his party.
The Republican base of Tucker Carlson addicts laps up this kind of clumsy, directionless social conservatism. The more extreme, the better. Triggering the wets and owning the libs is now the only path to victory. A lack of English reserve is killing the American right.
The American left is no more attractive. Democrats are statists, albeit in varying degrees. Joe Biden wants to wrap America up in a red-tape pie and then take it out at the knees with a horrifyingly haphazard tax plan. His running mate, Kamala ‘Cop’ Harris, is an institutional racism enthusiast and a raging authoritarian.
Of the myriad contenders for the Democratic nomination, only Andrew Yang spoke any sense to liberals (in the true sense of the word). But even he was frustratingly pessimistic on the power of big tech, AI and the free market to effect real change. And, of course, his winning the nomination would only have guaranteed a second term for Trump. The realistic choices were always two different brands of ultra-interventionist.
Washington’s two-party system is so unforgiving that there is no escape from this mire. Britain has a two-party system too, of course. And yet, a third party was in government barely five years ago. And last year, the governing party came in fifth in a national election. In the US, even those who loyally back the strongest third-party force – the Libertarians – have no hope of representation.
Freedom in America, then, is not some controversial idea which most are too cautious to touch. It is simply forgotten. An entire nation’s discourse has tossed liberty aside without a second thought, leaving its citizens with a stark choice between dangerous socialists and climate-denying racists.
The result is a political landscape that is openly hostile towards liberty. America has slipped into the very human trap of sorting the world into left and right, black and white, good and evil. Twelve per cent of members of the House of Commons are neither Conservative nor Labour, whereas every member of America’s representative bodies was elected as a Democrat or a Republican.
There are rare glimmers of hope in the likes of Rand Paul and Justin Amash but for the most part, freedom is absent from contemporary American politics. Our Atlantic cousins have become so plagued by polarisation that they have abandoned liberalism altogether.
The United States of America was built on the principles of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. Those ideas ought to be timeless. America needs to rediscover itself. Its politics has become so overwhelmed by the weight of modern discourse and the beast of rolling news that an entire nation has forgotten what it once believed in.