While the organized chaos of the presidential primary storms ahead, it’s easy to get caught up in the rhetoric of the American political bubble. Observing the race to the White House as an outsider, I find myself constantly comparing the current American political climate with that of my home, England.
It raises the question: if Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz were to run as English politicians, how would their policies be received?
Like America, there are two main political parties in England: Labour and Conservative. The Labour party, founded on 19th century trade unionist and socialist principles, contains philosophies ranging from strongly socialist to a more moderate social democratism. The Conservative party, which descended from a long political legacy of English conservatism, is the current majority party.
The Conservative party currently advocates for lower taxes, fiscal austerity and the reduction — but still support of — free universal healthcare. In England, this is what I, and many people, associate with “conservatism.” Yet in America, many of its policies would fall in line with policies advocated by the Democrats.
Of all the presidential candidates, Bernie Sanders’ moniker of “socialism” is perhaps the most divisive. Though he is a self-described “democratic socialist,” the word still evokes fear for many that lived through the Cold War and the McCarthyite anti-communist sentiment that came with it.
But in England, a country that America most certainly doesn’t fear, Sanders’ policies wouldn’t even be the most radical that the Labour party accommodates. While Bernie may be the most liberal senator in Congress, his calls for universal healthcare, a higher minimum wage and subsidised higher education are English political orthodoxy.
When it comes to radicalism, Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour party leader elected on a grassroots campaign similar to that of Sanders’, is your man. Some of his policies, which can’t even be seen on the outskirts of the American political spectrum, include scrapping the country’s nuclear program and introducing a “maximum” wage for the highest earners.
Sanders’ Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, has described herself as a “modern progressive.” This progressivism would probably land her in the middle of the Conservative party, were she to make the journey across the Atlantic. Her voting record, of pro-interventionist foreign policy and conservative tax proposals especially, suggests that she wouldn’t seem out of place sitting on the Conservative side of Parliament — the English equivalent of Congress.
When the leading candidate for a traditionally left-leaning party, i.e. the Democrats, is seen as conservative by the majority of another “conservative”-run country, i.e. England, I think it’s telling of a seismic political shift.
Like Sanders, Donald Trump has soared in popularity on an anti-establishment platform. This is where the similarities end. Some of Trump’s policies are so radically right that even the Conservative party would reject him. In fact, British disapproval against him reached fever pitch recently, when a petition calling for his ban was discussed in Parliament after reaching over 500,000 signatures. Assuming he overcomes this animosity, Trump might be lucky enough to be accepted by the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP).
Its policies, which include an exit from the European Union (its central policy), strict immigration rules and an uncomfortably high number of bigoted political blunders, mean UKIP is seen by many as a hate group masquerading as a political party. Trump then, with his 55-foot wall, plan for mass Islamic deportation and consistent political faux pas, would fit right in with most of the party.
And Ted Cruz, Trump’s main Republican competitor, wouldn’t fare much better. In wake of the recent Brussels’ attacks, he called for mass surveillance of Muslim communities. He has also promised to deport all 11 million people who are undocumented, increase the already huge military complex and lower taxes. Given the worrying rise of anti-immigrant fervour in England and Western Europe, UKIP would welcome him with open arms.
In fact Cruz, while avoiding the braggadocio of his rival, has made comments that would push him to the right of UKIP. Expressing doubt toward climate change, opposing all forms of abortion and support for what the Geneva Conventions’ define as a war crime, Cruz is a distinctly more sinister figure than Trump. A worrying fact, given the way he is perceived as the rational alternative to a Trump presidency.
All of this isn’t to say that the American political spectrum is wrong and that English is right. But in all good democracies, there has to be a balance of ideologies. When that ideology becomes so skewed and twisted that one nation’s political frontrunner could be perceived as another’s hate figure, it signifies a need for change. I just hope, for America’s sake, that change comes sooner rather than later.