The Limits of Political Progressiveness in the United States

By José Ernesto Nováez Guerrero on February 21, 2024 from Havana

Bernie Sanders, photo: abc news

In a recent interview given to the Washington Post, Bernie Sanders, a well-known progressive Democratic leader in the United States, commented on his position regarding what is happening in the Gaza Strip. Although he upholds “Israel’s right to defend itself”, Sanders considers that the country has gone too far in the use of force and, therefore, he is firmly in favor of not voting in favor of the new 14 billion dollar package that is being discussed in the Senate these days and which will undoubtedly mean a breath of relief for the battered Israeli finances.

The interesting thing about the interview is that, although he refers to the tens of thousands of dead left by the Israeli offensive in Gaza, the degree of destruction in housing and other basic infrastructure, the Democratic senator refuses to use the term genocide to qualify the actions of “Israel”, despite being directly asked three times on the subject.

Bernie Sanders is a face with a long history in American politics. Of Jewish origin, in 1991 he was elected to the House of Representatives and re-elected until 2007. He began his career as an independent, but ended up joining the Democratic Party, of which he was a popular candidate in the primaries for the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections, facing more or less open opposition from the party leadership. Since January 2015, he has been the leader of the opposition in the Senate Budget Committee.

Sanders defines himself as a “democratic socialist and progressive” politician. In his election campaigns he was very critical of inequality in the distribution of wealth, while supporting increase in the minimum wage, universal health care, expansion of social security benefits, etc. These positions earned him accusations of communism and anti-Americanism, compounded by his publicly expressed relative sympathy for some of the social achievements of the Cuban Revolution.

This, however, is not an anti-Bernie Sanders article. Although his social justice program is far more advanced than that of the average US political establishment, his ambivalent position on the Israeli genocide gives us the key to a better understanding of the extreme limits that politically accepted “progressivism” within the US imperialist power apparatus cannot cross.

The first of these limits is the political limit. No insider within the political structure of the country can attack the fundamental political pillars that sustain the particular structure of U.S. domination inside and outside the nation. In other words, posturing cannot go so far as to undermine U.S. political hegemony. To assume Israeli actions in Gaza as genocide is to acknowledge that the United States, the main ally and financier of the “Israel” regime, is complicit in genocide.

The current state of “Israel” is essentially an American political project and is interconnected with the economic and political interests of this superpower, although sometimes, like the monster created by Dr. Frankenstein, it acts on its own and may even confront and question the decisions of its master. Whoever intends to make a lasting career in American politics must know that this is one of his red lines.

The second limit is the economic limit. The U.S. apparatus will not allow any tendency to grow within its midst that would essentially oppose or deny major corporate economic interests on a national or international scale. The margin of critical and “progressive” operation within its ranks will be determined by these interests, which in the end end function as an adjustment mechanism that gives voice and a partial solution to the most evident imbalances of the system, without fully resolving any of the fundamental contradictions that afflict it.

The third limit is the moral one. The Zionist lobby in Washington has capitalized on the barbarity of the Nazi holocaust to its advantage. The abundant symbolic production and the notions planted in the common sense of American society for decades, make it difficult to openly lambast Israeli actions, even for those who are inserted within the apparatus. These days, criminal prosecutions for anti-Semitism have rained down on numerous figures in American public life, sometimes for quite conservative comments.

With a brutal dialectic, Zionism has become the very thing it sought to deny. Today, its actions against the Palestinian people follow a colonial logic of extermination and are based on the conviction of the Palestinians as being sub humans, animals, on whom it is perfectly legitimate to deploy all possible force, regardless of the victims they cause; on the contrary, the more victims, the closer it is to the final objective.

Although all the truths are on the table, some of them even said by the same people who today command the Israeli genocidal machine, American political “progressivism” has an insurmountable moral limit when it comes to denouncing the situation. To fully recognize the crimes of “Israel” and to call them what they are would mean bringing the entire Zionist propaganda machine to bear, sacrificing its own political career in the process.

These aforementioned limits are narrowing as American hegemony cracks, unable to contain or undermine the new actors emerging on the international economic and political scene. The struggle between Trump and Biden, which seems close to being reedited in 2024, can be read as the struggle between the old project of global supremacy and the positions of a decadent power that is forced to turn in on itself, with a furiously nationalistic discourse that opens numerous social fractures within the country.

In this scenario, making policy implies extreme caution, especially with those issues that pull at the core strings of imperial hegemony. That is why it is easier to save one’s conscience in small administrative tricks, while avoiding calling the genocidal beast by its name. Perhaps the main limit of “progressivism” lies in its own pusillanimous nature.

José Ernesto Nováez Guerrero is a researcher, journalist and the Coordinator of the Cuban chapter of the Network in Defense of Humanity.

Source: Resumen Latinoamericano – Havana