Opinion: From the U.S. to Chile, centrism is in retreat

By Sebastian Aguilar, Staff Writer

In the summer of 2019, President Joe Biden promised “nothing would fundamentally change.” This statement couldn’t be more accurate for his brand of politics, and Biden’s lack of achievements in his first year shows the failures of status quo centrist politics. 

Moderate candidates for both parties have increasingly lost party primaries to those farther on the right and left wings. This isn’t just an American phenomenon, but a global one. 

Centrism in this global political climate is on the downswing electorally. In the 2020 Irish election, the two centrist parties Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil lost their majority to the left wing Sinn Féin and Green parties. 

Sinn Féin received 24% of the vote compared to the historic centrist front-runners, which only received around 22% each. 

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael formed a coalition government with the Green party, forcing the electoral winner Sinn Féin into opposition.

This election is similar to the 2020 Democratic primary where Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., had a meteoric rise in popular support as a left-wing candidate against an assortment of centrists. 

When Sanders looked like he would steamroll his competition, centrist candidates dropped out and endorsed Joe Biden, sending their voters Biden’s way. 

Even Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who was more ideologically similar to Sanders than to Biden, endorsed Biden. This pushed him into the nomination and subsequently the presidency. 

In the Irish election, the Green Party — a party more aligned with Sinn Féin than with centrists — pushed the centrist coalition into government instead of forcing another election. 

The centrists of both countries had to pull out all the stops to halt popular political movements in their respective countries, and it has backfired for both. 

Biden’s approval rate, according to FiveThirtyEight, is only at 42%. According to Politico, 33% of voters say they would vote for the left wing Sinn Féin, a 9% increase from their most recent meteoric performance.

While the establishment center narrowly prevailed in the U.S. and Ireland, established centrists failed to win the German, Peruvian and Chilean elections last year. 

The center-right Christian Democratic Union in Germany collapsed after longtime leader Angela Merkel stepped down. 

In 2017, the party was the most voted for in 13 states; in the 2021 election, they were first in only two. The left-wing Social Democrats and the Greens made the biggest gains and the far-right Alternative for Deutschland also retained support. 

This isn’t just a European phenomenon, either. In the first round of the 2021 Chilean election, the center right and left candidates lost out to the political extremes.

In Chile, the center collapsed in favor of far-left and far-right candidates. The candidates were the 35-year-old Gabriel Boric, a self-described libertarian-socialist, and Jose Antonio Kast, a supporter of the former dictator Augusto Pinochet. 

Photo courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org
Gabriel Boric, 35, won the Chilean election by presenting a leftist alternative to centrist politics. He defeated far-right Jose Antonio Kast.

Boric ended up winning in an upset, becoming one of the youngest leaders in the world.

While I don’t want Neo-Nazis or Marxist-Leninists to lead the U.S., I do think that there will be a dramatic shake-up to American politics in the near future. People are fed up with status quo do-nothing politicians. Biden’s brand of politics might have worked in the 2000s, but it definitely doesn’t work in the 2020s. 

We need young blood in politics thinking up new ideas and new solutions instead of geriatric old guys trying to make decisions that they won’t live to see — decisions based on ideals of moderation from a bygone era.