The New Moderate’s 2014 Vigilance List
What do we moderates have to worry about? Plenty. After all, if you’re a moderate, trouble comes at you from both sides. To make matters even more interesting, our sources of trouble keep changing from year to year.
I’ve been updating the Vigilance List each year to reflect our current jitters. Some items may have moved up or down the rankings or dropped off entirely; others are still glaring at us, unimproved and unrelenting. If you’ve read these lists before, you’ll notice a couple of ominous newcomers, too. Even so, I’ve cut the number of items from 19 to 16 — partly by consolidating some of them, and partly from a belief that we already have more than enough to worry about.
Anyway, without further eloquence, let me unveil the latest list of concerns, in numerical order — complete with last year’s ranking for comparison. It’s a personal list, of course, but I hope it’s an instructive one. And bear in mind that these items should be worrisome to you even if you’re not a moderate.
1. Factionalism. (New this year — a merger of the old “Republican Obstructionism” and “Polarization”) I blamed the GOP’s wingnut contingent last year, but we’ll never overcome the reckless brinksmanship, distorted rhetoric and outright lies on both sides unless we can find some common ground and start building on it. Whether we’re talking about politics, taxes, guns, religion, race or any other divisive issue, we have to reverse our deepening factionalism or we’re probably doomed as a republic. Trend: Increasingly disturbing; politically engaged Americans have split into two “amen corners,” each one deaf to any argument that contradicts the received wisdom. Remedy: We need more outspoken moderates in politics and the media — moderates with the power to provoke as well as reconcile our hidebound partisans. And of course, we also need concerned moderate citizens to help stop the madness. Finally, we need to focus on causes everyone can embrace — like driving money out of politics (see #2).
2. Plutocracy. (Last year: #2) Let’s face it: the United States is a nominally democratic republic currently ruled by a small, self-entitled, self-perpetuating elite based in Wall Street and K Street (home to Washington’s lobbyist community). The Supreme Court’s inexcusable Citizens United decision (sorry, money is NOT a form of speech!) gave powerful corporations and plutocrats carte blanche to elect and bribe their favorite politicians. The U.S. Congress today is a sorry farce, a collection of overambitious hacks bought and paid for by big-money interests at both ends of the political spectrum. Trend: Approaching a stranglehold. Remedy: Decisive action in the form of a new Constitutional amendment to drive money out of American politics once and for all. If that fails, concerned Americans need to call for a new Constitutional Convention. (Yes, it’s legal). Think of it as Revolution Lite. Here’s a cause that can unite righteous liberals and conservatives in newfound fellowship.
3. Perpetual recession. (Last year: #1). I’ve finally bumped the Great Recession out of the top spot. Not that our economy has been rebounding with renewed vigor — no, I’ve simply come to accept our current doldrums as the “new normal.” The private sector hasn’t come through with quality jobs for Americans, and the federal government has turned a blind eye to job creation. Meanwhile, corporations are still exporting jobs with impunity and Americans are sinking deeper into debt and dejection. At least the stock market has shown signs of life, but that’s small comfort to the growing underclass. In fact, companies today focus more on beating the next quarterly forecast than on the needs of their own people. At this point we might just be witnessing the American future: prosperity for the few, unending financial woes for everyone else. Trend: In a holding pattern, and all the more alarming the longer it lingers. Remedy: More hiring of Americans by corporations currently sitting atop piles of cash… NOW, not later. Fear not, capitalists: give enough Americans decent jobs, and the money will trickle back up in the form of healthy consumer spending.
4. Racial tension. (Last year: #16) Quite the jump here. Last year’s George Zimmerman trial proved to me that we Americans just can’t stop obsessing about race — even (or especially) in the “postracial” Obama years. Distortions abound on both sides, as always, but I’ve noticed a growing (and almost mandatory) pro-black bias among liberals and in the mainstream media. For every overpublicized Trayvon Martin shooting, a dozen violent black-on-white crimes go unreported (or underreported) by national news outlets. Such one-sided coverage just inflames black resentment and reinforces the dangerously wrongheaded notion that blacks are the perpetual victims of whites in our society. Trend: Almost reached a boiling point in 2013; just simmering now until the next high-profile white-on-black crime. Remedy: It might be that we’ll never eradicate race problems in America until we all mingle our genes through intermarriage. Barring that, any discussion of race in America must be a two-way street from now on. Whites can no longer be expected to simply shut up and take the heat, and blacks need to be more receptive to constructive criticism of ghetto culture.
5. The “screw the other guy” mentality. (New this year) Maybe the Chris Christie bridge fiasco crystallized the problem for me, but I’ve detected a nasty tumor on the American character. (It’s hardly new, but it seems to be spreading.) We’re so obsessed with success, and so terrified of losing, that — for many of us, at least — it’s no longer enough to succeed; others must be crushed. Examples: short-selling investors who love sticking it to the faithful “bag-holders.” Latter-day Scrooges who expect minimum-wage workers to live in poverty. Penny stock peddlers who ride a wave of euphoria every time they swindle a hapless client. And yes, politicians and their staffers, so intoxicated by their own power that they go out of their way to thwart and humiliate less powerful rivals. We’re looking at bullying, plain and simple, and this ugliness has also gone rampant in online culture. Trend: On the upswing, and all the more troubling because it’s looked upon by too many of us as a badge of macho bravado. Remedy: A healthy dose of Judeo-Christian morality or, lacking that, a swift kick in the pants. We probably need more aggressive social and legal measures for punishing bullies and cheats, though we need to draw the line when it comes to sexual harassment charges against 6-year-olds.
6. Potential class warfare. (Last year: #4) The old American class hierarchy with its nearly invisible boundaries is splitting, like some great ice sheet, into upper and lower castes as mid-status jobs trickle away. Downward mobility is already becoming a way of life for most of us, thanks to corporate non-hiring and the mass destruction of middle-class wealth by reckless Wall Street bankers. Trend: You ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Remedy: The banishing of big-money interests from government (see #2), along with federally-imposed financial reforms that would restore the more equitable society of the mid-to-late 20th century: greater regulation of Wall Street and higher (but not punitive) taxes on the rich, plus elimination of most tax shelters and loopholes. And once again, creation of quality jobs for Americans by the increasingly global corporate establishment.
7. The “Great Demographic Shift.” (Last year: #5) It’s official: people of color now account for more than 50 percent of American births. This shift is more than cosmetic; while many blacks and Latinos are finding their way into the middle class, many more of them simply aren’t. School dropout rates and community social problems will doom a hefty percentage of these new babies to poverty. At the other end of the age spectrum, Americans are living longer than ever and will require decades of Social Security and subsidized medical care. How will a shrinking middle class support all these needy Americans and still provide enough funds to maintain our infrastructure? Trend: Increasing steadily. Remedy: Anything I suggest would sound like eugenics, so I’d simply encourage middle-class and wealthy Americans to procreate more freely. (Hey, it’s fun!) But I’d also recommend higher taxes on the rich (they’re practically at historic lows) and drastic cuts in foreign aid and military spending to open up resources for urgent domestic needs.
8. Militant Islam. (Last year: #15) The much-vaunted “Arab Spring” is literally fighting for survival now as Islamist insurgencies create havoc throughout the Middle East and elsewhere. At least the Islamic world is no longer a monochromatic picture of reactionary dictatorships and religious fanaticism, but the moderate elements have their work cut out for them. Fanatics tend not to give up: they fight to the last man, and eventually they get what they want. Trend: Accelerating as stability in the Middle East continues to crumble. Remedy: Support moderate Muslim movements through non-military means, and hope for a much-needed Muslim Martin Luther to emerge and call for a major overhaul of Islam. While we wait for the Muslim Reformation, we could wage a propaganda war to disabuse radical Muslims of their more primitive beliefs and practices. Meanwhile, we have to guard against creeping sharia law in Western countries.
9. The “disruptive” side of the Internet. (New this year) Not only are Web giants like Amazon driving whole industries to extinction, but compulsive hackers are distributing copyrighted properties, stealing personal information and taking it upon themselves to release government secrets. (What if a hacker had been able to release our D-Day plans back in 1944?) On top of that, we have to deal with the Orwellian Big Brotherism of Internet entities that know far too much about us. That’s not to say we’d be better off without the Internet (What would become of The New Moderate?), but I see an emerging culture of disruption, chaos and intrusiveness that needs to be tamed. Trend: Picking up momentum almost as rapidly as the technology behind it. Remedy: We need to spend more time in the real world: shopping at actual stores, visiting friends and fighting for an honest government that won’t provoke mischief by self-appointed whistleblowers.
10. “Community”-based allegiance. (Last year: #11) It used to be that nearly all Americans identified as Americans, plain and simple. Yes, we came from a multitude of backgrounds, and we honored our ancestors, but our allegiance to the Stars and Stripes trumped everything else. It also used to be that a community was the place where you lived. You made your home in your community and enjoyed the cozy feeling of belonging there. No longer: now we’ve splintered into a motley assemblage of special-identity “communities” based on race, politics, gender, religion and sexual orientation. We identify primarily with our group and its interests, which are generally one-sided, frequently narcissistic and increasingly oblivious to the fact that all of us are Americans. We need to call out this phenomenon for what it is: primitive tribalism masquerading as cutting-edge identity politics. Trend: Steadily rising, what with all the overheated rhetoric about gay marriage, racial profiling and the “War on Women.” Remedy: An invasion from space would bring us together in a hurry, but short of that, we simply need to think more about our common humanity and values. Favor the uniters, not the dividers. Whatever we do, let’s not start thinking of ourselves as members of the “moderate community.” Agreed?
11. Environmental destruction. (Last year: #14) Americans tend to overlook the ongoing destruction of remote rainforests, coral reefs, rivers and wetlands (not to mention the wild creatures that inhabit them) because most of it is taking place far from our back yards. Developing tropical nations like Indonesia and Brazil account for much of the destruction as they convert forest to farmland. East Asian nations like China, Japan and Thailand must be held accountable for the wanton poaching of critically endangered wildlife. And all rapidly developing nations are sending more greenhouse gases into the already overheated atmosphere. Eventually we’ll realize that we’ve ransacked a wondrous planet, but by then it will be too late to do anything about it. (And we’re not equipped to start colonizing distant planets just yet.) Trend: Increasing, with no end in sight. Remedy: We need to work with other governments toward establishing and enforcing international environmental regulations, because the Earth belongs to all of us. Poachers deserve to be shot on sight, and for God’s sake, it’s time for prominent Asian scientists to perform and publish experiments demonstrating the worthlessness of folk medicines derived from endangered creatures.
12. Cultural degeneracy. (Last year: #17) Movies, TV, pop music, video games, high art and everyday behavior have combined to forge a decadent culture that worships all the most loathsome and idiotic ideals. Do I believe in having fun? Absolutely. (This isn’t The New Puritan, after all.) But we also need to restore respect and affection for the nobler virtues, or we’ll crumble, as the Romans did, from internal and external assaults that we’re too weak to withstand. Do I sound like an alarmist? You bet. Trend: Still spreading like a virus, especially as mainstream pop culture increasingly celebrates our nastiest instincts (viz., Miley Cyrus, “epic fail” videos and “The Wolf of Wall Street”). Remedy: Beats me. Sometimes I think Western civilization at its apex was simply too demanding and rarefied for our species to maintain for any length of time. We’re slowly reverting to our simian roots, which may be lamentable but probably suits our natures. Still, if you have standards, don’t surrender them!
13. The federal deficit. (Last year: #8) The crisis may have passed for now, but nobody is doing anything about the underlying problem: the government is spending far more than it’s taking in. (Greece, anybody?) Where will the money come from when we’re already in hock up to our national armpits? Trend: Not going away. Remedy: Here’s a start: slash military spending and foreign aid. Dramatically. (In a fiscal crisis, the needs of Americans must come first.) The government would also be wise to start trimming those plush federal pensions, starting with members of the House and Senate. The IRS needs to busy itself collecting a fair share of taxes from huge corporations. No loopholes. Stop state-sponsored corporate welfare in the form of bailouts and subsidies. And yes, it’s time to end the cushy Bush-era tax cuts for the rich. No compromises.
14. Perpetual war and other foreign entanglements. (Last year: #9) We’re no longer fighting on multiple fronts, and the futile war in godforsaken Afghanistan is finally winding down to its close, but we’re still there. Have we learned our lesson? Can we ever again justify risking American lives in dead-end conflicts? We still haven’t learned that guerrilla fighters never surrender; they have no infrastructure to bomb and no capital to occupy, so we’d have to gun them down to the last man. And when we can’t trust the “legitimate” government we’re fighting for, it’s time to cut the cord. The United States simply can’t control and fine-tune all world events to its specifications. Trend: Easing up, but without any underlying shift in American foreign policy. Remedy: A foreign policy that shuns Neocon interventionism for rational vigilance, with an occasional drone strike to keep our enemies off balance.
15. Illegal immigrants. (Last year: #16) The mass incursion of undocumented Hispanic immigrants through our southern border appears to have slowed to a relative trickle, but the question remains: what happens to the 10-20 million illegals who have already settled here? Given the disparity in birth rates between the native-born and Hispanic immigrant populations, the U.S. could increasingly take on the attributes of a Latin American nation. That means a less-educated populace and an ever-widening gap between rich and poor, with the added element of cultural friction between Anglos and Latinos. (On the plus side, at least we might get into the salubrious habit of taking siestas.) Trend: The number of new illegal immigrants has declined, but their population within the U.S. continues to grow at a rapid clip. Remedy: Make the U.S. less appealing as a destination for illegal immigration. (This is already happening on its own as our economic fortunes decline.) And, as President Obama has proclaimed (though he shouldn’t have done so by fiat), provide a pathway to citizenship for the children of illegals who have behaved blamelessly and who express a desire for higher education.
16. Political correctness. (Last year: #19) The sensitivities of militant special-interest “communities” still tend to stifle our freedom of speech, inadvertently or not. And of course the world of academia, at least in the liberal arts, still falls under the dominion of dedicated multiculti leftists. But given all the other hot issues on our Vigilance List, I’ve had to drop political correctness to the bottom. Trend: Still with us, but hardly worth any loss of sleep at this point. Remedy: Dare to speak freely but without malice.
Feel free to take issue with any of my choices and/or add your own, of course. I’d like to hear from you.
Rick Bayan is founder-editor of The New Moderate.