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Why the Extremists Are Winning 

August 10, 2018

Fanatics to the right of us, fanatics to the left of us… and their ranks just keep growing. If we moderates have the fairest and most sensible ideas, how is it that our ranks are dwindling? How did the extremists get to be so popular? What have they got that we haven’t got? Why are we stuck in a barren no-man’s land, caught in the crossfire between two feuding tribes who reject our antiquated habit of examining both sides of an issue? Let’s see if I can explain it for you…

The rise of the angry right. It started with the boisterous bloviating of Rush Limbaugh and his right-wing minions in response to the perceived liberal bias of the mainstream media. They had a point. But the right-wing talk-show warriors weren’t satisfied with airing dissenting opinions. They were hellbent on starting a mass movement, and of course they succeeded. So now millions of Middle Americans believe that Obama was evil incarnate… that climate change is a myth… that the government wants to confiscate their beloved guns. They’ve been snookered into believing that Wall Street’s interests are their interests, and that social support programs are, well… socialist. Lately, since the coronation of Trump, much of the right has been veering ever rightward — embracing the old Confederacy and even neo-Nazi white supremacy. It ain’t Ike’s GOP anymore, or even Mitt Romney’s.

The rise of left-wing identity politics. Formerly marginalized but perpetually aggrieved, America’s nonwhite, feminist and LGBTQ factions have grown more vociferous, resentful and demanding, even as they make unprecedented strides. The grievances are built around legitimate kernels of truth, but those kernels have morphed into mountains in the minds of the aggrieved, aided by selective news reporting (see below) and militant anti-conservative rhetoric on college campuses. Each group typically blames its troubles on straight white males, past (often centuries past) and present, as if all those men are interchangeable units of oppression. Anyone who dares dispute their beliefs risks expulsion from polite society. 

Cherry-picked news stories. Example: Every time a skittish cop or a white bigot commits an offense against a person of color, the story makes national headlines. One would get the impression that interracial crimes are a one-way street, a nightmare landscape of Jim Crow outrages by evil whites against innocent minorities. The fact is that cops shoot nearly three times as many whites as blacks, and that black-on-white crimes are more commonplace than the reverse. Surprised? You can blame it on selective reporting. It’s not “fake news” (because it actually happened), but it’s only part of the story — a part deliberately promoted to perpetuate a narrative that unites the in-group in shared outrage. (And yes, right-wing news sources cherry-pick their stories, too.)

Online “amen corners.” Progressives and conservatives have stopped speaking to each other except to hurl insults. Most of their time is spent among like-minded peers who share the same world-view, biases and resentments. Naturally they favor online publications that play to their prejudices. The result: extremist groupthink, emboldened and reinforced by the airtight echo chambers and their stark-mad message boards. The more outrageous the comment, the more “amens” it generates among the faithful (and the more polarized we become).

The essential simplicity of extremist opinions. Hey, what’s not to like? The complexities of life are rendered cartoonlike in crisp black-and-white for easy comprehension. No subtle shades of gray… no head-scratching over competing ideas… in short, no uncertainty. Nonthinkers love certainty; after all, to be certain is to be relieved of the need to think. “We’re right, they’re wrong. Case closed.”

The lack of a moderate ideology. You’re looking at our greatest weakness — and potentially our greatest strength. We don’t offer a laundry list of principles to memorize and internalize. Of course, we’re more than an ill-defined midpoint between right and left. But what exactly is a moderate? Are we just wishy-washy souls who lack the guts to take a stand? That’s what a lot of diehard progressives and conservatives would like us to believe. But several of our greatest revolutionaries, including Washington and Franklin, were essentially moderates who had been pushed to the limit of their tolerance. I like to think of moderates as boat-balancers: when we see the boat tipping ominously to one side, our sense of justice obliges us to tip it back. We don’t subscribe to any ideology except our insistence on fairness and free thought. (That’s enough to make the ideologues uneasy.)

Hyperpartisanship in government. A dangerous and destructive trend in our national politics: much like the public, our elected representatives have increasingly gravitated to one ideological extreme or the other, leaving a hollowed, virtually uninhabited center. What’s especially sad is that the polarization has been orchestrated by the extremists in both major parties. They pull the strings. Representatives and candidates essentially have to pass ideological purity tests if they want to win their parties’ primaries. And once elected, they’re under intense pressure to support their team. Partisanship wins, and the American people lose.

Next: What moderates can do to become a force in American politics.

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Making Sense of the Sexual Predator Epidemic

November 30, 2017

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The dominoes started toppling slowly: comic genius and father-figure Bill Cosby — long pause — followed by Fox News stalwarts Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly. Then, with the coming of fall, the tumbling dominoes began to pick up speed: Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Louis CK, Senate candidate (and alleged underage girl-chaser) Roy Moore, Al Franken, Charlie Rose — even, for God’s sake, that big-hearted nonagenarian ex-president, Bush the Elder. (Not prudent, George.) And those are just the most famous among a growing roster of prominent political and media figures who stand accused of sexual misbehavior today.

Franken’s offense appears to have been little more than a schoolboy prank with a free-spirited female colleague in the company of their show-business peers; Bush’s was most likely a combination of wheelchair-bound frustration, misplaced hands and creeping senility. The others were considerably more offensive: rape and other forms of sex under duress, lewd texting, forcing unwilling females to observe naked man-parts behind closed doors. There’s no excusing that kind of abuse, especially when it becomes chronic.

But here’s where we moderates need to exercise our wisdom in the midst of public hysteria: not all sexual offenses are created equal. They belong on a spectrum that ranges from staring at a woman’s cleavage and inadvertently touching bare skin to the more lascivious and predatory forms of abuse mentioned above.

Case in point: this past Wednesday, the news broke that Today host Matt Lauer and public radio legend Garrison Keillor had been fired by their respective networks for improper sexual behavior. Let’s compare and contrast the plights of the two newly unemployed men.

The casually married Lauer (he and his wife lead essentially separate lives) was supposed to have accosted a female NBC colleague during the 2014 Winter Olympics at Sochi and continued the relationship back in New York. (If his advances were offensive, I wondered, why did the “relationship” survive the return trip to Rockefeller Center?) But soon the full picture emerged, and it wasn’t pretty: we were looking at a preening sexual bully who seemed to be enamored of his own irresistible chick-magnet appeal, whether his victims found him appealing or not. You’d think a man who makes upward of $20 million a year would be a little more careful about retaining his livelihood.

Garrison Keillor, on the other hand, is an overgrown Nordic elf — a scruffy old scribe with a resonant voice and a genius for storytelling. Much like his legendary Norwegian bachelor farmers, he claims to be socially backward and physically standoffish — perhaps because he’s reputed to be somewhere at the high-functioning end of the autism scale — or possibly because he was raised Lutheran.

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One woman — a friend of Keillor’s, no less — recently stepped forward with an accusation. Minnesota Public Radio, his longtime employer, was vague about the alleged “improper behavior,” but Keillor insisted that he was simply trying to console his distressed friend. He reached around her back to comfort her, he tells us, and his hand slipped inside her shirt to touch BARE SKIN. She became uncomfortable; he apologized and assumed that would be the end of it. After all, he and the woman continued to be friends until her lawyers called.

So after nearly half a century as a public radio legend and arguable national treasure, good old Garrison was sacked. Yes, he had already retired from his iconic Prairie Home Companion radio show, but here’s the worst of it: Minnesota Public Radio is severing all ties with Keillor — dropping his daily Writer’s Almanac feature, canceling reruns of his vintage Prairie Home Companion shows (never again will we hear that incomparably orotund voice!) and even changing the name of the show to obliterate all traces of Garrisonian influence. Out, damned spot!

In short, total erasure. A lifetime of wise, witty and often hilarious wordsmithing over the airwaves — expunged just like that, over a single accusation that may or may not have any merit.

Did the radio network weigh his words against hers? No, the accusation was enough. Were there any witnesses? None to speak of. Might her memory of the incident have been warped by the passage of time? It’s happened before, but it didn’t matter. Will more sordid details emerge? It’s always possible, but I’m not holding my breath. Touching bare skin without permission was enough to bring down a broadcasting giant.

It’s pretty clear that “she said” counts more than “he said” — as perhaps it should in cases of sexual misbehavior. Short of DNA evidence or an incriminating video, a court of law would have a hard time determining whether an alleged sexual offense took place as described by the plaintiff — but that doesn’t mean all (or even most) accused men should be let off the hook. Still, it boggles the mind — my mind, anyway — that a minor miscue merits the same punishment as serial sexual harassment: i.e., destruction of career.

I can recall several times I’ve zeroed in on a female acquaintance for a quick social kiss — and pecked her on the neck instead of the cheek… or wrapped my hand around her hip instead of her back. Should I face lawsuits and disgrace (not that I have anything to lose professionally these days) because of my inadvertent fumbling?

When we start dating a woman, will we have to sign a contract, as a friend suggested with tongue in cheek, that the relationship is consensual — and back it up on our smartphones? If a woman wears a low-cut dress and our eyes linger on her shapely bosom a half-second too long, can we be accused of sexual harassment? Will male executives no longer be allowed to date their secretaries because of the “power imbalance”? Where does it stop? Where’s the common sense?

Let’s face it: women have always been drawn to powerful, high-status men. Not all women, but enough for the generalization to hold. And powerful, high-status men are famous for their hyperactive libidos. Not all of them, again, but enough to make us wonder about the link between sex and power.

Do oversexed men naturally gravitate to positions of power, or does the power give their libidos an explosive jolt of Red Bull? My suspicion is that it works both ways. Oversexed men most likely find their libidinous propensities enhanced once they taste the magic elixir of power.

The trouble with powerful men is that they often abuse the women who find them irresistible — and even those who don’t. It’s not easy to overcome a million years of hominid biology, but you’d think any man capable of surviving 16 years of schooling could exercise enough self-restraint to tame his Neanderthal urges — at least in the office. No woman should have to put out for a man she doesn’t love in order to keep her job or win a well-deserved promotion. Simple enough, right?

But let’s think about those socially backward, introspective men like Garrison Keillor — or me, for that matter — or most of my male friends — who could be made to suffer the same consequences as the serial abusers because of a single misinterpreted gesture — or simply through guilt by reason of maleness. If Mister Rogers were still around, I could imagine him being sacked for patting a female hand a little too tenderly.

Meanwhile, a powerful man who confessed to numerous instances of unilateral sexual misbehavior occupies the White House. But so did Clinton. So did JFK and LBJ. What else is new?

Those unrestrained alpha males aren’t just making life difficult for the women they abuse; they’re making it difficult for the rest of us men. When our every move is suspect, how do we survive in an office environment, flirt with potential mates or get a date?

Maybe the alphas have overstayed their welcome. Patriarchy is passé, after all. Women outnumber men four-to-three among recent American college graduates; they represent the future. I just hope that when they think about us men, they remember how to differentiate between the pigs and the princes.

 

Rick Bayan is founder-editor of The New Moderate and author of Lifestyles of the Doomed, available wherever e-books are sold.

 

Taking Down a President

October 31, 2017

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The date: Halloween, A.D. 2017. The time: late afternoon, as long shadows crept across the garden and dead leaves fluttered to the ground. The place: my slowly darkening study here in Philadelphia.

Let me make an honest and abject confession: I’ve been haunted lately by a spectre so unholy that I almost dare not mention it. But mention it I must.

I’ve been starting to feel a perverse sympathy for Donald Trump.

There… I’ve confessed. But why, you wonder (and I’m sure you’re wondering), would a diehard moderate feel anything other than contempt for the man who, in the space of nine months, has already established his legacy as arguably the worst president in American history?

I suspect it’s the same emotion that causes some of us to sympathize with Frankenstein’s monster, or King Kong, or a British fox trying to elude the well-dressed killers with the hunting horns. It’s the spectacle of a lone misunderstood creature chased to its doom by a bloodthirsty crowd.

Trump, for all his faults (and there are too many to name here) has been hounded so mercilessly, doggedly and even sadistically since his election that, for me at least, he’s beginning to elicit that Frankenstein response: yes, he’s a monster, but it’s possible that he’s not quite as monstrous as the crowd that seeks his blood.

Was Trump really so monstrous when he called La David Johnson’s widow and told her, “He knew what he signed up for, but it’s still sad”? (The mainstream media generally omitted the last part of the sentence.) Was he a monster when he tossed those rolls of paper towels to the Puerto Rican victims of Hurricane Maria… or when he jokingly said to one of the trick-or-treaters who received his presidential Halloween candy, “You have no weight problems — that’s the good news”?

Substitute Obama for Trump, and you can bet the press and the Democratic faithful would have been charmed to the verge of tears. Yet in each case, Trump’s well-intended but socially awkward gestures unleashed a torrent of anti-Trump tweets, memes and amen-corner articles.

Does the man bring all this heavy opprobrium on himself? Well, he’s done enough of it without assistance; I have to give him credit for digging his own holes in his reputation. Trump’s narcissism is his Achilles’ heel; his pathological need for winning while others lose makes him a dodgy choice as president. (A national leader should want everyone to win.) I don’t see him as a racist, or a fascist, or even a stupid man. He’s a grotesque, clueless character — like Frankenstein’s monster, like King Kong — but, like them, he’s also hounded and persecuted beyond reason.

Granted, most sane Americans would argue that a blundering, blustering, arrogant president deserves to be hounded and persecuted — much like a giant gorilla leaving a path of destruction in New York City. How much more recklessness and petty vindictiveness can we take from our commander in chief? If only he could have delivered on his promise to “drain the swamp” or create “millions of jobs,” we might have forgiven his faults.

But now that Mueller’s investigation is closing in on Trump’s henchmen, and even Steve Bannon is fomenting rebellion among the GOP right-wingers, the president looks like a doomed and desperate creature.

The Democratic party machine, aided by Hillary Clinton and even Obama, tried to ruin him both before and after the election. The once-moderate CNN has essentially turned into NTN — the “Never Trump” Network. Even Jimmy Carter opined that the media have been harder on Trump than any other president in his memory. Where does a thinking moderate draw the line between reasonable and unreasonable criticism of the president?

I looked up from my laptop for a moment and glanced at a small white plaster bust of George Washington that sits in my study. His gaze is steady, his chin determined, his sterling character evident in every contour of his face. An idealized visage, no doubt, leaving out the pock marks and faulty dentures of the mortal man — but an image of natural nobility and courage.

And yet, as I write this, even the indispensable General Washington has been taken down a peg in our current revisionist climate. As a Virginia planter and slaveholder, he offends some of our more sensitive Americans despite his many virtues.

Washington held relatively enlightened views on race and slavery for a planter of his time and place: he came to respect the black soldiers in his army, he refused to engage in the slave trade or break up families, and he not only freed his slaves in his will but provided for their care and education. Yet it’s also known that he didn’t take kindly to runaways; they were his legal property, after all.

So should we condemn Washington despite his irreproachable character and incomparable contributions to the founding of the republic? Of course not. If we were to measure the worth of a man strictly by his faults, all of us would be condemned.

If we’re going to judge anyone at all — and I suppose we’re entitled to judge our presidents — we need to ask ourselves whether their virtues outweighed their flaws. Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Lincoln, both Roosevelts, Eisenhower and a handful of others would pass with flying colors.

Donald Trump doesn’t merit such generosity when we measure his virtues against his flaws; he is, always has been, and probably always will be a brash, dishonest, shockingly ignorant overachiever unsuited for high office. His flaws gleam like the shiny brass plating in Trump Tower. He’s more brand than statesman. And yet…

The public gang-assault on Trump since he upset Mrs. Clinton has been virtually unprecedented in our time. He may or may not have been guilty of collusion with Russia to win the election; at worst, he was no more guilty than the DNC. His narcissism and thin skin will be his undoing, whether he’s eventually removed from office or simply collapses in an ugly heap. Yes, he’s a monster, misunderstood or not — but it still saddens me to watch the airplanes circle him and conspire to bring him down.

 

Rick Bayan is founder-editor of The New Moderate and author of Lifestyles of the Doomed, available wherever e-books are sold.

 

 

 

Taking a Knee for Polarization

September 29, 2017

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We live in a viral age. When a sound bite, an internet meme, a cat video or a symbolic gesture captures the public imagination, legions of copycats help it spread like some fashionable latter-day plague.

Colin Kaepernick, the biracial journeyman quarterback whose refusal to stand for The Star-Spangled Banner catapulted him to fame and infamy last season, has unleashed a delayed virus among NFL football players and other pro athletes this fall. Suddenly, with the start of the new football season, refusing to stand for the national anthem has become a thing — a rapidly spreading contagion — a potent new tool in the ongoing polarization of America.

Few of us, with the exception of congenital miscreants like President Trump, would deny Kaepernick or his former colleagues their right to protest. But what exactly are they protesting? Why all the knees bent in sullen solidarity while the traditionalists among us still stand and strain to hit those nearly unattainable high notes?

It all started as a statement about the killing of unarmed black men by mostly white police officers. We know that several of those killings were plainly unjustified: think of Walter Scott, shot in the back while running from the North Charleston cop who stopped him for a broken tail-light, or 12-year-old Tamir Rice, fatally wounded without ever having been given a chance to drop his toy weapon. Others, like the much-lamented Michael Brown of Ferguson, Missouri, almost seemed to be asking for it: the “gentle giant” reportedly assaulted officer Darren Wilson, attempted to grab his gun, walked away, then made the fatal decision to turn around and charge the officer again. There’s innocence and guilt to be found on both sides.

Do American cops use their guns too freely? Afraid so — at least a trigger-happy minority of them. Do they too often manage to elude proper punishment for their actions? Yes again. Our urban cops risk their lives daily, but they need to be trained more effectively in subduing suspects without killing them. Nobody deserves to die over a broken tail-light. Do the cops have a special vendetta against African American males? Here’s where it gets complicated.

Take a look at this FBI statistic and try to digest it: in 2015, an American cop was 18.5 times more likely to be killed by a black male than an unarmed black male was likely to be killed by a cop. And then this: black males, who account for six percent of the U.S. population, represent 42 percent of all cop killers over the past decade. Could it be that urban police officers have learned to develop hair-trigger reflexes when they confront uncooperative black suspects? Surprisingly not. American cops killed just 16 unarmed black men last year from coast to coast — 16 too many, but still a microscopic percentage of black homicide victims, 93 percent of whom were killed by other blacks.

And yet we all know the prevailing narrative promoted by left-leaning media outlets and advanced with such righteous vigor by Black Lives Matter: racist white cops routinely (and almost exclusively) shoot unarmed black men. Yes, it happens… yes, it’s sad… and yes, it’s too often unjust and avoidable. But as the statistics above point out, it’s hardly an everyday occurrence — and, just as important, it’s hardly the whole story.

The banner headlines and week-long TV coverage granted to every unarmed African American shot by a cop conceal the fact that our police kill roughly twice as many whites as blacks. Surprised? Why, you might ask, don’t the media reveal this relevant statistic? It’s almost as if they want us to go on believing that black people are perpetual victims of racist white people — a narrative both insulting to whites and patronizing to blacks. Unfortunately, narratives catch on. They sell. They go viral.

Much of Middle America seemed to reject that narrative after watching seemingly endless waves of pro footballers drop a knee to the ground during the playing of The Star-Spangled Banner. The kneeling looked almost reverential, but they knew that reverence had nothing to do with it. They wondered why these pampered young millionaires would disrespect the national anthem and the American flag (our anthem, our flag!) over the actions of a few rogue cops. Were these predominantly black athletes using the overpublicized killings to vent their hatred for America in general and white people in particular? Come on, hadn’t Middle America swallowed enough black resentment over the past half-century? Why should these upright folks — only a minority of whom are virulent racists — have to suffer the slings and arrows of mandatory guilt? (And indeed, why should they?)

Just as African Americans grew angry and alienated over their perceived vulnerability on the streets, white conservatives (and yes, even moderates) were growing alienated by the almost compulsory need to kowtow to every black grievance, legitimate or not. The compulsory nature of this kowtowing, as usual, was heavily promoted by the mostly white progressive media. (Some white progressives seem to enjoy wallowing in masochistic guilt; others exempt themselves and cast aspersions on those other white folks — the dimwitted “deplorables” in flyover country.)

The end result of all this racially tinged pushing and pulling? More tribalism. More “us against them.” More tit for tat. In short, more polarization.

We Americans are already polarized to a degree unseen since the Civil War. We’ve endured three consecutive polarizing presidencies. We’ve effectively evolved into two separate and mutually loathing sub-nations: the red and the blue, the conservative diehards and the leftist wavemakers.

Whatever happened to the sensible middle? Beats me. We’re out there, but nobody wants to hear us. These days, the world belongs to the polarizers — and the polarizers are driving us toward an irreparable rift.

President Trump is a prime specimen. Never one to mince words when a sledgehammer will do, he brayed that when a football player disrespects our flag, he’d like to see the team owner shout, “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now — he’s fired!” (Note that he didn’t actually call for the firing of disrespectful players, but the damage was done.)

More outrage on the left. More patriotic whoops on the right. More kneeling by Kaepernick’s disciples. More dueling insults on Internet message boards. Still more polarization, thanks to our president. Maybe Trump should stick to what he does best: threatening North Korea and the world with nuclear war.

 

Rick Bayan is founder-editor of The New Moderate. He’s the author of Extremely Dark Chocolates and Lifestyles of the Doomed, available wherever e-books are sold.

The Charlottesville Terror: 12 Takeaways

August 16, 2017

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Neo-Nazis marching with torches at the University of Virginia. Clashes in the streets of Charlottesville. A bloody terrorist attack by a crazed white supremacist. A tepid Trump response. Liberal outrage. Nonstop news coverage.

It’s been another one of those all-too-American nightmare scenarios — a grotesque real-life morality play authored by polarization, race hatred, anger, violence and round-the-clock opinionizing in the media. Is it possible to witness such a disturbing drama and keep a moderate perspective? Yes and no, as you’ll see. Let’s look at the talking points (and potential talking points) that emerged from the terror in Charlottesville…

  1. Those troublesome Confederate monuments. Robert E. Lee has been dead for nearly 150 years, and presumably he’s still dead. He was a talented and complicated man: fearless and brilliant in battle, ruthless in managing the slaves on his estate. (Unlike George Washington, he had no reservations about breaking up families.) His soulful, sad-eyed mug makes it hard to hate him — and yet, at the critical moment, he chose his ancestral Virginia and slavery over the Union and freedom. Should we tear down his statues, then, along with the statues of all the other Confederates who rose in rebellion against the United States? No, we probably shouldn’t. Once the Southern states seceded and war was declared, these men were simply defending their home turf against invasion. It strikes me as facile and presumptuous to declare, along with the revisionists, that their only motive was the perpetuation of slavery. They had homes and families to protect, and a few hundred thousand of them died prematurely in the process. Even liberal filmmaker Ken Burns accorded them due respect in his famous Civil War documentary series. If we start destroying every monument to men some of us no longer admire, we’re no better than ISIS with its wanton destruction of pre-Islamic artifacts. Who’s next? Those slave-owning Virginians Washington and Jefferson? Let’s think before we dismantle the past.
  2. The “Unite the Right” demonstration. Catchy name, terrible cause. Yes, ostensibly this march was organized to protest the imminent removal of the Robert E. Lee statue. That would have been fine. (Even the ACLU granted them the liberty to demonstrate.) But as it turned out, the most malevolent specimens of the far right assembled in Charlottesville: not only the predictable latter-day Confederates and white supremacists, but blatant Nazis as well. (You could look in vain for reasonable National Review conservatives here.) The torch-bearing extremists chanted Naziesque slogans like “Blood and soil,” while “You will not replace us” quickly morphed into “Jews will not replace us!” They encircled black and Jewish places of worship with the purpose of inflicting terror and intimidation. What should have been a simple, sober protest against the removal of a historic statue turned into a Nazi orgy. Could this be happening in America? The fact that so many of the protesters looked like clean-cut retro-collegians in polo shirts and khakis made it all the more chilling, in a Triumph of the Will sort of way. (I might have to think about changing my wardrobe.) These weren’t Duck Dynasty troglodytes; they were educated young men with a grudge.
  3. Understanding (and defusing) white male anger. Let’s face it: white males have been taking it on the chin from aggrieved feminists and people of color since the 1960s. Granted, they’re not exactly a disadvantaged minority, but they’ve surrendered a lot of territory over the past half century. Worse yet, they’ve been cast as perennial villains by the cultural left — with no socially acceptable means of rebuttal. (Any attempt to assure the accusers that not all white males are privileged oppressors is invariably met with cries of racist and misogynist.) The steady drip of insults becomes wearisome. I’ve grown tired of being cast as a villain, and I’m barely white by today’s definition. I resent the wild and inaccurate generalizations, and I take them personally. But I’m not so angry that I’d gather with other white dudes and lust for revenge. Apparently many thousands of other white dudes are that angry, and their anger is toxic. How do we defuse their rage? First, stop insulting them. Let the reasonable voices among them speak up and be heard — without exiling them from polite society. Don’t drive their anger underground, where it festers and eventually bursts. We need to challenge the anti-white, anti-male narratives being disseminated on our college campuses and elsewhere. Our public discussion of race and gender needs to be a two-way street from now on — as long as it stays civil.
  4. Far-right terrorism is now a thing. It hasn’t yet reached the scale and savagery of Islamist terrorism, but give it time. So far the damage has been done by lone wolves, not organized cells. The deranged loser who plowed his car into a crowd, ISIS-style, cared nothing for the individual lives he was intent on terminating. That’s the mark of a terrorist: people become interchangeable symbols of the hated other. But Heather Heyer, the anti-right activist who lost her life, wasn’t a symbol; she was a sweet-faced, selfless young woman just entering her prime. Now her life is a closed book, courtesy of one demented Nazi sympathizer. Nothing personal, of course. We can’t blame all the right-wing protesters for her death, but we can accuse their overheated ideology of inspiring and emboldening the terrorists among them.
  5. The “antifa” left is suspiciously fascistic, and yet… What can you say about anti-fascist brigades that march in lockstep, carry clubs and habitually attempt to shut down free speech by force? That they bear a creepy resemblance to the right-wing fascists they claim to detest? If anything, the antifa are less tolerant of speech than the far right. That said, I don’t think they share equal blame for the ugliness in Charlottesville last weekend. If they had attacked the right-wingers simply for peacefully protesting the removal of a statue, we’d be justified in calling them out for their tactics. Instead, they battled against a truly disturbing demonstration of neo-Nazi solidarity on a revered college campus. Both sides overreacted with physical violence, but in this case the antifa held the higher moral ground.
  6. Where on earth were the police? Charlottesville is a progressive town, so you’d think the police would have prepared for the possibility of violent clashes when the alt-right entered their turf. They wouldn’t have had to stage a military-style intervention like the cops in Ferguson, Missouri, but they could have separated the crowds and forced restraint on both sides. Instead, the two factions freely confronted each other, swung bats and threw heavy objects. And of course, that one homicidal maniac was free to ram his car into a crowd of leftist protesters. (At least they caught him.) A puzzling postscript: The widely shared photo of a black police officer protecting white-supremacist protesters turned out to be a relic of a previous event.
  7. Trump kept shooting himself in the foot. Three brief speeches, three opportunities for eloquent moral leadership, three blown chances. In the first speech, he roused the wrath of the liberal media by famously denouncing the violence “on all sides, on all sides.” Aside from the fact that there were only two sides, he should have known that he needed to castigate the neo-Nazis by name. His vagueness was perceived as a dog-whistle to his supporters on the alt-right. His second speech, two days later, was a weird exercise in damage control: yes, he finally called out the white supremacists, neo-Nazis and KKK — but with such a tepid, robotic demeanor that some pundits accurately described it as a “hostage video” — in other words, he was simply mouthing a scripted speech calculated to placate his “captors” in the liberal media. The third speech, delivered at Trump Tower after I already starting writing this piece, was vintage Trump: both combative and defensive — and a little off-the-wall. He insisted, with questionable accuracy, that not all the conservative demonstrators in Charlottesville were far-right fanatics… that many of them were simply protesting the removal of a statue. He clearly denounced the neo-Nazi element, then wondered aloud (as I did in print) whether statues of Washington and Jefferson would be the next to tumble in response to revisionist fever. This speech sealed it for the pundits on CNN; they seemed to suffer a collective nervous breakdown. Even David Gergen, that perennially level-headed elder statesman, was aghast. One panelist actually called it the worst day in American history. (I don’t know about you, but I can think of several others that beat this one.)
  8. Where does Trump really stand? Every right-minded progressive citizen seems to brand him as a racist, xenophobic, neo-Nazi bigot who would make Archie Bunker look like Mister Rogers by comparison. But let’s look a little deeper into his enigmatic beliefs, assuming he actually believes in anything other than himself. There’s no way #45 can be a Nazi sympathizer; his most trusted advisors are his Orthodox Jewish son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and his beloved Jewish-convert daughter Ivanka. Aside from some exclusionary real estate policies early in his career, he’s shown no animosity toward blacks who aren’t named Barack Obama. Yes, he opposes illegal immigration, as we all should (because hey, it’s illegal) — although his proposed Mexican wall is as mean-spirited as it is impractical. And yes, he’s leery of inviting Muslims into the country because of the radicals who might be hiding among the innocent. I just don’t see Trump as a raging bigot. The one disturbing note (actually, it’s more of a symphony) is his courtship of the alt-right. At least three of his most prominent White House staffers, led by the brilliantly villainous Steve Bannon, belong to that unsavory tribe. KKK wizard David Duke and neo-Nazi leader Richard Spencer have tweeted their approval of various Trumpian pronouncements. Trump has repeatedly attempted to distance himself from the uglier representatives of the far right, but they keep coming back to him like faithful dogs. Could it be that they keep hearing those high-frequency dog-whistles? Trump needs to stop whistling.
  9. Notable Republicans are breaking ranks with Trump. Senators Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and John McCain — as well as House speaker Paul Ryan — are among the big-name GOP leaders who joined Democrats in tweeting their unconditional condemnation of white supremacists. Of course this looks bad for Trump and his ability to lead; he needs those GOP partisans in his pocket. But it’s also a good thing: a welcome relief from the hyperpartisan rancor that has paralyzed Congress (and the country) for far too long. Maybe Trump will bring some semblance of unity to our legislature after all — by uniting the majority of our elected representatives against him.
  10. A convenient distraction from Russia. With all the widespread outrage over the events in Charlottesville — and the even greater outrage over Trump’s comments — the ongoing questions about the president’s alleged Russian collusion have paled into insignificance. At least for now. We’ll have to wait until the TV pundits grow tired of raking Trump over the coals for his Charlottesville remarks.
  11. Kim Jong Who? Does the baby-faced North Korean dictator still plan to launch destruction in our general direction? Who knows? Because of Charlottesville, World War III has been put on the back burner.
  12. The Civil War just won’t die. Sometimes, in my darker moments, I think Lincoln should have let the Confederacy go its own way. We really seem to be two distinct nations, with different cultures, different accents, different manners and beliefs. More than 150 years after Appomattox, we’re still feeling the hangover from that dreadful war. What is America’s far right, after all, but a chain-clanking ghost of the Confederacy, still moaning about the Lost Cause and the inherent right of white people to rule? We need to end the war, finally — not by suppressing the grievances of the latter-day Confederates, but by taming them. And we tame them not by treating these folks with contempt, but by trying to communicate with them, understand their grievances and put them to rest. For that we need wise and inspirational leadership. Trump is probably beyond redemption, even though he’s not the Nazi his haters make him out to be. But I do know this much: our next president cannot be a polarizing figure. We need to discard resentful identity politics on both sides, overcome our differences and reunite as best we can. The future of the American experiment depends on it.

 

Rick Bayan is founder-editor of The New Moderate and author of Lifetyles of the Doomed, available wherever e-books are sold.

 

From the Sublime to the Political

July 16, 2017

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You haven’t heard from The New Moderate in a while, and that’s no accident. You see, I recently returned from an exhilarating trip to Alaska — a week cruising the spectacular fjords and islands of the panhandle, followed by an inland journey that took us all the way up to Fairbanks. And I have to confess that after glimpsing Alaska’s primeval wilderness with its snowy peaks and midnight sun (actually midnight sunset, since we stopped just short of the Arctic Circle), I’ve found it difficult — even distasteful — to muster an interest in our ongoing political squabbles.

Yes, we still have a borderline loonie in the White House and rabid partisans firing upon each other from the trenches, but maybe that’s my point: why do we insist on ruining this paradise of a planet with our accursed need to create discord? Why the knee-jerk factionalism, the mutual suspicions, the overheated accusations, the malicious lies and slanders? Why the increasing need to take refuge in boutique identities that separate us from those despised others? 

Let me tell you something about the demographics of that Alaska cruise. I quickly noticed that the majority of our fellow-cruisers belonged to that much-maligned subset of humanity known as Middle Americans. I overheard the twangy Southern, Midwestern and country-boy accents, and I knew we weren’t in Philadelphia anymore. Frizzy-haired, sandal-shod coastal progressives seemed to be an endangered species here.

Although I like to think of myself as an all-embracing, non-discriminatory moderate, I dreaded having to sit down to dinner with these strangers from Trump Country.  Shame on me! Almost without exception, they turned out to be friendly, decent, convivial tablemates. One kind-faced older man confessed that he had to be hospitalized after he retired because he couldn’t get accustomed to being idle. (He later found salvation as a volunteer.) A jolly married woman from Hawaii brightened the conversation with her outgoing warmth and humor. Finally, as we were about to part company, the inevitable “What do you do?” question circled around the table.  I told them about my ups and downs as an author and blogger. Others chimed in with their past and present exploits. An unassuming gentleman from Spokane casually replied, “I used to run Kaiser Aluminum.”

Political squabbling was something we left behind in the Lower 48. After all, we were just fellow humans thrust together on the adventure of a lifetime. And maybe that’s the key: we related to each other as individuals enjoying a common experience, not as abstract representatives of this or that sociopolitical group. We humans love to generalize about people we haven’t actually met, and that unfortunate penchant has always been our undoing. We could all benefit from venturing outside our social bubble-domes now and then.

This past week we marked the 200th birthday of Henry David Thoreau, that cranky, enigmatic Yankee evangelist for the independent life. I started to wonder how we’d peg him politically. He was an ardent abolitionist, a proto-hippie and a pioneer of the peaceful protest. He railed against the compulsive pursuit of profit. So would he be a progressive Democrat today?

Not so fast. Thoreau was also a staunch individualist, a believer in minimal government and a bit of a misanthrope. It’s hard to imagine him engaging in mass demonstrations or any other collective pursuit. He always listened to the beat of that different drum.

What we’re left with, once again, is a bona fide individual. Thoreau would never whittle down his rough edges to fit a mold, and neither should we. Neither should we whittle down other people’s rough edges so they fit our preconceived molds — or scorn them when they don’t fit a mold we personally endorse.

If we’re going to survive as a unified nation (and it’s probably in our best interest that we do), maybe we need to do away with molds altogether. I know those molds help us make sense of a complicated universe, and I confess I’m guilty of resorting to classification-by-mold when I generalize about our political factions. But we all need to bridge that divide and find common ground with the people we currently think of as adversaries.

What common ground? Love of family and friends, fun, beauty, self-fulfillment, respect for others. And of course, our shared identity as Americans, humans, and fellow-residents of a magnificent planet. We’re like instruments in an orchestra: we might produce vastly different sounds as individuals, but we can vibrate to the music of common chords and produce pleasing harmonies.

Yes, my Alaska adventure made our political animosities seem distant, petty and Lilliputian. Once we dispense with the categories and start waking up to the humanity in our fellow-humans, we might stop labeling others as “the other.” Maybe that’s the real essence of being a moderate.

 

Rick Bayan is founder-editor of The New Moderate and author of the recently published Lifestyles of the Doomed, available wherever e-books are sold.

All material in The New Moderate copyright 2007-2017 by Rick Bayan. (But feel free to share.)

An Open Letter to Moderates

May 31, 2017

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Dear Moderates:

Extremists to the right of us, extremists to the left of us! Hold the center, friends! We’re all that stands between the angry, embattled white conservatives and the angry, militant multiculti leftists. They’re intent on obliterating each other, and they won’t make life especially agreeable for us, either.

Of course, we moderates have always been a buffer between the right and left. That’s our lot. But the extremist camps have been swelling with angry partisans while the sane center has been deteriorating like a middle-class retiree’s investment portfolio.

When the bipartisan group No Labels asks us to grade President Trump on his weekly performance, roughly half the country gives him an A or a B, the other half gives him an F, and less than 2% grant him a more nuanced C or D grade. That’s polarization for you.

It seems like ancient history now, but I remember a time when the majority of Americans classified themselves as moderates. There actually used to be moderate Republicans and moderate Democrats dwelling among us. Who can believe it today? And what happened?

Seduced by willfully slanted cable news, identity politics and online amen corners, Americans have spent the new millennium splitting into opposing and mutually hostile factions. The left rages against Trump, white privilege, patriarchy, evangelical Christianity, heteronormalcy (there’s a new buzzword for you) and the burgeoning fortunes of the 1%. The right rages against immigrants, Muslims, political correctness and the left’s ongoing mockery of right-wing ignorance and spelling. (No wonder so many working-class white folks are duped into voting for rich Republicans; they hate those snooty Democrats even more.)

The divide is social as well as political: progressives tend to socialize only with other progressives, while garden-variety conservatives typically hang out together at backyard barbecues and country music concerts. Eventually, as I’ve observed before, I’m afraid the two cultures could evolve into strange new (and reproductively incompatible) species.

What can we do as moderates to reverse this lamentable trend? First of all, we need to reclaim our turf and protect it from erosion. Too long have we been caricatured as timid, vanilla, noncommittal milquetoasts, incapable of taking a stand. Too long have we watched in silence as both the right and left generated the kind of moral heat that radicalizes and fanaticizes their followers. We need to generate moral heat ourselves – the right kind of moral heat – the kind that shuns hatred and appeals to our better angels.

When I started this blog, I believed that moderates could be every bit as impassioned and politically active as the partisans – without their rancor or their myopic focus on their own narrow interests. I enjoyed taking potshots at the extremists in both camps, and I still do. But as the nation descends into a long and potentially violent cold war between American conservatives and progressives, it’s more important for us to build bridges.

Classic moderates believe there are at least two legitimate sides to most issues. Unlike the partisans, we believe it’s both unwise and unfair to embrace one side before considering the other. We might eventually take sides, but we’ve done our homework. More often, we seek and find grounds for compromise.

Take abortion, that perennial hot-button issue. Is it solely about a woman’s right to choose what she does with her body? Progressives insist it is. Conservatives will tell you it’s murder. So who’s right? At the very least, abortion terminates a potential human life – a life that’s genetically distinct from the body that carries it. On the other hand, it’s unreasonable for the state to force a woman to carry an unwanted baby to term. The solution lies somewhere in the middle — for example, a ban on abortions after the midpoint of the pregnancy, with exceptions made for cases of rape, incest or health complications. It’s an imperfect solution, but it’s a balanced one.

When we’re willing to look at both sides of an issue, we reject the rigidity of partisan thinking. With care and insight, we can hammer out nuanced solutions that might not satisfy either camp but won’t provoke bloodshed, either. That’s the essence of moderate politics, and it probably explains why we find it harder to attract warm bodies in a polarized climate. Polarized minds love absolute certainty, and we offer complexity. We don’t have an ideology; we simply have ideas.

So how do we become a political force again? It would help if we had our own influential media outlets and our own political party, but we don’t have the time or means to build a centrist establishment. (Besides, trying to organize independent-thinking moderates is like the proverbial herding of cats. We’re not accustomed to marching in lockstep.)

I talked earlier about the need to generate moral heat – not the kind of heat that incites anger and division, but impassioned appeals to common sense,  common values and old-fashioned decency.

Yes, we moderates need to show our backbone more often and more publicly. That means being unafraid to speak up when the extremists go overboard (even at the risk of being “unfriended” on Facebook). It means fighting for reason, fairness and balance – assertively and fearlessly. It means taking back the two-party system by running successful moderate candidates and marginalizing the extreme partisans. (Already there’s talk of “neo-moderates” working to save the soul of the GOP.)

Above all – and this is our toughest challenge – it means convincing the extremists that we’re all neighbors here… that we should stop listening to those who sow discord… that we can’t continue to segregate ourselves according to race, gender, sexuality, class, religion or other arbitrary categories that turn us into snarling foes.

We’re fellow humans — clever, stupid, vulnerable and longing for a happy life. If we live in the United States, we’re all Americans. E pluribus unum, remember? Together our people shot for the moon and succeeded. Surely, with a little effort and moderation, we can get along here on earth.

Thank you,

The New Moderate

 

Rick Bayan is founder/editor of The New Moderate and the author of the recently published Lifestyles of the Doomed, available wherever e-books are sold.

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