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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.

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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.

An Open Letter to Democrats

April 30, 2017

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Dear Democrats:

I know you’re still in shock over the rise of The Orange One to the presidency. I understand, believe me. Not only did he ascend to the office once occupied by Washington, Lincoln and Jimmy Carter, but the man is still 100% Trump: a world-class braggart, con man, serial liar and buffoon with questionable alliances and equally questionable marbles. He hasn’t shown any visible signs of growing in the job, in the manner of Harry Truman or even Calvin Coolidge — other than to confess, in a rare moment of abject honesty, that he preferred life as a simple tycoon.

My one hope for Trump was that he might be crazy enough to turn the system upside down – that he’d make good on his outsider’s promise to “drain the swamp” – to rid Washington of the lobbyists, Wall Streeters and other corrupt players who have turned our republic into an oligarchy. No such luck. He brought in his own team of swamp monsters, and they’ve been busy at work catering to our corporate overlords.

In short, I feel your pain. I deeply sympathize. I’m not enjoying the surreal dystopia of Trumpworld any more than you are. Granted, I’m not wearing a black armband or posting a hundred anti-Trump memes daily on Facebook, but my neck is starting to ache from all the excessive head-shaking.

I’ve been shaking my head at Trump and his Republican minions, of course, but I wish it were that simple. You see, I’ve also been shaking my head at some of the antics on the left. That’s right: your guys have been contributing to my chronic neck spasms on a regular basis.

It’s not the outspoken quasi-socialists like Bernie Sanders who irritate me; at least they seem to crave unity between the underclass and the wounded middle class – a united front against the swamp monsters and plutocrats under the parental gaze of an all-seeing, all-caring, all-controlling government. It’s a quixotic and dubious dream, but at least I can appreciate its honest idealism.

If you really want to know what alarms me, pull up a chair. I’ll give you a fair trigger warning: what I’m about to say might offend you – not fatally, I hope. But I need to say it or I’ll feel derelict in my mission as a diehard moderate.

Here goes: I’ve been observing the transformation of traditional, big-hearted, open-minded liberalism into something more militant, more dogmatic, less tolerant of any departure from left-wing scripture. I’ve watched sadly as liberalism has grown increasingly illiberal. As a result, I’m urging you to watch your unruly left flank and guard against its excesses.

Just as the Republicans have veered madly rightward from the sensible, sensitive pragmatism of Eisenhower’s GOP, your folks have taken a sharp left turn since the days of JFK and Hubert Humphrey — especially when it comes to the escalating rhetoric of identity politics.

Before you report me to the Politburo, let me explain. Of course I favor equality for women, people of color, and our LGBT friends. (OK, I’m still not on board with transgender people using the locker room of their choice, but we moderates tend to avoid jumping on bandwagons.) It pleases me that these formerly marginalized Americans have made tremendous strides in the past few decades. Despite the occasional bumps and glitches, their trajectory is unmistakably upward.

So why do our college campuses currently teem with angry social justice warriors – faculty as well as students — who delight in denouncing everything white, male and heterosexual? Why have campus progressives been allowed to commandeer the vocabulary of outrage, redefining the language so that hatred isn’t hatred if it originates from historically oppressed groups? Why the borderline-insane obsession with cultural appropriation – wait, I believe the correct term now is cultural genocide – when some silly white artist wears dreadlocks or paints Native American motifs? We revere the multiracial cast of Hamilton for turning the Founding Fathers into hip-hop personalities, so where’s the beef? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m getting the impression that progressives happily endorse double standards as long as they’re practiced by members of the right “communities.”

Groups, classes, races, parties, communities – these boutique identities are splitting us into angry, mutually hostile sub-nations. I lament the tendency of extremist ideologues, right or left, to view people as symbols – as representatives of this or that group instead of as individuals. Think about it: do individual white males really need to bear the burden of America’s past sins even if their nineteenth-century ancestors were digging turnips in Poland or Hungary?

Collective guilt is a primitive and baseless concept that should have died with the authors of the Old Testament. I’m sorry, but you won’t convince me that a white coal miner needs to check his privilege — or that the Ivy-educated daughter of a black physician is entitled to lecture that coal miner about his privilege. You’ll have a hard time selling me on the notion that women were an oppressed class while countless young men were shipped off to premature death in brutal, soul-destroying wars. Nobody in this life is immune to suffering.

The social justice warriors on your left flank are alienating millions of decent folks (including moderates like me) who might have supported them in the past. They’re making enemies where they need to be making friends. Those “deplorables” are smart enough to know that the Chardonnay-sipping progressives and their favored minority allies despise them. Maybe that’s why these once-upright Americans have grown so ornery. I can remember the distant days when Democrats actually used to love the common folk and identify with their struggles. No longer.

Democrats like to sing about diversity and inclusiveness, and that’s admirable. I’m all in favor of an inclusive society. But I get the impression that your definition of diversity is based mainly on race, gender and sexuality. Diversity of opinion? Not so much.

Where are the conservatives at our leading universities? Our liberal arts faculties today are essentially bastions of grievance groupthink, and they’re happily indoctrinating a new generation of anti-Western, anti-male clones. (Will anyone still be reading Shakespeare thirty years from now?) Look at the riots that erupt when conservative pundits try to speak on campus. Observe the need for “safe spaces” so that sensitive minds might hide from ideas that challenge their assumptions. Consider the online echo chambers of news and opinion favored by progressives – something they’d be appalled to acknowledge that they share with those “dittoheads” on the right.

How about you? Does your vision of inclusiveness extend to Republicans, evangelical Christians, Southerners, cops, hardhats or Ukrainian-American plumbers? I’d hope so, but I have my doubts.

I live in a leafy, successfully integrated Philadelphia neighborhood where every third lawn sports one of those “Hate Has No Home Here” signs that have become all the rage since Trump ascended the throne. It’s a wise and generous message – but cynic that I am, I roll my eyes just a little at the obvious virtue-signaling. “We love everybody,” the signs tell me. “We’re not like those stupid inbred racist xenophobic troglodytes who handed Trump the presidency.”

Ah yes, love is grand – if only we’d all practice it.

Thank you,

The New 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.

An Open Letter to Republicans

March 30, 2017

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Dear Republicans:

 

I need to have a word with you, and this time it doesn’t concern Donald Trump. Of course, it’s easy to get distracted by the antics of a bizarre con-artist who might have conspired with Russia to throw the 2016 election. Maybe distraction is part of the plan. But Trump is only one man — an aging blowhard at that — while your numbers are legion. At least for now, I’m more concerned about you.

For example, I noticed the other day that your Republican-dominated Congress voted in favor of removing restrictions on killing Alaskan wolves and bears… including cubs and their mamas… including hibernating individuals sound asleep in their dens… using planes and traps if necessary… in NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGES, of all places. I used to assume that a wildlife refuge was a place of refuge for wildlife. How obtuse of me.

I’m sure you have your reasons for wanting to murder these furry critters. I’d like to think you don’t really salivate at the prospect of blowing wolves and sleeping bears (and their cubs) to kingdom come, although I could be wrong. I know they’re predators (or potential predators, if you take the cubs into consideration). They prey on caribou, moose and other game animals that Alaskans like to kill for themselves. And I know you resent the federal government for protecting land and wildlife from private interests (all that beautiful timber, just sitting there, when it could be so much more useful in a sawmill!).

But something tells me you were especially eager to repeal the no-kill rule because it went into effect during the final months of the Obama administration. (Yes? Am I getting warm?)

Like an upstart lion that has just taken over a pride, you’ve wasted no time trying to kill the cubs sired by the deposed alpha male. It doesn’t seem to matter to you whether some of Obama’s cubs were worthy of survival — out they go, all of them! You’re relishing your power and asserting your dominance. I understand that. But maybe you should think twice about throwing out the good with the bad. Did it really steam your noodles to make health insurance available to people with pre-existing conditions (i.e., the people who need it most)? Did it grate against your Republican instincts to protect the wildlife in those wildlife refuges?

You seem to be in love with guns. You declared that even crazy people should own them, all the better to mow down mass quantities of unsuspecting citizens (preferably Democrats). You’re in love with money, of course, and you seem hellbent on transferring more of it from the beleaguered middle class to the flourishing business elite. You’ve cooperated with drug companies that cruelly price their life-saving products in the upper stratosphere. You stand steadfastly in opposition to science — especially climate change and evolution, because you’re a bit defensive about fossil fuels and the inerrant nature of the Bible. You’ve eliminated funding for Meals on Wheels and Big Bird, not to mention the arts. (How else are we going to build The Wall?)

You don’t quite know what to do with blacks, Hispanics, gays, feminists and Muslims. It makes you sad that we’re no longer living in Beaver Cleaver’s world, and I can understand the tinge of regret for the lost idyll of mid-20th century America: the innocence, the near-universal moral standards, the tight family and neighborly bonds, the patriotism, the sense of unity as clean-cut fellow Americans. We’re a fractured and often discordant culture, no doubt about it. And the cultural left keeps ramming more changes down your already-sore throats.

I suppose you enjoy thumbing your noses at those smug, sandal-wearing chardonnay-sippers, those coastal progressive snobs who ridicule your values and your spelling at every opportunity. I can’t entirely blame you; I know they can irritate the bejeezus out of you (and occasionally me).

But by destroying institutions and regulations that the elite left holds dear, you’re also hurting the loyal, unadorned folks who once represented the heart and soul of America. They’ve served in the military, labored hard for their wages, suffered financial breakdowns and still salute the flag. You’re letting them down.

Sometimes I have to wonder if your team has gone over to the dark side, deliberately enacting legislation that would appeal to Lucifer or at least Ebenezer Scrooge — the ornery, misanthropic, tightfisted Scrooge, not the Scrooge who gained enlightenment from the three spirits of Christmas. I know you’re tired of paying from your pocket to help people who can’t seem to help themselves — but try to remember that millions of those people actually voted for you. Even those who didn’t still deserve a chance to feed themselves and fight life-threatening illnesses without going broke. (If you haven’t noticed, serious medical treatment today looms beyond the financial reach of all but celebrities, CEOs and investment bankers.)

Are you willing to just let those uninsurable proletarians die and “decrease the surplus population,” in Scrooge’s memorable words? Can you observe their suffering from inside the walls of your gated communities — and are you enjoying it? Have you been reading too much Ayn Rand?

If you’re as Christian as I’d like to think you are, you won’t begrudge them a government-guaranteed helping hand instead of leaving them to the whims of the free market. (The free market isn’t free, and survival can’t depend on whims.)

I know that Democrats can be shrill and supercilious in their opposition to your policies. I can understand why you might want to put your hands over your ears and go “Na-na-na!” while they bleat about patriarchy, privilege and transgender locker room rights. But please be wise enough to separate the bogus from the beneficial. Be big enough to listen to their legitimate grievances. You don’t have to agree — just listen. They’re not the enemy. They’re your fellow Americans.

Eisenhower, model Republican that he was, would have understood. He embodied both strength of character and ordinary human decency. He possessed a generous spirit moderated by classic American pragmatism. He was president of all the people, not just the Republicans.

My final word of advice to you: be more like Ike.

Thank you,

The New Moderate

 

Coming soon: “An Open Letter to Democrats.”

Rick Bayan is founder-editor of The New Moderate and the author of the recently published e-book, Lifestyles of the Doomed.

The New Moderate’s 2017 Vigilance List

February 26, 2017

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What do America’s moderates have to worry about? More than ever, naturally. I’ve been updating this list each year to reflect our current jitters, and 2017 should be more jitter-inducing than most. It’s a long list, so feel free to take a break for food or therapy. Ready? Fasten your seat belts!

  1. A rogue presidential administration. Trump snatched his unlikely victory by exploiting the fears and resentments of Middle Americans. Our first social media president, he can be refreshingly blunt and irreverent. But he’s also divisive, crude, erratic, shamelessly mendacious and recklessly ignorant. A fake populist, he promptly surrounded himself with a pack of plutocrats who must be cackling at the poor dupes who put their team in power. Trump is a flaming narcissist accustomed to running his businesses by fiat, and it shows. He’s railed against the press, issued combative executive orders, alienated allies and cozied up to Putin’s Russia. (The degree of coziness remains to be revealed.) Trump seems determined to favor our business class above everyone else, even if it means ravaging the environment, rolling back social safety nets and stomping on the arts. He’s not Hitler, and he’s not even an ideologue, but there’s nothing remotely moderate about the man. Remedy: Protest the administration’s offenses, join the resistance if you must, but don’t lose your mind. Watch the circus, take restorative walks in nature and wait until 2020 (or until Congress wearies of Trump’s antics and gives him the hook).
  2. Polarization and the hollowing of the center. Extremists at both ends of the spectrum have been battling it out for America’s soul. Worst of all, the middle is losing. (When was the last time one of your Facebook friends posted a moderate political meme?) In an age of sound bites and Twitter tweets, polarization sells. It reinforces our prejudices and bonds us with like-minded folks. But the cost has been prohibitive: we’ve essentially split into two nations. Moderates are the last vestige of objectivity in this sorry spectacle– the last group capable of seeing both sides of an issue. In short, America needs us now more than ever. Remedy: If we moderates have to shout to win attention, so be it: let’s shout. Once we’re noticed, we need to start the hard work of building bridges between the warring factions. Advice to non-moderates: Try to understand the other guy’s perspective. You don’t have to agree; just understand. Don’t borrow your opinions from glib internet memes and biased “amen corners.”
  3. Rampant identity politics and PC. Tribal loyalties have trumped loyalty to country. Every group with a grievance is putting its own interests front and center. Political correctness has crossed the line from a reasonable concern over offending minorities to an almost pathological obsession with white privilege and the punishment of “microaggressions.” Guess what: Now whites are painfully conscious of their whiteness, and millions of them are bonding together as another angry special-interest group. (Nice work, progressives.) Remedy: We all need to take a deep breath, look outside our own demographic boutique, and find common ground with our fellow Americans again. (We’re the United States, remember?) Do we like pizza, baseball, Louis Armstrong? Great. That’s a start.
  4. Worldwide environmental devastation. This shouldn’t be a political issue, but somehow it is. Trump and his henchpeople would like nothing more than to abolish environmental regulations, so they willfully deny the obvious evidence. Climate change denialists, take note: 16 of the hottest 17 years on record have occurred since 2000. The only question is how much of the change is caused by human activity. Whether it’s 25, 50 or 75 percent, we need to take prompt action unless we’d like to see massive crop failures, extensive lowland flooding and seaports that look like Venice. Meanwhile, the world has lost half of its nonhuman animal population since 1970. Developing nations account for much of the destruction when they convert forest to farmland. As they aspire to middle-class status, they’ll be fighting for use of the Earth’s limited resources and driving endangered species to extinction. Eventually we’ll realize that we’ve ransacked a wondrous planet. (And we’re not equipped to start colonizing distant planets just yet.) Remedy: Work with other governments toward establishing and enforcing sensible universal environmental regulations, because the Earth belongs to all of us. And it’s high time that Asian scientists proved the worthlessness of folk medicines derived from endangered species.
  5. The immigrant/refugee crisis. Legal immigrants are fine. Moderate Muslims are fine. Illegal immigrants and militant Islamists are not fine. Why is this so hard to understand? We can’t simply close our borders – or open them to unrestricted immigration; there has to be a sane limit. The rise of American “sanctuary cities” that protect criminal illegal immigrants is the epitome of misguided liberalism. The U.S. and Europe can’t accommodate all the world’s desperate humans. Meanwhile, our rich petro-pals on the Persian Gulf haven’t lifted a finger to help their fellow Muslims. Remedy: A thorny issue with no satisfactory solutions. For now: offer temporary shelter visas for Muslim war refugees and use leverage to force Arab states to accept more of them… impose limits on permanent immigration, enforce them without building walls, and (in the U.S.) make English our official language to encourage assimilation.
  6. Islamic jihad and other forms of terrorism. Terrorists come in all colors and persuasions, but militant Islamists (ISIS, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram et al.) still take top honors in this department. We can’t coexist peacefully with people who believe that God has called upon them to destroy us. Moderate Muslims aren’t succeeding in stifling the jihadists, and the West can’t constantly police the world. Remedy: A massive reformation within Islam to bring it into the 21st century, or at least the 17th or 18th. The bloodcurdling excesses of the terrorists could (and should) trigger such a movement among the majority of decent Muslims.
  7. Right-wing militancy. Yes, this is now a thing. The movement that started among disaffected Obamaphobes has gathered steam with the election of Trump and the inclusion of some choice far-right nutjobs in his inner circle. Now a motley coalition of gun zealots, crypto-Confederates, white supremacists, xenophobes and defiantly un-Christlike Christians has been making trouble for members of racial, ethnic and religious minorities. It ain’t Sarah Palin’s Tea Party anymore. Remedy: Avoid taunting the denizens of the far right and mocking their ignorance; it only inflames them. I know this will be painful for some, but the “nice doggie” approach might be the only way to subdue them. Of course, we still need to prosecute the hell out of them when they actually commit hate crimes.
  8. The rule of moneyed interests. Call it plutocracy or oligarchy or capitalism on steroids — the bottom line is that a self-entitled, deep-pocketed elite is now firmly in charge of our government, our finances and ultimately our lives. The plutocracy is more entrenched than ever despite Trump’s promise to “drain the swamp” and return power to ordinary Americans. Most of our elected representatives are marionettes operated by the powerful interests that fill their campaign coffers. This state of affairs is unacceptable within a representative democracy. Unless we correct it, we’re headed toward a neo-feudal society of latter-day lords and serfs. Jousting, anyone? Remedy: Ban thinly veiled bribes by lobbyists (via Constitutional amendment if necessary), regulate the financial industry, get rid of corporate subsidies and tax loopholes, impose penalties on companies that move jobs away from the U.S. And yes, raise taxes on the rich — especially on income from passive capital gains.
  9. Online amen corners and fake news. Far too many of us gather our news from biased sources that cherry-pick their stories to promote an agenda, distort them with misleading headlines or simply make them up. (Trump isn’t entirely off base about fake news, although of course he blames relatively reliable mainstream media that criticize him.) The comments sections are even worse: echo chambers for opinions that grow ever louder and more extreme as the choir cheers them on. Remedy: Try to fact-check the juicier items before you post them, and don’t restrict your reading to your political home turf. Make an effort to discover moderate and unbiased news sources. (Hey, you’ve already found one!)
  10. Disruptive technologies. You’ve heard the expression, “You can be replaced by a machine.” Well, it’s happening. Within the next twenty years, most of today’s jobs (even doctors and lawyers) could be replaced by automation, the internet and artificial intelligence. How will all those idle citizens survive without work, and how will the nation survive without a substantial tax base? Remedy: We need a new income-generating model desperately. Universal welfare doesn’t suit the American psyche. Maybe we could all sell Girl Scout cookies (or marijuana) to rich technocrats.
  11. Racial animosity. White-bashing has become normalized; nonwhite activists control the dialogue regarding who’s racist (i.e., most whites) and who isn’t (i.e., nonwhites who hate whites). Now white racists emboldened by the Trump revolution are returning the nastiness. Online message boards often teem with vile racial vitriol from both sides. Double standards abound: blacks get roughed up by police and incarcerated more often than whites for the same offenses; on the other hand, blacks are allowed (even encouraged) to criticize whites, while it’s still taboo in polite society for whites to criticize blacks. Sometimes I wonder if we’ll ever be able to coexist amicably. Remedy: Make an effort to see members of other races as individuals instead of symbols. Even better, make friends with them.
  12. American gun culture. Let’s face it: America is a trigger-happy country. The NRA, police, white militias, inner-city gangsters, Second Amendment diehards, lone-wolf lunatics – all seem to revel in the power conferred by lethal weaponry. And their zeal naturally translates to horrific gun fatality statistics. Despite the bloodshed, the NRA crowd still screams whenever anyone mentions tightening access to guns through more extensive background checks. Remedy: Guns don’t kill people, but bullets do. With over 300 million guns already in circulation here, it makes more sense to restrict access to ammunition — especially semi-automatic clips whose only purpose is to dispatch dozens of victims as quickly as possible. As for our police, it’s time they found and used effective non-lethal weapons for stopping unarmed criminal suspects.
  13. Trump derangement syndrome. To say that the left has overreacted to Trump is like saying that Niagara Falls runs downhill. Granted, Trump is a turkey, and the social justice warriors are entitled to resist a rogue president, but let’s be honest: they’ve been even more divisive than Orangeman himself. The Trump opposition has forged a cohesive sub-nation that despises Middle America and uncritically celebrates all the causes favored by elite leftists and their allies. I can already predict the inevitable post-Trumpian backlash, and it won’t be pretty. (Heterosexual white Christian males might want to go into hiding.) Remedy: Try to convince your progressive friends that Trump voters are bona fide humans who simply disagree with them on certain issues (well, most issues) – and that it shouldn’t be taboo to express opinions that dissent from progressive scripture.
  14. Cultural degeneracy. When did Western culture become an exercise in pushing the proverbial envelope? Movies, TV, pop music, video games, high art and everyday behavior have combined to forge a cheap and often loathsome culture that too often celebrates the worst in human nature – the badder the better. Do I believe in having fun? Absolutely. (This isn’t The New Puritan, after all.) But we also need to restore respect 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. 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. Still, if you have standards, don’t surrender them!
  15. The politicization of EVERYTHING. Art, literature, music, gender, race, families, religion, sexuality, immigration, flags, vaccinations, the environment, women’s bodies – you name it, the zealots out there have politicized it. When we politicize everything, we split into factions. Factions consist of chronically angry people, and chronic anger isn’t good for the nation’s soul (or your own). Remedy: We should all take Voltaire’s advice and cultivate our gardens. It might put us back in touch with the natural world. Politics is an artificial ingredient, and it slowly poisons everything.

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.

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