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Squabbling Toward the Apocalypse: A Moderate’s Lament

February 29, 2020

The other night, as my 16-year-old son was grappling with his insane homework load – seven (count ‘em!) assignments in a single evening – I started wondering why we Americans torture ourselves (and our young people) with such vast and insurmountable quantities of busywork. 

Is it because we love to toil for the sake of toil? Is it for the bragging rights? (See how industrious I am, you effete, brie-eating Euro-softies!) Or could it be that we don’t know how we’d face the ghastly void of life without a well-defined purpose? 

Yes, we’re desperate to avoid the void – by filling it with chores, mental clutter, media addiction… and, of course, rancorous and divisive politics. In just the past month – February, A.D. 2020 – we’ve been treated to a mesmerizing, distracting, void-filling carnival of rip-roaring American political squabbling and nastiness. A few examples:

  • The Senate acquitted President Trump of “High Crimes and Misdemeanors,” thereby sparing him the ultimate indignity of removal from office. After much acrimonious speechifying on both sides, the votes almost entirely followed the partisan (i.e., tribal) divide. (Strange, isn’t it, how the partisans can look at the same person and see two wildly different presidents.)
  • The next evening, during the annual State of the Union Address, Trump awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to the terminally ill radio polarizer Rush Limbaugh and promoted a 100-year-old Tuskegee Airman to the rank of brigadier general. (Guess which gesture the anti-Trump media chose to focus on, and which one they chose to ignore.)
  • At the conclusion of Trump’s SOTU, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ripped the text of the president’s speech in full view of Congress, the nation and almighty God – an ostentatiously naughty deed that left no room for reconciliation.
  • Not one to be intimidated by his Democratic foes, Trump promptly dismissed the two underlings who testified against him during the impeachment trial. The move was his prerogative as their boss, but it was a public relations disaster: it cemented Trump’s reputation as a thin-skinned tyrant who needs to surround himself with groveling yes-people.
  • Meanwhile, during Black History Month, Lebanese-American Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib argued that we must create yet another racial identity group: Middle Easterners and North Africans (MENA). Sorry, Rashida, you’re as white as Danny Thomas (remember him?), and we Americans don’t need to be splintered any more than we already are. We have more than enough self-interested racial/ethnic/sexual/gender factions shouting “Me! Me! Me!”
  • The ongoing Democratic debates deteriorated into a depressing series of insult-fests. You’d think it would have been an easy matter to elevate a candidate who could beat the hands-down looniest president in American history, but the Democrats seem intent on handing Trump another four years. As the candidates battered one another with surprising ferocity, they might not have noticed that Trump’s positive Gallup Poll rating edged out his negative rating this past month for the first time ever.
  • While former New York Mayor and current multibillionaire Michael Bloomberg saturated the airwaves with his bottomless fount of campaign ads, “woke” Democrats essentially forced him to apologize for the “stop and frisk” policy that disproportionately targeted black neighborhoods under his watch. (Of course, the policy also dramatically slashed the number of black crime victims, but nobody on the left seemed to care about that inconvenient statistic.)
  • As the shortest month of the year finally drew to its close, Trump gave us a foretaste of his second term: he called for liberal Supreme Court justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor to recuse themselves from any case involving him or his policies. He proclaimed that the dreaded coronavirus pandemic would pass over these states but assigned his science-averse VP Mike Pence to oversee the matter, just in case. And of course, he continued to threaten cuts to Social Security and Medicare. Does his largely cash-strapped base hold it against him? Of course not.

February’s sound and fury gave us an abundance of diversions and distractions to help us avoid the void. Like my son’s overwhelming homework load, our petty Lilliputian political squabbles kept us from looking inward too much for our own good… kept us off the streets… kept us from being hypnotized by the sights, sounds, sensations and textures of real life: the crisp winter air, the glowing sunset sky, the warmth and crackle of a fire in the fireplace, the bracing taste of coffee in our cup, the cheery bonhomie of old friendships and new acquaintances. 

Our manmade diversions also distracted us from the high drama of a world in disarray: the horrific brushfires in Australia, with an estimated one billion animal casualties… the highest temperatures ever recorded in the Antarctic… the inexorable spread of coronavirus from China to the outside world (and its impact on the ever-skittish stock market). 

In the end, what matters most tends to get lost in the ambient chaos: the ability to lead a satisfying and useful life on a healthy planet – a planet overseen by benevolent governments that serve the needs of the governed without favoring one class of people over any other class. Call it the moderate’s dream… I call it sanity.

Rick Bayan is founder-editor of The New Moderate. His three collections of darkly humorous essays are available as e-books on Amazon for just $2.99 each. (Just go to Amazon and search under Rick Bayan.)

 

Death by Drone: an Immoderate Proposal

January 12, 2020

When 62-year-old Iranian General Qassem Soleimani stepped off a plane in Baghdad on January 3, he probably wasn’t expecting to be blasted into the hereafter. But that’s the nature of surprise attacks: they’re quick, unexpected and often lethal. 

The longtime leader of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its clandestine QUDS fighting force had no time to gather his thoughts, reflect on his brilliantly wicked career and utter a final prayer to Allah before the angels whisked him to Paradise – or wherever they whisk terrorist kingpins for the remainder of eternity.

President Trump was quick to take credit for the drone strike heard ’round the world. “Last night, at my direction, the United States military successfully executed a flawless precision strike that killed the number one terrorist anywhere in the world, Qassem Soleimani,” our chieftain announced. “Soleimani was plotting imminent and sinister attacks on American diplomats and military personnel, but we caught him in the act and terminated him.”

We still don’t know exactly how “imminent and sinister” Soleimani’s plans might have been, because the Trump administration has been deliberately vague on the subject. But according to Reuters, there was enough evidence of future mischief to justify stopping the Iranian general in his tracks. 

Retired General David Petraeus opined that the assassination of Soleimani was a bigger deal than our targeted takedowns of Osama bin Laden and ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The latter two terrorists were diminished figures on the run; Soleimani was still in his prime, orchestrating sneak attacks throughout the Middle East. Yes, he had fought against ISIS – no doubt because the would-be Caliphate posed a threat to Iran’s hegemony over the region. But he and his proxy fighters were also responsible for the deaths of at least 600 Americans along with innumerable Syrians and Iraqis. 

Few U.S. and international leaders shed tears over Soleimani’s demise. It was the manner of his departure that elicited whoops of outrage from Trump’s opposition. Freshman Congresswoman Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, a vocal member of the four-woman “Squad” driving the Democrats ever leftward, tweeted: “We are outraged the president would assassinate a foreign official, possibly setting off another war without Congressional authorization and has zero plan to deal with the consequences.”

The second half of Omar’s tweet actually makes sense: Trump, reckless and most likely clueless as ever, could have triggered all-out war with Iran over his drone strike on Soleimani. (Remember Archduke Franz Ferdinand and World War I?)

Pouring gasoline on the fire, Trump even threatened strikes against 52 historic cultural sites if Iran retaliated against Americans – most likely a strategic bluff, but a wanton and unforgivable crime if carried out. We’re supposed to be better than ISIS and the Taliban, after all.

It’s the first half of Omar’s tweet – the outrage over assassinating a foreign official – that stopped me cold. Many of her Democratic colleagues echoed her anger, and I was left to ponder exactly what they were protesting. Trump couldn’t have announced his plans to Congress without risking a fatal leak, especially with the Squad in attendance. 

No, the outraged Democrats were falling back on our official taboo against taking out enemy leaders. Executive Order 12333, signed by President Reagan in 1981, clearly states: “No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.” 

Similar to earlier rules endorsed by Presidents Ford and Carter, the anti-assassination order was relaxed in 1998 to make an exception for terrorists. “But Soleimani was a state official,” the Democrats chanted almost in unison. Yes, but he was also a terrorist. That made him fair game.

I thought about our peculiar reluctance to terminate state officials who instigate war and terror. We think nothing of sending innocent young men by the thousands (or, in the case of the two World Wars, millions) to kill or be killed by other innocent young men. We might express a modicum of regret over the women and children who get in the way – collateral damage, we call it. 

But when it comes to taking out the actual perpetrators of war – the gloating autocrats, the bloodthirsty generals, the fanatics with fancy titles who rouse their followers to spill blood in the name of God or country – we’re curiously averse to harming a hair on their overinflated heads. 

Could it be that we simply have less regard for ordinary citizens than we do for rulers? That we place a cheaper value on their lives? That we dismiss them as expendable pawns in the great chess games between rival nations? 

If I were a raving leftist, I’d have to conclude that the ruling class invents rules to protect its own. But I’m not a leftist, and I’ve still arrived at the same conclusion. 

Let me make a modest but blatantly immoderate proposal. Instead of shipping young people off to fight and die in wars not of their own making, I say we start targeting the warmongers themselves. Drone technology makes it easy to Soleimanize any despot or warlord who disrupts the peace or brutalizes his own people. 

Imagine if we had been able to dispatch Hitler in 1939 or the Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979. Think of the countless lives saved and the misery averted by a well-aimed missile dropped from a hovering drone. One evil life abruptly terminated could have salvaged the lives and happiness of millions.

But what about a fair trial, you might ask. Shouldn’t we have captured General Soleimani and given him the right to defend himself? I’d answer by asking another question: how many ordinary soldiers are given a fair trial before they’re executed by enemy gunfire?

Of course, we have to think about the consequences of tactical assassination. Archduke Franz Ferdinand still looms large in our historical memory. But if drone attacks can eliminate world-class leaders who preach war and inflict misery, maybe those leaders would think twice before they fulfilled their ambitions on the bodies of young soldiers and innocent civilians.


Rick Bayan is founder-editor of The New Moderate. His three grimly humorous essay collections are available in e-book form on Amazon for just $2.99 each.

 

The New Moderate’s Guide to a Politicized World

November 30, 2019

I have a startling confession to make: I’m really not fond of politics.

Why, you ask (and I knew you would), do I take pains to write a political blog if I harbor an aversion to the very subject of that blog? I write it because a politically polarized society needs loud voices in the middle – reasonable loud voices to fill that vacuum, lambaste the extremists when they require lambasting, point the way out of our ideological divide, and build a bridge between the more accommodating folks on the right and left.

That’s the ideal. The reality is that the extremists have politicized our culture so thoroughly that we can hardly order a bucket of fried chicken without inadvertently declaring our allegiance to one political tribe or the other.

While the professional politicos have preoccupied themselves with President Trump’s impeachment hearings, I’ve been entertaining myself by compiling a list of formerly innocuous items that the ideologues have tainted with the unmistakable odor of politics. Both political camps have contributed to the mayhem, although I have to credit the left’s academic PC police for having done more than their fair share.

Come along while I guide you through today’s hyper-politicized landscape…

Pronouns. We use them to substitute for regular nouns when the reference is clear. Simple enough, right? But social justice warriors are increasingly rejecting the gender-specific nature of pronouns like he and she, opting instead for the formerly plural they. In some academic circles, using the wrong pronoun – especially when referring to a person of ambiguous gender – can get you shipped to the re-education camp or worse.

Western Civilization. The study of European history, art, literature, music and philosophy used to be the core of a liberal education. Now those who tout the achievements of Western Civilization risk being tagged as white supremacists. (Of course, it’s fine to tout the achievements of non-Western civilizations.)

Guns. Any talk of restricting access to semi-automatic firearms (or the ammo magazines intended to slaughter mass quantities of humans) will be met with sallies of outrage on the right. They need their assault weapons, the reasoning goes, to fight the government troops who come for their assault weapons. O-kay.

Songs, cartoons and movies from racially unenlightened times. Did the late Kate Smith sing “That’s Why Darkies Were Born” 90 years ago? Banish her memory! (No matter that black activist Paul Robeson sang the same song.) Did a flock of jive-talking crows help Dumbo gain the confidence to fly? Racist caricatures! Was the kindly Uncle Remus too happy working for the white folks? Pull the movie out of circulation! No matter how sympathetic the portrayals, the artifacts of the past are to be judged by contemporary “woke” standards.

Nature. The shocking report that 60 percent of the world’s vertebrate animal population (excluding humans, of course) has died off since 1970 doesn’t seem to have moved the Trump administration – except to accelerate the process by pulling out of the Paris climate accords and loosening restrictions on hunting and deforestation. (Take that, tree huggers!) 

Climate change. As glaciers retreat, temperatures rise, and polar bears drown because the nearest Arctic ice floe is miles away, a staunch contingent of climate change deniers has hunkered down and refused to budge. It’s all a liberal plot to destroy private enterprise, right?

Facebook. What started as a lighthearted online platform for rediscovering lost friends, sharing photographs and chuckling over cat videos has morphed into a tool for separating us into mutually hostile tribes. When we read inflammatory cherry-picked news items that confirm our prejudices, we start hating the friends whose prejudices don’t align with ours.

Women’s bodies. Who would have guessed that such a pleasant subject could generate so much nasty political invective? The #MeToo movement sprang from just and reasonable impulses: no woman should tolerate being groped against her will. But does a hand on the shoulder constitute groping? And should that overly handsy man have his career and life ruined based solely on the woman’s account of events? Is flirting dead? Beware of good causes that turn extremist.

Abortion. Here’s a complicated ethical and medical issue that feminists have turned into a political slugfest. As they sound the rallying cry “Hands off my body!” they deliberately ignore the inconvenient truth that a pregnant woman’s body contains a second, genetically distinct body. The pro-choice faction insists that only the woman’s body has rights, while the pro-life faction favors the unborn baby’s rights. Nobody is backing down, so we need a King Solomon to declare abortion permissible during the first half of the pregnancy and off limits after the midpoint – except in rare cases. So let it be written… so let it be done!

Founding Fathers who owned slaves. Bad enough that they’re members of the white patriarchy, but I’m shocked – shocked! – that 18th-century Southern planters owned slaves. Even though George Washington freed his slaves in his will, I think we can expect the U.S. capital to be renamed for a less “offensive” individual – a gay woman of color, maybe? – in the not-too-distant future.

Identity. Speaking of gay women of color, how has the mere fact of racial, sexual or gender identity become such a political lightning rod? On the left, some identities (straight white “cis”-male, for example) are officially reviled while others are celebrated. Is turnabout fair play? Nope.

Holidays that recall mistreatment of natives. Goodbye, Columbus! Outta here, Pilgrims! Columbus Day and Thanksgiving have fallen into disfavor among those who still protest the European conquest of America. Maybe we should just roll back American history and let the continent return to the tranquility of buffalo-infested plains, Stone Age technology and warring tribes. Short of that, I think we can still celebrate our holidays while acknowledging that Western colonial settlement inflicted undue hardships on the native population.

Immigration. Every human being in the Western Hemisphere is the descendant of immigrants – even the so-called Native Americans whose ancestors migrated here from Asia during the Ice Age. Right-wing prejudice against immigrants – illegal or otherwise – dates back to the mid-19th century incursion from Ireland. Now that the primary incursion is coming from Latin America, race is a factor in anti-immigrant sentiment. No sane person favors open borders (sorry, lefties), but we all need to honor immigrants who work to arrive here through legal channels (that’s right, righties).

American flags. Funny, I thought the American flag belonged to all Americans. Some members of racial grievance groups seem to think it belongs to conservative whites – and especially white cops – which is enough to convince them that they can’t salute it or stand for the national anthem. The 13-star Betsy Ross flag is deemed just as oppressive because it dates from a time when blacks were held in bondage. The bottom line is that this alienation from American symbols keeps them from identifying as Americans, and that’s never a good thing.

Grammar. Say what? Yes, we increasingly hear multicultural academics rail against the restrictive rules (imposed by white males, naturally) that govern our language. Is grammar a tool of oppression used by the patriarchy? One never knows, do one? 

Rick Bayan is founder-editor of The New Moderate. His three collections of dark-humored essays are available in e-book form for just $2.99 each on Amazon.

Another Fine Mess: Trump, UkraineGate and the Specter of Impeachment

October 1, 2019

I’ve never sung the praises of Donald John Trump, surely the most ridiculous president in the history of the republic. Aside from his general oafishness and glaring deficits of character, his offenses of thought and deed would rival the charges leveled against King George III in the Declaration of Independence.

A latter-day Declaration might put it this way: He has sown discord among our citizens, lied blatantly on a daily basis, staffed his administration with swamp monsters intent on destroying their own departments, swelled the deficit by slashing taxes on the rich, threatened to cut benefits for the poor and elderly, fantasized endlessly about an impossible border wall, instigated a needless tariff war, coddled dictators and insulted allies, demonized immigrants both legal and illegal, rolled back federal consumer safeguards and environmental protections, trashed the accomplishments of his predecessor, declared journalists “the enemy of the people,” hurled half-demented tweets at second-tier celebrities, bullied his foes and alienated most of his associates. 

He sucks the oxygen out of our lives and exhausts us. He is, in short, a Major League piece of work. 

Is Trump crazy? That’s for the professionals to decide. But I’ve concluded that he’s the cause of craziness in others. We’ve seen how he whips his fan base into a collective frenzy by singling out the people they’re supposed to hate, much like some of the more unsavory twentieth century dictators. 

It’s also increasingly apparent that Trump has unleashed a kind of half-cracked bloodlust among his foes. Once-dependable CNN has gone off the rails with its rabid nonstop anti-Trumpery, moving leftward of progressive stalwart MSNBC in recent years. So, too, have legions of liberals who display “Hate Has No Home Here” signs on their front lawns; now they’ve morphed into a colossal lynch mob intent on destroying Trump, marginalizing old white men, punishing heretical thought crimes and, while they’re at it, promoting a fringe culture obsessed with “intersectionality.” 

In other words, Trump has helped turn us into a nation of certifiable, 24-carat, foaming-at-the-mouth loonies

But does Trump deserve to be impeached? That’s the billion-dollar question, and we’re about to get an answer. Ever since Trump snatched his unlikely victory from the jaws of Hillary Clinton in 2016, partisan Democrats have been conspiring to overthrow him – legally if possible, by stealth and innuendo if necessary. 

The infamous Steele Dossier, commissioned by the DNC to expose Trumpian mischief in Moscow, turned out to be baseless. The Mueller Report, for all its fastidious detective work, uncovered no conclusive evidence that Trump colluded with Russia to subvert the 2016 election. Trump remains perpetually suspect, but until now the opposition had uncovered no smoking gun.

Welcome to UkraineGate, a crisis precipitated by a nameless whistleblower who knew somebody who talked to somebody who insisted that Trump deliberately withheld aid to Ukraine until its newly elected president, Volodymyr Zelensky, agreed to dig up dirt on presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter. 

The younger Biden had secured a profitable position on the board of Ukraine’s largest gas company, Burisma, which was being investigated for corruption before the investigator was abruptly terminated at the instigation of the elder Biden. According to the accepted version of the story, prosecutor Viktor Shokin’s firing was unrelated to his investigation of Burisma – but that didn’t stop Trump from prying into the matter.

The transcript of the phone conversation released by the White House revealed a friendly, casual, no-pressure chat between Trump and President Zelensky. According to the transcript, there was no quid pro quo – no threat of denying aid until Zelensky complied with Trump’s request. The conversation could be summarized as “I’ve been very, very good to Ukraine.” “Yes, you have, Mr. President – you’re the greatest.” “Oh, by the way, could you do me a little favor if you get a chance?”

Was Trump abusing his Constitutional authority, committing “high crimes and misdemeanors” by conspiring with a foreign power to undermine the Democratic candidate most likely to challenge him in 2020? Digging up dirt on political rivals is a time-honored American tradition; the issue here is whether asking a foreign country to shovel that dirt oversteps the accepted boundaries of dirt-digging. 

Some of the lustier Democrats have been accusing Trump of treason, which is palpable nonsense. Ukraine is an ally, not an enemy power; Trump hasn’t endangered American security through his machinations. Of course, Trump has returned fire by wildly accusing both the whistleblower and House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff of treason. Both sides are out for blood.

Treason is a capital offense. The mere fact that both Trump and his enemies are throwing the term around so recklessly is proof enough that we’ve crossed over into the Twilight Zone. 

Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has yielded to pressure and launched an impeachment inquiry, the first of several steps required to remove a sitting president. Where it will lead is anyone’s guess at this point; the Republican-controlled Senate is the final jury, but a handful of GOP defections could doom Trump before the 2020 election. 

Some Democrats are even taking aim at Vice President Pence and Secretary of State Pompeo, hoping for a clean sweep that would clear the way for Pelosi to assume the presidency until their party clinches the 2020 election. 

Would Joe Biden find himself tainted by a Congressional investigation of UkraineGate? In my darker moments, I suspect that eliminating Biden could be part of the Democrats’ game plan. The sharp leftward shift of the party is endangering relative moderates like Biden, just as the Republicans’ rightward shift during the Tea Party rebellion doomed their own centrists. 

Impeachment is a national ordeal, and we probably don’t need any more ordeals during this fractious time in our history. But the miasma of political hostility on both sides has grown so putrid that I’m starting to believe impeachment could cleanse the air. 

To use a cruder analogy, it’s as if we’ve overindulged in food and drink at a party, and our body tells us that this episode won’t end well. Rather than hold the noxious stuff in our system, it might make more sense to head for the bathroom and let our stomachs do the thinking for us. A few minutes of misery – followed by immeasurable relief!

Yes, Trump’s removal from office could precipitate a right-wing revolt – whatever that would look like. A California megachurch pastor, retweeted by Trump to the howls of outraged Democrats, warned that it could cause a “Civil War-like fracture” that would be irreparable. It’s a plausible scenario, and we don’t want to tempt fate by going there.

For me, the ideal solution would be to let the impeachment proceed, acquit Trump of “high crimes,” and allow him to stay in office but lose to a better (and preferably more moderate) person in 2020. Four years of Trumpian melodrama is more than enough for any functioning republic to endure; eight years could shatter us beyond repair. 

Rick Bayan is founder-editor of The New Moderate. His three darkly amusing essay collections are available in e-book form on Amazon for $2.99 each. (Just search under “Rick Bayan.”)

America’s Mass Shooting Madness Deconstructed

August 13, 2019

America, we have a problem. Too many of our citizens have been releasing their pent-up furies by gunning down multiple strangers in public places. Just as alarmingly, these warped souls favor weapons specifically designed to gun down multiple strangers —20, 40, 60 or 100 fellow humans in as many seconds.

When three deranged mass shooters murdered 34 Americans within the space of a week earlier this month, we all started clucking at one another. As usual, our social media went haywire. (I can personally vouch for this, having triggered a Facebook firestorm that eventually gathered over a hundred comments.)

Who was to blame for our gun sickness? How would we solve it? Were guns themselves the problem, or could we point to the bubbling anger and fear that grip so much of America these days? How about the white supremacists, whose presence seems to be looming larger on the national landscape? Could we just blame the crazies among us? Or could it be something else, like the splitting of our country into progressive urban elitists and proletarian white reactionaries – two myopic and mutually hostile tribes? (Aren’t elitists supposed to be conservative while proletarians are socialist? Not in America!)

Of course, Trump emerged as a prime suspect, having allegedly incited the El Paso killer with his anti-Mexican rhetoric. Just a few weeks earlier, he had been skewered by the left for his “racist” putdown of the “Squad” – the four young Democratic Congresswomen who had been shifting their party’s goalposts sharply leftward. (Polite society apparently deems it racist if white people criticize individual people of color for any reason – Bill Cosby and a few other reprobates excepted.)

Trump knows how to rouse his base and alienate everyone else; he’s our divider-in-chief. The president might or might not be a racist himself, but he’s notorious for his “dog whistles” – those ill-disguised appeals to the racial resentments of working-class whites – especially the menfolk — who feel as if they’re being displaced and disrespected. If blacks, Latinos, gays and women can engage in strident identity politics, disparaging white males as perennial oppressors, it makes sense that some of those devalued white males would respond with identity politics of their own.

And yet… relatively few American mass shootings seem to be motivated by white supremacist politics, even if most of the shooters are white. In fact, the Dayton shooter was a leftist who endorsed Elizabeth Warren. (Did anyone blame her for inciting his rampage?) More typically, the Gilroy Garlic Festival shooter simply announced that he was “really angry” as he shot random strangers before being cut down by the police.

What about those brutal “assault weapons,” then? Semi-automatic handguns and rifles — those with the capacity to fire a dozen, two dozen or more shots without reloading — have accounted for 24 of the 25 deadliest U.S. mass shootings over the past 70 years. And yet they’re perfectly legal and easily obtained. Even Walmart sells them.

Righteous liberals and moderates have called for semi-automatics to be banned or even confiscated. The latter scheme worked in Australia, where gun deaths promptly plummeted. (Of course, the U.S. isn’t Australia; half our population seems to venerate guns as if they were stone idols.)

It’s too late to confiscate semi-automatics on these shores. Guns actually outnumber people in our ever-rambunctious republic — and at least half those guns are semi-automatics. We can’t seize them (or even ban sales of new ones) without the possibility of triggering a right-wing insurrection, so I’m convinced we should try a third option: ban private ownership of magazines that hold more than six rounds of ammunition. Seems sensible, right? Does anyone not intent on mass murder really need 100 rounds to bring down a pheasant or an armed robber?

Of course, the National Rifle Association has no intention of letting our legislators create bothersome obstacles to gun ownership, even though NRA members overwhelmingly support stricter gun laws. As long as so many of our elected representatives are sponsored by the gun lobby, it looks as if “thoughts and prayers” will have to suffice –- at least until the American people resolve to drive the lobbyists out of Washington.

What about all the madmen lurking among us? Aren’t they the problem? We rarely confine them to institutions these days, so they’re free to express their florid revenge fantasies by acting them out in public.

But here’s the rub: every country has its share of mental illness, yet the U.S. leads all “developed” nations in gun deaths by a whopping margin. Are mentally ill Americans crazier than mentally ill Europeans or East Asians? Probably not, but they have easier access to guns.

Seventeen states have passed some form of “red flag” laws designed to separate mentally ill people from firearms, at least while they’re judged to pose a threat. That means 33 states have no laws on the books regulating gun ownership among unstable individuals.

Opponents of such laws cite the unfairness of punishing anyone for potential crimes, and in fact, only a small minority of mass shooters are clinically insane. Angry, yes. Maladjusted, certainly. But do we really want to enact laws that isolate and discriminate against neurotics? Tough call.

Let’s round up some other suspects behind our mass-shooting epidemic. For one, Americans still worship success. American men, especially, are pressured to win big, and those who fall short can ferment in their frustration until they snap. (This isn’t a problem in more egalitarian cultures.)

We’re also a culture that worships fame; celebrities are our royalty. Any nitwit with a semi-automatic and a grudge can immortalize his name by mowing down multiple people in an orgy of gunfire.

Bullying looms large among younger shooters as a rampage motivator. “I’ll show them!” cries the poor ungainly nerd whose self-esteem has been shredded by his tormentors. And show them he does, even if he picks out his victims at random. Even if it costs him his life.

And let’s not forget the copycat factor, which probably played a role in the three successive mass shootings earlier this month. Someone on the brink of disintegration hears about a gun massacre, and an evil bulb flashes inside his seething brain.

Finally, we can always blame the media, certainly among the most polarizing influences in our dangerously polarized culture. Partisan TV networks, websites and radio stations are in the business of creating tribes; they crank out slanted stories guaranteed to raise the hackles of the faithful and confirm their belief that the other tribe embodies pure evil.

Regardless of whether Trump deserves his nightly pummeling on CNN and MSNBC, agenda-driven news is a destructive force; its purpose is to generate anger and division as well as tribal loyalty. It might not be fake news, but it’s willfully distorted news that cherry-picks the stories and angles most likely to inflame its chosen audience.

I can almost believe that the Russians have been infiltrating our media to divide us and drive us mad –- all the better to destroy American civilization and win Cold War II. But let’s face it: we’re already an angry nation –-  an angry nation with tons of guns and millions of alienated souls. If we keep encouraging anger and division, we have only ourselves to blame when some of our more volatile citizens lash out in deadly public rampages.

 

Rick Bayan is founder-editor of The New Moderate. You can find his three collections of darkly humorous essays in e-book form on Amazon for only $2.99 each. (Just search under “Rick Bayan.”)

Reflections on 10 Years of High Hopes and Vexations

July 8, 2019

Ten years ago this month, I wrote my first column for The New Moderate and sent it into cyberspace. Its title: Independents Day!

I had actually launched The New Moderate two years earlier as a series of fictional three-way conversations on important topics, featuring a cranky conservative, a sniffish progressive, and the eminently sensible New Moderate. These whimsical pieces were fun to write (and you can still read them today), but by mid-2009 I was ready to do serious battle with the hobgoblins on the right and left – those malign forces that were tearing the country apart with their biases, distortions and sinister genius for creating discord.

Fed up with the stereotypical image of moderates as political milquetoasts, I channeled my inner Patrick Henry and deliberately dramatized the revolutionary potential of a movement based on fairness, balance and common sense. I fired my first salvo and hoped I’d reshape the political landscape. (Doesn’t every political blogger set out to change the world?)

My inaugural column set the tone that I hoped would attract legions of like-minded political misfits who couldn’t identify with either end of the political spectrum:

“Today marks the beginning of our quiet moderate revolution — a long-needed movement that will forever erase the image of moderates as timid, noncommittal nonthinkers who shy away from controversy. Jump into the fray with your own comments… trade opinions with other independent thinkers… and help make the world safe for commonsense ideas that serve the common good. Ideologies are for people who can’t think for themselves. We can do better.”

My New Moderate mission statement, another salvo filled with defiance, hope and high purpose, took the fight even further:

“We moderates are no longer a featureless midpoint between the extremes of right and left. We’re a movement about to be born. If we succeed, we can stop the domination of America by extremist ideologues of both camps — without silencing their voices…

The right and left thrive on their knack for distorting the truth to serve their partisan agendas. Unfortunately, this manipulative strategy works for them: they draw countless disciples to their ranks. But we moderates can do better… let me rephrase that: we need to do better. Desperately. Now. …

Eventually our moderate movement will gather the momentum we need to turn it into a political force. We could even be breaking ground for the creation of a sane, much-needed, long-overdue third party in American politics!

The excesses of the right and left have shown us that special-interest agendas no longer serve the wider interests of the people. The time is right for moderates to make their mark. Not the timid old moderate of popular stereotype, but the fiery NEW MODERATE who can no longer stand to see the truth distorted by self-serving extremist visions.

We’re opinionated, we’re impassioned, we’re ready and willing to break taboos in our drive to make truth and sanity prevail. So take heart, all you embattled moderates: the middle is about to strike back. Let the rebellion start here.”

Today I look back on my rousing call to action with a sad smile. How empowering it felt to launch a righteous movement! And how sobering to realize that today, ten years later, moderates are more marginalized than ever.

The extremists have not only taken over the conversation… they’ve essentially taken over our government. Moderate Democrats and Republicans are reviled by the true believers in both parties. And of course, the media cater to one camp or the other; moderates still don’t have a single cable station or influential online news source to call their own. Social media like Facebook and Twitter have come to resemble battlegrounds lit up by overheated insults and self-righteous whoops from the partisans in the opposing trenches.

I’ve tried to compete with the fanatics, believe me — but aside from inspiring a handful of other moderate bloggers, I’ve made scarcely a ripple in the national pond. CNN’s website recognized The New Moderate in the early going, and their attention helped boost our readership. But as the decade wore on, the chronically contentious American political climate began to fray me at the edges.

We’ve moved from one divisive horror show to the next: the Tea Party… birthers… hostile PC police on college campuses… police shootings of unarmed blacks… the Black Lives Matter movement and its distorted narrative… the triumph of identity politics… alt-right militias… the antifa (anti-fascists using fascist methods)… the ongoing defamation of white males (along with dead white heroes who might have been unintentionally racist)… white supremacists carrying Confederate and Nazi flags… illegal immigrants streaming across the border by the hundreds of thousands and being herded into concentration camps (or given free perks if they elude the authorities)… the ever-widening wealth gap between the one percent and everyone else… Islamic terrorists and right-wing terrorists… the #MeToo movement (i.e., men are presumed guilty if accused by a woman)… mass shootings by crazed (and mostly young white) males… transgender people insisting on using opposite-sex bathrooms and participating in opposite-sex sports… mega-Afro’d Colin Kaepernick and his ongoing beef with our national symbols… and, of course, the uniquely grotesque reign of the uniquely oafish President Donald Trump.

As I contemplated the horrors of our times and despaired of fixing them, the frequency of my posts dwindled from several times a week to once a week and eventually once a month — with occasional longer breaks for vacations and the recharging of intellectual batteries.

Will I continue to sound my moderate yawp above the din of battling partisans, even when it seems hopeless? Even when progressives accuse me of reactionary tendencies and conservatives call me a socialist? Even when The New Moderate is still an obscure nook on the Internet after ten years of impassioned and eminently sensible pontificating?

Shouldn’t I retire meekly to the sidelines, then, and content myself with long walks in bucolic green settings?

Hell no! When both the right and the left have gone off the rails… when half the country hates the other half and we’re edging toward an irreparable rift… when far too many Americans are living in ideological bubbles and can’t see beyond them… we moderates are more essential than ever. As the ideologues threaten to rip America apart, the center must hold. That’s us. I’ll continue to hold the center until my time is up, and I hope you’ll join me. 

Rick Bayan is founder-editor of The New Moderate. His three essay collections are available for Kindle on Amazon for $2.99 each. (Just search under “Rick Bayan.”)

Abortion Extremists: Is It Time to Bump Some Heads Together? 

June 1, 2019

The ability to see both sides of an issue is the moderate’s peculiar gift and curse. We simply can’t understand why the partisans at both ends are unable (or more likely, unwilling) to look beyond their team’s accepted dogma, examine the evidence, and draw rational conclusions in the manner of our own much-maligned and marginalized tribe.

Take abortion, one of the most divisive issues of our time, and one that refuses to go away. A good moderate will readily acknowledge that a fertilized egg cell contains the blueprint for a human life. Given nine months to incubate and develop, the finished product will pop into the world as a bona fide baby. At the same time, we might question whether a five-week-old embryo, a shapeless organism the size of a sesame seed, is actually a human being.

The pro-life faction is adamant: that little sesame seed is indeed fully human, endowed with all the rights and privileges appertaining to that exalted status. To abort it at any moment after conception is murder, they tell us.

Meanwhile, the pro-choice team refuses to recognize the humanity of a five-month fetus that can make voluntary movements, suck its thumb, open and close its eyes, and drift off to sleep at regular intervals. They frame their argument as a simplistic feminist talking point — “Hands off my body!” –- which conveniently overlooks the fact that a second (and genetically distinct) body is rapidly growing inside that body. Does the second body have any rights as a developing human? Apparently not.

The abortion extremists tell us there’s no middle ground, and on that score they’re technically correct: either a developing baby is aborted or it isn’t. But the extremists show us the middle ground by default.

For example, forcing a rape victim to carry a baby to full term, as recently mandated by the benighted legislatures of half a dozen mostly-red states, is an extreme imposition on a victim who is already scarred for life. It enables the rapist to inject his unwholesome DNA into the population and, in some cases, even sue for custody rights. 

But it gets worse: in Georgia, for example, a woman can now be charged with second-degree murder for having a miscarriage; she’d have to prove in court that the miscarriage was natural and not the result of drug abuse or deliberate sabotage. Not to be outdone, Texas was considering a bill that could actually impose the death penalty on women who have abortions -– along with the doctors who perform them.

That’s one extreme. The other is the no-compromise abortion-on-demand whooping of the pro-choice faction. Illinois has cleared the way for murderous partial-birth abortions, and New York also approved a bill allowing abortions up to the moment of birth; aborted babies who somehow survived the procedure could be left to expire on the operating table. Granted, these last-minute abortions are rare, and most would be prompted by potentially fatal deformities or a maternal health crisis. (Of course, the “crisis” could simply be defined as the potential for “emotional distress” on an unprepared mother-to-be.) 

But here’s what sent a chill through my bones: pro-choicers in New York took to the streets to celebrate their state’s decision, and even the Empire State Building lit up in solidarity with the victors. Call me an old white male reactionary, but celebrating the right to abort a full-term baby -– or even a six-month fetus — strikes me as ghoulish and perverse. 

It seems obvious, at least to a moderate, that a viable middle ground on abortion lies somewhere between the two extremes. In fact, Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that finally legalized abortion back in 1973, wisely took a moderate stance on the issue by permitting abortions after the first trimester only in exceptional cases. (That window was later extended to five months, the approximate point at which a fetus becomes viable outside the womb.)

So why can’t America live with the reasonable terms of Roe v. Wade? Simple: the pro-life faction won’t back down from its insistence that human life begins at conception, and the pro-choice movement won’t accept any restrictions on a woman’s right to abort (um, “choose”) at any time during her pregnancy –- especially by male authority figures.

In short, neither faction will surrender any turf in this ongoing war. The hostilities could rage on until America crumbles or our species goes extinct -– whichever comes first. And if neither faction will compromise, we moderates need to start bumping some heads together

Here’s what I’d tell the pro-lifers: a first-trimester fetus bears only a remote resemblance to a human being. The genetic material is there, but it has barely begun to express itself. A potential human life at three months isn’t yet a human life, even with a heartbeat. (Salamanders have heartbeats, too.) A first-trimester fetus feels no pain, but a young woman forced to carry a rapist’s child will feel pain for the rest of her life

I’d urge the pro-choice contingent to remember that abortion isn’t like an appendectomy. Simply using sanitized slogans like “reproductive rights” or “my body, my choice” doesn’t obscure my impression that they’re a little too zealous about asserting their rights over those of a developing baby. Abortion should only be an absolute last resort in cases that don’t involve rape, incest or maternal health complications. Putting an unwanted baby up for adoption is preferable to killing it; birth control is even better.

How do we ultimately satisfy both factions after we’ve bumped their heads together? After all, a compromise is a solution in which neither party gets what it wants. But sometimes that’s the only solution

Let’s agree that a first-trimester fetus is not yet fully human. Let’s also agree that a viable third-trimester fetus is fully human. That leaves the second trimester as our gray zone, the no-man’s land upon which more battles are likely to be fought.

Any cutoff point we impose would have to be arbitrary, but so be it. Here’s my imperfect (yet eminently reasonable) moderate solution: cut the second trimester (and the pregnancy) neatly in half, with no abortions allowed after 20 weeks except in cases of severe health complications for either the mother or the unborn child. All other abortions would be performed before the 20-week cutoff point — and preferably during the first trimester.

Yes, I’m a man. I have no uterus to speak of, and therefore I’ll be chastised by feminists who would stifle my right to an opinion on this sensitive matter. I’ll also be threatened with hellfire and damnation by those who believe that a fertilized egg is sacred. 

But don’t worry about me. As a diehard moderate, I’m used to being caught in the crossfire. In fact, sometimes I think I enjoy it a little too much.

 

Rick Bayan is founder-editor of The New Moderate. His three collections of darkly humorous essays are available for $2.99 each on Amazon. (Just look under “Rick Bayan.”)

All material in The New Moderate copyright 2009-2019 by Rick Bayan.

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