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The War on White Statues

June 25, 2020

First they came for the Confederate generals, but that was OK because they fought against the Union for the preservation of slavery

Next they came for Christopher Columbus, and that was sort of OK, I guess, because despite having opened up the Western Hemisphere to European settlement, he was less than kind to the indigenous peoples. (And we all know what happened to them after that.)

Then they came for George Washington, which wasn’t OK, because despite having owned slaves (are we shocked that a man born into the hereditary 18th-century Southern planter class used slave labor?) he secured our independence against overwhelming odds, presided over the framing of the Constitution, served admirably as our first president, and voluntarily renounced power after two terms. He also came to detest slavery, refused to buy and sell slaves or break up families, and freed all his slaves in his will – an act of rare compassion for a Southern gentleman of his time. Not good enough? Let’s move on, then…

Finally they came for Ulysses S. Grant, and that was a damnable insult to the man who defeated the Confederacy and indirectly liberated all slaves from bondage. What was their excuse? Grant owned a grand total of one slave during his lifetime – a gift from his Southern father-in-law. And he freed that solitary slave within a year. Despite being hard up for cash at the time, Grant refused to sell him or exploit his free labor. Later, as president, he enforced Reconstruction, enabled blacks to gain positions of power in the South, and fought against the rise of the Ku Klux Klan. Still not pure enough for the neo-Bolsheviks who toppled his statue? To hell with them, then.

Other statues victimized by salivating mobs include California mission founder Father Junipero Serra, Revolutionary War hero Casimir Pulaski, Francis Scott Key, and Boston’s magnificent monument to Col. Robert Gould Shaw and the all-black 54th Massachusetts Regiment, immortalized in the movie Glory. (Did they object to a white officer leading soldiers of color while sitting on horseback? Did they stop to think that Shaw, just 25 at the time, died along with his men? Or that they died fighting the Confederacy? Maybe that’s why they only spray-painted it with graffiti instead of tearing it down.)

Meanwhile, New York’s world-famous American Museum of Natural History is set to remove its heroic outdoor statue of Theodore Roosevelt on horseback, flanked by an African and a Native American. All three figures are sculpted with dignity, so what’s the offense? TR is seated above his nonwhite companions, a sure indicator of white supremacy, paternalism, colonialism, and your choice of any other -ism you can throw at white males. The museum affirmed its commitment to honor Teddy in other ways, but the statue is about to make its exit.

Oh, and now biracial activist Shaun King calls for the removal of all sculptures and stained-glass windows depicting a “European” Jesus. (I guess the Pieta has to go.) Proclaims King: “They are a form of white supremacy. Always have been.” (News: As a Jew, Jesus was certifiably Caucasian, even if he didn’t look Dutch or Norwegian. We have no contemporary descriptions of his appearance, but my educated guess – based on northern Egyptian tomb portraits from his era – is that he could have passed for a Greek or Italian.)

What do the offending statues have in common? Not all of them depicted slave owners or overt racists. It couldn’t be that all the images were of prominent white males, could it? I’m certainly no white supremacist (in fact, many of today’s leftists would argue that I’m not even white), but my majestic Armenian nose can detect the odor of escalating anti-white sentiment in the air, and it’s starting to stink. I only hope that the extremism of the left-wing iconoclasts doesn’t trigger an equal and opposite reaction from gun-toting right-wing white mobs. 

Oddly enough, it seems that most of the damage is being perpetrated by young white social justice warriors. How to explain the peculiar brand of racial self-hatred percolating among these statue-topplers and so many other young white leftists? Have they absorbed the not-so-subtle anti-white messaging from BLM activists, biased news sources and collegiate “grievance studies” professors? Have they swallowed the distorted media narrative that black people are chronically victimized by white people? (Strange, isn’t it, that we never hear about the white victims of police killings or black assaults, which actually outnumber white-on-black crimes.) Have they been driven to self-loathing by the purported race-baiting of Trump and his unruly base? Do they exempt themselves from the sins of their less enlightened white peers – or do they wallow in collective guilt? Are they simply sensitive souls who want to protect their nonwhite friends from potentially hurtful images? If so, their zeal for destruction doesn’t strike me as especially sensitive.

Something tells me that they’re at least subtly pressured to rage against their own people for fear of falling outside the zone of Acceptable Thought on Race. Besides, it’s hip to be “woke.” So they march, rant, and topple the statues of good men along with the bad.

Extremists on the left have bent over backward to justify the assault on American history. A seismic shift in the racial power balance is long overdue, they say. (Fair enough, but does that mean whites have to take a subordinate role?) Some on the fringes even suggest that whites should cede control of the government to blacks for a generation or more. So much for representative democracy.

A couple of friends chastised me on Facebook for my anger over toppled “hunks of bronze.” (The Liberty Bell is just a hunk of bronze, too, and I dare anyone to topple that.) The symbolism is undeniable: black activists and “woke” whites seem intent on “dismantling whiteness” – a popular topic on campuses today. Out go the pale-faced imperialists, exploiters and racists – but what about the likes of Shakespeare, Bach, Plato and Rembrandt? Where does it stop?

I was relieved to hear at least a few moderating voices. The generally inflammatory Max Boot opined that great men like Washington and especially the progressive-thinking Grant should never be discarded along with the Confederate generals.

Ken Burns, a staunch liberal whose classic Civil War documentary series on PBS paid homage to both sides, regretted giving respect to the Confederate cause but insisted that we shouldn’t go overboard by tearing down the statues of men whose greatness outweighed their flaws.

A panel discussion on left-leaning CNN concluded that the excesses of the moment would eventually correct themselves and find a proper balance.

Balance is almost always a good thing. We should acknowledge that black people have been victimized throughout much of our history, and that they still suffer from ugly vestiges of racism today, without demonizing white people and branding all of American history as an endless chronicle of oppression.

Much like the companies whose obsequious pro-BLM public service announcements saturated the media after George Floyd’s death, well-meaning white progressives have a tendency to grovel before black activists and their demands. Defund the police? We’re on it! Create separate black dorms and spaces on college campuses? Done! Capitalize Black but keep white in lower-case? Of course – it’s more just! Dear white people: just shut up and listen! Why, certainly – we have no right to an opinion.

Instead of fetishizing black people and granting them a blank check for every demand, “woke” whites should ask themselves whether their attitude is more patronizing than genuinely respectful. In an ideal world, the aim of black progress would be full equality, not special treatment based on skin color. And the conversation on race would be a two-way street – a conversation between equals.

Tearing down statues – like the looting of commercial districts – simply drives a deeper wedge between the left and the right – between most blacks and most whites – without generating a scintilla of positive change. If the iconoclasts’ goal is to vent anger and provoke it in others, they’re succeeding handsomely. If they want a revolution, we’ll all have to live with the consequences: chaos, bloodshed, ever-shifting loyalties and, eventually, a totalitarian regime that tolerates no dissent.

Instead, how about pressing for a quiet revolution in police training and criminal justice – along with government and private investment in depressed black communities, a revival of the inner-city black family, and the development of teaching methods that keep black students from dropping out of school? That’s the kind of revolution that sticks – the kind of revolution even a raving moderate can support. 

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

 

America Is Burning: Notes on the George Floyd Riots

May 31, 2020

It took a pandemic to make us forget about President Trump’s impeachment circus and the depressing presidential campaign between two borderline-senile old men. It took the killing of an ordinary African American man named George Floyd by Minneapolis police to make us forget about the pandemic. And finally, it took a nationwide orgy of fire and destruction to make us nearly forget about poor George Floyd. 

The killing was inexcusable. Police had pulled Floyd out of his car on suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 bill. Floyd resisted, was handcuffed and dragged over to the waiting police car. Then, for an agonizing span of nearly nine minutes, officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee over Floyd’s neck while the victim pleaded for air, moaned and died. The entire incident was captured on video and witnessed by distressed onlookers. 

What possessed Chauvin to kneel on a handcuffed man’s neck, calmly and without evident emotion, while his victim couldn’t breathe? (One minute would have been excessive; nine is positively inhuman.) Why did Chauvin’s colleagues just stand by and watch with blank uncaring faces? There was no need to restrain Floyd once he was handcuffed and on the ground. Why didn’t they just yank him into the car, drive him to the precinct for questioning, and either release him or slap him on the wrist for passing a counterfeit bill? 

Right-wing conspiracy theorists have surmised that the Deep State (or was it George Soros?) orchestrated the fatal encounter to stir up righteous anger among blacks and progressive whites – as if we needed to become even more politically polarized than we already are. And of course, the left cited George Floyd’s death as a prime example of white America’s genocidal campaign against people of color. 

Without going as far as to accuse the white patriarchy of genocidal intent, all of us – leftists, moderates and conservatives – need to speak out against unwarranted police brutality. That much is clear: bad cops give all cops a bad name. 

Then the protests began: first in Minneapolis, the scene of the crime – then in Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Boston, Atlanta, Seattle and even Omaha. All too predictably, the demonstrations turned unruly and destructive. Buildings and cars were set afire… rocks smashed store windows, and smartphone videos recorded dozens of looters scurrying out with bundles of free merchandise. This was worse than Ferguson or the Freddy Gray riots in Baltimore. Perhaps fittingly for a pandemic year, the violence went viral.

Chauvin, the offending cop, had already been charged with third-degree murder and his three silent colleagues had been fired. Justice was being served. So why the wanton destruction of property belonging to innocent people who had nothing to do with George Floyd’s death? The rage was understandable, but this was looking more and more like a national uprising. Many of the rioters were white far-left agitators brought in from outside to foment revolution, as they’re wont to do. 

To their credit, the more reasonable black protesters decried the violence, claiming that it dishonored George Floyd’s memory. Less reasonable career leftists demanded that we ignore the fires and looting; after all, a human life is more valuable than mere property. I posted on Facebook that we should be appalled by both the killing of George Floyd and the indiscriminate vandalism – and my post triggered an avalanche of more than a hundred heated comments from across the political spectrum. 

From the left: my white privilege was showing; we have no right to criticize black behavior unless we’ve walked a mile in their shoes. One longtime friend asked me to read an article entitled “In Defense of Looting.” (Wage labor is a demeaning way to acquire goods? Thanks but no thanks.) I asked another left-wing friend how she’d feel if rioters set fire to the preschool she’s lovingly nurtured for the past several decades. (No reply to that trick question.)

From the right: the police get sick of dealing with black miscreants on a daily basis, and the rioters were simply revealing their true nature as savages. The protests were just an excuse to steal free stuff. And why do we never hear about all the white victims of police killings? (Well, that last question is a valid one: why do we never hear about the white victims of police killings? Would they spoil the narrative?)

Do the police harbor some dark and unfathomable animosity toward black people? You’d almost think so, given all the national news coverage of black lives unceremoniously terminated after a bad encounter with the local cops. And yet our police kill roughly 2 ½ times as many whites as blacks. 

Of course, we need to make a few adjustments: whites outnumber blacks nearly five to one, so a black person is about twice as likely to die at the hands of police. Another adjustment: white police victims are more likely than blacks to have been armed, so the percentage of unarmed black victims rises still higher in relation to white victims. And yet another: blacks more often resist arrest, triggering cops to overreact and resort to lethal force. 

But here’s the statistic you probably knew was coming: according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, blacks commit some 52% of all homicides despite accounting for only 13% of the population. Whites are much more likely to be killed by blacks than vice versa, and 94% of black homicide victims are murdered by members of their own race. I can tell you that in Philadelphia, home of The New Moderate, nearly all the murders I read about take place in predominantly black neighborhoods. 

The sad truth remains that black people continue to kill and be killed in disproportionate numbers, sometimes at the hands of police but much more often by their peers. Why? As someone who lives just a few blocks away from a ghetto neighborhood, I could point a finger at some of the probable causes I’ve observed. But I’m no authority, and my middle-class whiteness (or Middle Eastern-ness) probably invalidates my musings on the subject. Still, I try to understand. 

Of course, black crime statistics are no excuse for police manhandling individual blacks, just as a few bad cops are no excuse for making war on all police. We need to stop viewing our fellow citizens as interchangeable representatives of this or that class — and start seeing them as individuals. 

Meanwhile, American cities are burning. Small businesses, already crippled by the pandemic, are being looted and vandalized – including black-owned businesses. As the crowds grow rowdier, the police are responding with tear gas, rubber bullets and curfews. Miraculously, nobody has been killed so far, and we can only hope that the casualty count stays at zero on both sides.

Still, it’s painful to watch America’s social fabric unravel before our eyes. The sight of rogue rioters across the republic breaking windows, setting fires, demolishing cars and throwing any object within reach is the sight of a civilization on the brink of collapse.

The America of Norman Rockwell, Andy Hardy, the Cleavers, Mayberry and even “Friends” is now a distant memory, if it ever existed. The sentimentalist in me mourns the loss of that gentle world, just as my inner cynic always expected its demise. I’m not happy that I’ll be spending my declining years on a sinking ship, but I feel even sorrier for the young people who will be reaching their prime during an era of unimaginable discord. 

It looks as if 2020 will be going down in history as a year the historians will remember and the rest of us will want to forget. And it’s not even half over. 

The one bright spot during this most miserable week in an epically miserable year, aside from the glories of spring, was the launch of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket – the first launch from American soil in nearly a decade. Watching that rocket climb skyward triggered a rush of youthful memories – memories of an America that led the world as (mostly) a force for good and a beacon of hope for a brilliant future. 

Is it too late to recapture that spirit?

 

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

Positive Thinking for Pandemic Warriors

April 30, 2020


 

No question about it: we’re living through the most unsettling episode in recent American history. Yes, the assassinations of JFK and Martin Luther King were more shocking, and 9/11 was even more horrific – but they were single-day events that receded into memory after a few weeks of grief and outrage. Most of us were able to get on with our lives as if nothing had happened – not to us, not personally.

The coronavirus pandemic is different. We’re all living in the thick of it – the exposed, the unexposed, the could-have-been exposed, and the might-soon-be-exposed. The daily rituals – the masks and gloves, the six-foot distancing, the wiping down of every outside item that enters the house – give rise to obsessive-compulsive disorder, as if the stress of living through a pandemic isn’t enough. Even if the coronavirus doesn’t kill us, it promises a three-week personal hell of coughing, fever, and lingering lung afflictions. And of course, we could spread the contagion to those around us. 

Meanwhile, we’re being led by a proudly ignorant, grandiose goofball of a president whose mind darts around like a drunken housefly. (Facts? He makes them up as he goes along.) At the same time, we’re being fed the news by blatantly biased journalist-propagandists on both the left and right. (Is there anyone still the middle – any of them capable of maintaining a degree of objectivity, without pandering to their respective peanut galleries for applause?) 

So here we are in mid-pandemic, doing our best to survive while our local businesses starve and our friends become distant memories, approachable only via social media. Yes, we might look forward to a summer lull – but experts are predicting a second wave that could be deadlier than the first.

This is war. I can almost imagine how the British civilians felt during World War II, when they never knew if their house would be the next target of a German buzz-bomb. Their suffering must have been excruciating, but at least their enemy wasn’t invisible – and they could huddle together for comfort. 

As long as we’re engaged in this war, we’ll need to keep our spirits from sagging. Churchill and FDR were masters of morale-building. I’m not quite as eloquent as those two immortals, but I can suggest a few tips for staying positive while we’re surrounded by malevolent microbes.

First… be grateful that you’re still alive, and be defiant about it. (See my newly acquired T-shirt above.) If you have most of your original body parts, and they still function, you can take long walks, hear the birds carrying on their arboreal conversations, watch the trees bloom (if you live in the northern temperate zone) and have fun dodging careless, maskless fellow-pedestrians. Feel free to tell them off, too, because they probably can’t hear you through your mask.

Second… your heightened awareness of danger will heighten your awareness of everything else. If you had been growing numb scrolling past endless anti-Trump (or pro-Trump) memes on Facebook, you’ll now be tuned in to your surroundings like an Iroquois hunter, sensing the delights as well as the dangers of your wild realm. In a materialistic, hyper-organized, pleasure-deferring society, this can only be a good thing. Just remember not to inhale next to a stranger.

Third… you can liberate yourself from the rigid rules of social expectations. Skip that daily shower, stop shaving, let your hair express itself, leave your bed unmade, and fetch the mail in your pajamas. The neighbors will understand. If they don’t, simply challenge the cops to show you the rules governing acceptable mail-fetching attire.

Finally… who knows what wonders will await you when you emerge from COVID-induced hibernation? Sure, we might be reduced to a primitive barter economy for a while, but you might find there’s a market for your gardening tools and old Barry Manilow LPs. You might not be rehired at your former workplace, but the upside is that you’ll no longer feel obligated to work 50 or 60 hours a week. We’re already rediscovering the pleasures of leisure; let’s refuse to renounce them — and aspire to live more like the French! (I’d welcome those two-hour lunches and six-week vacations, wouldn’t you?)

Will the nation continue to be ruled by corporate potentates who make more in a day than the average worker does in a year? Will they continue to pull strings in Washington and keep tilting the great money machine toward their own overstuffed pockets? I can only hope that the post-pandemic economy resembles the post-World War II economy: an engine for growth and prosperity that rewards effort but reverses our current death-march toward a two-tier society of haves and have-nots. If unchecked, the result would be worse than feudalism; I don’t sense any noblesse oblige among today’s self-styled aristocrats.

Maybe we’ll be less obsessed by identity. Wouldn’t it be refreshing if we returned to defining our community as a physical place instead of a militant tribe based on ideological (or racial, or gender) homogeneity? Maybe progressives and conservatives will start bonding over their common humanity instead of continually pelting each other with spitballs. Mandatory political correctness… trigger warnings… thought police… collegiate indoctrination – away with all those humorless, inhuman barriers to independent expression! Such a welcome shift would tickle this embattled moderate’s heart.

In short, don’t despair. Even a monster pandemic can cleanse the air and propel us toward a more congenial society. The great influenza pandemic of 1918-19 gave way to the Roaring Twenties – just possibly the most exuberant decade in American history.

Can we hope for a similar burst of gaiety and gusto once the current pandemic blows over? Yes, we can always hope – but we’ll probably need to make some fundamental changes in the way we work, think and interact. We’ve grown angry over too many imagined or inconsequential slights – and not angry enough over the deeper flaws in our system. Above all, we need to regain our shared identity as Americans and stewards of a vulnerable planet.

Of course, there’s always a remote chance that we won’t be here to watch the new society unfold. But there’s roughly a 98 percent chance that we will. We need to keep thinking about those odds while we use our warrior skills and confidence to battle through the remainder of the pandemic. 

Meanwhile, just keep repeating that immortal line from Monty Python and the Holy Grail – the line boldly emblazoned on my new T-shirt: “I’m not dead yet! Neither is America.
 

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

 All material in The New Moderate copyright 2007-2020 by Rick Bayan. (But feel free to share.)

 

Reflections on Tribalism in a Plague Year

March 31, 2020

In my darker moments, I’ve wondered what it would take to reunite today’s obstinately tribal America into something resembling a nation. A deadly plague? A world war? An alien invasion?

Well, it turns out we have all three on our hands.

1) Yes, a latter-day plague is spreading around the globe and snaking its way into the lungs of millions. The novel coronavirus can live on metal and plastic surfaces for days at a time, waiting patiently for unwary humans to serve as hosts and carriers. With an estimated mortality rate of just under 3% (up to 10% for older patients), COVID-19 can’t compare with the more lethal Ebola, SARS or MERS – but it blows them away in terms of sheer infectiousness and potential economic devastation.

2) Nations everywhere are mobilized as if for war. Trump even invoked the Defense Production Act, a radical measure that compels private enterprise to mass-produce needed supplies and equipment for the public good during national emergencies. (More on that later.)

3.) The COVID-19 pandemic is essentially an alien invasion; the planet has been set upon by an invisible but deadly life-form intent on destroying human civilization. The bugs might have the collective IQ of a barnacle, but they’ve proven their wanton genius for disrupting individual lives, schools, families, businesses, the stock market, and the very fabric that binds people together: an indispensable commodity known as social life.

Has the COVID-19 pandemic succeeded in bringing us together as a nation, despite its penchant for separating us as individuals? Sadly, no – at least not yet. We’re more wary than ever of strangers in our midst. We recoil from our fellow humans as if every casual encounter could prove fatal.

You’d think a massive invasion capable of afflicting untold millions of Americans would ignite a spark of unity, of mutual regard and sympathy, of renewed respect for the struggles of our neighbors. During the Great Depression and World War II, the vast majority of Americans rallied together regardless of class or politics.

Instead, our progressive friends have been ripping into the president at every opportunity – justifiably for his delayed response to the pandemic and his boneheaded rejection of testing kits from the World Health Organization… almost as justifiably for his predictably baseless optimism and hyperbole… but incredibly, even when he authorized a radical response with the kinds of measures (like the aforementioned Defense Production Act) that a New Deal Democrat might have ordered during a similar emergency.

When Rep. Ilhan Omar, certainly no moderate, praised Trump for his decisive actions, some of my progressive friends (and several pundits) went into full TDS – Trump Derangement Syndrome. Omar broke an unwritten commandment: progressives are simply not allowed to praise the unholy resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for any reason. I found myself in the unlikely position of defending Omar for defending Trump, when I’m not a fan of either – and of course I took heat on Facebook for my reckless intrusion into a “progressives-only” discussion. 

The coastal elites continue to waft their contempt for the corn-fed masses of Middle America – especially Trump’s ever-loyal base. Our ongoing alien invasion still hasn’t given them the heart to understand why a group that feels despised by progressives would veer away from progressive politics and cling to a blunt demagogue for leadership.

As for the conservatives and libertarians – well, some of them have stepped up and shown themselves to be true disciples of Ebenezer Scrooge – the pre-Christmas Scrooge, not the reformed Scrooge. Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick went as far as to suggest that older Americans should willingly sacrifice themselves for the good of the economy.

Ah, the blessed economy! Holier than human life, and just as fragile. It’s easy to understand why conservatives would be wringing their hands over a devastating months-long suspension of business and revenues; I understand it, too. Of course, the big corporations stand to benefit from the record $2 trillion stimulus package recently approved by Congress and Trump himself. Let’s just hope the employees of those companies – not to mention all our vulnerable mom-and-pop businesses – see their share of benefits as well. With their income on hold, how many sidelined employees and small businesses can survive without an infusion of public money?

Our libertarian friends must be going apoplectic at the thought of government laying its heavy hand on the free market, even to save businesses crippled by the pandemic. You’d think such interventions would convince even the most obstinate social Darwinist that government is not always the enemy; in this case, it’s the white knight charging to the rescue. Will it convince them, though? I suspect they’ll be fretting about the slippery slope that leads to socialism, and I’ll leave them to their fretting.

Despite the apocalyptic scope of the COVID calamity and its politicization by our resident tribalists, it’s been heartening to witness stellar examples of human warmth and decency: quarantined Italians singing to one another from their balconies… restaurants offering free meals to children… grassroots humanitarians taking food and supplies to isolated senior citizens.

Extraordinary times usually call for extraordinary leaders, but we can’t depend on an inarticulate narcissist for inspiration – even when he happens to do the right thing. We can fantasize about having an FDR, a JFK, a Reagan or an Obama to guide our battered spirits through the pandemic and speak to our better angels. (We Americans desperately need to get in touch with our better angels.) Yet when we hear dire warnings that up to three-quarters of our population might catch the coronavirus, no amount of soaring rhetoric – let alone hand-scrubbing and social distancing – will ease the dread.

It’s up to us, as free individuals living in an interconnected community, to transcend the tribal and embrace the good. We can start listening to voices beyond our private circles, appreciating them for their character, their gritty wisdom, and the unique stories they tell – regardless of whether they vote red or blue. We can bond more deeply with our families and friends, despite the distances between us. If all goes well, we’ll never again take their presence for granted.

We’ll never again take our own existence for granted, either. We all know that our lives are finite, but maybe some of us have been running on autopilot for too long. Our bodies are miraculous machines – our minds even more so – and we should appreciate them while they’re still in working order.

We should probably wake up to the beauty and fascination of our surroundings, too. I’m a habitual walker, and I’ve noticed how poignant it seems that nature is blooming spectacularly even while our minds are consumed by the ongoing plague. Spring will continue to work its magic without sanitizer or safe distancing; you can’t quarantine a grove of cherry trees.

The wisdom of the Earth makes our tribal politics seem petty and pointless. Who were all those Democrats on the debate stage just a few months ago? Does anyone still think about Reince Priebus or Steve Bannon? We’re all transients here, so let’s stop squabbling and start enjoying our stay as friendly neighbors on this endlessly diverting planet. 

Will we still need to throw ideas around for our amusement, edification and disagreement? Of course – as we should. But let’s hope this once-in-a-lifetime pandemic has taught us Americans that life is too short – and too great a gift – to squander by holding a grudge. 


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

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.”)

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