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The New Moderate Gives Thanks

November 24, 2021

Even George Orwell couldn’t have concocted a more dystopian society than the America we’ve known for the past few years – and he was the acknowledged master at concocting dystopian societies.

Instead of a passive populace dominated by the ever-watchful eye of “Big Brother,” we’re greeted by the spectacle of a once-proud nation split into two squabbling tribes. Each tribe comes equipped with its own sacred narratives, brazen politicians, propaganda outlets, online amen corners and torrents of self-righteous rhetoric whipping the faithful into frenzies of irrational anger and mutual loathing.

The left continues to spread its myopic race-obsessed dogma through the conduits of academia, journalism and corporate America. They’ve conveniently redefined racism and white supremacy so that the majority of us must plead guilty. (Correct grammar? Objective reasoning? Merit? Math? Individualism? Mea culpa! Please don’t hate me!)

Meanwhile, the militant right slips farther into a dark bog of conspiracy theories, anti-Democrat hysteria, gun fetishes, knee-jerk resistance to science, and an unhealthy fixation on their ousted orange-skinned leader, who’s still pushing the buttons of his followers and pulling the strings of Republican politicians who’d like to stay in office.

Of course, virtually nobody listens to the sensible voices that still emanate from the center. And if the extremists do listen to them, they go out of their way to silence them. Leftist social justice warriors cancel anyone whose wayward opinions depart from woke scripture (even if they’ve been dead two hundred years), while right-wing Republicans threaten their more reasonable colleagues who dare to cooperate with the Democrats – even for the good of the country. Both tribes come complete with inquisitors whose job it is to purify the ranks by expelling the heretics.

What else? How about the statue topplers, white vigilantes, black segregationists, Trump insurrectionists, The 1619 Project, hoarders of assault weapons, and the woke editors of the AP Stylebook who decided to capitalize “Black” but leave “white” in lower case? Oh, and let’s not forget our beloved social media outlets for turning former friends into screeching adversaries. (Keep it up, America, especially if you’re itching for a second Civil War.)

To top it off, this madness is taking place within the context of the worst pandemic since Woodrow Wilson was president – a pandemic that keeps reinventing itself with new strains of the abominable bug, thanks partly to the hordes of obstinate anti-vaxxers who help keep it in circulation. The rest of us take our shots in the arm, wear our masks at the supermarket and hope we don’t get sneezed upon at point-blank range by a clueless covid carrier.

So, you might ask, what exactly does The New Moderate have to be thankful about? Well, I’m still alive – and if you’re reading this, so are you. Where there’s life, after all, there’s hope – and mirth, love, passion, creativity, sympathy and kindness, not to mention cynicism, chagrin, spleen, vexation and all the other colorful responses to life that prove we’re not ready to become coffin fodder. I prefer being a curmudgeon to being dead, don’t you? Possessing a live body comes in handy for all manner of amusing earthly pursuits, even as we approach terminal geezerhood.

What else moves me to give thanks? Food — especially turkey and cranberry sauce this time of year – but even granola, spinach and legumes. Where would we be without the nourishment that keeps our bodies from sputtering out and decaying prematurely? I give thanks for tap water, too. What a miracle it is that I can simply turn a spigot and guzzle pure H2O without having to dig a well in my yard or pay $1.50 a pop for commercial spring water in flimsy plastic bottles.

Friends and relatives come in handy, too – especially when we grow tired of talking to ourselves. Pets give us affection when almost nobody else will. Books, movies and TV take us to interesting places without getting us mugged, kidnapped or thrown into a river wearing cement shoes. Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast, even if the latter-day descendants of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Scott Joplin sound relatively savage themselves.

And how about the natural world? Trees, meadows, wooded trails, mountains, beaches, pristine lakes and cascading brooks, birdsongs and wildflowers, fall foliage, snowflakes and spring rain – all wholesome and good and worthy of our gratitude. 

Manmade monuments deserve our thanks, too: the pyramids of Egypt and Mexico, the Great Wall of China, the surviving splendors of Greece and Rome, the Gothic cathedrals of Western Europe, Independence Hall, the Empire State Building – tangible reminders that we’re heirs to civilizations greater and more lasting than our petty tribal identities of the moment.

I have to thank my readers, too – the contrarians as well as the cheerleaders, and everyone in between. Without you, I’d essentially be playing tennis with myself. It always helps to have someone across the net to keep our reflexes sharp and supple.

I’m even tempted to thank the architects of our current social, cultural and political divide. Why? For engineering such a godawful mess that only dedicated moderates like us can patch it up and create some semblance of domestic tranquility. I’m confident that the extremists will have to listen to us eventually or be marginalized into insignificance. They’ve made us indispensable, and for that small favor The New Moderate is eternally grateful.

 

Rick Bayan is founder-editor of The New Moderate. His three brilliant (but inexplicably overlooked) collections of dark-humored essays are available as e-books for just $2.99 each on Amazon or wherever else e-books are sold. 

All material in The New Moderate copyright 2007-2021 by Rick Bayan — but feel free to quote from this site as long as you credit me as the author.

Confessions of an Embattled Moderate

October 7, 2021

Let’s face it: being an outspoken moderate is a thankless and even hazardous job. I’ve tussled online with warriors from the left and right, and I have to wonder if I’ve ever changed a single wayward opinion. Worse yet, the warriors use moderates like me for target practice.

I’ll never forget the time I defended Kate Smith in a Facebook forum. The late Southern songstress was being “canceled” here in Philadelphia because, in the high recklessness of her youth 90 years ago, she recorded a plaintive song called “That’s Why Darkies Were Born.” No matter that black singer/actor/far-left activist Paul Robeson recorded the same song. That one recording — out of three thousand songs Kate Smith recorded over her long career — proved to be her posthumous undoing. Her statue was promptly shrouded under a burqa-like tarp (lest sensitive souls feel offended by her presence) and finally hauled off to oblivion

When I voiced my dismay in that online forum, I was ambushed by a “woke” business professor (apparently not an oxymoron) from a local university. Not content merely to take issue with my defense of Ms. Smith, he checked my Facebook profile and proceeded to taunt me for being divorced, narcissistic, and whatever else he could throw in my direction to delegitimize me as a valid human. (These days, it’s not enough to disagree; you have to go for the kill.)

I’ve taken heat from black friends who slam me for criticizing BLM tactics and call me “patronizing” when I sympathize with innocent black murder victims. (And when I defend myself, they throw the “white fragility” label in my face.) There’s no winning against such watertight double-binds, so I’ve given up trying to move any hardened minds in that sphere.

Lately I’ve had more online run-ins with right-wing friends who subscribe to the usual conspiracy theories regarding the 2020 election, climate change, the Deep State, the dreaded covid vaccine, mask mandates and the malignant senility of Joe Biden. Like the ideologues at the opposite end of the spectrum, they’ve formed a protective shell around their beliefs and won’t be moved by any rational arguments to the contrary. They simply hunker down and take potshots at me from their foxholes.

Even here at The New Moderate, nearly every column I write tends to elicit protests of one sort or another. I’m too far left… no, I’m too far right. (No amen corner for me, even on my home turf.)

Granted, I wouldn’t expect (or even want) my fellow moderates to agree with my every pronouncement. We’re not ideologues, after all, so we’re not inclined to march in lockstep. But it doesn’t bode well for the future of our hyper-polarized republic if we moderates can’t speak with a strong and reasonably coherent voice – a voice that can influence the more reasonable liberals and conservatives to join us in opposition to the raging extremists.

 I’ve been plugging away at The New Moderate for fourteen years now, and here’s the sorry fruit of my labors: aside from the fact that my readership would barely populate a small town in Mongolia, moderates today are more marginalized in American politics than before I launched this site. The diehard wokesters and MAGA-maniacs garner all the attention, stir the blood, and fuel the opposing tribe’s outrage, which only energizes them to spout yet more borderline-insane demands and proclamations. In short, both tribes thrive on anger.

Meanwhile, the sensible middle withers from neglect and indifference. We lack the loud and strident voices, the blustering self-assurance (OK, I admit I enjoy blustering now and then), the sympathetic media outlets and amen corners that keep the extremists in business. We moderates can’t even seem to decide who we are. We’re not ideologues, after all, and we have no dogma to define our tribe. We dwell under a large and accommodating tent.

Think about the fanatical fervor of the extremists. For the left, wokeness has filled the place of historically intolerant orthodox religions like Islam, medieval Catholicism and Puritanism: the same humorless zeal, the shared myths and delusions, the hostility toward outsiders and the persecution of heretics within their ranks. They use shibboleths like “Hate has no home here,” “diversity, equity and inclusion,” “intersectionality,” “cultural appropriation,” “decolonizing,” and “Defund the police” to recognize one another in a crowd… to cement their cohesion… to separate the wheat from the chaff.

The far right, for the most part, still embraces orthodox religion: a Republican brand of evangelical Christianity that favors the individualistic “be saved or be damned” preaching of St. Paul over the more compassionate teachings of Jesus, who probably would have been a Democrat today. But like their left-wing counterparts, the far right dabbles in secular shibboleths, too. Uttering terms like “Second Amendment rights,” “illegals,” “Deep State,” and “Stop the steal” will automatically ingratiate them with their like-minded peers.

How can moderates hope to compete with fanatics? Do we need our own set of shibboleths to build tribal cohesion? (“Stay centered”… “Hold the middle ground”… “Yes, but…”?)

No, I’ve concluded that building a moderate movement is a noble but ultimately futile enterprise, as long as so many Americans respond to naked emotion, overheated rhetoric and sacred narratives over the exercise of reason and fairness – and as long as moderates can’t agree on what to agree on.

Am I ready to quit my fourteen-year experiment, then? Not just yet, although I’ll probably want to ditch the vexations of politics sooner rather than later. My remaining time on this mysterious planet is growing shorter every day. I’d prefer to spend those days romping in nature, exploring backwaters of history, finding lasting love, reading at least ten percent of the unread books on my shelves, writing one or two more under my own name, seeing my teenage son graduate to fulfilling manhood, and being of service to my fellow humans. Can you blame me?

Rick Bayan is founder-editor of The New Moderate. His three brilliant (but inexplicably overlooked) collections of dark-humored essays are available on Amazon (and wherever else e-books are sold) for the ridiculously low price of $2.99 each. That’s less than a latte at Starbucks, and considerably more fortifying.

Exit from Afghanistan: the Good, the Bad and the Predictable

August 31, 2021

What can you say about a twenty-year war that ended with a messy, embarrassing and totally demoralizing exit?

That it was unwinnable? Sure, at least for the U.S. We should have learned from our hard experience in Vietnam that you can’t beat a ragtag army of fanatical guerrillas. Why not? Number one, you can’t declare victory by capturing their capital. The warriors simply disperse into the countryside and wait – five, ten, twenty or more years if necessary. Number two, they never surrender like the conventional nation-states of yore. You’d have to hunt the warriors down and kill every last one of them – an impossible task for even the best-equipped army.

No, even the most optimistic military brass should have known that our “liberation” of Afghanistan from its medieval Taliban overlords, coming soon after our invasion in 2001, was just a temporary blip in the history of that remote and inscrutable land. Less of a nation than a motley collection of mountain tribes, Afghanistan has long enjoyed a reputation as “the graveyard of empires” – somehow mustering the ability to foil the three greatest world powers of the past two centuries: first the British, then the Soviets, and finally us.

That much was predictable. What shocked everyone was the suddenness of the collapse… the breathtaking speed of the Taliban resurgence… the sorry capitulation of the U.S.-trained Afghan army… the capture of Kabul while thousands of Americans and Afghan allies still waited to escape… the desperate scenes at the airport… and finally the suicide bombing that killed 13 Americans and some 170 Afghans before they could make their getaway. Biden’s defiant “We will hunt you down” and our successful drone attacks on the authors of the suicide bombing were too little, too late.

In short, the optics were terrible, and in a world dominated by pictures and sound bites, optics matter. The U.S. looked like a hapless dog that had just been soundly thrashed, whimpering as it skulked away with its tail between its legs. International pundits were proclaiming the end of the American “empire.” Partisan Americans (and nearly every American with an opinion seems to be partisan these days) either heaped infamy on President Biden for bungling our exit – or they blamed Trump for having negotiated with the Taliban in the first place. Guess who took the brunt of the abuse.

Both sides of the argument have merit. Biden was foolish to announce our departure date in advance; he might as well have told the Taliban, “It’s all yours – come and get it!” Meanwhile, how were we supposed to evacuate all those U.S. troops and Afghan allies – not to mention the billions of dollars in military hardware – before the enemy closed in and made evacuation impossible? That we managed to rush nearly 150,000 fellow humans out of the hellhole was a minor miracle, but by holding firm to our pre-announced August 31 departure date, we left up to 200 Americans and countless desperate Afghans stranded. Will they ever escape? We’d do what we could to aid their eventual exit, but essentially we were telling the world, “Not our problem.”

That damnable departure date – after twenty years of war, what difference would a few extra weeks have made? When the Taliban threatened “dire consequences” if we overstayed our self-imposed deadline, Biden should have promptly responded with an upraised middle finger and a show of military strength. We needed to stay in Afghanistan until everyone who wanted to get out got out – simple as that. We don’t answer to medieval fanatics – or anyone else, for that matter – especially after we’ve spent two decades and $2 trillion trying to rescue a downtrodden people from the grip of religious tyrants.

So yes, Biden bungled our exit and let us look like losers in the eyes of the world despite a mostly successful airlift out of Afghanistan. Even the left-leaning mainstream media were critical. And yet Trump’s base gave their hero a pass for 1) having negotiated directly with the Taliban without consulting the Afghan government, 2) authorizing the release of some 5,000 (count ‘em) Taliban prisoners to commit mayhem across the country, and 3) announcing a May 2021 departure date for U.S. personnel. (Biden wasn’t the only president who invited the Taliban to “Come and get it.”)

Why the double standard? For one, Trump was already out of office when his exit strategy came to its sour fruition. And of course, Trump’s diehard base would give him a pass on anything short of dancing on the grave of JFK. (On second thought, maybe he’d have to dance on Ronald Reagan’s grave to incur their displeasure.)

So we’ve finally bailed out of an unwinnable war after twenty years. It was something we needed to do, although it should have been done more expertly. But did anything good emerge from our Asiatic adventure – anything that justified the deaths of 2,400 U.S. troops, nearly 4,000 contractors, and over 120,000 Afghans?

Well, nothing could have justified the loss of that many lives. But for twenty years, we gave the people of Afghanistan a taste of life free from the dictates of radical Islam. An entire generation of Afghan women grew up with the knowledge that they could shed their burqas, go to school, work alongside men, and walk freely on the streets without shame or fear. Meanwhile, the men were liberated from their compulsory patriarchal beards. They were even free to fly their beloved kites, which the Taliban had banned when they took power back in the ‘90s.

It won’t be easy to return to Taliban-enforced regulations – even the “kinder, gentler” Taliban that its spokesmen have been relentlessly promoting. Freedom is a heady potion, and now that the Afghans have tasted it, they won’t be as willing to submit to theocratic despots.

As for the U.S., we’ve learned that we can’t build a nation to our specifications, but we can use our influence to promote a culture that embraces individual freedom. Amid all the hand-wringing over our public humiliation, that’s one thing we can still celebrate.

 

Rick Bayan is founder-editor of The New Moderate. His three collections of dark-humored essays are available as Kindle-compatible e-books for the ridiculously low price of $2.99 each. (Just go to Amazon and search under Rick Bayan.)

Freedom vs. Selfishness: What’s the Difference?

July 31, 2021

I’m a man of generally moderate inclinations, and not only in my politics. Slow to anger, I tend to lose my temper mainly when dealing with uncooperative inanimate objects or computer programs whose sole purpose is to drive me to terminal exasperation. (Oh, and reckless drivers, too. And those rare people who have crossed me just once too often.)

But lately I’ve felt a powerful urge to bump some heads together, and that urge isn’t going away. We’ve spent the past year-and-a-half in the throes of a brutal pandemic. We have the tools we need to end it. And yet the same people who rebelled against the masks-and-distancing mandates are rebelling against the vaccine that would lift those restrictions once and for all. And guess what: now the damned virus is on the rebound.

It’s all about freedom of choice, the rebels insist. Their cocksure contrariness in the face of a cure must send an exhilarating rush of endorphins coursing through their bodies. How liberating to sneer at the (mostly liberal) elites who place their faith in the vaccine! Yet how ironic when the anti-vaxxers end up hospitalized! Die they might (and the unvaccinated currently account for well over 99% of Covid deaths), but they’ve stood their ground and fired a salvo for personal freedom!

A few weeks ago I had an online run-in with a former columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer. A smart, charming and generally reasonable conservative who attaches selfies to 90% of her Facebook posts, she confessed to having been vaccinated but insisted that the decision should be a personal one. And fie on the judgmental do-gooders who shame the unvaccinated!

I had to speak up. As tactfully as possible, I wrote that it’s no longer a personal choice when it potentially affects the health of others and perpetuates the pandemic. We stop at red lights to keep ourselves and others safe, don’t we? Yes, it’s a temporary infringement on our freedom, but we accept that personal restriction for the public good. Same with the vaccine: those who refuse it are putting their own interests above those of their neighbors and society as a whole. In other words, they’re being selfish.

Within minutes, I took heat for “shaming” the anti-vaxxers. I was no different than those self-righteous elitists, she scolded me. But it’s not as if I called the anti-vaxxers stupid or even ignorant. One can’t help being stupid, and ignorance is tough to overcome. But it’s easy to avoid being selfish. We simply need to think about how our choices affect others.

Note that I’ve always shunned the collectivist mindset; after all, it’s responsible for some of the most horrendous revolutions and genocides in history. Why? Because the collectivists’ obsession with class denies our individuality. Like the Old Testament God on a bad day, they punish the good along with the evil without regard for personal merit.

I’m an individualist in the sense that I cultivate my own garden and bow to none of the mandatory groupthink that’s intimidating free thought these days. As the great Samuel Johnson put it, “I hope I shall never be deterr’d from detecting what I think a cheat, by the menaces of a ruffian.” Our minds are the last refuge of our individual selves. Surrender them to the self-appointed intellectual tyrants and we’re no freer than slaves.

But I’m also aware that individualism has its limits. Unless we’re living as solitary woodland savages, we’re members of society. As such, we agree to surrender some freedoms in exchange for a civilized life: we’re not allowed to steal, murder, vandalize, exploit, assault, or ignore those red lights, and neither are our neighbors. It makes for social harmony, even if Ayn Rand would be twirling in her grave at the thought of all that abject cooperation.

Think of baseball, that most American sport: the players are free to compile individual stats that inflate (or ruin) their reputations, but at the same time they play their hearts out for the success of the team. Baseball provides the perfect balance between individualism and responsibility, and we could look to it as a model for life in a civil society.

The extreme individualists who oppose the Covid vaccine have less in common than we might suspect. Yes, many of them are diehard Trumpsters, but their numbers also include honest skeptics, conspiracy theorists, poor blacks, poor whites, and (of course) cranky libertarians who refuse to go along with the masses. What they have in common is this: they’re prioritizing their personal agenda over the health of society. By refusing to get vaccinated, they’re allowing the virus to keep spreading and mutating until it could resist all attempts to rein it in. Their personal freedom has crossed the boundary into selfishness.

Individual freedom is sacred, but some crises call on us to sacrifice a little of that freedom and pull together for the public good: a just war, a major depression, an alien invasion – and a once-in-a-century pandemic that we should have been able to vanquish with the jab of a needle. You’d think any reasonable person would see the logic of getting vaccinated, but we’re just not an especially reasonable country these days.

 

Rick Bayan is founder/editor of The New Moderate. His three volumes of darkly humorous essays are available as e-books on Amazon for the ridiculously low price of $2.99 each.

The New Moderate’s 2021 Vigilance List

June 14, 2021

What do we moderates need to worry about? Plenty, of course. I’ve cited most of these concerns before, but there are some disturbing new ones as well. The middle is being squeezed out more than ever as the extreme left and right continue to battle for the soul of America. (The irony is that both extremes have become soulless, humorless, intolerant mouthpieces for fundamentally un-American ideas.) The salvation of America now rests in the hands of outspoken moderates who are unafraid to challenge the willful distortions of the extremist mind. As usual, I propose remedies to our current problems. But we moderates need to make America listen – and make those remedies a reality.

1. Right-wing militancy. Yes, the republic’s armed guardians of nationalism, gun rights, old-time religion and all that is white with America have finally earned the top spot. The shocking assault on the U.S. Capitol back in January was probably just a foretaste of things to come. How did we get here? The movement was spawned by bloviating radio and TV pundits back in the ‘90s, gathered steam with the election of Obama, reached critical mass after being fueled by Trump, and continues to grow in reaction to the “woke” left’s asinine anti-white tirades. (Guess what: when you hurl insults at a group long and hard enough, the folks who identify with that group begin to take offense.) This growing coalition of gun zealots, diehard Trumpsters, neo-Confederates, white supremacists, conspiracy theorists, xenophobes and defiantly un-Christlike Christians has been mobilizing to carry out Trump’s most fevered dreams. In short, it ain’t Sarah Palin’s Tea Party anymore, and the Republican Party needs to wake up before the extremists destroy it. (See #5 below.) Remedy: Avoid taunting right-wing militants and mocking their ignorance. I know this will be painful for some, but the “nice doggie” approach might be the only way to keep them from biting. And I’d tell the right-wing zealots: Ditch Trump! Let him take his well-earned place in history’s dumpster. He doesn’t love you or even respect you. Rediscover genuine patriotism… think of Eisenhower, John McCain, George Washington. Those should be your heroes – not some egomaniacal flim-flam man who inherited a fortune from his dad.

2. Identity politics. We’ve become obsessed with our tribal identities and grievances, which have eclipsed national identity in the minds of the aggrieved. Blacks, gays, feminists, Latinos, Native Americans and transgender people have all been shouting at us from their respective pulpits, and now white nationalists – not surprisingly — have joined them, although they’re the one identity group that the mainstream media won’t coddle. Identity politics is essentially cultural Marxism; instead of designating oppressors and the oppressed by social class, they’re now defined by race or gender. Remedy: We all need to take a deep breath, look outside our own demographic boutique, and find common ground with our fellow Americans again. (We’re the United States, remember?)

3. Wokeness and cancel culture. Political correctness has crossed the line from a reasonable concern over offending minorities to a humorless and sinister Orwellian groupthink that delights in reporting heretics (i.e., independent thinkers) to the authorities, sabotaging their careers and exposing them to personal threats. Progressive companies and schools have expressed their solidarity with BLM by instituting mandatory “antiracism” training – too often a polite euphemism for “anti-white brainwashing.” (No doubt I’d be accused of “white fragility” or worse for that last statement.) Woke scholars have cited individualism, objectivity, merit, punctuality, the nuclear family, and even correct math solutions as damning evidence of white supremacy. White-bashing has become normalized, along with the almost compulsive trashing of historical white heroes — yet it’s still taboo (at least within polite society) for whites to criticize blacks for any reason. Double standards, anyone? Remedy: Be fearless. Speak out against woke excesses wherever you see them, and damn the consequences – unless you have an academic or media job to protect. (Then you might want to speak out under an assumed name.)
4. Polarization and the hollowing of the center. Extremists at both ends of the spectrum have been battling it out for America’s soul. Worst of all, the middle is losing. (When was the last time one of your Facebook friends posted a moderate political meme?) In an age of sound bites and Twitter tweets, polarization sells. It reinforces our prejudices and bonds us with like-minded folks. But the cost has been prohibitive: we’ve essentially split into two warring nations. Moderates are the last vestige of objectivity — the last group capable of seeing both sides of an issue. In short, America needs us now more than ever. Remedy: If we moderates have to shout to win attention, so be it: let’s shout. Once we’re noticed, we need to start building bridges between the warring factions. Advice to non-moderates: Try to understand the other guy’s perspective instead of automatically condemning it. Please don’t borrow your attitude from glib internet memes and biased “amen corners.” Above all, don’t insult your political adversaries; it only makes them hate you (and your ideas) more passionately.

5. The radicalization of the Republican Party. The former party of moderate, sensible conservatism has morphed into something strange and malevolent, with a sharp rightward lurch that would render it unrecognizable to old-school Republicans like Eisenhower and Nixon. The process started in reaction to the election of Obama, but it was Trump who turned his party into a seething cult of grievance, hatred and latent violence. Of course, the Democrats have shifted leftward, but not to the point of flirting with civil war. Remedy: If traditional Republicans can’t drive the nutjobs out of their ranks, I’d love to see a powerful third party emerge from a union of moderate Democrats and Republicans who are willing to work together for the good of the country.

6. Narrative-driven reporting, online amen corners and fake news. Too many major news organizations, including CNN, Fox, and even the sober New York Times, have ditched objective reporting in favor of pet narratives. The online scene is even messier. Too many of us gather our news from biased sources that cherry-pick their stories to promote an agenda, distort them with misleading headlines or simply make them up. (Trump wasn’t entirely off base about fake news.) The comments sections are even worse: echo chambers for opinions that grow ever louder and more extreme as the choir cheers them on. Remedy: If your preferred news source has gone off the rails, write to the top news editor to voice your complaint. Threaten to stop watching or cancel your subscription. When posting online, try to fact-check the juicier items beforehand, and don’t restrict your reading to your political home turf. Make an effort to discover moderate and unbiased news sources, too. (Hey, you’ve already found one!)

7. The politicization of EVERYTHING. Art, literature, music, gender, race, religion, sexuality, immigration, historical monuments, flags, vaccinations, the environment, women’s bodies – you name it, the zealots out there have politicized it. When we politicize everything, we split into factions. Factions consist of chronically angry people, and chronic anger isn’t good for the nation’s soul (or your own). Remedy: We should all take Voltaire’s advice and cultivate our gardens. It might put us back in touch with the natural world. Politics is an artificial ingredient, and it slowly poisons everything.

8. American gun culture. Let’s face it: America is a trigger-happy culture. The NRA, police, white militias, inner-city criminals, Second Amendment diehards, lone-wolf lunatics – all seem to revel in the power conferred by lethal weaponry. America’s shameful gun statistics reflect a sobering trend within our country: Americans are an increasingly angry people, and angry people often turn violent – especially when they have easy access to lethal weapons. Why the pervasive anger? In a few words: too many Americans feel – justifiably or not – that they’re getting screwed by higher powers. Despite the bloodshed, the NRA crowd still screams whenever anyone mentions tightening access to guns. Remedy: Guns don’t kill people, but bullets do. With over 300 million guns already in circulation here, it makes more sense to restrict access to ammunition – specifically the semi-automatic magazines whose only purpose is to dispatch mass quantities of victims as quickly as possible. As for our police, it’s time they found and used effective non-lethal methods for stopping unarmed criminal suspects.

9. The rise of authoritarian regimes. Sure, we’re used to Russia, China, North Korea and a few Third World countries favoring “strongmen” as leaders. But did you know there are currently 50 dictatorships in the world, with several others (like Brazil and Hungary) leaning toward authoritarianism? If Trump had triumphed in overturning the 2020 election, we could have added the U.S. to the list. Authoritarian regimes rise when a critical mass of people support a powerful radical leader who tolerates no compromise or dissent. Powerful men who see the world in black and white seem to cast a spell over the weak and disenfranchised, and apparently more of “the masses” are feeling weak and disenfranchised these days. Is representative democracy a doomed system? Remedy: The people need to feel more powerful. But if a country’s government is controlled or unduly influenced by plutocrats and lobbyists, it’s no wonder the people feel that their vote won’t make a difference. (If that’s the case, see #10 below.) In 5000 years of recorded history, representative democracy has been the exception rather than the rule – about 450 years under the Roman Republic before it succumbed to authoritarianism, and less than 250 years since the American Revolution. In short, we can’t take it for granted.

10. The rule of moneyed interests. Call it plutocracy or oligarchy or capitalism on steroids — the bottom line is that a self-entitled, deep-pocketed elite is still in charge of our government, our finances and ultimately our lives. Far too many of our elected representatives are essentially marionettes operated by the powerful interests that fill their campaign coffers. This state of affairs is unacceptable within a representative democracy. Unless we correct it, we’re headed toward a neo-feudal society of latter-day lords and serfs. Jousting, anyone? Remedy: Ban thinly veiled bribes by lobbyists (via Constitutional amendment if necessary), regulate the financial industry, get rid of most corporate subsidies and tax loopholes, impose tax penalties on companies that move jobs away from the U.S. And yes, raise taxes on the rich — especially on income from passive capital gains.

11. Worldwide environmental devastation. This shouldn’t be a political issue, but somehow it is. Climate change denialists, take note: the ten hottest years on record have all occurred since 2005. The only question is how much of the change is caused by human activity. Whatever the extent, we need to take prompt action unless we’d like to see massive crop failures, extensive lowland flooding and seaports that look like Venice. On top of that, the world has lost half of its nonhuman animal population since 1970. Developing nations account for much of the destruction as they convert forest to farmland. As they aspire to middle-class status, they’ll be fighting for use of the Earth’s limited resources. Eventually we’ll realize that we’ve ransacked a wondrous planet. (And we’re not equipped to start colonizing distant planets just yet.) Remedy: Work with other governments toward establishing and enforcing sensible universal environmental regulations, because the Earth belongs to all of us.

12. Disruptive technologies. You’ve heard the expression, “You can be replaced by a machine.” Well, it’s happening. Within the next twenty years, most of today’s jobs (even doctors and lawyers) could be replaced by automation, the internet and artificial intelligence. How will all those idle citizens survive, and how will the nation survive without a substantial tax base? Remedy: We need a new income-generating model desperately. Universal welfare doesn’t suit the American psyche. Maybe we could all sell Girl Scout cookies to rich technocrats.  

13. Selective outrage. Police kill roughly 10 to 20 unarmed black people in a given year, and each killing tends to make national news headlines. The result: massive demonstrations, often deteriorating into violence and looting. Meanwhile, major American cities have to deal with daily street shootings of blacks by other blacks. The result: silence. Of course, selective outrage is an equal-opportunity intellectual vice. Think of the Republicans’ over-the-top ire concerning Benghazi or Hillary Clinton’s e-mails, compared to their shocking indifference to the attempted insurrection at the Capitol on January 6. Remedy: Instead of blaming white America for “violence against Black bodies,” BLM could turn at least some of its attention to the rampant disregard for black lives within black communities. Meanwhile, far-right Republican politicians need to recover from their Trump-era fevers, preferably out of office where they can no longer whip their base into a baseless frenzy.

14. Reckless deficit spending. Our government is spending far more than it’s taking in (to the tune of $1.1 trillion), and most Republicans would rather cut benefits for the 99% than (God forbid) raise taxes. The credit crisis is a global issue that, if unresolved, could bring the whole system crashing down on top of us. Remedy: Here’s a start: cut back (way back) on corporate welfare in the form of bailouts and subsidies. Collect a fair share of taxes from huge corporations and the super-rich. No loopholes. No compromises. (The money could be diverted to small business owners who lost their livelihoods during the pandemic.) Trim those plush federal pensions, beginning with members of the House and Senate. And reduce the size of our military, which doesn’t need to be bigger than the militaries of the next ten nations combined.

15. The “Great Demographic Shift.” People of color now account for more than 50 percent of U.S. births. School dropout rates and other endemic social problems will doom too many of these new babies to poverty. At the other end of the age spectrum, Americans are living longer and will require decades of subsidies to get by. How will a shrinking middle class support all these needy Americans and still provide enough funds to maintain our infrastructure? Remedy: I’d encourage middle-class and wealthy Americans to procreate more freely (Hey, it’s fun!) to build up the taxpayer base. But we also need to raise revenue to fund social support programs. How? See the remedy to #14 above.

16. The immigrant/refugee conundrum. Yes, it’s honorable and humane to admit desperate people into our country; after all, the Statue of Liberty has been welcoming the huddled masses for well over a century. But we can’t continue to let illegal immigrants pour across our border. (Europe has its own illegal immigrant crisis.) What if half the population of the Third World decided to migrate to the U.S. and Europe? There has to be a sane limit. Remedy: Offer temporary asylum for refugees from oppressive regimes, and get to the root of the problem by leveraging American influence over those regimes. Impose reasonable limits on permanent immigration, favoring skilled workers and professionals who won’t overburden our social safety nets. Threaten to withhold federal aid to sanctuary cities, which insist on protecting criminal illegal immigrants. And yes, the U.S. should probably make English our official language to encourage assimilation.

17. Cultural degeneracy. When did Western culture become an exercise in pushing the proverbial envelope — and how much farther can they push it? Movies, TV, pop music, video games, high art and everyday behavior have combined to forge a cheap and often loathsome culture that too often celebrates the worst in human nature – the badder the better. Do I believe in having fun? Absolutely. (This isn’t The New Puritan, after all.) But we also need to restore respect for the nobler virtues, or we’ll crumble, as the Romans did, from internal and external assaults that we’re too weak to withstand. Remedy: Beats me. Sometimes I think Western civilization at its apex was simply too demanding for our species to maintain for any length of time. Still, if you have standards, don’t surrender them!

18. The endangered filibuster. This quirky feature of our legislative branch used to strike me as a joke: after all, talking nonsense for hours on end doesn’t seem like a productive use of time. But by delaying the vote on controversial bills, a timely filibuster can prevent one party from ramming ill-conceived legislation through Congress. Think of it as a safety catch. Now there’s a movement afoot to eliminate the filibuster, making it easier for hyperpartisan bills to pass. Remedy: Keep the filibuster until a third major party (cough, cough… a moderate party, of course) emerges and makes it difficult for any one political faction to dominate Congress.

19. The Covid-19 pandemic. Our devastating plague year is mostly behind us, although far too many on the right still bristle at the notion of getting vaccinated. (It’s not an imposition on your precious freedom, my friends; it’s the surest route to eradicating the virus and restoring your freedom.) You’d think a pandemic that attacked progressives and conservatives alike would have united the country like an alien invasion, but it became just another excuse for political polarization. Remedy: Get the damn vaccine already!

That’s my list for 2021, and it should be more than enough to rouse our fellow moderates from their slumber. Share this list so your friends of all political persuasions can see it. And feel free to propose your own additions to the list. I’d like to hear from you.

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.

Common Nonsense: a Moderate’s Rant

April 30, 2021

 A few days ago a good friend posed an intriguing question on her Facebook page: “Common sense is no longer so common, is it?” My reply: “There’s too much common nonsense these days.”

America used to be a bastion of common sense: think of Ben Franklin, Mark Twain, Will Rogers or Harry Truman. What do these four gentlemen have in common, aside from being dead white males? To begin with, none of them possessed a college degree. Even more to the point, all four were fiercely independent thinkers.

Despite the ongoing transformation of our colleges into woke indoctrination centers, I still like to believe that the quest for knowledge is one of life’s most exhilarating pursuits. But it needs to be pursued rigorously, without absorbing and regurgitating the compulsory intellectual doctrines du jour. At the same time, we need to beware of grassroots ignorance passed along in defiance of fact and reason.

Today’s hyper-polarized Americans lean heavily on social media, slanted news networks, “Grievance Studies” professors and a host of prejudiced pundits. (As a minor pundit myself, I freely confess that my prejudice runs toward moderation.) The majority of Americans have been choosing information sources that affirm their own biases while they reject anything that smacks of heresy.

Heresy? I don’t use that archaic word lightly. For today’s extreme partisans, political beliefs have acquired the status of holy writ: believers recite the same verses, pray to the same idols and (at least on the left) punish the infidels. Their beliefs have grown absurd and alarmingly widespread on both sides: in other words, they amount to common nonsense.

What categories of common nonsense have I detected? Let’s take a look:

Circular logic. I’ve asked Second Amendment diehards why they feel it’s their sacred right to own guns equipped with magazines that can mow down 60 or more humans in as many seconds. Can’t they be content with hunting rifles and six-shooters? After all, their right to bear arms doesn’t extend to bazookas and flame-throwers. If an armed intruder broke into their home, do they really need 60 or 80 or 100 rounds to take him out? Their usual answer: “We need our assault weapons to defend ourselves against the government agents who come for our assault weapons.” But if you didn’t have those assault weapons in the first place… oh, never mind. (And good luck using them against tanks and military drones.)

Cherry-picked evidence. We’ve all become excruciatingly aware of police violence against black people, and it’s true that police too often use lethal force when they could use other methods to subdue a suspect. But here’s the rub: police killings only make national news when the victim is a person of color. If you watch a steady diet of CNN, for example, you’d never know that police kill roughly 2 ½ times as many whites as blacks. (Surprised?) Yes, blacks are still overrepresented among the victims, but it’s hardly racial genocide perpetrated by a white supremacist establishment. Because we only hear about victims of color, blacks begin to believe that America wants them dead. As a result, they’re understandably more inclined to overreact when stopped by police. And there’s the ultimate irony: the woke news media, by presenting only one side of the story, indirectly contribute to more tragic encounters – and more news stories about blacks murdered by police. Cherry-picking leads us to the next form of common nonsense…

Sacred narratives. Both the left and the right cling to them: whites as congenital oppressors, with blacks as eternal victims… Trump’s stolen election… government safety nets leading us down the slippery slope to communism… conspiracy theories about vaccinations and scientists. The fringes spawn their scriptures, and the faithful become true believers. Some black scholars try to convince us that grammar, math, objectivity and nuclear families are symptoms of white supremacy, nefariously designed to keep blacks from advancing in society. And of course, many on the right refused to mask up during the pandemic because they believed the government was intent on robbing them of their freedom. (I’m sure they feel robbed of their freedom when they’re forced to stop at a red light, but they stop anyway; fewer fatal collisions that way.)

Tribalism. Sure, humans are tribal by nature; that’s why we have nations, religions and sports teams. But tribalism has assumed an even greater role in the age of identity politics. In the U.S., allegiance to one’s tribe now supersedes allegiance to country. Members of the Trump tribe stormed the Capitol rather than admit defeat. BLM and its allies have centered all of American history around the nation’s mistreatment of blacks. Gay rights activists have their own flag, as do police supporters, environmentalists, and latter-day Confederates. And of course, Republicans and Democrats have never been farther apart on the issues; they’ve become mutually hostile tribes as well. Remember E Pluribus Unum? The Unum part seems to be history now.

The hierarchy of intersectionality. Identity politics can create strange rivalries among those who consider themselves marginalized. For example, it’s clear that women’s testimonies outweigh men’s accounts in sexual harassment lawsuits. But what happens when a man who believes he’s a woman wants to compete in women’s sports? You’d think the loudest squawks of protest would emanate from the feminist camp. Yet it’s the conservatives and moderates who generally oppose the idea of biological men competing against biological women. It’s unfair to women, they insist. And it’s the woke camp (including, no doubt, legions of left-leaning feminists) that welcomes the transgender athletes – possibly for the pleasure of being able to dub the opposition as “transphobic.” So at least among progressives, the rights of trans-gals trump the rights of biological women. (And of course, straight white males hold the bottom rung on the intersectional ladder.)

Double standards and double binds. Primarily a tool of the woke left. If white people ignore the problems of blacks, they’re racist. If they try to help, they have a “white savior” complex. If they criticize black people for any reason, they’re racist. If they can’t take criticism from black people, they’re exhibiting “white fragility.” Ignore black culture, and you’re racist. Borrow from black culture, and you stand accused of cultural appropriation. You get the picture.

Confirmation bias. Partisans of both camps use it to sustain their narratives. A climate change denialist, for example, will read about a March blizzard sweeping through half the Midwest and think, “Aha! We’re in a cooling phase, just as I suspected.” Meanwhile the glaciers continue to melt and the Earth’s median temperatures have been rising every decade.

You’d think that all these tools for promoting common nonsense would give their adherents a glowing sense of satisfaction… the exhilaration of righteous triumph over the opposition… in short, the certainty that their world-view, though bent to their biases and short on facts, is the world-view that will prevail.

Instead, these distorted beliefs just make everyone angry. The true believers stew in their chronic resentment while they infuriate their enemies and alienate the moderates who might otherwise aid their cause.

What’s to be done? Short of resurrecting Ben Franklin, Mark Twain, Will Rogers and Harry Truman, we could use a revival of old-fashioned American common sense. Let’s be skeptical of ideologies; they’re the second-hand clothes of the intellectual world. If we can’t find unbiased news sources, let’s listen to both sides of a story, weigh the evidence and draw our own conclusions. 

We need to be intolerant of intolerance, whether it springs from the right or the left. Above all, we have to start regarding those who disagree with us as valid fellow-humans – even as potential friends. Do we like pizza, dogs and children? That’s a start. Do we want everyone to be as happy and fulfilled as possible? Even better. Do we value truth and fairness? Well, let’s see if we can finally agree on what those tricky words mean.

 

Rick Bayan is founder-editor of The New Moderate. His three dark-humored essay collections are available in e-book form on Amazon for only $2.99 each. (Just search under Rick Bayan and order your favorite titles. You won’t regret your investment.)

The Golden Idol Addresses the GOP Faithful

March 2, 2021

Six weeks after the storming of the Capitol by fanatical Trumpistas, the Instigator-in-Chief emerged from hibernation to address the right-wing faithful in sunny Orlando. The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) was meeting there to rally the troops and set the tone for the future of the embattled GOP.

These weren’t the good gray Republican gentlefolk of yore. Eisenhower and George Bush the Elder would have felt like aliens here. This GOP crowd was predominantly young, rowdy and eager for conquest. They cheered the current crop of conservative Republican standard-bearers, but they saved their purest passion for the keynote speaker: Old #45 himself.

They prepared the way for their idol by setting up a golden effigy – a life-size caricature so comical and grotesque that it could have been created by Democrats. (It came from Mexico, of all places.) A cynic could observe that the gilded head and American flag gym shorts captured all the dignity that Trump had brought to his office – along with the artistic sensibilities of his hardcore base.

It’s possible that the golden statue was crafted with a sense of mischievous fun, but satirical wit isn’t among the more prominent attributes of Trumpian culture. The statue became a shrine, a golden calf for the lost tribe wandering in the desert since last November.

Trump took the podium and immediately cast his spell. “Do you miss me?” he asked. And the crowd roared the response he wanted to hear. “We love you… we love you,” his worshipers chanted in unison.

Trump promptly returned the love: “The brave Republicans gathered in this room will be at the heart of the effort to oppose the radical Democrats, fake news media and their toxic cancel culture.” That last phrase woke me up, since I regard the left’s cancel culture as a step toward Orwellian thought-control. Was Trump speaking to me?

For a borderline-obese man in his mid-70s who subsists on cheeseburgers and fries, Trump is still, almost supernaturally, a figure of remarkable vitality. Say what you will about his chronic uncouthness, narcissism, grandiosity and uncertain relationship to the facts, he can still wow a sympathetic audience. He was in vintage Trumpian form that day in Orlando.

The deposed president glossed over the attempted insurrection of January 6 while still insisting that he was robbed of his rightful victory by a rigged system. “You won… you won,” the crowd chanted – and clearly they all believed it.

Trump touted his accomplishments as president, including an empowered military that reduced ISIS to a shadow of its former self… the lowest unemployment figures on record for African-Americans and Latinos… and his generally overlooked Operation Warp Speed, which resulted in three American companies developing Covid vaccines less than a year into the pandemic.

Did he stop to commemorate the half-million casualties and empathize with their families? Did he confess that he didn’t take the “Chinese virus” seriously enough as a once-in-a-century health crisis? No, humility and contrition are as foreign to Trump as Sanskrit.

Breaking with polite precedent, the former chieftain launched into an attack on his successor’s offenses: from “making America into a sanctuary nation” (by releasing illegal immigrants into the streets without a plan) to the LGBTQ Equality Act (presumably forcing biological females to compete against transgender biological males in women’s sports) to delaying in-person schooling for the nation’s children. Reasonable points regarding complicated issues? Let’s grant him that much, even if not all the woes he mentioned can be directly attributed to Biden.

But calm reason was never Trump’s strong suit, so he followed by taking aim at the fellow Republicans who dared to vote for his impeachment (in Congress) and conviction (in the Senate). He called out the traitors by name, assuring that they’d face the wrath of the faithful in any primaries they’d be entering. In the Trumposphere, nobody challenges the head man and lives to tell about it.

Trump dispelled the rumor that he was orchestrating a split from the GOP. “I am not starting a new party,” Trump reassured the crowd. “That was fake news.”

I was sorely disappointed by this last announcement. If Trump and his cult deserted the GOP to form a breakaway “Patriot Party,” the sensible old Republican mainstream would have a chance to recover its soul. But it was not to be: the angry, lowbrow, conspiracy-haunted Trump base would continue to dominate the GOP for the foreseeable future.

So much for the Grand Old Party of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and good General Eisenhower. Trump would continue to mold Republicanism in his image. Even after his inevitable demise, I could imagine his preserved head muttering threats and insults from inside an electronically powered glass dome.

It’s all in accordance with Bayan’s Law of Cultural Energy, which goes something like this: In any conflict between cultures, the more energetic side tends to prevail. Cultural baggage, subtlety and refinement are actually liabilities. Just as the northern barbarians prevailed over decadent Rome… just as rock music and rap prevailed over Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole… the rowdy, rampaging element of the GOP seems poised to shove the likes of Mitt Romney, Adam Kinzinger and Liz Cheney to the sidelines.

With the rise of angry Trump zealots to the right of us and angry “woke” ideologues to the left of us, is there any hope for reason and cooperation in American politics?

I say there is. Sensible moderate Democrats simply need to join forces with sensible moderate Republicans. Whether the moderates launch a third party is almost irrelevant. I’d welcome such a party, of course, but we have to remember that no new political party has permanently taken root in the U.S. since the Republicans arrived on the scene in 1854.

What’s more important is that the moderates in both parties forge an informal coalition, a bond of sanity united in opposition to the extremists in both parties. They’d vote together on important issues and prevent the loudest partisans from dominating the rest of us. 

But what if, come primary time, the fanatics in either party run fellow-fanatics against the moderates – and the fanatics win? Well, then it might be time to do the difficult work of building a new party. In short, a centrist party dedicated to fighting polarization, striving for even-handed justice, and restoring a sense of common national purpose without favoring one class over any other class.

It’s a tall order – but it might be a necessary one. After all, when Trump speculated about the Republican presidential candidate in 2024, he skirted the issue with a playfully evasive answer: “I wonder who…”

Let’s not take a chance on reviving the most willfully reckless and divisive presidency in memory. We moderates need to gather our energy, link arms and overpower the fanatics who would rip America apart. 

 

Rick Bayan is founder-editor of The New Moderate. His three collections of darkly humorous essays are available for only $2.99 each wherever e-books are sold. (Just search under Rick Bayan.)

Three Wednesdays That Shook the Nation

January 31, 2021

It didn’t take long for 2021 to rival its tumultuous predecessor.

2020 was a tough act to follow: a global pandemic that wouldn’t quit… prominently publicized police killings of black people… Black Lives Matter protests that spiraled into nationwide riots and anarchy… an insistent and pervasive “reckoning” about America’s history of racism… the mainstreaming of “woke” politics on the left and increasingly militant Trumpism on the right… a contentious presidential campaign followed by Trump’s unprecedented refusal to concede defeat.

It’s not easy to top such a year, but 2021 opened with the promise of even greater national discord and derangement. The first three Wednesdays alone were enough to both shake us and stir us, with reverberations heard around the world.

Wednesday, January 6: the insurrection

President Trump claimed the election was rigged, as we expected he might. He challenged several of the swing states and didn’t get the results he wanted. Then, on January 6, he incited his base to march to the Capitol and stop the official electoral vote as it was being tallied.

Did Trump incite them to storm the Capitol, wreak havoc and disrupt the vote by force? Not explicitly, but he knew the situation was potentially explosive and he lit the fuse. Still not convinced? He watched on TV as the mob rioted, broke into the Capitol and rampaged through the halls as our representatives stopped counting the votes and ran for cover. He needed to condemn the attempted insurrection on the spot; he didn’t, and that made him complicit by default.

Video footage of the assault was terrifying to watch: hundreds of deranged protesters, many of them armed, broke down doors and windows, attacked police and screamed death threats against House Speaker Pelosi and even Vice President Pence. They might have carried out their bloody revenge if a heroic Capitol police guard hadn’t lured them away from their intended targets. As it was, at least five people died – police and rioters alike.

The relative ease with which the mob broke into the citadel of American democracy raised suspicions that at least some Capitol police were complicit in the attempted coup. Unsubstantiated rumors swirled that Trump himself had ordered them to stand down and let the insurrectionists proceed.

Had Trump lost the last vestige of his sanity? Was our president a deranged man or just a diabolical one? Whatever his mental state, he had finally ventured into the land beyond the pale.

Trump’s name, already tarnished by his congenital narcissism, serial lying, reckless tweeting and contempt for civil discourse, will likely enter future American history books as a synonym for villainy: the first president to incite an assault on the Capitol, Congress and the electoral process. Whatever good he accomplished (and yes, this moderate acknowledges that at least a few of his policies were praiseworthy among the many that weren’t) will be lost amid his final act of belligerent megalomania. In a weird twist, he’ll achieve the immortality he undoubtedly feels he deserves.

Wednesday, January 13: the impeachment. 

We could see it coming: Trump needed to be punished, and Congressional Democrats wouldn’t let the chance slip away. Although the president would be leaving the White House the following week, he’d be subjected to the humiliation of another trial in the Senate: the first president in history to be impeached twice.

It would be a mostly partisan affair: every House Democrat voted for impeachment while 201 out of 211 Republicans voted against it. Would impeaching Trump just generate more bad blood between our already antagonistic parties? Would it satisfy the revenge fantasies of the “Never Trumpers” who detested him from Day One – at the price of further enraging his fanatically loyal base? Wasn’t the incoming Biden presidency supposed to be about reconciliation?

As a moderate who voted against Trump in 2016, I had hoped that this most immoderate of men might grow into the presidency. I could see him using his rogue populist bravado to govern with blunt common sense, break the power of the corporatist establishment and send the lobbyists packing. Yes, he definitely turned out to be a populist – the kind of populist demagogue who veers dangerously close to fascism. And yes, he definitely went rogue – his rude nature, erratic pronouncements and alarming deficit of empathy alienated most of the nation’s thinking class.

When he finally went off the rails after losing the 2020 election, twisting arms to “find” missing votes and still desperately insisting that he won by a landslide, it was clear that his term would come to an ugly end. And so it did.

But the question remains: Why go through the motions of impeachment when 1) Trump had only a week remaining in office and 2) there was virtually no chance of a conviction in the Senate? Wouldn’t a censure have been enough? Couldn’t we wait for his inevitable downfall in the jumble of lawsuits that are certain to plague him in the coming months? The short answer: Trump needed to be punished by whatever means possible for inciting a rebellion.

Wednesday, January 20: the inauguration and the first executive orders.

As Joe Biden took the oath of office on the same Capitol steps that witnessed the insurrection two Wednesdays earlier, hope seemed to permeate the air. Immeasurable relief, too – because a dark episode in American history was finally behind us. Or was it?

Biden’s inaugural address soared with almost Lincolnesque appeals to our better angels — for binding up the nation’s wounds and moving forward as a united people.

”With unity we can do great things, important things,” the fledgling 78-year-old president told us. “Without unity, there is no peace. Only bitterness and fury. No progress, only exhausting outrage. No nation, only a state of chaos. This is our historic moment of crisis and challenge, and unity is the path forward.”

He pledged to be “a president for all Americans.’ And he promised that “I will fight as hard for for those who did not support me as for those who did.”

Biden eloquently addressed the deep divide in the polarized nation whose leadership he inherited. “We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal. We can do this – if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts.”

Wise words, but would they stick? And would Biden himself stick to them?

That very evening, the new president signed 17 executive orders. Most of them were fair enough: COVID-related measures, extending the moratorium on evictions and foreclosures during the pandemic, an ethics pledge for Executive Branch employees, and reversals of Trump’s anti-environmental policies.

But he also ventured into controversial areas that were sure to ruffle feathers on the right: stopping ICE deportations, canceling the Keystone Pipeline project, and halting construction of the Mexican border wall.

He also tossed Trump’s controversial “1776 Commission,” which sought to combat the leftist 1619 Project with a “patriotic” rewriting of American history. Was Biden’s executive order a tacit approval of the white-bashing Critical Race Theory being disseminated in classrooms and boardrooms across the country? Probably not, but of course he issued no executive order discarding CRT as a teaching tool.

Biden also issued an EO banning workplace discrimination against LGBT employees. Fair enough, right? But some conservatives interpreted this order as a green light allowing male-to-female transgender athletes to compete against honest-to-God women and use their locker rooms. There was nothing in the order to explicitly support their concerns; at the same time, there was nothing in it to dismiss them.

In short, Biden has raced to undo Trump’s legacy by fiat, just as Trump raced to undo Obama’s. Many if not most of Biden’s executive orders have been praiseworthy; some have been questionable; all of them have been one-man proclamations. Is this Biden’s interpretation of “unity”? Is he forging a new model for centering more power in the presidency?

When a new alpha lion takes over a pride, he generally kills all the cubs sired by his predecessor. With a savage display of raw power, the new monarch eliminates the defeated lion’s DNA from the group and promptly impregnates the lionesses with his own DNA. (Who would have suspected that lions were four-footed geneticists?)

Joe Biden is a man of decent instincts, so we moderates should probably wait a little longer before we start questioning his unilateral approach to national unity. He’s doing what he believes is necessary to dispel the nightmares spawned by four years of Trumpdom. If he moves too far toward compulsory “wokeness,” we need to speak up.

A larger question: do we even need unity to move forward together as a nation? Moving forward together is essential; unity on all issues is not. We can be friendly adversaries who debate politics over dinner and drinks. We can trade lively barbs like the college students of an earlier generation, hear each other out, disagree heartily but forget our differences when we stop arguing about politics and enjoy the common humanity that binds us. That’s the ideal, and we need to pursue it now more than ever.

 

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

Looking Past the Apocalypse

December 31, 2020

If you’ve ever dreamed about living in a dystopian sci-fi novel, 2020 was your year. Combine a rampant plague with social isolation, race riots, economic shutdown, Zoom gatherings, a reckless president spreading madness across the political spectrum, right-wing militias and left-wing cancel culture… mix well… and there you have it: an Orwellian nightmare vision of a society headed down the chute toward dissolution.

If an Orwellian nightmare isn’t your idea of the Good Life, don’t despair just yet. You’re reading this column, right? That means you’ve survived the most catastrophic year of our lives to date — an achievement in which you can take justifiable pride.

Over two decades ago, after enduring an especially dismal year, I wrote that “at least I’m still standing… my arms and legs still work. I still have my original head, though I could probably use a new one at this point.” If your original arms, legs and head are still in reasonable working order after the ordeals of 2020, it would be fitting and proper to give thanks.

In fact, 2021 will mark the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving, just as 2020 marked the 400th anniversary of their arrival in Massachusetts –- a feat broadly ignored by the press and public during a year of racial “reckoning.” I suspect that those intrepid white settlers offend most progressives today, despite their courage and stoicism, their peaceful relations with the natives (it was the later Puritan arrivals who stirred the pot), and the fact that half of them died by the end of their first brutal winter in the New World.

Once we’ve survived the winter of 2021 and received our vaccinations, we’ll be stepping out into an America transformed by the pandemic and so much else. Familiar restaurants, shops and other small businesses will have vanished. Watching movies in darkened theaters might already be a lost pastime, like taffy pulls and horse-drawn sleigh rides. Telecommuting could become a way of life for the corporate class.

Millions of jobs could simply go extinct like dodos and woolly mammoths, victims of artificial intelligence, changing habits and disruptive technologies that emerged during our plague year. The recent bickering in Washington over Covid stimulus checks will pale in comparison to the relief packages proposed when half the working-age population has been rendered obsolete and unemployable.

Will we ever see an end to racial tension, demands, riots and resentments? America is an excruciatingly race-conscious society, now more than ever. The mounting rage over unjust but relatively infrequent police killings of black people, exploited by ratings-driven media and “woke” pundits, boiled over last year to a degree unseen since the late 1960s.

We can’t live in a society that expects the majority of its citizens to flagellate themselves simply because they were born white. We also can’t live in a society that pressures us to toss our founders into history’s dumpster – or that finds ways to punish us if we refuse to parrot the latest pieties.

We can hope that old Joe Biden emerges as the unifying figure he promised to be: a man who promotes racial, social and economic justice without cowering before unreasonable militants and their fashionable allies. Of course, he can’t be a unifying figure if Trump loyalists, still smoldering, refuse to accept his leadership.

Granted, the left never accepted Trump’s leadership, but #45 wouldn’t have had it any other way. He was president of his base, not his country. An American president can’t dismiss half the population and expect to lead the republic.

If all goes well, Biden would set up a bigger tent — one that welcomes Republican dairy farmers and used car dealers along with Berkeley professors and civil rights advocates. If he governs as a moderate liberal in the style of JFK, he’ll be in a position to draw the more reasonable Republicans and Democrats back toward the center. The extremists at both ends will never surrender their grievances, but a sensible coalition of traditional liberals, centrists and conservatives can marginalize them until their strident voices recede into the background.

2021 is time for a national wake-up call. The United States, that grand 18th-century experiment in representative democracy, won’t survive if half its people continue to detest the other half. (And yes, that goes for you well-meaning folks with the “Hate Has No Home Here” signs on your lawns.)

Blacks, whites, Latinos, Asians and Native Americans… Democrats, Republicans and Independents… Christians, Jews, Muslims and atheists… socialists and capitalists… Southerners and Yankees… intellectuals and checkout clerks… gays and straights and everyone in between: guess what? You’re all Americans if you live here, and our flag belongs to all of you. It’s time you made friends with people who don’t resemble you physically, socially or ideologically. In fact, you have no choice: the future of your country depends on it.

Keep the faith, fellow moderates – we might be neglected, mocked and downtrodden, but we’re more essential than ever. Meanwhile, let’s look forward to a happier New Year. If we can survive 2020, we can survive just about anything the fates throw our way.

 

Rick Bayan is founder-editor of The New Moderate. His three collections of dark-humored essays are available as e-books on Amazon for only $2.99 each. (Just search under Rick Bayan.)

Transitions

November 30, 2020

When an employee gets the boot, it’s customary for the displaced person to pack up and leave the same day – sometimes with an official escort to ensure that the evicted one departs without engaging in acts of theft or sabotage.

A defeated president has nearly three months to clear the way for his successor, and to date none of them have required an escort to push them out the door. It’s too early to say if Donald Trump will be the lone exception, but the man is still crying foul nearly a month after Joe Biden bested him in both the popular and electoral vote tallies. He rants, he rage-tweets, he unleashes his legal hounds on the swing states that narrowly defeated him. Surely those corrupt vote counters, or the conspiratorial governors, or the FBI, or the CIA deliberately hid untold thousands of Trump votes that would have put him over the top – right?

He seems to grow more deranged and paranoid by the day, if possible. Or, just as likely, he’s putting on a helluva show to whip his loyal base into a frenzy. Either way, Trump refuses to go gently. He’s made a few mild overtures toward the incoming administration, but he still won’t concede. Even Nixon, who arguably was cheated out of the presidency when he ran against JFK in 1960, immediately conceded for the good of the country. Such selfless thinking is as alien to Trump as art, science or stamp collecting. The only good he cares about is the Trump brand.

 It has to be the ultimate in cognitive dissonance for Trump to acknowledge that he’s been fired. After all, he’s the one who has always done the firing. It’ll be a strange new world for the defeated potentate. He’s had to put up with torrents of abuse from snooty Democrats for the past four years – and now THIS. The bubble is popped, the magic undone, and he’ll have to slink off into the sunset like any mere mortal worth a billion dollars.

Meanwhile, plucky old Joe Biden is preparing to take the reins. At the very least, it’ll be refreshing to see a man with recognizable human emotions occupy the White House. (How can you not love a guy who fractures his foot while romping with a dog?

We can predict that Biden will choose a cabinet that “looks like America,” in the current parlance of the progressive wing of his party. Yet, for all the posturing of the militant progressives, Biden is an old-fashioned moderate-liberal Democrat: an earthy, plain-spoken product of Pennsylvania’s coal country, with a backbone and ample common sense to match his big heart. I don’t see him kowtowing to the woke folk or driving us down the slippery slope to socialism, as the alarmists would have us believe.

If he succeeds and manages to serve out his term with his body and faculties intact, Biden can persuade our coastal elites, alienated racial minorities, suburbanites and angry white working class that they all belong to the same great nation. It won’t be an easy task to reunite a fractured America, but Biden is probably our last, best hope for bridging the deep divide. The New Moderate wishes him (and America) a smooth transition and a happy four-year term.

Now for some other transitions The New Moderate would like to see during the next four years and beyond: 

Hyperpartisanship –> cooperation. What’s good for the party isn’t necessarily good for the country. Our political class needs to rethink the “us vs. them” mentality that has sabotaged the last two presidential administrations. Of course the two parties won’t always agree – nor should they — but they must move beyond the myopic confines of hostile partisanship if they’re going to govern wisely. If they continue on the current course, we’ll need to break the stranglehold of the Republican-Democrat duopoly either by supporting independent candidates (so that neither party enjoys a majority) or by doing the unthinkable and forming a national centrist party (preferably with a more exciting name).

Oligarchy –> true representative democracy. Let’s face it: lobbyists, Wall Street and corporate interests pull the strings in Congress. We could use a good populist president to drive the money changers out of Washington. Barring that, we need an outright ban on political bribery – by Constitutional amendment if necessary. Conscientious Republicans and Democrats can unite behind this all-important cause. Another suggestion: Extend Congressional terms from two to six years so our representatives aren’t constantly in campaign mode.

Extreme wealth disparities –> reasonable distribution of wealth. No, not socialism… what I’d like to see is a return to the more equitable wealth distribution of the post-World War II era. Sorry, but not even the best CEOs deserve to earn 400 times the salary of the average worker. (The typical ratio was more like 15-1 during the Eisenhower years.) We need to re-introduce higher taxes on astronomical incomes, put ordinary workers on corporate boards, and halt our progression toward a neo-feudal society of lords and serfs.

Tribalism –> unity. Identity politics has been the scourge of the century in American society. It’s reached the point where we’ve split into isolated “communities” that have nothing to do with geography – or other Americans. It’s commendable to be a proud member of your own tribe, but membership in American society must always come first.

Police as enforcers –> police as protectors. BLM and its allies may have gone off the rails in depicting a genocidal campaign by police against black men (thanks mainly to cherry-picked news stories), but police reform – especially in the inner cities – is seriously overdue. Defunding the police isn’t the answer; instead, cities need to train their cops to use lethal weapons more sparingly, build trust, and emphasize their role in defending their communities against violent offenders. No more needless shootings over broken tail lights!

Agenda-driven news –> unbiased news. Nothing has polarized American society like the ideological amen corners of our chosen news sources. The internet and cable news have been the prime culprits, and it will be a colossal challenge to keep them honest. Fact-checking sites are a godsend (if only we’d use them more often), but of course the preferred solution would be a proliferation of moderate and neutral newspapers, magazines, cable news stations and websites. After watching the mid-region of American politics shrink over the past decade, I’m not especially optimistic. But we can still fight the good fight to deliver our fellow citizens from the echo chambers of willfully distorted media.

Isolationism –> global leadership. Trump wasn’t wrong to pull back from our overextended commitment to policing the world, but he pulled back too far. We need to resume our central role in the global community, or else we surrender power to the likes of Germany, Russia and China. We shouldn’t revive our compulsively interventionist foreign policy of yore – or require a military budget bigger than that of the next twelve nations combined. But we should seize the opportunity to mediate international disputes and showcase our democratic (small D) values on an international stage. The world needs us again.

Pandemic –> reopened society. Goes without saying: we all want our freedom back. But it can’t happen until we’re vaccinated. Meanwhile, wear those masks and keep your distance!


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

All material in The New Moderate copyright 2007-2020 by Rick Bayan. Feel free to share as long as you credit me (and The New Moderate) as your source.

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