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Muskmania: the Twitter Takeover and the Consequences of Free Speech

April 30, 2022

“Everyone is entitled to be wrong about their opinions, but no one has the right to be wrong about their facts.” – Bernard Baruch

As the world’s richest human swooped in to take control of the world’s loudest opinion forum, he triggered a wave of hand-wringing among our sober intellectual elite. “He’s making the world safe for racists, homophobes, transphobes, neo-Nazis, misogynists and Texans,” the progressives moaned.

Others, of a more conservative bent, responded that Twitter had overstepped its bounds in policing speech on its site – not just the ravings of Trump and his alt-right minions, but even reasonable suggestions that the Covid-19 pandemic was the result of a Wuhan lab leak. (After all, sometimes there are actual conspiracies behind those wild conspiracy theories.)

Elon Musk, the South African-born mastermind behind Tesla, SpaceX and other cutting-edge enterprises, describes himself as a First Amendment “absolutist.” That makes him a throwback to the 18th-century Classical Liberal believers in “the free marketplace of ideas.” This noble relic of the Enlightenment promoted the uncensored exchange of opinions, based on the assumption that the literate public would have the good sense to reject unsound ideas and embrace sound ones. At least that was the plan.

Of course, we don’t live in sensible times. To the left of us stand the wokesters, endlessly preaching collective guilt, automatic white complicity in systemic racism, perpetual black victimhood, toxic masculinity, heteronormative oppression of sexual minorities, and (via the Pulitzer-winning 1619 Project) the addled notion that we fought the American Revolution primarily to preserve the institution of slavery.

To the right of us gathers an angry tribe of mostly white Trumpsters, Evangelicals, chronic Fox viewers, conspiracy theorists and working-class residents of flyover country – many of them fitting all of the above categories. Are they all irredeemable racists? Of course not, but we’ll find plenty of racial anxiety within their ranks. They tend to live in fear of the great demographic “replacement” – along with an abiding distrust of the so-called Deep State, international bankers, mainstream media, state election officials, scientific authorities, vaccination and mask mandates, climate change activists, and anyone who makes them feel like dummies. The late William F. Buckley would hardly recognize these latter-day conservatives as kindred spirits, and respectable contemporary conservatives like George Will have distanced themselves from their tribe.

How do the extremists promote their brand of extremism? The woke left has spread its influence through the conduits of academia, the old-guard media and corporate mission statements. Wherever you see the ubiquitous catchphrase “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion,” you know the wokesters have left their calling card. They’ve used social media like Twitter primarily to promote agenda-driven “hashtag” movements like #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo.

The New Right, on the other hand, tends to use social media as a freewheeling alternative to the reviled left-leaning news outlets and websites that never give them a voice. Here, beyond the watchful eye of Big Brother, they felt free to swap resentments and conspiracy theories with their like-minded brethren.

But Big Brother did start watching them – especially after their unhinged reaction to the dumping of Trump in the 2020 election. Twitter permanently banned Trump for his inflammatory rhetoric, and other right-wingers have felt the tightening grip of censorship. They’ve already been censored throughout the academic world; muffling their voices in the social media would effectively silence them as a movement.

In steps Mr. Musk with his quarter of a trillion net worth. He outmaneuvered the honchos at Twitter by offering stockholders a hefty premium over the current share price, and Twitter had no choice but to capitulate.

At this point it’s still uncertain how much “absolute” free speech Twitter will be allowing under the Musk regime. After all, it’s illegal to promote acts of violence against individuals and groups, and European codes are more restrictive than ours. But it’s safe to predict that the Trumpsters and their ilk will be tweeting loud and often.

Is there anything wrong with that? Well, yes and no. (What other response would you expect from The New Moderate?) I’ve been appalled by the forced groupthink in left-leaning environments ranging from college campuses to the editorial pages of vintage newspapers. Nobody should have to risk career destruction and personal defamation for voicing an opinion.

On the other hand, the New Right’s knee-jerk opposition to vaccinations and mask mandates helped prolong the pandemic and indirectly contributed to countless thousands of needless deaths – mostly among their anti-vax peers. Should anti-factual conspiracy theories be given a free pass despite the damage they can inflict on believers and nonbelievers alike? What about hate-mongering toward blacks, Jews, Muslims, gays and Latinos – or, for that matter, whites, Christians and men?

I confess that I don’t entirely trust the wisdom of the public to weed out bad ideas and embrace the good ones. In fact, our politically polarized social media have raised the loudest and most extreme opinions well above the more rational centrist voices. After all, drama sells; reason doesn’t. In the end, hysteria wins out.

You want to believe that the moon landings were staged… that Trump was a Russian puppet… that the 2020 election was stolen… that the Sandy Hook grade school massacre was fake news… that police are conducting a genocidal campaign against “black bodies”… that Washington liberals are patronizing a pedophile ring through a local pizzeria? Go ahead – you’ll find plenty of company online.

But should Twitter and other online forums tolerate the spreading of flaky disinformation? Granted, some of it (like the moon landing skepticism) is relatively harmless, while other disinformation (the stolen election, for example) can lead us to the brink of civil war. When does free speech become an imminent menace? When it makes up its own facts in an attempt to incite violence. As Bernard Baruch said, we’re entitled to wrong opinions but not wrong facts.

The Biden administration has created a Disinformation Governance Board in the wake of Musk’s Twitter takeover. Voices on the right are already comparing the new “ministry of truth” to Orwell’s Big Brother – even to Hitler’s propaganda machine headed by the infamous hatemonger Joseph Goebbels.

That reaction is to be expected. The larger questions we need to ask are 1) whether the new Disinformation Governance Board will be an equal-opportunity censor — or simply a tool for the left to muzzle the right; and 2) whether it will try to censor wayward opinions along with wayward facts.

Even those of us who aren’t First Amendment “absolutists” should be on guard against attempts to discredit opinions that the people in power don’t like. We’ve already seen the damaging effects of intolerant ideological zeal at colleges and in the mainstream media.

On the other hand, it’s vital for the future of our stressed-out republic that we check the kinds of overwrought disinformation that, coupled with seething anger, can propel us toward open civil conflict. It takes a wise and balanced mind to separate controversial ideas from actual threats. Let’s hope that both our social media and our government are up to the task of protecting the former and blocking the latter.

 

Rick Bayan is founder-editor of The New Moderate. His three collections of appealingly dark-humored essays are available on Amazon (or wherever else e-books are sold) for the absurdly low price of $2.99 each. That’s less than a mocha java at Starbucks, and even more fortifying.

All material in The New Moderate is copyright 2007-2022 by Rick Bayan, but feel free to quote from this blog as long as you credit me as the author.

Surreal Times, Real Anger

March 31, 2022

Nobody expected, back in March of 2020, that we’d now be entering the third year of our wretched coronavirus pandemic. It’s been a hard and unforgiving life: the constant masking, the avoidance of friends and strangers alike, the ritual cleansing of groceries with disinfectant wipes, the abandonment of indoor public amusements, and the ongoing war between the pro- and anti-vax tribes.

Yes, cases are sharply down as I write this, but we know the routine by now. It’s just a matter of time before the virus cleverly assumes another shape and packs another wallop. (Amazing how such brainless, infinitesimally microscopic cells can be more adaptable than the average human; the gods must love them.)

Even if we’ve survived the pandemic unscathed by the evil bug, Covid has been almost as hard on our minds and souls as it has on the millions of bodies afflicted by it. We’ve grown snappish and impatient. Crime has soared while our social lives have shrunk. We’re tired of watching yet another damned variant pop up to taunt us just when we thought we were in the clear. We despise anyone who disagrees with our politics, of course. And the world around us has come to look increasingly surreal.

For example, we’re just supposed to accept, without blinking or snickering, that a broad-shouldered biological male swimmer who identifies as female must be allowed to compete in women’s swimming events. No matter that the swimmer in question wins nearly every race, often by whopping margins, or that even the swimmer’s teammates have objected (anonymously, of course) to his/her presence on the team. Anyone failing to pretend that the transgender swimmer is a bona fide woman earns a prompt rebuke – condemned as transphobic (read “heretical,” “unclean,” or “unfit for polite society”). Funny, isn’t it, that women’s rights have suddenly slipped below trans rights on the intersectional totem pole.

And how about that surreal moment at the 94th Academy Awards? When Oscar nominee (and eventual winner) Will Smith marched up to the podium and whacked Chris Rock upside the head, the world let out a collective gasp. Some of us realized at that moment that we had finally entered the Twilight Zone, and it still seems unreal. Imagine Jimmy Stewart slapping Cary Grant. Or even Mel Gibson spewing profanities at Tom Hanks. It just wouldn’t happen except in an alternate universe.

We’re living in that alternate universe now. While the pandemic has uprooted our lives, we’ve watched in disbelief as one outrage tops another, just when we thought the world couldn’t possibly keep coming up with new ways to shock us.

Of course, one multimillionaire celebrity smacking another in public can’t compare to a Russian despot smacking 40 million of his neighbors with bombs, destruction, and premature death. And yet there was something emblematic about the slap heard ‘round the world.

In half a minute or less, we witnessed rage that could no longer be contained… rage so far out of proportion to the provocation that it seemed to encapsulate all the over-the-top reactions we’ve seen during the past few years: senseless mass shootings… lifelong friends unfriending each other over politics… the nationwide riots and looting in response to the occasional unwarranted police killings of black criminal suspects… a U.S. president attempting to overturn an election he clearly lost… an angry mob storming the Capitol to help overturn that election on behalf of their idol… obsessive identity politics stemming from built-up grievances, whether legitimate or imagined… mandatory groupthink conquering the “enlightened” segments of American society, with dissenters publicly dissed, shamed and tossed onto the scrap heap. And of course, the brutal invasion of Ukraine – the ultimate over-the-top angry response to minor provocations.

All of the above are extreme reactions. Of course, we live in an era that promotes extremism in all its forms, so we probably shouldn’t be surprised when it smacks us in the face. That’s the lesson we’ve been learning from Ukraine, Oscar night, Trumpism, identity politics, and all the rest of the unholy, surreal pageant of life in the twenty-first century. If we’re moderate in our politics and behavior, our faces are pretty sore by now.

Because extremism is more dramatic than moderation, it tends to win more huzzahs from a drama-craving public. It sells… it’s a conduit for stifled anger… it plays to a receptive tribal audience. But I have to wonder if the twin shocks of Putin’s Ukraine invasion and Will Smith’s unprecedented face-slap might have signaled a turning of the tide. The almost universal revulsion spawned by both events was remarkable for uniting people who agree about almost nothing else.

Yes, both Putin and Will Smith have their diehard defenders. (Putin was fighting a Neo-Nazi regime! Smith was defending a black woman’s honor!) But my inner optimist is hoping that those two gentlemen might have revealed the ugliness of extreme behavior once and for all. If, by chance, they’ve shocked some of our extremists into becoming less angry, less tribal and more inclined to forgive, America will be a better and stronger nation.

 

Rick Bayan is founder-editor of The New Moderate. His three brilliant (but inexplicably overlooked) collections of darkly humorous essays are available on Amazon and wherever else e-books are sold. Choose your favorite title or buy all three. They’re selling for the ridiculously low price of $2.99 each – less than a latte at Starbucks, and much more fortifying.

All content at The New Moderate is copyright 2007-2022 by Rick Bayan. Feel free to quote from this site as long as you credit Rick Bayan as the author.

Putin Pushes His Luck

February 28, 2022

When Russian supreme boss Vladimir Putin launched his all-out war this past month, trouble had been brewing in Ukraine for at least eight years. Back in 2014, Ukrainians ousted their pro-Russian government and replaced it with one better suited to a sovereign republic. Meanwhile, ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine and the Crimea itched to rejoin their mother country, and Putin was eager to lend a hand. 

Finally, on February 24, as talk swirled of Ukraine joining NATO (and by doing so, pushing the Western alliance deep into former Soviet territory), Putin had all he could stand: he launched an attack on Russia’s sister nation with the intention of subduing it, crippling it, and reducing it to a puppet state. Half the world was aghast, and Western pundits wondered if the former KGB agent was about to follow suit with all the former Soviet republics.

Who are the Ukrainians, exactly? They’re a Slavic people, closely related to the Russians by ethnicity and language, and intimately tied to Russia throughout both their histories. “The Ukraine,” as it used to be called, won a brief independence after the Bolshevik Revolution but was soon absorbed into the USSR as the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.

When the USSR drew the boundaries of its constituent republics, several million Russians ended up inside the Ukrainian border. It didn’t matter much at the time, because they were all part of the same vast multi-ethnic nation. But when Ukraine, like all the other Soviet republics, declared independence in the early 1990s, it suddenly mattered. Ukraine probably should have held a referendum that would have allowed those ethnic Russians to join their brethren by shifting the border. They didn’t, and trouble ensued

Of course, it wasn’t simply a matter of nationalist pride or stubbornness; there were grudges. Ukrainians remembered how Stalin starved nearly four million of them to death during his forced collectivization of the region’s farms. They remembered the attempts to eradicate the Ukrainian language and church. You can understand their reluctance to forfeit any of their territory, and why they might turn their eyes to the West

Enter Vladimir Putin. The Russian strongman with the disturbingly soulless face… the very model of a modern autocrat, admired by Donald Trump and other would-be autocrats around the world… the latter-day tsar whose political enemies had a mysterious way of disappearing while he piled up his rubles like a Silicon Valley technomogul – this macho-posturing heir to Stalin and Khrushchev decided to start a war. Not a mere series of skirmishes, but the most massive invasion of a European country since World War II. With his limitless military resources and bravado, he’d thrash Ukraine from east to west and make the other former Soviet republics quake at the thought of defying him

What he didn’t anticipate was the brave resistance of the Ukrainian people and their president, former comedian Volodymyr Zelensky. The lone Jewish head of state outside of Israel, Zelensky refused offers of asylum so that he could stay with his people and go down fighting if necessary. By doing so, the amiable 44-year-old father of two was following in the footsteps of Britain’s beloved World War II king, George VI, Queen Elizabeth’s father. And he immediately won a place for himself in the annals of heroic leadership.

The rest of the world responded swiftly. Around the globe, buildings, bridges and monuments were illuminated in the blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag. NATO reinforced its presence in the Baltic states and Poland. Denizens of Facebook posted pictures of sunflowers – Ukraine’s national flower – on their personal pages, along with heartfelt tributes to a nation they had known little about just weeks before. It was a groundswell of moral support for an embattled people. Putin’s invasion even provoked angry Russians to protest in the streets, and thousands have been arrested.

Meanwhile, President Biden and other leaders imposed severe economic sanctions on Russian banks and oligarchs with the intention of crippling the country’s economy. These actions wouldn’t be enough to halt Putin’s invasion, but they’d cause long-term pain. Maybe they’d cause enough pain for exasperated Russians to overthrow the smug S.O.B. and ship him off to Hades.

How did The New Moderate respond? Immoderately, I’m proud to say. My first impulse was to encourage the U.S. military to drop a well-aimed drone on Putin’s head. I scoffed at the notion that assassinations of enemy leaders are “illegal” according to international conventions. Is it more acceptable to send thousands of innocent young men to kill thousands of other innocent young men and sacrifice their own lives — while the actual warmonger remains untouchable? 

No, sometimes we just need to stop a war where it started. Imagine how many lives could have been saved if some intrepid soul had the gumption to knock off Hitler back in the late 1930s. Then I thought about the potential consequences: how the Russian military might be displeased by our assassination of their leader and, by way of retribution, drop a few well-aimed nuclear bombs on key American cities

It would have to be a covert operation: the CIA and NATO could conspire with Russian insiders to take out Putin. Surely the man must have enemies inside his ranks – even within his own military. They wouldn’t shed a tear over the loss of their master, and neither would most of the world. Best of all, nobody would have to know that we were complicit.

I was shocked that several of my conservative friends – people who generally stand for personal freedom and the American Way – initially rushed to the defense of the Russian warlord. He was just trying to settle an internal dispute among his own people, they argued. (No, Ukraine is a sovereign nation and Putin invaded it.) The current Ukrainian government came to power through a US-orchestrated coup, they informed me. (Nope, it was a popular uprising by Ukrainians who wanted greater independence from Russia.) But it’s a Neo-Nazi regime, they insisted. (With a Jewish president? Sure, tell me another one.) It’s Biden’s fault, they shouted. (Sorry, Biden didn’t start the war. Putin did, and it’s entirely on his head.)

That they were fixating more on Biden than Putin seemed weirdly myopic, even unpatriotic. I suspect that their much-lamented president-in-exile, the Orange Menace himself, was still wafting his warped brainwaves into their heads. Trump had actually praised Putin’s Ukraine campaign as “genius” – although he backpedaled a bit once it became clear that his Russian mentor was waging an all-out war.

Meanwhile, Russian troops and hardware are poised outside Kiev. The Ukrainians have given the Russians more of a fight than they bargained for, but it’s probably just a matter of time before Putin’s boys deploy the heavy armaments. And if they do — if they rain destruction on Kiev and target Zelensky and his family – Russia will be a pariah among nations for at least the next generation. Putin’s victory would be an empty and extremely costly one.

The nuclear threat remains troubling. Putin has put his country’s nuclear “deterrence” force on “high alert.” Is he crazy enough to go atomic? The man has lived in virtual isolation since the start of the pandemic, and some pundits fear that his mind may be unraveling.

I doubt if Putin is demented enough to start a nuclear war. He has to know that his action would immediately trigger a reciprocal response from the US and other Western nuclear powers. Moscow, St. Petersburg and Russia’s industrial areas would lie in ruins, and the terrible onus would be on Putin alone.

Russia is a great but perpetually troubled land that freed itself from communist bondage only to fall prey to another autocrat. But here’s the upside to this whole tragic saga: Putin might push his people’s tolerance to the limit. His megalomania and repressive leadership, coupled with the heavy sanctions imposed by the West, might finally provoke a popular uprising that results in his abrupt removal from power, dead or alive.

But here’s our best hope: Putin’s downfall could spark rebellions against the spreading worldwide wave of autocratic leadership – the kind of leadership that always starts with populist appeal and culminates in tyranny. Let’s look forward to the day that the wiser nations wake up and discover that their strutting emperor has no clothes.

 

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

All material in The New Moderate is copyright 2007-2022, but feel free to post material from the site as long as you credit Rick Bayan as the author.

Where Do We Go from Here?

January 31, 2022

When I vaulted into the blogosphere nearly fifteen years ago, I was brimming with naïve middle-aged bravado. I’d fire the shot that would rouse America’s moderates from their slumber. I’d inflame them with righteous rhetoric like some latter-day Patrick Henry. I’d exhort them to do battle with the extremists to the left and right of us. Finally (and most importantly), we moderates would build a movement that would clear the way for common sense and fairness to dominate our politics. We might even win the more reasonable liberals and conservatives to our cause.

After some initial press coverage and supportive gestures from fellow moderate bloggers, The New Moderate flourished for a while, generated plenty of heat in the comments section, and satisfied my urge to spread moderation across the land. I was finally doing what I had expected to do after earning my master’s in journalism all those decades ago: writing my own brand of incisive, colorful, sometimes over-the-top political and cultural commentary in the shadow of my long-dead idol, H. L. Mencken.

Well, we all know how that turned out. Moderates are more marginalized and intimidated than ever, bullied into near-silence by sniffish wokesters and hard-boiled right-wingers alike. I’ve found it impossible to generate anything resembling a moderate consensus; we’re just too independent a breed to travel in a herd. No amen corners for us… no worshipful huzzahs for our standard-bearers. My readers can’t even agree on whether I’m too far left or too far right to qualify as a bona fide moderate.

So what is to be done, as Lenin famously asked during the birth of a different revolutionary era. My advice, for what it’s worth: de-escalate. The only way to deal with a dangerously politicized culture is to stop obsessing about politics and encourage others to do the same.

I’m sorry, but viruses, vaccines, guns, women’s bodies, perfectionism, grammar, the Oscars – even race and gender – have to stop splitting us along political lines. There’s nothing inherently political about any of the aforesaid issues.

I can remember when a “community” was simply a geographical place populated by neighbors from all walks of life. Today the word has come to mean a tribe of virtually interchangeable individuals “who look and think like us.” That has to stop. And we stop it by 1) shedding our tribal labels and 2) being neighborly enough to engage with people who DON’T look and think like us.

Just talk to them as one human to another: ordinary people with families, dreams, hardships, passions, regrets, humor, pet peeves and common interests. No labels, no clinging to “identity.” Simply talk, share your experiences, listen, and understand. Eventually the heat will dissipate, and just maybe we can be neighbors again.

Easier said than done? Most likely, but we simply can’t afford not to give it a try. 

Rick Bayan is founder-editor of The New Moderate. His brilliant, dark-humored (and inexplicably overlooked) essays are available in three e-books for the ridiculously low price of $2.99 each. They’re available on Amazon and wherever else e-books are sold. 

Another Divisive Year Bites the Dust

December 31, 2021

As 2020 was wheezing to its close a year ago, most of us were looking forward to a fresh start in 2021. You can hardly blame us. Between the killer coronavirus plague and the often-rancorous “racial reckoning” in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder-by-cop, we were emerging from just possibly the most hellacious year in recent American memory.

The prospects looked promising: a new, relatively normal presidential administration headed by an empathetic soul with a reputation for working across the aisle… the retirement of the most divisive and verbally reckless president in U.S. history… Covid vaccines rolling out to spare us from death, lockdowns and a perpetually masked way of life. What could go wrong?

American tribalism – that’s the simplest answer. On the right, three-quarters of Republicans believed (and still believe) that Trump was robbed of a second term, despite all evidence to the contrary. On January 6, hundreds of Trump loyalists stormed the Capitol in an attempt to disrupt the official vote count — while Trump himself reportedly enjoyed the spectacle on TV even after multiple conservative pundits privately begged him to stop the madness.

On the left, self-righteous wokesters turned positively Orwellian in their crusade to eradicate “wrongthink” from academia and the media alike. Dissenting renegades were reported to authorities, doxxed, disciplined and frequently expelled. Even corporations hopped on the bandwagon with compulsory “antiracism” training, comparable to the forced loyalty oaths of the McCarthy era.

Worst of all, the pandemic became politicized. Not only politicized, but tribalized. The personal freedom tribe went to war with the social responsibility tribe: refusing to get vaccinated… bristling at imposed lockdowns and safety mandates… screaming at baristas and flight attendants who asked them to mask up… clinging to wild theories that the Deep State was somehow conspiring to control their lives and (via the vaccine) their DNA.

Did The New Moderate stay moderate through all this insanity? Yes and no — I spent much of the year heaping infamy on the wretched excesses of the Trumpsters and wokesters alike. Like the dying (but still feisty) Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet, I felt like yelling “A plague on both your houses!” But I usually tried to temper my rage with reason.

For example, I’ll freely admit that Joe Biden hasn’t exactly wowed us during his first year in office. He’s been strangely invisible, at least compared to his predecessor. He botched our exit from Afghanistan, and his “Build Back Better” initiatives were far too sweeping to gain approval from both parties. But even the most astute president wouldn’t have been able to prevent the explosive crime waves in our cities, the creeping inflation, the surge of illegal immigrants at the southern border, and the prolonged, ever-evolving pandemic.

When several of my friends in the anti-Biden tribe started mocking the president’s mental faculties and calling for him to resign or be impeached, I politely reminded them who would succeed Biden if he stepped aside. (They might still revile the man, but I think they’ll be pulling for him to serve the rest of his term.)

I did battle with the wokesters, too. When my state rep announced on Facebook that he introduced a bill proclaiming Thanksgiving as “a day of mourning” for the native tribes who suffered at the hands of white colonists, I told him he was doing his best to drain the joy from one of America’s most beloved holidays. Again, I tried to restrain my outrage – although I did refer to the bill as “wokeness on steroids.”

What about my position on the pandemic? I had no choice but to cast my lot with the “social responsibility” tribe. I’d try to convince my anti-vaxxer friends that their personal freedom ends where it puts others in harm’s way. After all, the exercise of freedom can’t include the right to murder, steal, or – by refusing to take the necessary precautions — infect our fellow-humans with a deadly virus.

Did I convince those anti-vaxxer friends? Nope. They had to maintain their tribal solidarity above all else. Even if they caught the virus themselves or watched loved ones suffer and possibly die from it, I suspect they’d be hard-pressed to change their views.

That’s the raw power of tribalism in America today: like orthodox religions, our contemporary brand of tribalism is a matter of faith, emotion and collective loyalty. Reason, facts and individualism have no home in these tribes, and wayward thinkers must be excommunicated.

That rigid intolerance can work in our favor, believe it or not. As the extremists grow ever more extreme, they’ll be driving most of the remaining rational thinkers out of their ranks. Liberals like Bill Maher and John McWhorter have been denouncing the excesses of wokery, while sensible conservatives like George Will have distanced themselves from the Trump cult.

We moderates need to follow their lead and be fearless in disputing the irrational beliefs of wokesters and Trumpsters alike. (Retired renegades like me have nothing to lose; we can’t be dragged before the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee or canceled by GOP power brokers.) We have to stop the extremists from dominating the conversation. We have to stop them from bullying freethinkers. And we stop them by talking back to them without fear of the consequences.

Will we be called transphobic for insisting that biological males shouldn’t be allowed to compete in women’s sports? Sure. Will we be dubbed racist for criticizing rioters who loot and burn businesses? Of course. Will conservative friends call us socialists for defending the environment, supporting subsidized healthcare, or knocking CEOs who earn 500 times more than their secretaries? Most likely. Will they turn on us when we blame anti-vaxxers for prolonging the pandemic? Possibly, but not our best friends.

During crazy times, the standard derogatory epithets have lost their punch. We independent thinkers need to see through the craziness and be unafraid to speak up. That doesn’t mean we oppose wokeness by turning racist, or that we clobber Republicans simply because they might have voted for Trump. It means we plant our feet in the center and aggressively defend our ground.

We won’t win any converts by mocking the people who hold extremist beliefs; that strategy only raises their hackles and reinforces their tribal bond. Besides, it’s dehumanizing. I still believe we should treat our ideological opponents with respect. We just don’t have to respect their ideas.

We probably won’t change the extremists’ hardwired biases. But if enough of us raise our voices fearlessly without resorting to ridicule, we might help the extremists see just how extreme they are. Better yet, we might be able to engage them in a rational conversation and talk them back down to earth with the rest of us. That can only be a good thing — and besides, we moderates could use the company. At the end of another crazy year, it feels lonelier than ever in the middle. 

Rick Bayan is founder-editor of The New Moderate. His three brilliant (but inexplicably overlooked) collections of dark-humored essays are available in e-book form on Amazon and elsewhere for the ridiculously low price of $2.99 each.

 

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.

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