The New Moderate’s 2015 Vigilance List
What do we moderates have to worry about? More than ever, unfortunately. The extremists with the loudest voices are currently battling it out to see which of them hijacks the communal bus. Both sides have been grabbing at the steering wheel, and they’ll drive us over the nearest cliff unless we moderates can raise our voices and seize that wheel.
I’ve been updating the Vigilance List each year to reflect our current jitters. Some items may have moved up or down the rankings or dropped off entirely; others are still glaring at us, unimproved and unrelenting. If you’ve read these lists before, you’ll notice a couple of ominous newcomers, too. This year’s list has grown from 16 items to 19. After all, 2014 was a pretty ominous year, and 2015 is already off to a rough start.
Anyway, if you have the inner fortitude, brace yourself and read our latest list of concerns, in numerical order — complete with last year’s ranking for comparison. It’s a personal list, of course, but I hope it’s an instructive one. And bear in mind that most of these items should be worrisome to you even if you’re not a moderate.
1. Terrorism. (Formerly “Militant Islam,” #14 last year) Yes, militant Islam is still a dire threat to civilization, and I don’t intend to conceal that fact. But it occurred to me this past year that terrorism takes a multitude of forms, and that it’s now a more destructive force than anything else on this list. Terrorists come in all shapes, sizes and colors: we saw that a rogue regime like North Korea could, if given the opportunity, could wreak widespread havoc via the Internet. We saw psychotic lone-wolf terrorists and groups of fanatical terrorists take hostages and slaughter innocent citizens. Terrorists can target prominent individuals who have offended their delicate sensibilities; witness the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris. Drug cartels like the ones in Latin America commit mass murder and go unpunished. And of course, the military branch of worldwide Islam is more militant than ever, spreading terror across Syria and northern Iraq, chopping off heads and threatening to establish a new caliphate. Let’s face it: we now live in what future historians will surely call the Age of Terror. Trend: Picking up momentum as I write this. Remedy: Intensive propaganda to stop terrorists from gathering young recruits. Zero tolerance for any terrorist group or individual, no matter how sympathetic their motives may appear to some misguided souls. And probably most potent of all: the outrage generated by the deadly acts of the terrorists themselves, especially when their over-the-top atrocities shock anyone with a shred of human decency. I was hoping that the appalling school massacre in Pakistan would turn the tide of sentiment against terror, even among Islamists. Perhaps it awakened several million souls to the carnage committed in the name of the Prophet, even if tens of millions more still cheer for their team.
2. Racial animosity. (Last year: #4) I used to refer to it as “racial tension,” but key events during the past year have boosted it to a higher and more ominous pitch. The killing of “unarmed black teenager” (almost a cliché by now) Michael Brown unleashed a months-long orgy of racial invective unlike anything I’ve seen since the late 1960s. Mainstream news coverage didn’t help; CNN fueled the flames with its incessant one-sided coverage, and the Internet blazed with even more extremist rhetoric from nutjobs on both sides. Here’s the rub: it was easy to get the impression that young black males are the exclusive victims of white cops, when in fact black cops are more likely than white cops (per capita) to kill black suspects. Surprised? And blacks aren’t the only ones being gunned down. The same week that Michael Brown met his maker, a 20-year-old white youth was fatally shot by a cop in Utah. The difference (aside from the glaring disparity in coverage)? Michael Brown most likely assaulted the officer who shot him; the white kid in Utah was wearing headphones and didn’t hear the policeman’s order to stop. And yet the latter killing was deemed less newsworthy than the former, which generated at least a thousand times more outrage. Yes, more black youths than white youths are shot by police, but more black youths than white youths commit violent crime, and a greater percentage of them resist arrest. The reality, according to statistics, is that whites are about 14 times more likely to be killed by a black person than vice versa. As an embattled moderate, I’m afraid I reached my limit as I had to read about the “genocide” perpetrated against young black males by the white establishment. Please. If you want to hear about a real genocide, talk to an Armenian. Trend: Just simmering now until the next high-profile white-on-black killing (and they’re all high profile, of course). Remedy: Beware of those who cherry-pick events to push their agenda; this is how false narratives are born (see #5). Any discussion of race in America must be a two-way street from now on. Whites can no longer be expected to simply shut up and take the heat, and left-leaning black intellectuals need to stop constructing elaborate defenses of their often virulent animosity toward whites. That said, cops need to be trained to engage more constructively with black communities and use lethal force only as a last resort (see #17).
3. Plutocracy. (Last year: #2) I’ve said it before, and unfortunately I’ll have to say it again: the United States is a nominally democratic republic currently ruled by a small, self-entitled, self-perpetuating elite based in Wall Street and K Street (home to Washington’s lobbyist community). The Supreme Court’s inexcusable Citizens United decision (sorry, money is NOT a form of speech!) gave powerful corporations and plutocrats carte blanche to elect and bribe their favorite politicians. The U.S. Congress today is a sorry farce, a collection of overambitious hacks bought and paid for by big-money interests at both ends of the political spectrum. Trend: Approaching a stranglehold. Remedy: Decisive action in the form of a new Constitutional amendment to drive money out of American politics once and for all. If that fails, concerned Americans need to call for a new Constitutional Convention. (Yes, it’s legal). Think of it as Revolution Lite. Here’s a cause that can unite righteous liberals and conservatives in newfound fellowship. Let’s give it a shot.
4. Factionalism. (Last year: #1) Our own deeply divided government is a culprit, of course; I can’t recall a time when we had a more fractious, partisan, obstructionist mentality pervading Congress and even the Supreme Court. But increasingly the discord is being driven by our mass media — and especially the countless “amen corners” on the Internet. Now it’s possible for partisans to read only the cherry-picked news and opinion that reinforces and inflames their own prejudices, and the rabid message board commentary following each piece fuels even more extreme extremism with war-whoops and huzzahs. Of course, the most outrageously distorted opinions generally attract the most “likes.” Trend: Still surging. Too many politically engaged Americans have grown deaf to any argument that contradicts the received wisdom (see #5). Remedy: We need more outspoken moderates in politics and the media — moderates with the power to provoke as well as reconcile our hidebound partisans. And of course, we also need concerned moderate citizens to help stop the madness. Finally, we need to focus on causes everyone can embrace — like driving money out of politics (see #3).
5. Sacred narratives. (New this year.) During the prolonged fallout from the Michael Brown shooting, it dawned on me that the partisans among us — even the nonreligious partisans — cherish their sacred narratives with a fervor bordering on religious fanaticism. These narratives are inviolable and impervious to the intrusion of mere facts. For example, it didn’t matter that Brown most likely assaulted officer Darren Wilson before he was gunned down. No, all that mattered was that an “unarmed black teenager” was killed by a white cop. Narrative intact. Anyone who dares to contradict the narrative is denounced as an infidel or worse. Black activists and their apologists, radical feminists, tea partiers, socialists, dogmatic “trickle-down” capitalists — all of them lean upon their faith-based narratives like the zealots they are. Trend: Emerging as the prevailing means of public discourse, unfortunately. Remedy: Confront the narrative-weavers with simple facts. If that doesn’t work, build your own narrative based on observable truth, and try to spread it around.
6. Political correctness. (Last year: #16) A great leap upward this year. More than ever, it became evident that we now risk losing friends and jobs for daring to state unfashionable beliefs in public. The raw sensitivities of humorless special-interest “communities” are stifling our freedom of speech — even our freedom of thought. (“Gee, all my friends believe X, so I must be evil for believing Y.”) Trend: On the rise as special-interest groups increasingly dominate the conversation. Remedy: Dare to speak freely but without malice. If you can’t afford to speak freely, don’t be intimidated into shedding your private opinions.
7. Potential class warfare. (Last year: #6) Are we turning into a nation of lords and serfs? The old American class system with its nearly invisible boundaries is splitting into more clearly defined upper and lower castes as mid-status jobs continue to trickle away. Downward mobility is already becoming a way of life for most of us, thanks to corporate non-hiring and the various schemes used by “big money” to siphon wealth upward. It used to be, not too long ago, that the typical CEO earned 12 to 20 times as much as the average worker; now the ratio is more like 300 to 1, and nobody is doing anything about it. Trend: Still simmering, with the potential to reach a full boil. Remedy: The banishing of big-money interests from government (see #3), along with federally-imposed financial reforms that would restore the more equitable society of the mid-to-late 20th century: greater regulation of Wall Street and higher (but not punitive) taxes on the rich, plus elimination of most tax shelters and loopholes. And once again, creation of quality jobs for Americans by the increasingly global corporate establishment.
8. The nonexistent “moderate culture.” (New this year) Think about it: if you lean left, you can read your Daily Kos, watch Jon Stewart, take part in demonstrations for your pet causes, shop at the local co-op, join an artists’ collective and sip California wines in the company of your posh lefty friends. If you lean right, you can watch Fox News, rage against Obama on a dittohead message board, buy the latest tome by Ann Coulter or Bill O’Reilly, move to the suburbs and enjoy the annual Super Bowl party with your Republican friends. Where do moderates go for fun, spiritual uplift and the company of like-minded cronies? Practically nowhere. And yet there are so many of us; it defies belief that we’re social and intellectual outcasts. Not only does it defy belief, but in an increasingly polarized society, it’s now essential for those of us in the middle to turn our barren no-man’s-land into an attractive haven for legions of reasonable folks like us. What would a moderate culture look like? It’s hard to say, but it can’t be any sillier than the cultures of the left and right.Trend: Nothing happening. Other than a few stubbornly moderate websites, the middle appears to be a vast vacuum. Even moderately priced cars (Oldsmobile, Pontiac) and moderately priced stores (Sears, Penney’s) are dead or dying as we speak. Formerly moderate CNN apparently had to start skewing left to keep its ratings from sliding down the chute. Moderate magazines? Forget it. Remedy: As moderates, we need to do more than simply react against the extremes. We know what we’re against, but what are we for? Fairness, common sense, a bias toward objective facts rather than hidebound narratives? Fine. Now let’s build a culture around those principles.
9. The “Great Demographic Shift.” (Last year: #7) It ain’t Ward Cleaver’s America any more. People of color now account for more than 50 percent of U.S. births. This shift is more than cosmetic; while many blacks and Latinos are finding their way into the middle class, many more of them simply aren’t. School dropout rates and community social problems will doom a hefty percentage of these new babies to poverty. At the other end of the age spectrum, Americans are living longer than ever and will require decades of Social Security and subsidized medical care to get by (especially since the business establishment hires virtually nobody over 50). How will a shrinking middle class support all these needy Americans and still provide enough funds to maintain our infrastructure? Trend: An unstoppable train. Remedy: Anything I suggest would sound like eugenics, so I’d simply encourage middle-class and wealthy Americans to procreate more freely. (Hey, it’s fun!) But I’d also recommend higher taxes on the rich (they’re practically at historic lows) and drastic cuts in foreign aid and military spending to open up resources for urgent domestic needs.
10. Environmental destruction. (Last year: #11) I saw an alarming statistic this past year: since 1970, the world has lost one-half of its animal population (nonhuman animals, that is — and insects appear to be doing just fine). Americans tend to overlook the ongoing destruction of remote wildlife habitats because most of it is taking place far from our back yards. Developing tropical nations like Indonesia and Brazil account for much of the destruction as they convert forest to farmland. East Asian nations like China, Japan and Thailand must be held accountable for the wanton poaching of critically endangered wildlife. And all rapidly developing nations are sending more greenhouse gases into the already overheated atmosphere. Finally, as more Third World nations aspire to middle-class status, they’ll be fighting us for use of the Earth’s limited resources. Eventually we’ll realize that we’ve ransacked a wondrous planet, but by then it will be too late to do anything about it. (And we’re not equipped to start colonizing distant planets just yet.) Trend: Increasing, with no end in sight. Remedy: We need to work with other governments toward establishing and enforcing sensible environmental regulations, because the Earth belongs to all of us. Poachers deserve to be shot on sight, and for God’s sake, it’s time for prominent Asian scientists to perform and publish experiments demonstrating the worthlessness of folk medicines derived from endangered creatures.
11. Perpetual low-grade recession. (Last year: #3). Yes, this one has dropped from #1 to #3 and now all the way down to double digits, and I’ve re-dubbed it a “low-grade” recession. Not that our economy has been rebounding with much vigor. The wealth isn’t spreading, the good jobs aren’t opening up, and I’ve simply come to accept our current doldrums as the “new normal.” Meanwhile, corporations are still exporting jobs with impunity and too many Americans are sinking deeper into debt and dejection. At least the stock market has been chugging forward, but that’s small comfort to the growing underclass who can’t afford stocks — and an untimely blip of bad news could send everything crashing again. Companies today focus more on beating the next quarterly forecast than on the needs of their own people. At this point we might just be witnessing the American future: prosperity for the few, unending financial woes for everyone else. Trend: Unemployment is down, but quality employment isn’t up. Uncertainty and lowered expectations have robbed the American economy of its vigor. Remedy: More hiring of Americans by corporations currently sitting atop piles of cash… NOW, not later. Fear not, capitalists: give enough Americans decent jobs, and the money will trickle back up in the form of healthy consumer spending.
12. “Community”-based allegiance. (Last year: #10) It used to be that nearly all Americans identified as Americans, plain and simple. Yes, we came from a multitude of backgrounds, and we honored our ancestors, but our allegiance to the Stars and Stripes trumped everything else. It also used to be that a community was the place where you lived. You made your home in your community and enjoyed the cozy feeling of belonging there. No longer: now we’ve splintered into a motley assemblage of special-identity “communities” based on race, politics, gender, religion and sexual orientation. We identify primarily with our group and its interests, which are generally one-sided, frequently narcissistic and increasingly oblivious to the fact that all of us are Americans. We need to call out this phenomenon for what it is: primitive tribalism masquerading as cutting-edge identity politics. Trend: Not going away. Remedy: An invasion from space would bring us together in a hurry, but short of that, we simply need to think more about our common humanity and values. Favor the uniters, not the dividers.
13. The “disruptive” side of the Internet. (Last year: #9) Not only are Web giants like Amazon driving whole industries to extinction, but compulsive hackers are distributing copyrighted properties, stealing personal information and taking it upon themselves to release government secrets. (What if a hacker had been able to release our D-Day plans back in 1944?) Now rogue governments like North Korea are getting into the act, which means that terrorists might not be far behind. On top of that, we have to deal with the Orwellian Big Brotherism of Internet entities that know far too much about us. That’s not to say we’d be better off without the Internet (What would become of The New Moderate?), but I see an emerging culture of disruption, chaos and intrusiveness that needs to be tamed. Trend: Picking up momentum almost as rapidly as the technology behind it; the only reason I’ve demoted it is that we have so many more pressing issues on our plate this year. Remedy: We need to spend more time in the real world: shopping at actual stores, visiting friends and fighting for an honest government that won’t provoke mischief by self-appointed whistleblowers. Finally, a word to the wise: back up your data!
14. Cultural degeneracy. (Last year: #17) When did 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 decadent culture that worships all the most loathsome and idiotic ideals. Do I believe in having fun? Absolutely. (This isn’t The New Puritan, after all.) But we also need to restore respect and affection for the nobler virtues, or we’ll crumble, as the Romans did, from internal and external assaults that we’re too weak to withstand. Do I sound like an alarmist? You bet. Trend: Still spreading like a virus, especially as mainstream pop culture increasingly celebrates our nastiest instincts. Remedy: Beats me. Sometimes I think Western civilization at its apex was simply too demanding and rarefied for our species to maintain for any length of time. We’re slowly reverting to our simian roots, which may be lamentable but probably suits our natures. Still, if you have standards, don’t surrender them!
15. The “screw the other guy” mentality. (Last year: #5) We’re looking at an essentially (though not exclusively) American character flaw, and it ain’t pretty. We’re so obsessed with success, and so terrified of losing, that — for many of us, at least — it’s no longer enough to succeed; others must be crushed. Examples: short-selling investors who love sticking it to the faithful “bag-holders.” Latter-day Scrooges who expect minimum-wage workers to be content with a life of poverty. Penny stock peddlers who ride a wave of euphoria every time they swindle a hapless client. And yes, politicians and their staffers, so intoxicated by their own power that they go out of their way to thwart and humiliate less powerful rivals. This is bullying, plain and simple, and the same ugliness has gone rampant in online culture. Trend: Still a pervasive problem, but not worth the “top 5” billing I gave it last year. Remedy: A healthy dose of Judeo-Christian morality or, lacking that, a swift kick in the pants. We probably need more aggressive social and legal measures for punishing bullies and cheats, though we need to draw the line when it comes to sexual harassment charges against 6-year-olds.
16. Illegal immigrants. (Last year: #15) The mass incursion of undocumented Hispanic immigrants through our southern border appears to have slowed to a relative trickle, but the question remains: what happens to the 10-20 million illegals who have already settled here? Given the disparity in birth rates between the native-born and Hispanic immigrant populations, the U.S. could increasingly take on the attributes of a Latin American nation. That means a less-educated populace and an ever-widening gap between rich and poor, with the added element of cultural friction between Anglos and Latinos. (On the plus side, at least we might get into the salubrious habit of taking siestas.) Trend: The number of new illegal immigrants has declined, but their population within the U.S. continues to grow at a rapid clip. And we still have no clear-cut policy for dealing with them. Remedy: Make the U.S. less appealing as a destination for illegal immigration. And, as President Obama has proclaimed (though he shouldn’t have done so by fiat), provide a pathway to citizenship for the children of illegals who have behaved blamelessly and who express a desire for higher education.
17. Police brutality. (New this year.) Sure, cops have a dangerous job, and they have to deal with society’s low-lifes on a daily basis. They put their own lives on the line, and in the wake of the much-publicized shootings of 2014, they make tempting targets for deranged cop-haters. Any cop with an inner-city beat is instinctively primed for life-or-death confrontations, and the prevailing “no snitching” culture makes their job even more difficult. But (and it’s a big “but”) they also need to be seen as a positive force in their communities. There are too many trigger-happy cops who use lethal force to stop suspects who simply resist arrest. Too many cops who routinely harass ordinary ghetto-dwellers for “walking while black.” Too many needless clubbings and chokeholds. When there’s a disturbance, they swoop in like an army of occupation. This isn’t the sort of behavior that builds trust. Trend: Ratcheting up due to increased hostility on both sides. Remedy: Police need to engage themselves more deeply with their communities… get to know the locals as individuals if they can… be ever-vigilant but not aggressive… define themselves as protectors rather than hired thugs. If all goes well, the residents of these neighborhoods might open up to their local cops instead of shutting them out, and that would be a good thing for everyone.
18. The federal deficit. (Last year: #13) Yes, it’s always there… but nothing new or alarming popped up in the past year. Still, nobody is doing anything about the underlying problem: the government is spending more than it’s taking in. (Greece, anybody?) Where will the money come from when we’re already in hock up to our national armpits? Trend: Not going away. Remedy: Here’s a start: slash military spending and foreign aid. Dramatically. The government would also be wise to start trimming those plush federal pensions, beginning with members of the House and Senate. The IRS needs to busy itself collecting a fair share of taxes from huge corporations and the super-rich. No loopholes. Stop state-sponsored corporate welfare in the form of bailouts and subsidies. No compromises.
19. Perpetual war and other foreign entanglements. (Last year: #14) Our futile war in godforsaken Afghanistan is finally a closed book. But have we learned our lesson? Can we ever again justify risking American lives in dead-end conflicts? Could an insurgent ISIS draw us into yet another Middle East bloodbath? We still haven’t learned that guerrilla fighters never surrender; they have no infrastructure to bomb and no capital to occupy, so we’d have to gun them down to the last man. We don’t want to be isolationist, but the United States simply can’t control and fine-tune all world events to its specifications. Trend: Easing up, but without any underlying shift in American foreign policy. Remedy: A foreign policy that shuns Neocon interventionism for rational vigilance, with an occasional drone strike to keep our enemies off balance.
That’s my list for 2015, and it should be more than enough to keep us all knotted up with anxiety for the next year. Feel free to take issue with any of my choices and/or add your own, of course. I’d like to hear from you.
Rick Bayan is founder-editor of The New Moderate.