The New Moderate’s 2017 Vigilance List
What do America’s moderates have to worry about? More than ever, naturally. I’ve been updating this list each year to reflect our current jitters, and 2017 should be more jitter-inducing than most. It’s a long list, so feel free to take a break for food or therapy. Ready? Fasten your seat belts!
- A rogue presidential administration. Trump snatched his unlikely victory by exploiting the fears and resentments of Middle Americans. Our first social media president, he can be refreshingly blunt and irreverent. But he’s also divisive, crude, erratic, shamelessly mendacious and recklessly ignorant. A fake populist, he promptly surrounded himself with a pack of plutocrats who must be cackling at the poor dupes who put their team in power. Trump is a flaming narcissist accustomed to running his businesses by fiat, and it shows. He’s railed against the press, issued combative executive orders, alienated allies and cozied up to Putin’s Russia. (The degree of coziness remains to be revealed.) Trump seems determined to favor our business class above everyone else, even if it means ravaging the environment, rolling back social safety nets and stomping on the arts. He’s not Hitler, and he’s not even an ideologue, but there’s nothing remotely moderate about the man. Remedy: Protest the administration’s offenses, join the resistance if you must, but don’t lose your mind. Watch the circus, take restorative walks in nature and wait until 2020 (or until Congress wearies of Trump’s antics and gives him the hook).
- 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 nations. Moderates are the last vestige of objectivity in this sorry spectacle– 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 the hard work of building bridges between the warring factions. Advice to non-moderates: Try to understand the other guy’s perspective. You don’t have to agree; just understand. Don’t borrow your opinions from glib internet memes and biased “amen corners.”
- Rampant identity politics and PC. Tribal loyalties have trumped loyalty to country. Every group with a grievance is putting its own interests front and center. Political correctness has crossed the line from a reasonable concern over offending minorities to an almost pathological obsession with white privilege and the punishment of “microaggressions.” Guess what: Now whites are painfully conscious of their whiteness, and millions of them are bonding together as another angry special-interest group. (Nice work, progressives.) 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?) Do we like pizza, baseball, Louis Armstrong? Great. That’s a start.
- Worldwide environmental devastation. This shouldn’t be a political issue, but somehow it is. Trump and his henchpeople would like nothing more than to abolish environmental regulations, so they willfully deny the obvious evidence. Climate change denialists, take note: 16 of the hottest 17 years on record have occurred since 2000. The only question is how much of the change is caused by human activity. Whether it’s 25, 50 or 75 percent, we need to take prompt action unless we’d like to see massive crop failures, extensive lowland flooding and seaports that look like Venice. Meanwhile, the world has lost half of its nonhuman animal population since 1970. Developing nations account for much of the destruction when they convert forest to farmland. As they aspire to middle-class status, they’ll be fighting for use of the Earth’s limited resources and driving endangered species to extinction. 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. And it’s high time that Asian scientists proved the worthlessness of folk medicines derived from endangered species.
- The immigrant/refugee crisis. Legal immigrants are fine. Moderate Muslims are fine. Illegal immigrants and militant Islamists are not fine. Why is this so hard to understand? We can’t simply close our borders – or open them to unrestricted immigration; there has to be a sane limit. The rise of American “sanctuary cities” that protect criminal illegal immigrants is the epitome of misguided liberalism. The U.S. and Europe can’t accommodate all the world’s desperate humans. Meanwhile, our rich petro-pals on the Persian Gulf haven’t lifted a finger to help their fellow Muslims. Remedy: A thorny issue with no satisfactory solutions. For now: offer temporary shelter visas for Muslim war refugees and use leverage to force Arab states to accept more of them… impose limits on permanent immigration, enforce them without building walls, and (in the U.S.) make English our official language to encourage assimilation.
- Islamic jihad and other forms of terrorism. Terrorists come in all colors and persuasions, but militant Islamists (ISIS, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram et al.) still take top honors in this department. We can’t coexist peacefully with people who believe that God has called upon them to destroy us. Moderate Muslims aren’t succeeding in stifling the jihadists, and the West can’t constantly police the world. Remedy: A massive reformation within Islam to bring it into the 21st century, or at least the 17th or 18th. The bloodcurdling excesses of the terrorists could (and should) trigger such a movement among the majority of decent Muslims.
- Right-wing militancy. Yes, this is now a thing. The movement that started among disaffected Obamaphobes has gathered steam with the election of Trump and the inclusion of some choice far-right nutjobs in his inner circle. Now a motley coalition of gun zealots, crypto-Confederates, white supremacists, xenophobes and defiantly un-Christlike Christians has been making trouble for members of racial, ethnic and religious minorities. It ain’t Sarah Palin’s Tea Party anymore. Remedy: Avoid taunting the denizens of the far right and mocking their ignorance; it only inflames them. I know this will be painful for some, but the “nice doggie” approach might be the only way to subdue them. Of course, we still need to prosecute the hell out of them when they actually commit hate crimes.
- 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 now firmly in charge of our government, our finances and ultimately our lives. The plutocracy is more entrenched than ever despite Trump’s promise to “drain the swamp” and return power to ordinary Americans. Most of our elected representatives are 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 corporate subsidies and tax loopholes, impose 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.
- Online amen corners and fake news. Far 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 isn’t entirely off base about fake news, although of course he blames relatively reliable mainstream media that criticize him.) The comments sections are even worse: echo chambers for opinions that grow ever louder and more extreme as the choir cheers them on. Remedy: Try to fact-check the juicier items before you post them, and don’t restrict your reading to your political home turf. Make an effort to discover moderate and unbiased news sources. (Hey, you’ve already found one!)
- 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 without work, 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 (or marijuana) to rich technocrats.
- Racial animosity. White-bashing has become normalized; nonwhite activists control the dialogue regarding who’s racist (i.e., most whites) and who isn’t (i.e., nonwhites who hate whites). Now white racists emboldened by the Trump revolution are returning the nastiness. Online message boards often teem with vile racial vitriol from both sides. Double standards abound: blacks get roughed up by police and incarcerated more often than whites for the same offenses; on the other hand, blacks are allowed (even encouraged) to criticize whites, while it’s still taboo in polite society for whites to criticize blacks. Sometimes I wonder if we’ll ever be able to coexist amicably. Remedy: Make an effort to see members of other races as individuals instead of symbols. Even better, make friends with them.
- American gun culture. Let’s face it: America is a trigger-happy country. The NRA, police, white militias, inner-city gangsters, Second Amendment diehards, lone-wolf lunatics – all seem to revel in the power conferred by lethal weaponry. And their zeal naturally translates to horrific gun fatality statistics. Despite the bloodshed, the NRA crowd still screams whenever anyone mentions tightening access to guns through more extensive background checks. 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 — especially semi-automatic clips whose only purpose is to dispatch dozens of victims as quickly as possible. As for our police, it’s time they found and used effective non-lethal weapons for stopping unarmed criminal suspects.
- Trump derangement syndrome. To say that the left has overreacted to Trump is like saying that Niagara Falls runs downhill. Granted, Trump is a turkey, and the social justice warriors are entitled to resist a rogue president, but let’s be honest: they’ve been even more divisive than Orangeman himself. The Trump opposition has forged a cohesive sub-nation that despises Middle America and uncritically celebrates all the causes favored by elite leftists and their allies. I can already predict the inevitable post-Trumpian backlash, and it won’t be pretty. (Heterosexual white Christian males might want to go into hiding.) Remedy: Try to convince your progressive friends that Trump voters are bona fide humans who simply disagree with them on certain issues (well, most issues) – and that it shouldn’t be taboo to express opinions that dissent from progressive scripture.
- Cultural degeneracy. When did Western culture become an exercise in pushing the proverbial envelope? 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. Do I sound like an alarmist? You bet. 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. Still, if you have standards, don’t surrender them!
- The politicization of EVERYTHING. Art, literature, music, gender, race, families, religion, sexuality, immigration, 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.
Rick Bayan is founder-editor of The New Moderate and author of the recently published Lifestyles of the Doomed, available wherever e-books are sold.