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America’s Mass Shooting Madness Deconstructed

August 13, 2019

America, we have a problem. Too many of our citizens have been releasing their pent-up furies by gunning down multiple strangers in public places. Just as alarmingly, these warped souls favor weapons specifically designed to gun down multiple strangers —20, 40, 60 or 100 fellow humans in as many seconds.

When three deranged mass shooters murdered 34 Americans within the space of a week earlier this month, we all started clucking at one another. As usual, our social media went haywire. (I can personally vouch for this, having triggered a Facebook firestorm that eventually gathered over a hundred comments.)

Who was to blame for our gun sickness? How would we solve it? Were guns themselves the problem, or could we point to the bubbling anger and fear that grip so much of America these days? How about the white supremacists, whose presence seems to be looming larger on the national landscape? Could we just blame the crazies among us? Or could it be something else, like the splitting of our country into progressive urban elitists and proletarian white reactionaries – two myopic and mutually hostile tribes? (Aren’t elitists supposed to be conservative while proletarians are socialist? Not in America!)

Of course, Trump emerged as a prime suspect, having allegedly incited the El Paso killer with his anti-Mexican rhetoric. Just a few weeks earlier, he had been skewered by the left for his “racist” putdown of the “Squad” – the four young Democratic Congresswomen who had been shifting their party’s goalposts sharply leftward. (Polite society apparently deems it racist if white people criticize individual people of color for any reason – Bill Cosby and a few other reprobates excepted.)

Trump knows how to rouse his base and alienate everyone else; he’s our divider-in-chief. The president might or might not be a racist himself, but he’s notorious for his “dog whistles” – those ill-disguised appeals to the racial resentments of working-class whites – especially the menfolk — who feel as if they’re being displaced and disrespected. If blacks, Latinos, gays and women can engage in strident identity politics, disparaging white males as perennial oppressors, it makes sense that some of those devalued white males would respond with identity politics of their own.

And yet… relatively few American mass shootings seem to be motivated by white supremacist politics, even if most of the shooters are white. In fact, the Dayton shooter was a leftist who endorsed Elizabeth Warren. (Did anyone blame her for inciting his rampage?) More typically, the Gilroy Garlic Festival shooter simply announced that he was “really angry” as he shot random strangers before being cut down by the police.

What about those brutal “assault weapons,” then? Semi-automatic handguns and rifles — those with the capacity to fire a dozen, two dozen or more shots without reloading — have accounted for 24 of the 25 deadliest U.S. mass shootings over the past 70 years. And yet they’re perfectly legal and easily obtained. Even Walmart sells them.

Righteous liberals and moderates have called for semi-automatics to be banned or even confiscated. The latter scheme worked in Australia, where gun deaths promptly plummeted. (Of course, the U.S. isn’t Australia; half our population seems to venerate guns as if they were stone idols.)

It’s too late to confiscate semi-automatics on these shores. Guns actually outnumber people in our ever-rambunctious republic — and at least half those guns are semi-automatics. We can’t seize them (or even ban sales of new ones) without the possibility of triggering a right-wing insurrection, so I’m convinced we should try a third option: ban private ownership of magazines that hold more than six rounds of ammunition. Seems sensible, right? Does anyone not intent on mass murder really need 100 rounds to bring down a pheasant or an armed robber?

Of course, the National Rifle Association has no intention of letting our legislators create bothersome obstacles to gun ownership, even though NRA members overwhelmingly support stricter gun laws. As long as so many of our elected representatives are sponsored by the gun lobby, it looks as if “thoughts and prayers” will have to suffice –- at least until the American people resolve to drive the lobbyists out of Washington.

What about all the madmen lurking among us? Aren’t they the problem? We rarely confine them to institutions these days, so they’re free to express their florid revenge fantasies by acting them out in public.

But here’s the rub: every country has its share of mental illness, yet the U.S. leads all “developed” nations in gun deaths by a whopping margin. Are mentally ill Americans crazier than mentally ill Europeans or East Asians? Probably not, but they have easier access to guns.

Seventeen states have passed some form of “red flag” laws designed to separate mentally ill people from firearms, at least while they’re judged to pose a threat. That means 33 states have no laws on the books regulating gun ownership among unstable individuals.

Opponents of such laws cite the unfairness of punishing anyone for potential crimes, and in fact, only a small minority of mass shooters are clinically insane. Angry, yes. Maladjusted, certainly. But do we really want to enact laws that isolate and discriminate against neurotics? Tough call.

Let’s round up some other suspects behind our mass-shooting epidemic. For one, Americans still worship success. American men, especially, are pressured to win big, and those who fall short can ferment in their frustration until they snap. (This isn’t a problem in more egalitarian cultures.)

We’re also a culture that worships fame; celebrities are our royalty. Any nitwit with a semi-automatic and a grudge can immortalize his name by mowing down multiple people in an orgy of gunfire.

Bullying looms large among younger shooters as a rampage motivator. “I’ll show them!” cries the poor ungainly nerd whose self-esteem has been shredded by his tormentors. And show them he does, even if he picks out his victims at random. Even if it costs him his life.

And let’s not forget the copycat factor, which probably played a role in the three successive mass shootings earlier this month. Someone on the brink of disintegration hears about a gun massacre, and an evil bulb flashes inside his seething brain.

Finally, we can always blame the media, certainly among the most polarizing influences in our dangerously polarized culture. Partisan TV networks, websites and radio stations are in the business of creating tribes; they crank out slanted stories guaranteed to raise the hackles of the faithful and confirm their belief that the other tribe embodies pure evil.

Regardless of whether Trump deserves his nightly pummeling on CNN and MSNBC, agenda-driven news is a destructive force; its purpose is to generate anger and division as well as tribal loyalty. It might not be fake news, but it’s willfully distorted news that cherry-picks the stories and angles most likely to inflame its chosen audience.

I can almost believe that the Russians have been infiltrating our media to divide us and drive us mad –- all the better to destroy American civilization and win Cold War II. But let’s face it: we’re already an angry nation –-  an angry nation with tons of guns and millions of alienated souls. If we keep encouraging anger and division, we have only ourselves to blame when some of our more volatile citizens lash out in deadly public rampages.

 

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

Reflections on 10 Years of High Hopes and Vexations

July 8, 2019

Ten years ago this month, I wrote my first column for The New Moderate and sent it into cyberspace. Its title: Independents Day!

I had actually launched The New Moderate two years earlier as a series of fictional three-way conversations on important topics, featuring a cranky conservative, a sniffish progressive, and the eminently sensible New Moderate. These whimsical pieces were fun to write (and you can still read them today), but by mid-2009 I was ready to do serious battle with the hobgoblins on the right and left – those malign forces that were tearing the country apart with their biases, distortions and sinister genius for creating discord.

Fed up with the stereotypical image of moderates as political milquetoasts, I channeled my inner Patrick Henry and deliberately dramatized the revolutionary potential of a movement based on fairness, balance and common sense. I fired my first salvo and hoped I’d reshape the political landscape. (Doesn’t every political blogger set out to change the world?)

My inaugural column set the tone that I hoped would attract legions of like-minded political misfits who couldn’t identify with either end of the political spectrum:

“Today marks the beginning of our quiet moderate revolution — a long-needed movement that will forever erase the image of moderates as timid, noncommittal nonthinkers who shy away from controversy. Jump into the fray with your own comments… trade opinions with other independent thinkers… and help make the world safe for commonsense ideas that serve the common good. Ideologies are for people who can’t think for themselves. We can do better.”

My New Moderate mission statement, another salvo filled with defiance, hope and high purpose, took the fight even further:

“We moderates are no longer a featureless midpoint between the extremes of right and left. We’re a movement about to be born. If we succeed, we can stop the domination of America by extremist ideologues of both camps — without silencing their voices…

The right and left thrive on their knack for distorting the truth to serve their partisan agendas. Unfortunately, this manipulative strategy works for them: they draw countless disciples to their ranks. But we moderates can do better… let me rephrase that: we need to do better. Desperately. Now. …

Eventually our moderate movement will gather the momentum we need to turn it into a political force. We could even be breaking ground for the creation of a sane, much-needed, long-overdue third party in American politics!

The excesses of the right and left have shown us that special-interest agendas no longer serve the wider interests of the people. The time is right for moderates to make their mark. Not the timid old moderate of popular stereotype, but the fiery NEW MODERATE who can no longer stand to see the truth distorted by self-serving extremist visions.

We’re opinionated, we’re impassioned, we’re ready and willing to break taboos in our drive to make truth and sanity prevail. So take heart, all you embattled moderates: the middle is about to strike back. Let the rebellion start here.”

Today I look back on my rousing call to action with a sad smile. How empowering it felt to launch a righteous movement! And how sobering to realize that today, ten years later, moderates are more marginalized than ever.

The extremists have not only taken over the conversation… they’ve essentially taken over our government. Moderate Democrats and Republicans are reviled by the true believers in both parties. And of course, the media cater to one camp or the other; moderates still don’t have a single cable station or influential online news source to call their own. Social media like Facebook and Twitter have come to resemble battlegrounds lit up by overheated insults and self-righteous whoops from the partisans in the opposing trenches.

I’ve tried to compete with the fanatics, believe me — but aside from inspiring a handful of other moderate bloggers, I’ve made scarcely a ripple in the national pond. CNN’s website recognized The New Moderate in the early going, and their attention helped boost our readership. But as the decade wore on, the chronically contentious American political climate began to fray me at the edges.

We’ve moved from one divisive horror show to the next: the Tea Party… birthers… hostile PC police on college campuses… police shootings of unarmed blacks… the Black Lives Matter movement and its distorted narrative… the triumph of identity politics… alt-right militias… the antifa (anti-fascists using fascist methods)… the ongoing defamation of white males (along with dead white heroes who might have been unintentionally racist)… white supremacists carrying Confederate and Nazi flags… illegal immigrants streaming across the border by the hundreds of thousands and being herded into concentration camps (or given free perks if they elude the authorities)… the ever-widening wealth gap between the one percent and everyone else… Islamic terrorists and right-wing terrorists… the #MeToo movement (i.e., men are presumed guilty if accused by a woman)… mass shootings by crazed (and mostly young white) males… transgender people insisting on using opposite-sex bathrooms and participating in opposite-sex sports… mega-Afro’d Colin Kaepernick and his ongoing beef with our national symbols… and, of course, the uniquely grotesque reign of the uniquely oafish President Donald Trump.

As I contemplated the horrors of our times and despaired of fixing them, the frequency of my posts dwindled from several times a week to once a week and eventually once a month — with occasional longer breaks for vacations and the recharging of intellectual batteries.

Will I continue to sound my moderate yawp above the din of battling partisans, even when it seems hopeless? Even when progressives accuse me of reactionary tendencies and conservatives call me a socialist? Even when The New Moderate is still an obscure nook on the Internet after ten years of impassioned and eminently sensible pontificating?

Shouldn’t I retire meekly to the sidelines, then, and content myself with long walks in bucolic green settings?

Hell no! When both the right and the left have gone off the rails… when half the country hates the other half and we’re edging toward an irreparable rift… when far too many Americans are living in ideological bubbles and can’t see beyond them… we moderates are more essential than ever. As the ideologues threaten to rip America apart, the center must hold. That’s us. I’ll continue to hold the center until my time is up, and I hope you’ll join me. 

Rick Bayan is founder-editor of The New Moderate. His three essay collections are available for Kindle on Amazon for $2.99 each. (Just search under “Rick Bayan.”)

Abortion Extremists: Is It Time to Bump Some Heads Together? 

June 1, 2019

The ability to see both sides of an issue is the moderate’s peculiar gift and curse. We simply can’t understand why the partisans at both ends are unable (or more likely, unwilling) to look beyond their team’s accepted dogma, examine the evidence, and draw rational conclusions in the manner of our own much-maligned and marginalized tribe.

Take abortion, one of the most divisive issues of our time, and one that refuses to go away. A good moderate will readily acknowledge that a fertilized egg cell contains the blueprint for a human life. Given nine months to incubate and develop, the finished product will pop into the world as a bona fide baby. At the same time, we might question whether a five-week-old embryo, a shapeless organism the size of a sesame seed, is actually a human being.

The pro-life faction is adamant: that little sesame seed is indeed fully human, endowed with all the rights and privileges appertaining to that exalted status. To abort it at any moment after conception is murder, they tell us.

Meanwhile, the pro-choice team refuses to recognize the humanity of a five-month fetus that can make voluntary movements, suck its thumb, open and close its eyes, and drift off to sleep at regular intervals. They frame their argument as a simplistic feminist talking point — “Hands off my body!” –- which conveniently overlooks the fact that a second (and genetically distinct) body is rapidly growing inside that body. Does the second body have any rights as a developing human? Apparently not.

The abortion extremists tell us there’s no middle ground, and on that score they’re technically correct: either a developing baby is aborted or it isn’t. But the extremists show us the middle ground by default.

For example, forcing a rape victim to carry a baby to full term, as recently mandated by the benighted legislatures of half a dozen mostly-red states, is an extreme imposition on a victim who is already scarred for life. It enables the rapist to inject his unwholesome DNA into the population and, in some cases, even sue for custody rights. 

But it gets worse: in Georgia, for example, a woman can now be charged with second-degree murder for having a miscarriage; she’d have to prove in court that the miscarriage was natural and not the result of drug abuse or deliberate sabotage. Not to be outdone, Texas was considering a bill that could actually impose the death penalty on women who have abortions -– along with the doctors who perform them.

That’s one extreme. The other is the no-compromise abortion-on-demand whooping of the pro-choice faction. Illinois has cleared the way for murderous partial-birth abortions, and New York also approved a bill allowing abortions up to the moment of birth; aborted babies who somehow survived the procedure could be left to expire on the operating table. Granted, these last-minute abortions are rare, and most would be prompted by potentially fatal deformities or a maternal health crisis. (Of course, the “crisis” could simply be defined as the potential for “emotional distress” on an unprepared mother-to-be.) 

But here’s what sent a chill through my bones: pro-choicers in New York took to the streets to celebrate their state’s decision, and even the Empire State Building lit up in solidarity with the victors. Call me an old white male reactionary, but celebrating the right to abort a full-term baby -– or even a six-month fetus — strikes me as ghoulish and perverse. 

It seems obvious, at least to a moderate, that a viable middle ground on abortion lies somewhere between the two extremes. In fact, Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that finally legalized abortion back in 1973, wisely took a moderate stance on the issue by permitting abortions after the first trimester only in exceptional cases. (That window was later extended to five months, the approximate point at which a fetus becomes viable outside the womb.)

So why can’t America live with the reasonable terms of Roe v. Wade? Simple: the pro-life faction won’t back down from its insistence that human life begins at conception, and the pro-choice movement won’t accept any restrictions on a woman’s right to abort (um, “choose”) at any time during her pregnancy –- especially by male authority figures.

In short, neither faction will surrender any turf in this ongoing war. The hostilities could rage on until America crumbles or our species goes extinct -– whichever comes first. And if neither faction will compromise, we moderates need to start bumping some heads together

Here’s what I’d tell the pro-lifers: a first-trimester fetus bears only a remote resemblance to a human being. The genetic material is there, but it has barely begun to express itself. A potential human life at three months isn’t yet a human life, even with a heartbeat. (Salamanders have heartbeats, too.) A first-trimester fetus feels no pain, but a young woman forced to carry a rapist’s child will feel pain for the rest of her life

I’d urge the pro-choice contingent to remember that abortion isn’t like an appendectomy. Simply using sanitized slogans like “reproductive rights” or “my body, my choice” doesn’t obscure my impression that they’re a little too zealous about asserting their rights over those of a developing baby. Abortion should only be an absolute last resort in cases that don’t involve rape, incest or maternal health complications. Putting an unwanted baby up for adoption is preferable to killing it; birth control is even better.

How do we ultimately satisfy both factions after we’ve bumped their heads together? After all, a compromise is a solution in which neither party gets what it wants. But sometimes that’s the only solution

Let’s agree that a first-trimester fetus is not yet fully human. Let’s also agree that a viable third-trimester fetus is fully human. That leaves the second trimester as our gray zone, the no-man’s land upon which more battles are likely to be fought.

Any cutoff point we impose would have to be arbitrary, but so be it. Here’s my imperfect (yet eminently reasonable) moderate solution: cut the second trimester (and the pregnancy) neatly in half, with no abortions allowed after 20 weeks except in cases of severe health complications for either the mother or the unborn child. All other abortions would be performed before the 20-week cutoff point — and preferably during the first trimester.

Yes, I’m a man. I have no uterus to speak of, and therefore I’ll be chastised by feminists who would stifle my right to an opinion on this sensitive matter. I’ll also be threatened with hellfire and damnation by those who believe that a fertilized egg is sacred. 

But don’t worry about me. As a diehard moderate, I’m used to being caught in the crossfire. In fact, sometimes I think I enjoy it a little too much.

 

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

All material in The New Moderate copyright 2009-2019 by Rick Bayan.

Western Civilization at the Brink: Just Another Fine Week in the 21st Century

April 24, 2019

As I watched the flames rage across the roof of Notre Dame, that glorious medieval monument on an island in the Seine, I started to think about the symbolism. (As a former history major, I’m cursed with the habit of looking for larger patterns in daily events.) Western Christendom seemed to be burning before our eyes, and it was a surreal sight.

At first I suspected that French “Yellow Vest” fanatics or Islamist terrorists might have set the blaze. After all, Paris had been a favorite target lately for disgruntled souls with an urge to deface and destroy symbols of Western hegemony, patriarchy, colonialism, capitalism, racism, elitism or whatever else they dislike about the West. They’ve targeted several French churches and, by extension, Christianity itself –- although the mainstream media still haven’t come up with the linguistic equivalent of “Islamophobia” to describe this rampant animosity toward Christians and their symbols.

It was a relief to hear that the ruinous Notre Dame fire was most likely the result of restoration work gone awry. But the fact remained that the second most famous edifice in Christendom (outranked only by St. Peter’s in the hearts of the faithful) had been reduced to a sad shell, its roof and spire gone.

Still, like Christianity itself, Notre Dame proved to be resilient. The twin bell towers, immortalized by Victor Hugo as the haunt of the hunchbacked Quasimodo, still stood unharmed, proud and defiant. The three magnificent rose windows miraculously survived, though damaged by the heat and smoke. And the flying buttresses still leapt gracefully across the open air to bolster the stone walls.

I wondered how medieval masons and laborers had built such a marvel without engineering degrees or modern cranes. Nobody who started work on Notre Dame lived to see it completed two centuries later. Nevertheless, they persisted. But their masterpiece would have to be restored by 21st-century professionals, most of whom have likely abandoned the faith that inspired the original builders.

Cut to the United States, later that week. The much-anticipated, much-dreaded Mueller Report, more than two years in the making, finally saw the light of day –- redacted but ready to spill its secrets. To sum up the sprawling 450-page document in a handful of words: the hired sleuth found no evidence that Trump and his cronies had colluded with Russia to tilt the 2016 election in their favor, even though Russia did try to tilt it independently. He also revealed that Trump attempted to quash the investigation half a dozen times, through different channels, but that the president’s henchpeople had saved his hide by disobeying his orders.

A loose cannon like Trump needs handlers, and they did what they were supposed to do: prevent this congenitally reckless president from obstructing justice. Of course, the anti-Trump media immediately bypassed the no-collusion findings and focused on the obstruction of justice angle. But I’m left with two contrarian questions, both of which seem relevant here: 1) If Trump’s people prevented him from stopping the investigation, how could he be charged with obstruction of justice when justice was never obstructed?; and 2) If Trump was innocent of collusion with Russia, how is obstruction of justice even an issue when there was no crime to conceal?

If I had been in Trump’s shoes, I’d have been raging (as he did) at whoever started the spurious collusion rumors. Was it Hillary Clinton? Obama? The DNC? Former FBI director James Comey or some other “deep state” operative? Who hired British spy Christopher Steele to compile his infamous (and now-discredited) dossier on Trump’s Russian adventures, and don’t they have some ‘splainin’ to do? 

Trump’s frustration must have reached artery-popping levels, and I can’t blame him for wanting to halt the endless probing and speculation that plagued every day of his presidency. He’s fortunate that his handlers thought otherwise, but the media and half of Congress still won’t let go. I suspect they won’t be satisfied until they’ve undone the results of the 2016 election and sent Trump packing.

Trump gives us plenty of reasons to loathe him, but we don’t stage coups in this country simply because we disapprove of a sitting president — even a president who lies to us daily, fills his cabinet with swamp monsters and stirs up unseemly white nationalist fervor among his flock. If we don’t like Trump, the Democrats simply need to nominate a good candidate who can beat him. That’s the way it’s done here –- by voting, not by bitter partisans plotting in secrecy or by willfully biased news media spinning events to promote their agenda.

It won’t be as easy to roll back the virulent partisan hatred that pollutes the air daily in the Trump era. I recently remarked on Facebook that I get tired of scrolling past 150 mean-spirited anti-Trump messages daily, and that the sheer volume of over-the-top invective and mockery was starting to make me sympathize with the man. I compared the assaults to a vigilante gang attacking the neighborhood bully and bludgeoning him to within an inch of his life. “Please don’t make me sympathize with Trump,” I pleaded –- and my remark sparked over 100 heated responses, the majority of them more-or-less questioning my sanity. We live in insane times.

Speaking of insanity, how about the Kate Smith brouhaha? The rotund “Songbird of the South” had long been a good luck charm for the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team. When they played her majestic recording of “God Bless America” before a crucial match half a century ago, they won. When they brought her to Philadelphia to sing in person, they nabbed the coveted Stanley Cup. And they kept on winning -– 19 of the first 21 times the fans heard Kate hit those soaring high notes with her husky contralto voice.

Leave it to the P.C. police to ruin a good thing. Some righteous imp, no doubt intent on bringing down yet another white icon, revealed that Kate had recorded — nearly 90 years ago, mind you — two controversial songs that would invite sallies of outrage from racially sensitive folks today.

As a result, the New York Yankees decided to pull the plug on Kate’s “God Bless America,” which they had been broadcasting during the seventh inning stretch. The Flyers quickly followed suit, apparently terrified of being less racially correct than the Yankees. Kate’s good-luck recording of “God Bless America” would no longer be heard before the Flyers’ games. Even more egregiously, the management covered her statue (yes, a life-size statue of Ms. Smith stood outside their arena) in a black tarp that looked remarkably like a burqa. A day or so later, they unceremoniously escorted her likeness off the premises and consigned it to some dusky netherworld reserved for discarded icons like Robert E. Lee, Andrew Jackson and Penn State coach Joe Paterno. Most Flyers fans were not amused.

Kate Smith made nearly 3,000 recordings during her lifetime. Because two of them were judged to be racially insensitive, she had to go. She didn’t write the songs, of course. She didn’t even choose to sing them; she simply performed them in the musicals that featured them, and she sang them with heart. She was reputed to be kind and generous-spirited in private life, never discriminating on the basis of color despite having been raised in the Jim Crow South.

So how racist were those two songs? One of them, “That’s Why Darkies Were Born,” plaintively commiserates with the lot of black people in less enlightened times. (The song seemed to be set in the Old South and could easily have been voiced by blacks themselves.) At the same time, the song extols black people for their resilience, spirit and irrepressible gift for singing under the most oppressive conditions.

Kate Smith’s rendition glows with warmth and heartfelt sympathy. Condescending? Perhaps. Racist? Let’s put it this way: the song was so “racist” that black singer-activist Paul Robeson recorded it himself, quite movingly, in his magnificent bass-baritone voice.

No matter. Kate was irrevocably tarnished because a handful of 21st-century purity judges said so. It didn’t help that she also sang “Pickaninny Heaven,” a song she dedicated to the “colored children” in a New York orphanage. God forbid that anyone should sing about black children and watermelon in the same sentence. (Doesn’t everyone love watermelon? How did this ever get to be a thing?) Sure, the word pickaninny is considered offensive today, just like colored, Negro and Oriental. I’d be willing to bet that future generations will recoil at people of color, too. To coin a phrase, Times change.

What the Kate Smith episode told me is that the “intersectional” left totally controls the dialogue on race (and gender, and sexuality, and just about anything else taught by the “grievance studies” professors at our more progressive universities). They’ll be deciding how Americans are allowed to view their past, because reasonable liberals are terrified to disagree with them and nobody else matters.

Who’s next for the chopping block? FDR? Shirley Temple? Mister Rogers? We need to stop condemning the dead based on one or two purported miscues during a lifetime of great work.

At least nobody’s condemning the dead in Sri Lanka, the three hundred or more innocent victims of a coordinated multi-site terrorist attack on Easter Sunday. Most of the dead were targeted as they worshiped in church, and the terrorists were linked to ISIS.

So here’s the nub of the story: an organized band of radical Islamists killed and wounded roughly a thousand Christians in the bloodiest terror attack since 9/11. Yet the mainstream media and several notable Democrats (including Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama) used the same peculiar term –- “Easter worshipers,” not Christians –- to describe the victims. And of course, the perpetrators were merely “linked to ISIS” -– no mention of the forbidden phrase radical Islamic terrorists.

Had they all read the same memo from some mysterious “deep state” operative -– perhaps the same clandestine opinion-maker who concocted the Trump collusion story, ratted on Kate Smith and termed the Notre Dame fire an accident? Well, probably not.

And yet… I used to scoff at conspiracy theories as fevered paranoid fantasies, but I’m starting to believe. After all, Western civilization has never been so thoroughly maligned by so many disaffected people, and most of them would love to pull it down like the statue of a deposed dictator. What alarms me is that the people pulling it down will be the new dictators.

 

Rick Bayan is founder-editor of The New Moderate. His three bitterly amusing essay collections are available for Kindle on Amazon.com. (Just search under “Rick Bayan.”)

All material in The New Moderate is copyright 2007-2019 by Rick Bayan.

Yes, We Have No Collusion

March 27, 2019

 You could almost hear the collective moans emanating from America’s progressive camp. CNN dutifully reported the sad news with a sigh of resignation. Several conservative news sites gleefully noted that Rachel Maddow wept on-air. (She didn’t.) Still, there was no joy in Blueville: mighty Mueller had struck out.

According to Attorney General William Barr, the long-awaited Mueller Report on the Trump administration’s alleged collusion with Russia to win the 2016 election — a report eagerly awaited by millions of Never-Trumpers and, for that matter, millions of regular folks — has yielded no smoking gun, no evidence that implicates any of Trump’s henchpeople (let alone Trump himself).

Here are the exact words of Barr’s memo:

“The Special Counsel’s investigation did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.”

Give Mueller credit: with an Eagle Scout’s energy and integrity, he shouldered the weighty task of uncovering treachery at the highest level of government. He inspected every nook and cranny, overturned every suspicious-looking rock, and, after two years of exhaustive investigation, had to disappoint millions of Trumpophobes who expected a sizzling indictment of a reviled autocrat.

Am I being too cynical when I observe that countless left-leaning Americans actually hoped that the yellow-maned Chieftain of the Republic was a foreign agent? I don’t think so. I can even understand their perverse sense of anticipation. Proof of collusion would have delegitimized Trump’s upset victory over Hillary Clinton. It most likely would have led to his impeachment and expulsion from office. Even more titillating, it might have condemned the Orange Menace to several years of wearing a matching orange costume in one of our federal penitentiaries. Can you imagine the whooping on MSNBC… on Saturday Night Live… on Colbert and half a dozen other late-night shows aimed at bien-pensant liberals?

Believe me — I’m no fan of our bizarre, spiteful, chronically mendacious commander-in-chief. After he won the presidency, I hoped he might emerge as a much-needed renegade populist, unafraid of upending the money-changers’ tables in the halls of Congress and elsewhere. (Obama was too chronically cautious to challenge the country’s secret alliance of political, corporate and financial establishments.) But most of Trump’s deeds have simply consolidated the power of America’s elites at the expense of the poor working stiffs who still cheer him at his rallies. I wonder how long it will take them to realize that they’ve been royally hornswoggled.

Despite all that, I’m relieved that Trump and his cronies didn’t actively court Russian support to jigger the election. We should all be relieved. It means the vital machinery of our republic wasn’t compromised… that our president wasn’t a Manchurian (or Muscovite) Candidate… that someone as consistently reckless as Trump hadn’t been quite reckless enough to enlist Putin & Co. as co-conspirators in his bid for the presidency.

A few caveats worth considering: We still haven’t seen the full Mueller Report, and we won’t for several weeks. The contents have been filtered through Trump’s justice department in the form of a four-page letter -– presumably with some accuracy, but certainly no substitute for the genuine article. According to Attorney General Barr’s summary, the lack of evidence for collusion doesn’t let Trump off the hook for obstruction of justice. Here’s the mysteriously ambiguous finding as stated in the Barr memo:

“While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

The more motivated Trumpophobes have seized on this ambiguity as a stake they can potentially drive through the president’s heart. And of course, they’re eagerly awaiting any new scraps of incriminating information that might emerge from the full Mueller Report. Still, if Trump isn’t suspected of collusion with Russia, he can’t have obstructed justice where there was no crime to conceal. Trump himself claims “total exoneration,” as we might have expected he would.

Other perplexing issues remain outside the scope of the Mueller Report: Why does Trump continually court Putin’s favor, as if the Russian strongman is either a valued confidant or a blackmailer? What about the Trump family’s sprawling international business empire, with its intimations of money-laundering and other disreputable practices? Did Trump commit a crime when he repeatedly denied paying hush money to porn star-opportunist Stormy Daniels? (No, he simply undermined his credibility. Of course, he undermines his credibility every time he lies to the public.) Is Trump an authoritarian and even a fascist? (He comes perilously close, and it’s worth noting that he has Mussolini’s bombastic public mannerisms down pat.) Does he stir racist resentments among his white suburban and rural base? (Yep, even though I’m still not convinced that Trump himself is a foaming-at-the-mouth racist.)

But, at least according to Attorney General Barr’s tantalizing summary of the Mueller Report, the one thing we can’t reasonably accuse Trump of is treason. That’s the good news. The bad news is that, in a hopelessly polarized America, the tribal divisions only stand to deepen.

The right will celebrate Trump’s innocence and rail even more vehemently against the “fake news” issuing from the nation’s liberal press. (And, to be fair, some of it is fake news.) They’ll worship at the altar of Fox (their own fake news) and wear their MAGA hats ever more proudly.

Meanwhile, the frustrated left will look for loopholes, grumble collectively, and eventually focus its own tribal energies on unseating Trump in the 2020 election. Chances are they’ll overlook the candidates with big-tent appeal and pick Trump’s opposite number to run against him: picture a youthful, female person of color with socialist tendencies. It’s probably a good thing for the Democrats that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez will still be too young to run.

 

Rick Bayan is founder-editor of The New Moderate. Look for his trilogy of bitterly amusing essay collections for Kindle on Amazon.com. (Just search under “Bayan books.”)

A Month of Outrage Overload

February 22, 2019

Tempers are flaring across America — from East to West, from right to left. In fact, the atmosphere has turned so caustic and combustible that I’ve delayed writing this piece for the better part of a month as new outrages erupt daily like California wildfires.

I’d mobilize my thoughts on this or that polarizing event, only to watch the next day’s outrage demand an instant response. Again and again, week after week. With such an abundance of discord-spawning, nation-splitting controversies bombarding us daily, how do I choose just one?

I won’t. I’ll revisit them all — or at least the most noteworthy and cringeworthy incidents of the past month — as briefly as possible, along with my own marginally sane moderate’s takeaway on each unholy incident. Come along, if you dare…

  • The Covington Catholic boys vs. the tribal elder. A perfect storm of prickly 21st-century political prejudices: the students were predominantly white, male, conservative, Christian, privileged, jock-ish, pro-life and pro-Trump. (In short, they were embryonic Brett Kavanaughs.) Their primary antagonist: a noble native tribal elder beating a drum in their faces — although the confrontation was preceded by an hour of relentless taunting from a flaky black supremacist religious cult. One boy’s smirk went viral, and so did the outrage from the left. No matter that the noble tribal elder lied about the confrontation (among other matters), or that the rush to judgment was based on a cherry-picked snippet from a nearly two-hour video. The boys from Covington Catholic were roundly vilified by the “Hate Has No Home Here” crowd. Takeaway: The Covington students withstood the confrontation with commendable restraint, other than a little mock war-whooping in time with the drumbeats. The left rushed to judgment because the incident seemed to support their ongoing “arrogant white male” narrative. (The more reasonable news outlets acknowledged their error.) The boys’ unpopular political leanings are irrelevant to the incident. Postscript: Now that alpha-smirker Nick Sandmann has sued the Washington Post for the jaw-dropping sum of $250 million, he’s shed some of his right to our sympathy.
  •  The strange case of Jussie Smollett. A niche TV personality, black and gay, reports that he was beaten by a pair of white males who poured bleach on his person and slipped a noose around his neck while uttering racist and homophobic slurs. Adding insult to injury, they reportedly yelled, “This is MAGA country!” I was outraged on his behalf — until I started wondering why racist homophobes would be prowling the streets of Chicago (hardly MAGA country) carrying a noose and bleach at 2 a.m. in subzero temperatures. How would MAGA men even recognize Smollett, a featured player in the musical TV series “Empire”? (Not exactly “must-see” MAGA TV.) Subsequent revelations pointed to Smollett himself as the author of the incident, aided by two Nigerian brothers he recruited to rough him up. Now he’s been arrested for filing a false police report, a felony. Takeaway: If Smollett orchestrated this “hate crime,” as it appears he did, I’d guess that he did it to 1) cause further outrage on behalf of blacks and gays, and 2) boost his celebrity status. He succeeded on both counts, but his success has blown up in his face. This wouldn’t be the first time a misguided soul staged a crime and blamed members of another race. Both blacks and whites have cried wolf, and it reflects sadly on our hyper-tribal society. Moreover, crying wolf casts unfair doubt on subsequent (and legitimate) hate-crime cases.
  • Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s racist yearbook photo. The popular Democrat resorted to some desperate (and inconsistent) damage control after a photo of his medical school yearbook page went viral – complete with one figure in exaggerated blackface and another in a white KKK hood. It was never clear which figure (or either of them) was Northam; his story kept changing amid calls for his resignation. So far, he’s standing his ground. Takeaway: If neither figure in the photo was Northam, why would he have included it on his yearbook page? Granted, the photo might have been a tongue-in-cheek prank dating from less P.C. times, and we need to acknowledge that flippant young people are capable of growth. But Northam’s evasiveness does him no credit. Should he resign? Probably not. But he should have fessed up, admitted his youthful folly, and stressed how he’s matured. He squandered the potential for a “teachable moment.”
  • Kamala Harris and the Democratic “purity test.” The California senator and presidential hopeful underwent a surprisingly intense round of scrutiny from her own party. The accusations: she’s “not black enough” (her mother is Indian and her father Jamaican, which actually makes her a shade “blacker” than the half-white Barack Obama)… she was overly zealous in prosecuting blacks in Oakland (she was a D.A. in a majority-black city; it was her job to prosecute)… and (drumroll, please) she’s married to a WHITE MAN! Even her own father got into the act, denouncing Harris for associating her pot-smoking ways with her Jamaican heritage. Takeaway: Democrats seem hellbent on devouring their own, a habit that could easily result in a dreaded second term for Trump. By the way, Harris favors reparations for African Americans. (So much for the “not black enough” mantra.)
  • Gillette’s controversial “toxic masculinity” commercial. Sure, it was filled with images of enlightened males in nurturing roles, but the implication was that this isn’t the norm – that men need to be “tamed” if they’re to be considered fit members of post-#MeToo society. A gentle message designed to make us all sing “Kumbaya” only succeeded in fanning the flames of two increasingly bitter American factions: anti-masculine neo-puritans (including virtue-signaling feminist men) vs. defensive macho males and their allies. Takeaway: The Gillette commercial was probably well intentioned but irritatingly condescending toward half of humankind. For every male exhibiting loutish behavior, there must be five or more decent men who don’t. Yet we all need to be lectured? Sorry – not buying it (or the razor, for that matter)
  • Rep. Ilhan Omar’s anti-Israel rant. The newly elected (and immediately controversial) Somali-Minnesotan caused a stir by accusing AIPAC, the Israeli-American lobbying group, of buying political support in Congress. Cries of anti-Semitism quickly filled the air; how dare she revive the libelous trope of “Jewish money” buying influence in America? Takeaway: Israel does have a powerful lobby in the U.S., and lobbies tend to buy influence. It’s not anti-Semitic merely to point this out. For that matter, it’s not anti-Semitic to criticize Israel when it oversteps certain boundaries. (More often, anti-Israeli sentiment is the by-product of the left’s knee-jerk sympathy for “oppressed” “brown-skinned” Palestinians.) On the other hand, it most definitely is anti-Semitic to call for the destruction of Israel, vandalize synagogues and Jewish cemeteries, or gun down worshippers on the Sabbath — and there’s been an alarming spike in that kind of lethal Jew-hatred lately, in Europe as well as here.
  • The FBI-CNN raid on Roger Stone’s house. In the early morning hours, the Feds staged a dramatic arrest of the former Trump aide and political trickster while CNN covered the event live. The charges: lying and witness tampering. But why the unnecessary theatrics for alleged white-collar crimes, and how did CNN just happen to be on the scene? Meanwhile, progressives whooped with glee while the Trump faction intimated that the “Deep State” was engaged in a slow-motion coup to dethrone #45. Takeaway: I’m normally skeptical of wacko Deep State conspiracy theories, but this incident made me wonder. CNN has morphed into the unofficial news outlet of the Democratic Party’s Clintonist/corporatist wing, and it’s obvious that the pro-Democrat FBI tipped them off. Collusion between a government agency and a favored media outlet should disturb us almost as much as the alleged collusion between Trump and Russia.
  • The escalating border wall showdown. As Robert Frost put it, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” Of course, Trump wants his wall and so does his base — despite the likelihood that it won’t stop the incursion of drugs, criminals or even the most determined poverty-stricken migrants from south of the border. But Trump risked his alt-right street cred on the wall, making it the signature proposal of his presidency despite staunch opposition from Congress. He risked it to the point of lunacy by insisting that Mexico would pay for it. He led us to a costly government shutdown over it. And he finally went over the top by declaring a national emergency to raise the necessary funds. The issue remains unresolved, and neither faction is willing to compromise. Takeaway: Both factions need to compromise. First of all, there’s no “national emergency.” Even with the recent Central American caravans massing at the border, illegal crossings have declined in recent years. Completing an ocean-to-gulf wall would uproot countless property owners along the border, disrupt wildlife migrations and send a hostile message to Latin America. On the other hand, we can’t leave our southern border unprotected. New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham actually pulled National Guard troops from the border, a foolhardy move that tickled the “all people are legal” crowd while it probably drove Trump’s base toward a collective stroke. There’s a sane middle ground here, and we need to find it.
  • New York’s loosening of restrictions on late-term abortion. Predictably, pro-lifers butted heads with pro-choicers over the decision, signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, to essentially allow abortion-on-demand until full term. Yes, the law specifies that the fetus must be non-viable or that the mother’s health be at risk, but critics justifiably point out that “health” is open to interpretation. They argue that doctors might perform an abortion if the mother feels that delivering a baby would be hard on her nerves, for example. Numerous Catholics called for Gov. Cuomo to be excommunicated. Meanwhile, the pro-choice faction celebrated the decision while the Empire State Building glowed in jubilant pink lights that evening. Takeaway: Aborting a fully developed fetus is no cause for jubilation, and the pro-choice movement needs to stop viewing abortion solely through the lens of women’s rights. (After all, there’s another body inside the woman’s body… why do we automatically assume that the smaller body has no rights?) On the other hand, it seems reasonable to allow late-term abortions if (and only if) the fetus has a fatal condition or the mother’s health would be permanently compromised by giving birth.
  • The arrest of a Coast Guard officer who planned a white nationalist terror attack. While Jussie Smollett was still dominating the news, Feds nabbed a 49-year-old Coast Guard lieutenant who plotted a terrorist attack on left-leaning politicians and journalists as part of his dream to establish a “white homeland” in the U.S. The suspect had gathered an extensive cache of weapons and performance-enhancing drugs, along with a list of targets ranging from politicians like Sen. “Poca Warren” to CNN’s Don Lemon and Van Jones, both of whom are black. Modeling himself after far-right Norwegian uber-terrorist Anders Breivik, the deranged lieutenant couldn’t seem to decide if he merely wanted to assassinate prominent leftists or “kill almost every last person on the earth.” Whew — disaster averted. Takeaway: Nobody in their right mind would defend this madman, but here’s my lament: once again, a neo-Nazi nutjob has fed the leftist argument that whites, males and, for that matter, Western civilization are pathologically toxic. The truth is that all three have been under assault lately from loud partisans on the cultural left, so it’s not a stretch to see why many white Western males feel maligned and threatened — and occasionally consumed by the fevers of hatred. Tribalism has always been the curse of our species, whether we’re talking about ancient Greeks vs. Persians, Christians vs. Muslims, blacks vs. whites, or even jocks vs. geeks. The solution seems like an easy one: emphasize our common bonds instead of our differences. Why is it so difficult, then? Maybe we should start by asking the President.

Rick Bayan is founder-editor of The New Moderate and the author of three collections of essays for Kindle. (Look for them on Amazon under “Bayan books.”)

 

The New Moderate Speaks!

January 2, 2019

Yes, I was invited to spread the moderate gospel over the airwaves — for one radio interview, at least.  Court Lewis, host of American Variety Radio, chatted with me a few months ago about moderate principles, where moderates stand on various issues (I suddenly had to become a spokesman for my notoriously independent-minded peers), the potential for a moderate movement, and our mutual regard for Teddy Roosevelt. (In fact, you’ll have the rare privilege of hearing me launch into my impression of TR, based on recordings of his speeches.) 

After the interview aired, the host informed me that TR’s great-grandson was listening in! How did he know? The old gentleman wrote to tell him that he loved my impression of his famous relative. I was, as the 26th President might have put it, “dee-lighted.”

Note: The host mispronounces my name, but I didn’t bother to correct him. I pronounce it BAY-un.

Here’s the link to the show:

Click here to play radio interview

If this link doesn’t play on your device, go to American Variety Radio, click on the square menu icon,  look under “Past Shows,” and click on #391.

Rick Bayan is founder-editor of The New Moderate. 

All written material at The New Moderate copyright 2007-2019 by Rick Bayan.

How Moderates Can Transform American Politics, Part 2: Building a Movement

November 24, 2018

In my eleven years at the helm of The New Moderate, I’ve tried to promote sensible positions on political and cultural issues while America has split into two warring tribes. As moderates, we seem to be stranded in a bleak no-man’s land between the angry social justice warriors of the left and the ornery traditionalists on the right. I’ve enjoyed taking righteous potshots at both camps, of course, but it’s clear that we need to do more.

In Part 1, I wrote about the need to build bridges between the two tribes… to convince them that their common values and interests outweigh their differences. But we also need to take it a step further: to build a revolutionary moderate movement that will transform our barren no-man’s land into a fertile and appealing place for Americans to settle down and live amicably with their neighbors. It won’t be easy, of course. (No great undertaking ever is.) Even if we succeed, we can’t (and shouldn’t) expect everyone to move to the middle. But if we love this country enough to care about its future, we have no choice but to save it from those who sow perpetual discord and division. My plan is hardly definitive, but it’s a start… 

1. Know what you believe. Moderates don’t subscribe to a rigid ideology, so it can be a tricky matter for us to hammer out a coherent set of political beliefs. If we have one dominant principle, it’s this: we’re sticklers for fairness. We don’t believe in promoting the interests of one class of people over those of any other class. We also tend to favor a happy medium between unchecked libertarianism and absolute government authority. Remember, too, that a moderate doesn’t always have to choose a spot midway between the right and left on every issue. In wildly polarized times, it’s probably more important to balance the boat. When politicians cut taxes for the rich during a period of widening wealth inequality, feel free to tilt against the excesses of crony capitalism. When academic leftists and hardened feminists demonize white males, be fearless enough to challenge their bigotry and risk their wrath. It’s not that you’re anti-capitalist or a misogynistic white supremacist; you’re simply opposing the pull of extremism with common sense — so our boat doesn’t tip over and go down.

2. Hold the middle! When you’re bombarded by popular extremist opinions in the social media day after day, it can be a challenge to keep the faith. Everyone seems to be deserting the middle. You’ll feel pressured by friends and pundits to stop being “wishy-washy” and join their tribe. You might even worry about being socially shunned if you don’t. Refuse to be swayed by fashionable groupthink from the left or right. Don’t close your mind to reasonable ideas from either end of the spectrum, but don’t capitulate, either. Take pride in holding the middle ground between the warring factions, and be fierce in defending it. Outspoken, steadfast, radical moderates are the last, best hope of saving America from itself in polarized times.

3. Influence reasonable liberals and conservatives. It’s almost impossible to convince the most extreme extremists to change their views; if anything, they’ll just dig in more deeply. But rational liberals and conservatives are another story. When you see them posting divisive memes that they’ve picked up on the internet, go ahead and dispute their second-hand ideas in a friendly but assertive manner. Worst-case scenario: they’ll disagree with you and post more wrongheaded memes. Best-case scenario: they’ll see your point, open their minds to ideas outside their echo chamber, and be less inclined to fall for destructive extremist rhetoric. They might even move toward the center of the political spectrum. The result: we marginalize the hard-core extremists and undermine their influence

4. Build a powerful media presence. There’s a vast void in the middle of the political media landscape. Between MSNBC and Fox News, between HuffPost and Breitbart, you can almost hear the wind howling. Why? Extremist views are easy to communicate (and understand) because they’re devoid of nuance. They rouse the emotions and boost ratings. Most dangerously, they’re splitting America at the seams. What will it take for moderates to build a media presence? Short of pooling our dollars to buy a major network, we can start by creating a prominent online platform. Problem: It’s probably easier to herd cats than persuade moderates to collaborate. We’re a notoriously independent and disputatious breed. Put five moderates in a room and you’ll end up with 15 different opinions. (For starters, we can stop quibbling over the difference between “moderate” and “centrist.”) Too many moderates also tend to be policy wonks; if we want to attract a mass audience, we need to display a little more flash and outrage. Solution: We’ll have to shed our egos, agree that we won’t agree on everything, and build that visible platform to save America from terminal tribalism. There’s a desperate need for an alternative to the combative “either/or” media choices, and we’re it. Once we’ve gained greater visibility through collaboration, we’ll be in a better position to attract a loyal base. We can (and must) rewrite the distorted narratives coming from the right and left. Our example might even persuade some of the more partisan media to dial back their agenda-driven news coverage.

5. Support existing nonpartisan groups. Until we moderates build our own movement, we can associate with the best groups that uphold our principles. No Labels, a national organization launched in 2010 as a call for nonpartisanship and political cooperation across the aisle, is the best-known –- and still going strong. AllSides is a welcome online news and opinion source that fights polarization by giving a voice to reasonable viewpoints across the spectrum. Better Angels brings “red” and “blue” Americans together –- literally –- in local grassroots workshops. The group’s goal isn’t to convert either side, but to defuse the open hostility between liberals and conservatives. Unite America fills an important niche by supporting the primary campaigns of independent and moderate politicians against their more extremist rivals in the two major parties. If they succeed by helping moderate politicians replace the hyperpartisans, we might not even have to consider the next step…

6. Establish a major centrist party. Yes, I know the odds are against us. Several embryonic centrist parties already exist, and they haven’t made a ripple. The Republicans and Democrats enjoy a long-entrenched duopoly comparable to Coke and Pepsi. Although no new major party has established itself permanently in American politics since the Republicans burst onto the scene in 1854 (that’s eightscore and four years ago!), numerous third-party candidates have tipped close elections. That could be us. Moreover, both major parties are deserting the middle, leaving fertile ground for a new party to arise. The Republicans shifted to the right with the Tea Party during President Obama’s first term. Now the Democrats, fresh from the triumphs of young multicultural progressives in the recent midterm elections, have been shifting left. Both parties are losing touch with the majority of Americans. Fed up with the “God, guns and greed” mentality of today’s Republicans and the petulant identity politics of the Democrats, they’d be primed for the debut of a dynamic moderate party. (We’ll just have to come up with a sexier name than “moderate” or “centrist.”) Of course, any such party would have to raise megatons of money to break the duopoly, and we’d need to recruit rock-star names in politics and the media to aid our cause. But unless the two major parties start favoring reasonable candidates who can win broad popular support, history will be tapping us on the shoulder and forcing us to make a decision: let the squabbling partisans and their followers rip the country asunder, or forge a movement to bridge the divide and restore some semblance of sanity to American politics.  

 
Rick Bayan is founder-editor of The New Moderate.

How Moderates Can Transform American Politics, Part 1: Finding Common Ground

October 2, 2018

What could the left and right possibly have in common when they’re engaged in a fight-to-the-death struggle for the future direction of American politics? You might be surprised. In fact, by emphasizing common values and objectives, we moderates could pull this squabbling nation away from the brink of civil war. Of course, we’ll probably need a bully pulpit (like the Presidency or at least a popular cable TV show) to make our voices heard, but why not start here:

1. Emphasize our common identity as Americans. We’ve splintered into mutually hostile tribes, and we desperately need to re-establish our sense of nationhood. The flag belongs to everyone, not just white conservatives. While respecting the rights of individual groups to advocate for their interests, we all need to start de-emphasizing our differences and thinking about what we have in common. Agreed?

2 Promote a humane, unifying brand of populism. There’s nothing wrong with populism in principle. (Think of those classic Frank Capra movies that celebrate the dignity of ordinary folks.) But today’s populist movements, right and left alike, are a different story: extremist, divisive, authoritarian and ugly. They’re awash in hatred, and we need to reject them in favor of a more decent, universal (and yes, moderate) brand of populism. That means transferring unwarranted power and influence away from self-appointed elites and returning legitimate power to the people and their elected representatives.

3. Keep our politicians honest. Any conscientious American, right or left, would agree that powerful lobbyists have no business bribing our representatives to do their bidding. We need to establish blind trusts so that politicians have no idea who’s funding their campaigns. Any representative caught performing quid pro quo favors must be removed from office. It would probably take a Constitutional amendment to enforce such a measure, but simply pushing for it could unite the right and left.

4. Extend Congressional representatives’ terms. With their measly two-year terms, members of the House are continually in campaign mode. We need them to stop hunting for cash and focus on lawmaking. I’d suggest a term of six years (like our Senators) along with a limit of two terms. Again, this would require a Constitutional amendment, but we can do it together as a trans-partisan project.

5. Maintain a reasonably strong military. We shouldn’t have to spend more on defense than the next 12 nations combined. We shouldn’t meddle in other nations’ conflicts or launch unnecessary, open-ended wars against guerrilla fighters who never surrender. Simply maintain a military powerful enough to act as a deterrent to aggressions against the United States and its allies.

6. Treat all classes without favoritism. The essence of a fair society — and probably the thorniest item on this list when it comes to finding common ground. Here’s a reasonable vision of an equitable society: raise taxes on the rich during periods of widening wealth inequality; eliminate tax shelters and corporate subsidies. Maintain Social Security, Medicare and other essential safety nets; no American should go broke paying medical bills. Shun double standards, including the fashionable notion that it’s acceptable to demonize white males without being considered racist or sexist. (A fair society doesn’t demonize anyone.) Make every effort to support equal opportunity without demanding equal results.

7. Improve our criminal justice system. Police and inner-city residents need to develop mutual trust and respect. Police can start by using non-lethal weapons to stop unarmed criminals and suspects. Just as important, we need to break the school-to-prison cycle that effectively ruins the lives of too many young inner-city men. Schools need to educate more effectively… students should be taught to focus on long-term goals… prisons shouldn’t be profit centers. Stop incarcerating people for minor crimes like possession of marijuana.

8 Stop thinking about race in collective terms. Just as not all blacks are thugs or unwed mothers, not all whites are automatically privileged or racist. Is it so difficult to view members of other races as individuals rather than interchangeable representatives of their tribe? Apparently so, and we have to do better. Our differences stem from our individual traits; our common humanity binds us together. This one is essential.

9. Control immigration wisely and humanely.  Open borders are out of the question; the populations of distressed nations are exploding, and we can’t accommodate the overflow. But let’s clarify the legal path to entering the U.S., welcome legal immigrants and treat illegal ones humanely without giving them a free pass. 

10. Consider both sides of a story. People on the left and right tend to follow the prescribed attitudes of their politically orthodox peers and their sanctioned media outlets. We need to emphasize that ideologies are like second-hand clothes. Self-respecting thinkers need to formulate their ideas by examining the arguments on both sides of an issue. At the very least, it will be a mind-opening experience, and our country could use more open minds. Right?

11. Stop politicizing everything! You name it, the ideologues have politicized it: guns, climate change, religion, women’s bodies, Civil War monuments, transgender bathroom rights. These issues have nothing to do with the affairs of state, and yet we know at a glance how the partisans will be lining up. Again, this is the result of indoctrination by left- and right-wing echo chambers and the influence of like-minded peers. We need to help ratchet down the rhetoric, point out the dangers of hyper-politicizing, and lead our ideological friends toward the sanity of a world where history is history and people are free to flirt (as long as it’s consensual, of course).

12. Socialize across the political divide. Americans have been self-segregating along ideological lines, socially as well as politically. Too many progressives shun conservatives as “deplorables,” just as too many conservatives mock progressives as “libtards.” Even our physical communities tend to be politically segregated. We need to start mingling again. We might even discover that we like some of the folks on the other side, and we’ll no longer regard them as a faceless threat. This one is mandatory.

Of course, not everyone will agree with this reasonable 12-point plan for restoring some semblance of unity to our fractured republic. That’s their misfortune, but we can’t let it become our misfortune. The most extreme extremists among us are hellbent on sowing discord and even civil war, and we’ll probably have to write them off as incorrigibles. If we don’t want the United States to splinter into warring camps, we’ll need to marginalize the extremists who have been polarizing the country with their willfully distorted narratives, memes, amen corners and fear-mongering rhetoric.

Our job, if we choose to accept it, is to win back the hearts and minds of reasonable Americans who have been seduced by the Siren songs emanating from the far right and far left. They don’t have to embrace moderate politics, but they should be able to embrace their fellow Americans again.
Next: How Moderates Can Transform American Politics, Part 2: Building a Movement

Why the Extremists Are Winning 

August 10, 2018

Fanatics to the right of us, fanatics to the left of us… and their ranks just keep growing. If we moderates have the fairest and most sensible ideas, how is it that our ranks are dwindling? How did the extremists get to be so popular? What have they got that we haven’t got? Why are we stuck in a barren no-man’s land, caught in the crossfire between two feuding tribes who reject our antiquated habit of examining both sides of an issue? Let’s see if I can explain it for you…

The rise of the angry right. It started with the boisterous bloviating of Rush Limbaugh and his right-wing minions in response to the perceived liberal bias of the mainstream media. They had a point. But the right-wing talk-show warriors weren’t satisfied with airing dissenting opinions. They were hellbent on starting a mass movement, and of course they succeeded. So now millions of Middle Americans believe that Obama was evil incarnate… that climate change is a myth… that the government wants to confiscate their beloved guns. They’ve been snookered into believing that Wall Street’s interests are their interests, and that social support programs are, well… socialist. Lately, since the coronation of Trump, much of the right has been veering ever rightward — embracing the old Confederacy and even neo-Nazi white supremacy. It ain’t Ike’s GOP anymore, or even Mitt Romney’s.

The rise of left-wing identity politics. Formerly marginalized but perpetually aggrieved, America’s nonwhite, feminist and LGBTQ factions have grown more vociferous, resentful and demanding, even as they make unprecedented strides. The grievances are built around legitimate kernels of truth, but those kernels have morphed into mountains in the minds of the aggrieved, aided by selective news reporting (see below) and militant anti-conservative rhetoric on college campuses. Each group typically blames its troubles on straight white males, past (often centuries past) and present, as if all those men are interchangeable units of oppression. Anyone who dares dispute their beliefs risks expulsion from polite society. 

Cherry-picked news stories. Example: Every time a skittish cop or a white bigot commits an offense against a person of color, the story makes national headlines. One would get the impression that interracial crimes are a one-way street, a nightmare landscape of Jim Crow outrages by evil whites against innocent minorities. The fact is that cops shoot nearly three times as many whites as blacks, and that black-on-white crimes are more commonplace than the reverse. Surprised? You can blame it on selective reporting. It’s not “fake news” (because it actually happened), but it’s only part of the story — a part deliberately promoted to perpetuate a narrative that unites the in-group in shared outrage. (And yes, right-wing news sources cherry-pick their stories, too.)

Online “amen corners.” Progressives and conservatives have stopped speaking to each other except to hurl insults. Most of their time is spent among like-minded peers who share the same world-view, biases and resentments. Naturally they favor online publications that play to their prejudices. The result: extremist groupthink, emboldened and reinforced by the airtight echo chambers and their stark-mad message boards. The more outrageous the comment, the more “amens” it generates among the faithful (and the more polarized we become).

The essential simplicity of extremist opinions. Hey, what’s not to like? The complexities of life are rendered cartoonlike in crisp black-and-white for easy comprehension. No subtle shades of gray… no head-scratching over competing ideas… in short, no uncertainty. Nonthinkers love certainty; after all, to be certain is to be relieved of the need to think. “We’re right, they’re wrong. Case closed.”

The lack of a moderate ideology. You’re looking at our greatest weakness — and potentially our greatest strength. We don’t offer a laundry list of principles to memorize and internalize. Of course, we’re more than an ill-defined midpoint between right and left. But what exactly is a moderate? Are we just wishy-washy souls who lack the guts to take a stand? That’s what a lot of diehard progressives and conservatives would like us to believe. But several of our greatest revolutionaries, including Washington and Franklin, were essentially moderates who had been pushed to the limit of their tolerance. I like to think of moderates as boat-balancers: when we see the boat tipping ominously to one side, our sense of justice obliges us to tip it back. We don’t subscribe to any ideology except our insistence on fairness and free thought. (That’s enough to make the ideologues uneasy.)

Hyperpartisanship in government. A dangerous and destructive trend in our national politics: much like the public, our elected representatives have increasingly gravitated to one ideological extreme or the other, leaving a hollowed, virtually uninhabited center. What’s especially sad is that the polarization has been orchestrated by the extremists in both major parties. They pull the strings. Representatives and candidates essentially have to pass ideological purity tests if they want to win their parties’ primaries. And once elected, they’re under intense pressure to support their team. Partisanship wins, and the American people lose.

Next: What moderates can do to become a force in American politics.

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