Just when you thought America couldn’t slip any farther down the slope from which no civilization ever returns, it seems we’ve just slipped a little deeper. If you hoped, as I did, that the new year would see us rebound from the atrocities of 2015 (mass shootings, police brutality, two-way racial animosities, totalitarian PC warriors on campus, Donald Trump), forget it. The ugliness abides and increases.
In the cold, arid wilds of southeastern Oregon, the belligerent Bundy Gang has occupied a federal compound in the appropriately named Malheur (French for “trouble”) National Wildlife Refuge. Their ostensible reason: to protest the imprisonment of a father-and-son ranching duo who set fire to federal land bordering their property, and to assert their belief that federal land rightfully belongs to “the people.” (Yes, it does — all the people, as opposed to a select group of cowboys and landowners.)
What struck me about the occupying militia was that it seemed like a picture-perfect caricature of today’s far-right wingnut fringe. White? Check. Male? Check. Angry? Check. Rural? Check. Gun-crazy? Emphatic check. Obamaphobic? No doubt. “Patriotic”? So they tell us. Defiantly anti-government? But of course! The more polarized we become, the more extreme the extremists look — a cartoonist’s parody of what used to be reasonably sensible conservative or liberal viewpoints.
Right-wing extremists like the Bundy militiamen are easy targets for the mockery that emanates from our sniffish left-of-center elite, and of course their pundits wasted no time painting the occupiers as “Y’all Qaeda”: inbred redneck jihadists who reeked of fried squirrel and white privilege. (Never mind that poor rural whites are among the least privileged members of society: they don’t benefit from affirmative action, and everyone is free to insult them without consequence.)
If the occupiers had been people of color, the progressive pundits tell us, they would have been tagged as thugs and terrorists… and they would have been set upon by the National Guard faster than you can say “Ferguson.” I can understand the outcry over double standards, but in fact the Bundy militiamen have yet to harm people or property. They’re not disrupting traffic or otherwise creating a public nuisance in a densely populated setting. What they’ve done is to hunker down in a potentially lethal game of chicken with the federal government.
The Bundy Bunch is dangerous, and their occupation of a federal building — no matter how remote or unimportant — is not only illegal but an outrage against the very patriotism they claim to embrace. I’d stop short of calling them terrorists at this point, because they haven’t terrorized anyone. But it’s not a stretch to label them as insurrectionists, comparable to the rural Pennsylvanians who launched the Whiskey Rebellion during George Washington’s presidency. If they take up arms against the government, they need to be put down — simple as that. (Federal agents could start by cutting off their access to food and supplies… the bold militiamen reportedly whined that they forgot to bring snacks.)
The feds don’t want another Waco on their hands, so they’re exercising caution in Oregon. An armed confrontation would be more deadly than Waco, because it would ripple across the republic. We’re not talking about evicting a flaky religious cult with minimal ties to the real world. The polarized climate of the country has raised the stakes, and any bloodshed could easily trigger a wider rebellion among the anti-government faction of the far right — the same people who flip out whenever Obama talks about expanding background checks for potential gun owners.
Back in 2012, the Southern Poverty Law Center estimated that the United States was home to over 1,300 right-wing militias and radical anti-government groups, an eightfold increase in just the three years since Obama took office. Call it Obama Derangement Syndrome, or Second Amendment fetishism, or cultural solidarity among embattled rural whites — it amounts to collective paranoia, and it poses a very real threat to a nation already under siege by all manner of irate extremists.
Extremists to the right of us, extremists to the left of us — and their numbers just keep growing. It used to be that the bulk of Americans occupied the center of the political spectrum — a bulging bell curve that tapered off to the right and left. Today the curve looks more like a slanted line: conservatives constitute the biggest group, followed by moderates and liberals in that order. But — and it’s an ominous “but” — the ranks of both liberals and conservatives have been growing while the moderate population is shrinking. Eventually the center could look like a valley between two contentious hills.
How did it happen? Why are the extremes exerting such a powerful magnetic pull while the center languishes? I’ll venture a few educated guesses. Because Americans are angrier than they used to be, and angry people lack the patience for dealing with nuanced ideas. They need to express their anger or rely on like-minded souls to articulate that anger. They need to form factions in the time-honored tradition of our species — to bond with kindred spirits who feel angry about the same issues. They want to live in their own sequestered corner of the Internet, shouting “Amen!” every time a fellow extremist ratchets up the rhetoric.
Ideological purity is paramount in such a world. The extremists keep raising the bar for what constitutes purity — whether it takes shape as militant right-wing militias or leftist PC police who exile renegade thinkers for “microaggressions” against selected minorities. And of course, moderate politicians no longer stand a chance of winning their party’s primaries.
How does the sensible center survive in such an inflammatory environment? How does it become a mountain instead of a valley? I wish I knew. But I do know that the center is more indispensable than ever. We’re the last link between the warring factions, the best hope for civility and fairness in American politics.
Our mission, if we choose to accept it (and I think we must), is to convince the extremists that there are at least two legitimate sides to almost every issue: abortion, race relations, the size of government, the distribution of wealth, and — yes — the meaning of the Second Amendment. Once the extremists can see the world through their enemies’ eyes, their enemies won’t seem like enemies. They’d simply be honorable opponents, and neither side would feel the need to man the barricades in defense of their ideologies. If they decide to become moderates themselves, so much the better.
Rick Bayan is founder-editor of The New Moderate.
Part Two: The ISIS Massacres
First a Russian jetliner exploded over the Sinai Peninsula, killing all 224 people aboard. Then a pair of suicide bombers blew themselves up along with 43 unsuspecting residents of Beirut. The next day, Friday the 13th, terrorists pulled off the most terrifying stunt of them all: 130 souls blasted to eternity in Paris — at a rock concert, at a sporting event, at a couple of restaurants in a fashionable pleasure district — ordinary people out for a good time who never made it home that evening.
The common thread in all this manmade mayhem: ISIS, the self-proclaimed Islamic State and (if all goes according to plans) future worldwide Caliphate, performing acts of unconscionable evil in the name of Allah and his favorite Prophet.
Africa wasn’t spared, either: at least 147 dead, mostly students, at a university in Kenya, and another 21 butchered at a luxury hotel in Mali. Not ISIS this time, but Islamist terrorists all the same. Whether we describe them as dutiful Muslim fundamentalists or as unholy fanatics who pervert their faith, all the aforementioned killers killed for reasons intimately related to their interpretation of Islam.
The carnage in Paris generated the most heat and fury, with mourners draping their Facebook profile photos in the French Tricolor. The massacres there resonated in the West because Paris represents something vital: a joyous mingling of enlightenment and pleasure, fine food and literature and art and romance — in short, liberalism in the purest sense of the word. The liberal spirit is exactly what the Islamists fear and envy (and therefore hate). Joie de vivre is anathema to their souls. So is freedom. To their stunted minds, the city that gave birth to the unapologetically irreverent Charlie Hebdo is even more vile than New York or Hollywood.
Left-leaning apologists were quick to interpret the latest massacres as Western chickens coming home to roost: the fruits of our meddlesome wars, deals and interventions in the Middle East. But aside from bending so far backward as to unhinge their spines, these apologists are simply wrong. Anger with meddlesome Westerners might explain the chronic hostility of Palestinians and Iranians, but ISIS is a different animal: pure theocracy carried to its looniest outer limits. The twin disasters of the Syrian civil war and our misadventures in Iraq simply gave it the power vacuum it needed to take root and flourish.
We all know that ISIS wants to build a new Caliphate and conquer the world for Islam. But we also need to know that ISIS represents only the Sunni branch of Islam — those who insist that the leaders of the faith must be chosen. (Their foes, the Shiites, believe that leaders must descend directly from Mohammed.) This chronic factionalism, like a petty squabble out of Gulliver’s Travels, has been simmering and occasionally boiling over since Mohammed’s death in A.D. 632.
Ousted from power during the Iraq War, the Sunnis were hellbent on avenging themselves against the hated Shiites. ISIS emerged as the Sunni engine of conquest, death and destruction: ravaging the desert regions of Syria and Iraq, murdering all the infidels it could capture, destroying every non-Sunni landmark in its path, including the fabled ruins of Palmyra. On a 0-10 scale of intolerance, ISIS probably rates an 11.
ISIS is more than an intolerant religious fringe group with territorial ambitions. It’s also a death cult. The purpose of the Caliphate isn’t simply to spread Sunni fundamentalism around the globe, but to bring about the end of days. Such blatant nihilism is just the thing to attract angry, aimless, alienated young people from all over the world. It’s like Satanism and death metal and blow-’em away video games rolled into one irresistibly ugly cause. If you’re a disaffected adolescent, what’s not to like?
Poverty has almost nothing to do with the allure of ISIS. It’s about belonging to a potent, violently homicidal (and suicidal) in-group… and about the giddy hormonal rush that presumably comes from holding the power of life or death in one’s hands.
Like the Nazis before them, the ISIS folks are master propagandists. They recruit warriors through savvy social media manipulation and a lavishly produced magazine, Dabiq. Ghastly photos and videos of executions by burning or beheading appeal to the wanton urges of their skeezy teenage base. They even draw young children into their ranks and indoctrinate them in the ways of death warriors.
ISIS proudly concedes that Islam is a religion of the sword, an admission that would find most American conservatives nodding in agreement. Of course, moderate Muslims insist they’re wrong: the Islam they follow is a religion of peace.
So which is it: violence or peace? Will the real Islam please stand up? The scriptural Mohammed was, among other things, a zealot and a conqueror. The Koran and the Hadith abound with undeniably intolerant and violent exhortations — the basis of today’s militant Islam.
Of course, we can find plenty of bloodcurdling passages in the Holy Bible. But here’s the difference: virtually no modern Jews and Christians — even the most orthodox — believe, for example, that we must execute anyone who works on the Sabbath (Exodus 31:15). Islamic fundamentalists refuse to cherry-pick their scriptures; even the most violent proclamations are holy writ and must be blindly obeyed. Like our own extremist ideologues on the far right and left, they brook no departures from their dogma.
Moderate Muslims are more like our own political moderates; they don’t follow scripture to the letter, they don’t persecute infidels, and they’re flexible enough to make allowances for common sense, not to mention ordinary human decency. They represent the best hope for the future of Islam, if not the world.
But meanwhile, how do we confront the murderous fanaticism of ISIS? We have to acknowledge that we’re at war with these monsters, but we can’t suspend our lives or our principles. These are perilous times all around. We take a chance whenever we enter an American movie theater or send our kids to school. Like Israel, we probably have to accept sporadic attacks and random death as a fact of life. But waging war on terrorism is like fighting a scattered swarm of hornets. For every enemy we kill, two more seem to take their place. Surrender is an alien concept to them.
We can wipe ISIS off the map in Syria and Iraq, but they’ll spring up again in some other desert stronghold: in Yemen or Libya or Afghanistan — or even Saudi Arabia. After all, our longtime “ally” embraces extreme Islamic fundamentalism… discriminates against Christians and women… and, most tellingly, has accepted not a single Syrian refugee.
Speaking of refugees, the current war is producing them by the millions. The American response to the refugee crisis, like our response to nearly everything else these days, has been thoroughly politicized.
The left takes the sanctimonious high road, condemning anyone hesitant about admitting Syrian refugees into the U.S. They remind us that Steve Jobs was the son of a Syrian immigrant (yes, but there were no terrorists in those days)… that Jesus, Mary and Joseph sought refuge (yes, in their native land)… that we wrongfully interned Japanese Americans during World War II (true, but we’re not rounding up Muslim Americans) and refused desperate Jewish refugees aboard the St. Louis during the same war (doubtful that their ranks included Nazi terrorists in disguise). Can the left be objective enough to concede that radical Islamists might sneak into the country along with the innocent refugees? That the Trojan Horse theory isn’t entirely a paranoid myth? (Good luck.)
Meanwhile, our conservatives are sounding the nativist alarms. They insist we should help our veterans instead of the refugees. (Why can’t we help both?) They yell about importing Sharia law and burqas against our will. (Nobody said we had to.) Candidate Trump not only opposes granting refuge to refugees but wants to monitor all American Muslims. Welcome aboard the Overkill Express.
Should we admit our fair share of refugees? Yes, bring ’em on, as long as their numbers don’t soar into the millions. Our generosity toward the dispossessed is part of what defines America. No doubt some radicals will slip through and spread their poisons here, but native-born Muslims (and even non-Muslims) can become jihadists, too. We simply need to minimize the odds, so let’s give the newcomers a heartfelt welcome — and a thorough screening.
Am I optimistic about our struggle against ISIS? Not especially, but I haven’t abandoned hope. We’re at war against a pathological mentality, not a country. Radical Islam has to die from within, but the rest of the world can help it along.
I’m encouraged that so many Muslims railed against the Paris attacks, and that ISIS can count no allies in the Islamic world other than Boko Haram and a few other fringe groups. They’d like us to think they’re in the catbird seat, but they’re hungry. They need fresh recruits, money and medical professionals. If we can destroy their lifelines to the outside world, we can disrupt their operations.
Besides destroying their home base, we need to attack their recruiting efforts. The hacker tribe known as Anonymous is finally making itself useful by exposing the identities of ISIS operatives online. If we can leverage the unity of mainstream Muslims against the fanatics, that could be the crushing blow. We can hope that Paris was their wake-up call.
If we fail, we can probably bid farewell to Western civilization. It’s already endangered from within by a depressing assortment of afflictions, including extreme political polarization, angry minorities, greedy plutocrats, a crumbling middle class, lone-wolf psychopaths, widespread indifference to the past, and some really atrocious music. Maybe Western civilization was too rarefied for our rowdy souls; we’re just higher breed of ape, after all. But I think the Western world as we know it is worth preserving.
By now we’re so accustomed to verbal attacks on Western civilization that we almost feel like racists when we rush to its defense. If so, we’ve been brainwashed. The left delights in recounting the historical crimes committed by Christians, as if those offenses somehow justify the current crimes committed by Islamists. Nearly all empires — European, Asian and African alike — are guilty of past outrages. But, for better or worse, most of us live in the present.
So here we stand, faced with chaos and factionalism and a brutal theocratic enemy waiting for the chance to topple us from our high perch. The enemy enjoys the giddy confidence of the self-deluded: those who know for sure that a righteous and judgmental God is on their side. It helps to be sure, but it also helps to be in touch with reality.
We desperately need a worldwide religious reformation, a great awakening that would hold all fundamentalism up to the bright light of scrutiny. If we all took the dictates of our scriptures literally, we’d be committing atrocities on a daily basis. It’s time we acknowledged that no religion has an exclusive pipeline to the will of an inscrutable God, and that all our scriptures were written by gifted but otherwise ordinary men looking for answers.
The faithful should learn to live without certainty. It’s that damnable certainty that makes tyrants of the world’s believers. Of that much I’m reasonably certain. Not 100 percent, mind you — because unlike ideologues and fundamentalists, I’m never entirely sure of anything.
Rick Bayan is founder-editor of The New Moderate.
Every so often, even a diehard moderate is driven beyond mere indignation, beyond a willingness to compromise and dutifully stitch up the holes in our social fabric. When the tail starts wagging the dog… when reason no longer suffices in the struggle against cultural lunacy… when we finally hear one insult too many after hearing those insults for half a century… some of us reach the dreaded “Popeye Point”: a visceral, irrepressible, over-the-top response that causes us to drop any pretense of mild-mannered moderation and exclaim, with the immortal sailor, THAT’S ALL I CAN STANDS, ‘CAUSE I CAN’T STANDS NO MORE!
I don’t pack a handy can of spinach inside my shirt, so you probably won’t see me revving up my fists and pummeling my oppressors while “Stars and Stripes Forever” blasts triumphantly in the background. But I feel like doing some verbal pummeling all the same. Feel free to join me, if only to release the pent-up steam from your cerebral hemispheres.
What roused The New Moderate’s ire this time? It started with the viral outbreak of surly student demands at American colleges from coast to coast. First at the University of Missouri, where the president was bullied into resigning after standing accused of “inadequate” responses to a few isolated racist incidents perpetrated by stupid local bubbas. (He wanted to help, really he did, but his good intentions fell short of student expectations.) The son of a black multimillionaire went on a hunger strike to force the resignation, and the football team threatened to boycott its own games.
Just how racist an atmosphere prevails at the University of Missouri? Well, the school boasts a black student government along with six other special diversity programs for African Americans on campus. What’s more, visibly half the students protesting along with the blacks were white — not to mention the iconically irate adjunct professor who shooed the media away. Enough said.
From Mizzou the mayhem spread to Claremont McKenna College (formerly Claremont Men’s College), where a well-intentioned dean wrote that she wanted to help those students “who don’t fit our CMC mold.” Her choice of words proved fatal to her employment status.
Meanwhile, nonwhite students at Ithaca College, which boasts a “chief diversity officer,” organized a movement to oust their president for sluggish responses to alleged racial incidents on campus. At the moment, he’s hanging onto his job by a thread.
Soon the contagion spread to the storied halls of Yale, where the spectre of culturally insensitive Halloween costumes (Indians! Mexican mariachi musicians! Cultural appropriation!) led students of color to assail the master of Silliman (a residential college) for failing to provide them with a “safe” space. He apologized abjectly. When the master’s wife had the audacity to write that “free speech and the ability to tolerate offense are the hallmarks of a free and open society,” the emotionally battered students went to the university president with a list of six demands, including the banishment of the offending couple. (Done!)
But here’s the topper: they called for the construction of a campus monument acknowledging that Yale was built on land stolen from indigenous peoples. (Fine, but why stop at Yale? Why not all of Connecticut? For that matter, how about the entire United States? Why don’t we all just rewind American history, return to the lands of our ancestors and leave the continent to its original inhabitants?)
At Dartmouth, some 150 “Black Lives Matter” protesters stormed the college library and verbally assaulted white students with profanities and accusations of white privilege. (You can bet that if 150 white protesters stormed a library and hurled insults at black students, we’d be seeing nonstop coverage of the incident on CNN and MSNBC for the next two weeks.)
Those who love the language of grievance will coo over the demands whipped up by angry marginalized Amherst students: that the elite college confess its “institutional legacy of white supremacy, colonialism, anti-black racism, anti-Latinx (sic) racism, anti-Native American racism, anti-Native/ indigenous racism, anti-Asian racism, anti-Middle Eastern racism, heterosexism, cis-sexism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, ableism, mental health stigma, and classism.” Whew! Did they forget any victims? Witches, perhaps? (Excuse me… Wiccans.) And how about calling for a fatwa against heterosexual WASP males, those perennial evildoers?
By now we’re all familiar with the vocabulary of outrage. When we see 20-year-old protesters bandying terms like “patriarchy,” “cultural appropriation,” “white privilege,” “microagressions,” “rape culture,” “systemic racism,” “institutional racism” (is there a difference?), “colonialism” and “hegemony,” it’s reasonable to assume that their stealthy professors, viruslike, have inserted a lethal dose of ideological DNA into their half-formed minds.
The progressive takeover of academia by “Grievance Studies” scholars and their intellectual progeny seems to be nearly complete. Where once our liberal arts professors inflamed their students with a lifelong passion for knowledge and debate, today’s Orwellian propagandists seem hellbent on pure indoctrination. And of course, they find a receptive audience eager for an excuse to get angry.
Instead of educating bright minority students so they can prosper and take their rightful place in the middle class, the grievance specialists are churning out a generation of hostile, petulant intellectual robots whose icy adherence to the prescribed language of class war — along with their extreme intolerance of any ideas that depart from scripture — will only drive a further wedge between themselves and the American mainstream. Maybe that’s what they want, but it’s not what they need.
Roger Kimball, the crusty author of Tenured Radicals, calls these newly minted manipulators “crybullies.” They’re not violent, but when they whine loudly enough, heads roll. And of course, nearly all those heads are white — because, as we’ve been carefully taught, even well-intentioned white people are inherently racist.
Yes, racism exists and it always will; most of us are genetically programmed to favor our own tribe. And yes, racial minorities have often faced brutal discrimination and demeaning attitudes. Today’s college administrators can provide a nurturing environment for diverse groups of students, but they can’t guarantee an unblemished four-year passage… they can’t wave a wand to silence the occasional hatemongers.
Disadvantaged students admitted to a premier American college, many of them as the result of generous diversity initiatives and scholarships, should be thanking the gods (and the college) for the advantages they’ve gained — advantages that will serve them handsomely for the rest of their lives. The vast majority of us privileged white folks aren’t as lucky. And of course, nobody cares about working-class whites: let them live in their trailers while they grow fat on Cheetos and beer. There’s no affirmative action plan to send these unloved proletarians to Amherst and Yale; maybe that’s why they vote Republican.
Why the immoderate response to a series of peaceful protests? Because the ideologues have rigged the game. Because aggrieved students of color can derail careers and reputations simply by crying racism. (It doesn’t work in reverse; we’ve been instructed that people of color can never be racist.) Because those same students cause white flak-catchers to cringe, crumple and grovel for mercy before their heads fly. Because Americans need to identify as Americans, not representatives of special identity groups. Because ideological race politics can blind us to the genuine indignities that individuals of all races face from time to time. Because a generation of doctrinaire scholars has been poisoning young minds, defaming Western civilization as nothing more than an endless chronicle of oppression, racism, exploitation, rape, colonialism and genocide. It has to stop.
Shakespeare, anyone? Bach, Rembrandt, Isaac Newton, Emily Dickinson… the Parthenon? Will you toss them all into history’s dumpster along with Christopher Columbus and Simon Legree? You’d better not, because a polarized society needs reasonable moderates to listen to legitimate grievances from both sides and take them seriously.
Don’t make us shut our ears. Above all, don’t make us reach the Popeye Point.
Coming later this week… Part Two: The ISIS Massacres
Rick Bayan is founder-editor of The New Moderate.
Let’s start with an easier question: who lost the first Democrat debate this week in Las Vegas?
The most grotesque loser was Rhode Island political scion Lincoln Chafee, a former Republican who became an Independent before hooking up with the Democrats. The 62-year-old erstwhile senator and governor looked vaguely mummified and sounded as confused as his party-switching past. When asked why he voted to repeal the Glass-Steagall Act, that invisible wall between commercial banks and investment banks, the flustered candidate burbled a series of wimpy excuses: his father had just died, he had just taken his seat as a rookie senator, etc., etc. If he hasn’t mastered the art of political prevarication at his age, he never will. Give this poor gentleman the hook.
Former U.S. Marine and senator Jim (“I need more time!”) Webb wasted his airtime whining about his inability to command more airtime. He may have been a war hero, but whiners usually don’t make it to the White House. If he had the requisite political skill, he would have inserted himself into the conversation instead of grumbling repeatedly that he couldn’t. Color him eliminated.
Martin O’Malley, the former Maryland governor who has struggled to gain momentum as a presidential candidate, is a man of serious and generally reasonable progressive ideas. But his seriousness shaded into moroseness on the debate podium. He gained strength toward the end, but he could use a shot of ebullience if he wants to connect with the electorate and rise in the polls. Maybe he and Donald Trump should be lined up side-by-side for a partial ego transfusion; both men would benefit.
That leaves us with Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, the two heavy hitters among the Democrat hopefuls. Both candidates gave it their best: Bernie was loud, passionate and rough-hewn, just the way his fans love him. He even displayed a chivalrous streak, as he dismissed the kerfuffle over Hillary’s e-mails with a blunt, “The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn e-mails!”
That was vintage Bernie. He had a chance to go for the jugular, but he took the high road so we could “talk about real issues.” Did he help or hurt himself by doing so? Probably both. His gesture revealed a principled man who could rise above competitive pettiness — and probably cemented his viability as a potential Clinton running mate. But that’s part of the problem: he had a chance to expose his opponent’s vulnerable underside and pin her to the mat, but he relented. (Clinton’s credibility IS a “real issue,” Bernie.)
The former First Lady, senator and secretary of state breezed through the debate like the poised, polished, practiced pro that she is. Her admirers lauded her performance as “presidential;” her detractors tended to use adjectives like “rehearsed” and “robotic.”
She wasn’t as charitable as Sanders when it came to pulling punches: she accused the Vermont senator of being soft on gun control — a hot-button issue in the wake of numerous mass shootings. Sanders defended himself with a nuanced response, but Hillary won that round. She also took a mild dig at her opponent’s “democratic socialism” by reminding him — and us — that we’re not Denmark. True enough. Score another point for the liberal establishment’s favorite candidate.
So who really won the debate? Earnest, emotional, scruffy populist Bernie Sanders or icy-cool elite progressive Hillary Clinton? If you believe the pundit class, it was Hillary all the way: a knockout. If you believe the polls, Bernie obliterated the competition.
How can two audiences have viewed the same debate and come away with diametrically opposed impressions? Both candidates gave their fans exactly what they wanted: an authentic, impassioned, morally outraged Sanders who rose above tit-for-tat pettiness… and a poised, energized, articulate Clinton back in fighting trim after weathering some unflattering controversies.
How did The New Moderate view the two leading contenders? I like Sanders’ bluntness and no-BS approach to simmering domestic issues (i.e., the wealth gap that just keeps growing until we’re looking at an essentially feudal America down the road). But he strikes me as a one-note candidate: the voice of Occupy Wall Street. Yes, Wall Street could probably use a good occupation, but a functioning U.S. president needs to see beyond the barricades.
As for Mrs. Clinton, I give her credit for a bright and lively persona — composed, smart, graceful under pressure, mature and able to seem as if she’s not taking herself too seriously. But let’s get real: how can a plutocrat-friendly elitist convince down-and-out Americans that she’s one of them? Is it all smoke and mirrors? I’m beginning to think of Clinton as the Wizard of Oz in reverse: the image of a folksy, down-to-earth, “relatable” candidate projected onto the big screen by the machinating bully behind the curtain.
So who won the debate? Let’s call it a tie between Sanders and Clinton: they both delivered what they needed to deliver, even if Bernie missed his big chance for a knockout. Would I vote for either of them? Not without holding my nose, although anything is possible.
If The New Moderate can’t wholeheartedly endorse any of the Democrats who mounted the stage in Las Vegas this week, does anyone look like a tolerable prospect for 2016? Any of the Republicans, perhaps? Not unless you can clone Dwight D. Eisenhower and zap him to presidential age within the span of a year.
Who, then? Will a real presidential candidate please stand up? Maybe the folks who paid for a particularly touching commercial during the debate had the right idea. “Joe, run.” Biden for president? We could do worse.
Rick Bayan is founder-editor of The New Moderate.
The New Moderate isn’t a magazine, of course. It’s not even a conventional blog. I might describe it as a column written whenever public events agitate me enough to write. But the past few weeks have showered us with a multiplicity of Muslim-themed stories that are too juicy to ignore. Instead of a long column on a single topic, I’m splitting the current offering into separate mini-articles. Welcome to our “Muslim issue.”
The Clock That Struck Terror
We all know the story by now, although few of us know all the details: in a suburb of Dallas, 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed, son of a Muslim activist who once ran for president of Sudan, walked into school with a pencil case that started beeping in class. The case opened to reveal (ominous drumroll, please) a circuit board and multiple wires.
Suspected of carrying a time bomb, young Ahmed was clapped in handcuffs and whisked away to a juvenile detention center by authorities. (He was quickly released but suspended from school for three days.)
Almost immediately, you could hear the outrage screaming across America from the Left Coast to the nation’s capital. Islamophobia! Profiling! Racism! Ignorant Texans! The boy was just a budding genius who had invented his own clock, and ’Murrica treats him like a terrorist because of his religion.
As usual, the story turned out to be a little more complicated. First of all, young Ahmed hadn’t invented anything; according to various technogeeks who analyzed photos of his contraption, Ahmed had simply removed the innards of a commercial alarm clock and mounted them inside a pencil case. It sure didn’t look like a clock. Ahmed even admitted that he tied a cable around the pencil case to make it look “less suspicious” — so he was plainly aware that his timepiece might be construed as something a little more malevolent.
But wasn’t he wrongfully arrested? Well, yes. The authorities could simply have ushered the boy outside the school and released him when they found his gadget to be harmless. If he had deliberately crafted a “hoax bomb,” as police concluded, what possible motive could he have had? To get himself into hot water? Seems unlikely.
Wasn’t he singled out on the basis of his religion? Well, yes again… but given the recent history of our times, a Muslim youth holding a homemade beeping device in a classroom will cause marginally more concern than, say, a white Methodist kid carrying the same gadget. Profiling might temporarily ruffle the feathers of a few innocent people, but it can also save lives. Imagine if the pencil case had contained more than a clock, and the school authorities had failed to act.
In the end, we don’t have to worry about young Ahmed. President Obama, MIT, NASA and even Mark Zuckerberg immediately reached out to him and pretty much guaranteed a brilliant future for the lad. Only in America.
Gentle Ben Catches Heat
That uber-calm, level-headed former pediatric surgeon and Republican presidential candidate, Dr. Ben Carson, ignited a political firestorm that almost grilled him in return. How? By proclaiming that the U.S. should never elect a Muslim as president.
Notwithstanding the fact that numerous Republicans believe we already have a Muslim president, Carson’s quip unleashed the furies of Constitutional scholars and multicultural liberals alike. After all, our Constitution asserts that no candidate should have to pass a religious test as a qualification for office.
Carson’s objection raises an issue that America’s progressive (and mostly nonreligious) Islamophiles need to think about: namely, that Islam isn’t simply a religion. If it limited itself to nurturing a spiritual bond between Allah and the faithful, it would be a different matter. But there’s the jihad thing, and the oppression of women thing, and the blaming the victims of rape thing, and the execution of homosexuals thing, and too many other things that interfere with personal freedom, fly in the face of Western values, and don’t exactly fall into the realm of the metaphysical.
Yes, Islam is a religion — but, if followed according to the dictates of its scriptures and customs, it’s also an aggressively authoritarian political and social system much like Soviet-style communism. It continues to mystify me that so many American liberals automatically rush to the defense of a fundamentally illiberal system.
Carson backpedaled from his inflammatory remark by saying that he’d willingly vote for a Muslim who renounced Sharia law. So would I. (Renunciation of jihad and the universal caliphate would help, too.) Once we jettison the social and political elements of Islam that are antithetical to American life, we’re dealing with a simple, unobjectionable religion once again — as millions of moderate Muslims already know.
Muslim Hordes Invade Europe!
The mass exodus from Syria continues apace, with no end in sight (although, given the finite population of Syria, it has to end sometime). We’ve seen numerous photos and moving images of the exodus that provoke our empathy and outrage: the body of a toddler washed up on a beach, the video of a Hungarian camerawoman tripping a refugee who was desperately carrying his child across the border.
We’re looking at a vast humanitarian crisis that deserves our profound sympathy, but we’re also looking at a demographic one: namely, how many more Muslim immigrants can Western Europe be expected to absorb?
Recent estimates cited in Wikipedia inform us that Paris, London and Frankfurt are already hovering around 10% Muslim… Amsterdam, Brussels and Stockholm have passed the 20% mark… and the French port city of Marseilles tops the list at 25%. But here’s the statistic that sets off my inner alarm system: in many of these cities, the under-18 population is already more than half Muslim.
I’m sure the multiculturalists will be rejoicing, but these statistics don’t bode well for the future of Europe as we know it. Europe’s Muslim enclaves are, more often than not, bastions of non-assimilation, poverty, surly demands, hostile catcalls, and city streets shut down for prayer. According to a recent poll, 80% of Dutch Turks between 18 and 34 “saw nothing wrong in jihad… against non-believers.” Anger is mounting on both sides of the divide. And of course, public figures who raise concerns about the great demographic shift, like the Netherlands’ Geert Wilders, are routinely castigated as nativists, xenophobes, Neo-Nazis and promulgators of hate speech.
Is it hateful to express concern about preserving one’s ancestral culture in the face of radical demographic change? I would hope not. My own people, the Armenians, learned the hard way: as Turks streamed into the country after waves of medieval conquest, Armenians gradually became a minority in their own ancient homeland. In the end, it was an easy matter for the Turks to dispose of them entirely.
The U.S. was populated and built by immigrants, but Europe is different. We’re looking at thousand-year-old nations, each with distinctive languages, cultures and customs that will be erased from our midst if the Muslim expansion continues without relief.
But who’s willing to provide relief? Turkey and Lebanon have stepped up during the Syrian crisis, each taking more than a million refugees. Jordan, Iraq and Egypt have absorbed over 100,000 apiece. And the U.S. has committed to sheltering up to 100,000 refugees from Syria and other war-torn countries over the next two years.
Well, what about Saudi Arabia, our longtime petro-pal in the Middle East with its vast expanses of empty land? How many Syrian refugees are they willing to accept? Zero. The United Arab Emirates? Ditto. Kuwait and Qatar? You guessed it.
Embattled Europe is expected to stretch itself to the seams while the wealthy Persian Gulf states calmly collect oil revenues, build half-mile-high skyscrapers and turn their backs on their ravaged Muslim brethren. I call foul. Extremely foul.
Rick Bayan is founder-editor of The New Moderate. All posts copyright 2007-2015.
The tycoon with the aerodynamic hair has been dominating the news this past week, and that’s exactly what he wants. No matter that the punditocracy has generally blasted him for brazen misogyny. Or that conservative bigwig Erick Erickson banned him from appearing onstage with the other Republican presidential hopefuls. Or that his own campaign manager, Roger Stone, jumped ship (or was tossed overboard, depending on which account you read) after vainly pleading with The Donald to stifle the ugly rhetoric.
No, the Trump brand is flying high where it counts: among the sort of Americans who still aspire to gaudy, blow-’em-away success but tend to live vicariously through the exploits of the rich and famous. In other words, Trump is our first tabloid presidential candidate. His constituency is as vast as the audience for the Kardashians, and about as intellectually astute.
Trump’s macho swagger and assertiveness conjure up memories of the older, paunchier Frank Sinatra croaking that he could be “king of the hill, top of the heap, A-number one.” It’s a brash, gold-plated vision of America, high on money and testosterone and primed for combat.
The funny thing is that Trump is no ideologue. It’s virtually impossible to paint a coherent picture of his political beliefs. He’s conservative on immigration… he seems uncharitable toward women and minorities… he’s a militant capitalist… but he’s no evangelist for the Christian right, either.
You’d think a diehard moderate (like me, for example) might embrace a candidate who departs from the holy scriptures of our orthodox progressives and conservatives. Trump speaks his mind without fear, a refreshing trait in any would-be politician. He’s no fan of political correctness. He’s blunt and unscripted. You get the impression that he disdains focus groups, even though he could afford to serve caviar sandwiches and Dom Perignon.
All that is laudable. At last week’s televised GOP debate, Trump made the more conventional candidates look pale and wonkish by comparison. His more outrageous pronouncements elicited both cheers and boos — but nobody could deny that he stirred the blood. After eight years of a surprisingly bloodless Obama administration, America might respond to a president who struts, swears and shakes his fist.
But let’s get real for a minute. During the GOP debate, Fox News spitfire Megyn Kelly asked Trump point-blank when he decided to become a Republican. (After all, he had contributed to the campaigns of several Democrats in the past.) And here’s where my jaw dropped a few inches. Trump casually admitted to Kelly, the nation and almighty God that he was simply playing the game: buying the future favors of politicians — Republicans and Democrats alike — by enriching their campaign coffers. He confessed that he had done as much for most of the candidates sharing the stage with him that night.
I had to wonder how this blatant oligarch would reform our already broken system of government-by-lobby, in which the elected representatives of the people secretly cater to deep-pocketed elites. Trump seemed to be fine with the current arrangement. After all, his America is a land of winners and losers (mostly losers), and it’s only natural that the alpha dogs should control the government. At least Trump is so obscenely rich that no oligarch in America could conceivably influence his policies with a covert bribe.
Should we take Trump seriously as a candidate? Is he for real, or is he just a buffoon with money to burn? Some political cynics have suspected that Trump is nothing more than a Clinton “plant” — a tactical stooge whose candidacy would spawn chaos and discord among the Republicans.
We know that Trump pals around with the Clintons — and that the silver-haired ex-President chatted with Trump about his political ambitions. Could foxy old Bubba have played to Trump’s narcissism by encouraging him to run (and inadvertently clear the path for another Clinton presidency)?
The danger is that Trump could actually succeed. He’s already leading the other GOP candidates by an absurdly fat margin in the polls. His braggadocio seems to play well in Peoria. A blowhard and a bully? Sure, but so was Mussolini, and the masses adored him.
At the very least, Trump could be America’s answer to Putin: a defiant strongman who understands power instinctively, like a predator, and wields it with scant attention to international opinion. Trump is already the virtual embodiment of post-9/11 America as seen by our more jaded European allies: a cocky, shallow sociopath with a monstrous ego and a penchant for asserting dominance at any cost. In other words, he’s George W. Bush on steroids.
Of course, a President Trump would have to contend with our infernal constitutional system of checks and balances. He’s accustomed to being dictator of his own real estate fiefdom, but he’d have some major adjusting to do if he actually makes it to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. No problem… Congress is so accustomed to legalized bribery, and Trump’s personal treasury is so spectacular, that — well, you get the picture.
Will Trump’s appeal fizzle as he continues to alienate one group after another? Can a billionaire continue to pose as a populist? Does he have “legs” — or will he flame out before the primaries? Will his hyperactive mouth be his salvation or his undoing?
Stay tuned… with Trump in the race, we should be in for a compulsively watchable campaign. Reality TV was never this entertaining. At the same time, beware: reality TV never had this much power to influence the future of our nation.
Rick Bayan is founder-editor of The New Moderate.
It hasn’t been a good month for Southern white guys.
The much-awaited publication of Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee’s long-hidden, pre-written sequel to her revered classic, To Kill a Mockingbird, revealed that lawyer and liberal icon Atticus Finch was actually a racist curmudgeon who attended Ku Klux Klan rallies and railed against integration. He may have defended an unjustly accused black man in court, but he probably wouldn’t have invited him over for dinner.
Meanwhile, the Memphis city council voted unanimously to dig up the remains of Nathan Bedford Forrest and his wife from their resting place in a public park. Forrest, you see, was not only a Confederate general but a Klan leader during its formative years. No matter that he later advocated racial reconciliation and, in his last public appearance, addressed a group of Southern black representatives in a most un-Klanlike manner:
We were born on the same soil, breathe the same air, and live in the same land. Why, then, can we not live as brothers?… I want to elevate you to take positions in law offices, in stores, on farms, and wherever you are capable of going.
Pretty bold words for a white Southern eminento in 1875. Still, his crumbling bones have to go.
Even lightweight Confederate-friendly entertainment faced the executioner. TV Land, the nostalgia-themed cable channel, announced that it was yanking reruns of The Dukes of Hazzard, the amiably cheesy good-ol’-boy comedy-action series featuring a vintage Dodge Charger named General Lee. No reasonable soul could accuse the show of harboring racist sympathies… but the anti-Confederate tide swept it out to sea, where it would join Walt Disney’s Song of the South, Amos ‘n’ Andy and Al Jolson musicals in the special Davy Jones’ Locker reserved for racially incorrect pop culture artifacts.
The movement to evict Andrew Jackson from the $20 bill continues apace. The Dixie-born general and seventh U.S. president was, of course, a slave-owner and oppressor of Native Americans, so despite having preserved the Union in the face of secessionist legislation in South Carolina, he appears to be headed for the dumpster.
Finally, earlier this week, the Atlanta chapter of the NAACP called for the removal of all Confederate symbols from nearby Stone Mountain Park — including the monumental 90-by-190-foot relief sculpture of Confederate icons Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and Jefferson Davis carved into the side of the mountain. Said chapter leader Richard Rose:
Those guys need to go… They can be sand-blasted off, or somebody could carefully remove a slab of that and auction it off to the highest bidder… My tax dollars should not be used to commemorate slavery.
No matter that the park isn’t publicly owned or operated… the sentiments are clear: if it offends us, out it goes.
The culture of offended sensibilities is flourishing in twenty-first century America. Right-wing groups are offended by the recent Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage — just as they’re offended by abortion, gun control, illegal immigration, welfare, Islam and (of course) Barack Obama.
But despite all the joyless noise emanating from the right, I’m awarding the top prize in the readiness-to-take-offense contest to the enlightened left — those perennial opponents of the capitalistic white racist heterosexual Christian imperialist patriarchy. That’s a lot to be offended by in one fell swoop, and I’m not denying their right to take offense. What alarms me is their collective eagerness to denounce, censor and exile anyone who takes issue with their issues.
Renegade speakers are either banned outright from college campuses or accompanied by “trigger warnings” so that sensitive young progressives can retreat to special rooms equipped with teddy bears and coloring books. Aging conservative blowhards like Rush Limbaugh must be brought down by boycotting their sponsors. (No free marketplace of ideas for these illiberal liberals.) News stories must be cherry-picked to perpetuate pet narratives that agitate the faithful. And of course, the Confederacy and its symbols must be sandblasted from our consciousness.
According to the latest lockstep wisdom, the Confederate rebellion — and its infamous battle flag — began and ended with slavery. Those prematurely dead Confederate soldiers moldering away in military cemeteries for the past 150 years? Traitors and slave-drivers, every one. No other issue (states’ rights, Southern solidarity, defending one’s land and family against Northern invaders) can be admitted into the debate. Anyone who claims that the Civil War was fought for any cause other than slavery is deemed a racist and expelled from polite company. Ditto for anyone who sees no harm in letting Confederate flags adorn the graves of the men who died for their breakaway republic.
I get the impression that, come the revolution, those sorry heretics (including me, and possibly you) would find themselves relocated to remote “re-education camps.” It’s already happening, more subtly, in the endless references to white privilege and patriarchy in the progressive press. The left is constantly telling the rest of us that we need to feel bad about ourselves, and that’s no way to win friends (or influence people).
Do I sound predictably contrarian, wrongheaded… even cynical? Could be. After absorbing a half-century’s worth of anti-white, anti-male rhetoric, with no end in sight, even a confirmed moderate like me has to wonder if the noise assaulting my head from the left will ever stop.
Yes, today’s right-wingers are a noisy lot, too. Of course I recognize that the Confederate battle flag has been appropriated by rabid racists over the years, and that much (if not most) of the irrational hatred directed at President Obama is tied to his African parentage. I’ll never align myself with right-wing fanatics who insist that the Bible should dictate our nation’s laws, or that dark-skinned Americans aren’t American enough, or that we need to arm ourselves against our own government.
So why pick on the left during its campaign to eradicate all traces of a defeated, much-discredited Southern rebellion? Because they insist on zero tolerance for dissenting beliefs. Because they’re generally educated enough to know better. Because, ISIS-like, they seem hellbent on destroying historic icons that offend their sensibilities. Today it’s Nathan Bedford Forrest, tomorrow it’s Robert E. Lee, five years from now it could be George Washington. They love to see those dominoes fall.
Isn’t the radical, gun-toting right at least as dangerous as the revisionist left? Of course it is… but what we’re witnessing is a desperate backlash against half a century of radical social change. Much of that change has been for the good, some of it is questionable, but nearly all of it (the recent concentration of wealth being a notable exception) has favored the social left at the expense of the social right.
Bible Belt conservatives — those latter-day heirs to the lost Confederacy — are smart enough to sense that their salad days are over. They represent the last generation of America’s white Christian old guard. They’re scared and angry. By constantly poking them, ridiculing their beliefs and destroying their icons, we just make them angrier.
By contrast, the progressive left represents the future — a diverse multicultural nation with a darkened complexion and often-bewildering nontraditional values. (Do we really need to refer to non-transgender individuals as cisgender?) If those progressives truly intend to embrace diversity and remain faithful to their liberal roots, they could start by showing a little more tolerance for diverse opinions.
That means recognizing that there are at least two legitimate sides to nearly every debatable issue — including abortion, gun control, illegal immigration, welfare, race relations — and yes, even the tattered old Confederate battle flag. Once we’ve removed the flag from public buildings, it’s time we let the Civil War rest in peace. We don’t want a second one on our hands.
Rick Bayan is founder-editor of The New Moderate.