The New Moderate’s Vigilance List for 2016
What do we moderates have to worry about? More than ever, naturally. 2015 was a banner year for extremists and, by extension, not such a good one for us.
I’ve been updating this list each year to reflect our current jitters. Last year’s list ran to 19 items and more than 4,000 words, and I was about to add several new entries for 2016. Because I don’t want my fellow moderates to wring their hands and gnash their teeth any more than necessary, I’ve consolidated many of the items and cut the verbiage so you can read the list without breaking for therapy. I’ve also dispensed with the references to the previous year’s rank for each item — partly because of all the consolidations, and partly because there’s no need for moderates to be fanatical about record-keeping. We’re not fanatics, after all. Here goes…
1. Rising factionalism. We’ve become a nation of us-against-them, “my team is better than your team,” ”anyone who disagrees with me is stupid.” And that’s not only a stupid attitude but a dangerous one. What will it take to remind all those petty partisans, special-interest warriors, sowers of discord, promulgators of identity politics, subscribers to sacred narratives, and denizens of online amen corners that we’re all Americans here… that the land is spacious and generous enough to accommodate a full spectrum of beliefs, and that we won’t survive much longer as a nation unless we act like one? It’s the United States… remember? Remedy: Try to see every issue from the other guy’s perspective. (We moderates are good at this.) Don’t borrow all your opinions from glib Internet memes and other sources that simply confirm your biases. We all need to start identifying as Americans instead of pledging our loyalty to whatever little ideological boutique promotes our own interests.
2. Islamic jihad and other forms of terrorism. Yes, terrorists come in all colors and persuasions, and homegrown nutjob terrorism is on the rise. But let’s face it: the militant Islamists take top honors in this department. ISIS continues to murder innocents and destroy priceless historic monuments, and the would-be Caliphate has demonstrated an evil genius for enlisting young recruits around the world. We can’t coexist peacefully with people who believe that God has called upon them to destroy us. Moderate Muslims aren’t succeeding in stifling the terrorists, and the West can’t constantly police the world. Remedy: A massive reformation within Islam to bring it into the 21st century, or at least the 17th or 18th. The bloodcurdling excesses of the terrorists could (and should) trigger such a movement among the majority of decent Muslims. Without it, we could be looking at a century of jihad.
3. The rule of moneyed interests. Call it plutocracy or oligarchy or capitalism on steroids — the bottom line is that a tiny, self-entitled, deep-pocketed elite is now firmly in charge of our government, our finances and ultimately our lives. The plutocracy continues to squeeze the middle class by manipulating markets, outsourcing jobs and adopting disruptive technologies without regard for the fate of workers. The yawning gap between meager interest rates on savings (paid to us) and exorbitant interest rates on credit (paid to the banks) is unconscionable. And of course, the plutocrats effectively own most of our politicians. This state of affairs is totally unacceptable within a representative democracy. Unless we correct it, we’re headed toward a neo-feudal society of latter-day lords and serfs. Jousting, anyone? Remedy: Ban thinly veiled bribes by lobbyists (via Constitutional amendment if necessary), regulate the financial industry, get rid of corporate subsidies and tax loopholes, impose penalties on companies that move jobs away from the U.S. And yes, raise taxes on the rich — especially on income from passive capital gains.
4. The scariest presidential candidate field in living memory. Take your pick: a vulgar billionaire demagogue with narcissistic personality disorder, a couple of self-professed evangelical Christians who promote conservative theocracy while conveniently shunning the teachings of Jesus, a shrewd big-money beneficiary with a 25-year paper trail of questionable dealings and decisions, or a 74-year-old avowed “democratic socialist.” When the socialist looks like the most appealing candidate, you know we’re in trouble. Remedy: Draft a reform-minded, non-establishment moderate or hang in there for another four years, mates!
5. Militant political correctness. It’s no longer about being considerate toward historically oppressed groups. That would be too easy. Now whites are routinely ordered to “check their privilege,” even though you’d be hard-pressed to find privileged trailer-dwellers in Appalachia and elsewhere. An award-winning actress took heat because her feminist speech denied “intersectionality” — i.e., she failed to mention transgender women of color. Worst of all, we saw American college campuses, already bastions of anti-DWEM (dead white European male) bias, suddenly flare up as political correctness went all Bolshevik on us. College officials were forced to resign for not crusading against “microaggressions” like culturally inappropriate Halloween costumes. (Hide those sombreros, kiddies!) The oppressed have become the oppressors, and they’re indoctrinating a new generation. Remedy: Encourage your kids to think for themselves and avoid professors with a reputation for militant PC. Just as important, let’s use the PC warriors’ own weapons and start calling them out for their hate speech.
6. The hollowing of the center. It used to be that more Americans thought of themselves as moderates than as liberals or conservatives. No more. Thanks to chronically biased news sources and online amen corners, as well as rising levels of anger, the percentage of self-styled moderates is dropping as more Americans migrate to the left and right (especially the right). It’s bad enough that we moderates have precious few news sources and opinion-makers on our side… now those few bastions of sanity will be struggling to find an audience in a deeply polarized society. Remedy: Don’t let anger distort your thinking. Keep the faith; never feel pressured by others to abandon your sensible beliefs. Support clear-thinking news outlets and columnists wherever you can find them. (And read The New Moderate, of course.)
7. Racial animosity. The race riots of 2014 and early 2015 eventually gave way to more peaceful demonstrations. But as the Black Lives Matter movement gained steam, so did unreasonable demands and provocations. Online message boards often teem with vile racial vitriol from both sides. Double standards abound: blacks get roughed up by police and incarcerated more often than whites for the same offenses; on the other hand, blacks are allowed (even encouraged) to criticize whites, while there’s still a strict social taboo against whites criticizing blacks. Sometimes I wonder if blacks and whites will ever be able to coexist amicably in this society. Remedy: Make an effort to see members of other races as individuals instead of symbols. Even better, make friends with members of other races. Maybe the time has come for us to stop referring to each other as blacks and whites, as if we’re destined by nature to be opposites.
8. American gun culture. I felt impelled to add this item after reading that more Americans have been killed by guns since 1968 — approximately 1.5 million — than in all our wars combined. (Granted, many of those fatalities were suicides, but still… ) Radical white militias are on the rise, mass shootings have become commonplace, and our inner cities are essentially war zones. America’s highest per-capita gun fatalities actually occur in the “red” states, where gun culture is strongest. Despite the bloodshed, the powerful NRA lobby and Second Amendment diehards still scream whenever anyone mentions tightening access to guns through background checks. Remedy: Guns don’t kill people, but bullets do. With over 300 million guns already in circulation, it makes more sense to restrict access to ammunition — especially semi-automatic cartridges whose only purpose is to dispatch dozens of victims as quickly and efficiently as possible. Let’s make it happen.
9. The “Great Demographic Shift.” People of color now account for more than 50 percent of U.S. births. School dropout rates and other endemic social problems will doom a hefty percentage of these new babies to poverty. At the other end of the age spectrum, Americans are living longer and will require decades of subsidies to get by. How will a shrinking middle class support all these needy Americans and still provide enough funds to maintain our infrastructure? Remedy: I’d encourage middle-class and wealthy Americans to procreate more freely (Hey, it’s fun!) to build up the taxpayer base. But I’d also recommend higher taxes (they’re practically at historic lows) and drastic cuts in foreign aid and military spending to open up resources for urgent domestic needs.
10. Environmental destruction. Climate change denialists, take note: 15 of the hottest 16 years on record have occurred since 2000. The only question is how much of the change is caused by human activity. Whatever the cause, we need to take prompt action unless we’d like to see massive crop failures, extensive lowland flooding and seaports that look like Venice. (Not that there’s anything wrong with Venice.) On top of that, the world has lost half of its nonhuman animal population since 1970. Developing nations like Indonesia and Brazil account for much of the destruction as they convert forest to farmland. Several East Asian nations must be held accountable for the wanton poaching of critically endangered wildlife for ivory and folk medicine. Finally, as more Third World nations aspire to middle-class status, they’ll be fighting us for use of the Earth’s limited resources. Eventually we’ll realize that we’ve ransacked a wondrous planet, but by then it will be too late. (And we’re not equipped to start colonizing distant planets just yet.) Remedy: Work with other governments toward establishing and enforcing sensible environmental regulations, because the Earth belongs to all of us. Poachers deserve to be shot on sight, and it’s time for East Asian scientists to perform experiments demonstrating the worthlessness of folk medicines derived from endangered creatures.
11. The immigration/refugee crisis. Yes, it’s honorable and humane to admit desperate people into our country; after all, the Statue of Liberty has been welcoming the huddled masses for well over a century. But mass immigration from a single group has permanent consequences. In the U.S., it means absorbing countless millions of impoverished Spanish-speaking peasants from Mexico and Central America. Will they assimilate, learn English and join the middle class? They might if we didn’t make it so easy for them to get by in Spanish. We’re now a de facto bilingual nation. In Europe, mass Muslim immigration is changing the nature of thousand-year-old cities and cultures. Like the Latinos, Muslim immigrants have resisted assimilation. In some cities they form a surly internal proletariat, and their numbers keep increasing. What if half the population of the Third World decided to migrate to the U.S. and Europe? There has to be a sane limit. Last year saw the mass exodus of refugees from Muslim war zones, and our rich petro-pals on the Persian Gulf didn’t lift a finger to help. Remedy: A thorny issue with no satisfactory solutions. For now: offer temporary shelter visas for the most desperate, impose limits on permanent immigration, use leverage to force the Arab states to accept refugees, and (in the U.S.) make English our official language once and for all.
12. Perpetual low-grade recession. Wealth isn’t trickling down, good jobs aren’t opening up, and I’ve simply come to accept our current doldrums as the “new normal.” Meanwhile, corporations are still exporting jobs with impunity and too many Americans are sinking deeper into debt and dejection. Companies today focus more on beating the next quarterly forecast than on the needs of their own people. At this point we might just be witnessing the American future: prosperity for the few, unending financial woes for everyone else. Remedy: More hiring of Americans by corporations currently sitting atop piles of cash… NOW, not later. Fear not, capitalists: give enough Americans decent jobs, and the money will trickle back up in the form of healthy consumer spending.
13. Police brutality. Here’s a sobering wake-up call: American cops killed more citizens in one month last year than British police have done in all the years since the death of Queen Victoria in 1901. Sure, American cops have to deal with society’s low-lifes on a daily basis. Any cop with an inner-city beat is instinctively primed for life-or-death confrontations, and the prevailing “no snitching” culture makes their job even more difficult. But (and it’s a big “but”) they also need to be seen as a positive force in their communities. There are too many trigger-happy cops who use lethal force to stop suspects (especially black suspects) who simply resist arrest. When there’s a disturbance, they swoop in like an army of occupation. This isn’t the sort of behavior that builds trust. Remedy: Deeper engagement between cops and their communities. Police need to be vigilant but not aggressive… find alternatives to lethal force… define themselves as protectors rather than hired thugs. If all goes well, the residents of these neighborhoods might open up to their local cops instead of putting up resistance.
14. Cultural degeneracy. When did Western culture become an exercise in pushing the proverbial envelope — and how much farther can they push it? Movies, TV, pop music, video games, high art and everyday behavior have combined to forge a cheap and often loathsome culture. Nobody reads the classics. On top of that, we’ve become selfish and narcissistic… the “what’s in it for me?” mentality has spread from Wall Street to the boondocks. Bullying and cheating abound. It’s not enough to succeed; others must be crushed. Do I believe in having fun? Absolutely. (This isn’t The New Puritan, after all.) But we also need to restore respect for the nobler virtues, or we’ll crumble, as the Romans did, from internal and external assaults that we’re too weak to withstand. Do I sound like an alarmist? You bet. Remedy: Beats me. Sometimes I think Western civilization at its apex was simply too demanding and rarefied for our species to maintain for any length of time. We’re slowly reverting to our simian roots, which may be lamentable but probably suits our natures. Still, if you have standards, don’t surrender them!
15. Deficit spending. Our government is spending more than it’s taking in (Greece, anybody?), and the Republican majority would rather cut benefits for the 99% than reduce the military budget or (God forbid) raise taxes. This past year it became evident that the credit crisis is a global issue, and that, if unresolved, the whole system could come crashing down on top of us. Remedy: All governments, including ours, need to stop living beyond their means. Here’s a start, at least in the U.S.: slash military spending and foreign aid. Trim those plush federal pensions, beginning with members of the House and Senate. Trim redundant welfare programs, too (if we offer food stamps, do we also need free lunches?). Stop state-sponsored corporate welfare in the form of bailouts and subsidies. Collect a fair share of taxes from huge corporations and the super-rich. No loopholes. No compromises.
That’s my list for 2016, and it should be more than enough to rouse our fellow moderates from their slumber. Share this list so your friends of all political persuasions can see it. And feel free to propose your own additions to the list. I’d like to hear from you.
Rick Bayan is founder-editor of The New Moderate.