With the worse-than-ever polarization dividing our nation’s politics, with the major parties pulling further away from any sort of middle ground, it’s worth noting that American citizens hold a wide range of political opinions that don’t fit into tidy categories such a “right” and “left” and “conservative” and “liberal.”
Most of us fit into different categories from issue to issue, as well. I support socialized health care and humane treatment of undocumented immigrants, support international, multi-lateral engagement, and ardently oppose protectionism on trade, four positions that you usually won’t find under the same hat. (The opposite opinions, however, pretty much define Trumpism.)
Many people, including myself, consider themselves occupying a moderate or middle area in politics. This can be shaky ground with the relative middle constantly changing. For example, the Ronald Reagan of 1986 would be considered a squishy moderate in today’s Republican Party.
It’s also worth noting that the concept of moderation only has a negative connotation in the minds of political true believers, the ideologues that pull each party further to the right or the left. Outside of the political realm, with regard to behavior, habits and thought, being moderate is considered a positive trait. Not that long ago, it was that way in American politics as well.
Myself, I’m a big fan of political moderation, though this shouldn’t be confused with elastic or soft opinions. One can feel fervently about an issue without taking an extreme position.
However I perceive myself, though, no doubt I’m a flaming liberal in the minds of the automatons who worship at the altar of Trump and FOX News, and a hopelessly flaccid stooge for the corporate establishment in the opinion of Bernie Sanders progressives.
But I’m OK with that, and yearn for a day when political compromise and moderation is no longer a death sentence for party candidates running in contested primary elections.
This seems to be worse on the right than the left, with moderate or non-Bernie Democrats still viable candidates in most Democratic primaries. In the Republican Party, however, candidates who don’t show fealty to Trump and FOX, who betray any reflex toward compromise or moderation, often are doomed in their party primary. The only way to head off any challenges from the right is to stand firmly against the far-right wall.
This is where this whole right-left, liberal-conservative thing gets annoying and disturbing, and nowhere does it manifest itself more than on social-media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.
It happens every second on social media in thousands upon thousands of political threads. Someone who sings from the FOX News/Trump hymnal will dismiss anybody who holds a position to the left of that extreme as a “liberal.”
Think about this. In this country, you have a political party whose controlling faction occupies an ideological territory that would have been considered the extreme right in nearly any other American era, including most of my life. Other than the oddballs who practice trollery in the dank, dark cellars of right-wing politics (the Alex Jones acolytes who sincerely believe Hillary is an reptile alien), nobody stands to the right of the politicians, media and interest groups who control the GOP today.
So when they snidely dismiss you as a “libtard” in that Facebook thread about gun violence, immigration or Middle Eastern policy, they’re tossing you in with everybody else to their left. They’re unfurling a colossal umbrella that covers everyone from the most radical Marxist revolutionary to GOP “liberal” Sen. John McCain, who not long ago was considered a conservative Republican.
This sort of thing happens on the left as well, especially among Sanders progressives whose hatred of Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party establishment helped grease the skids for the worst president in U.S. history. (My longtime discomfort with the Clintons certainly wasn’t enough to negate my intense fear and detestation of Donald Trump.)
To many of these folks, anybody to their near right is a “lukewarm liberal of the corporate-elite Democratic party establishment oligarchy” (or something to that effect).
Whenever I get slammed as a liberal in a Facebook thread by a Trump supporter, I feel like responding, “Well, tell that to my critical friends to my left.”
My arguments with Hillary-hating progressives in the wake of the Trump victory were far more bitter than any tiffs I had with Republicans or Trump supporters. That’s not surprising or unusual, however, since ideological battles between factions in a movement tend to be more intensely – and sometimes more bloodily – fought than between parties in the Main Event. (Ask Leon Trotsky about that.)
So back to moderation. As I hope I’ve demonstrated in this column, one can hold an opinion on an issue that appears moderate compared to the extremes, and do so with missionary zeal and without being a sell-out. It should be self-evident that the eternal hope of the American citizenry – that those damn politicians “get something done for the people” – will only happen when the parties work together toward achievable and reasonable goals. This won’t happen until we erase the unpatriotic tribalism that rewards extremism, penalizes moderation, and perpetuates point-scoring and gridlock.