7 November 2018 – During the week of 22 October 2018 two events dominated the news: Cesar Sayoc mailed fourteen pipe bombs to prominent individuals critical of Donald Trump, and Robert Bowers shot up a synagogue because he didn’t like Jews. Both of these individuals identified themselves with far-right ideology, so the media has been full of rhetoric condemning far-right activists.
To be legally correct, I have to note that, while I’ve written the above paragraph as if those individuals’ culpability for those crimes is established fact, they (as of this writing) haven’t been convicted. It’s entirely possible that some deus ex machina will appear out of the blue and exonerate one or both of them.
Clearly, things have gotten out of hand with Red Team activists when they start “throwing” pipe bombs and bullets. But, I’m here to say “naughty, naughty” to both sides.
Both sides are culpable.
I don’t want you to interpret that last sentence as agreement with Donald Trump’s idiotic statement after last year’s Charlottesville incident that there were “very fine people on both sides.”
There aren’t “very fine people” on both sides. Extremists are “bad” people no matter what side they’re on.
For example, not long ago social media sites (specifically Linkedin and, especially, Facebook) were lit up with vitriol about the Justice Kavanaugh hearings by pundits from both the Red Team and the Blue Team. It got so hot that I was embarrassed!
Some have pointed out that, statistically, most of the actual violence has been perpetrated by the Red Team.
Does that mean the Red Team is more culpable than the Blue Team?
No. It means they’re using different weapons.
The Blue Team, which I believe consists mainly of extremists from the liberal/progressive wing of the Democratic Party, has traditionally chosen written and spoken words as their main weapon. Recall some of the political correctness verbiage used to attack free expression in the late 20th Century, and demonstrations against conservative speakers on college campuses in our own.
The Red Team, which today consists of the Trumpian remnants of the Republican Party, has traditionally chosen to throw hard things, like rocks, bullets and pipe bombs.
Both sides also attempt to disarm the other side. The Blue Team wisely attempts to disarm the Red Team by taking away their guns. The Red Team, which eschews anything that smacks of wisdom, tries to disarm the Blue Team by (figuratively, so far) burning their books.
Recognize that calling the Free Press “the enemy of the people” is morally equivalent to throwing books on a bonfire. They’re both attempts to promote ignorance.
What’s actually happening is that the fringes of society are making all of the noise, and the mass of moderate-thinking citizens can’t get a word in edgewise.
George Schultz pointed out: “He who walks in the middle of the roads gets hit from both sides.”
I think it was Douglas Adams who pointed out that fanatics get to run things because they care enough to put in the effort. Moderates don’t because they don’t.
Both of these pundits point out the sad fact that Nature favors extremes. The most successful companies are those with the highest growth rates. Most drivers exceed the speed limit. The squeaky wheel gets the most grease. And, those who express the most extreme views get the most media attention.
Our Constitution specifies in no uncertain terms that the nation is founded on (small “d”) democratic principles. Democratic principles insist that policy matters be debated and resolved by consensus of the voting population. That can only be done when people meet together in the middle.
Extremists on both the Red Team and Blue Team don’t want that. They treat politics as a sporting event.
In a baseball game, for example, nobody roots for a tie. They root for a win by one team or the other.
Government is not a sporting event.
When one team or the other wins, all Americans lose.
The enemy we are facing now, which is the same enemy democracies face around the world, is not the right or left. It is extremism in general. Always has been. Always will be.
Authoritarians always go for one extreme or the other. Hitler went for the right. Stalin went for the left.
The reason authoritarians pick an extreme is that’s where there are people who are passionate enough about their ideas to shoot anyone who doesn’t agree with them. That, authoritarians realize, is the only way they can become “Dictator for Life.” Since that is their goal, they have to pick an extreme.
We love democracy because it’s the best way for “We the People” to ensure nobody gets to be “Dictator for Life.” When everyone meets in the middle (which is the only place everyone can meet), authoritarians get nowhere.
Ergo, authoritarians love extremes and everyone else needs the middle.
Vilifying “nationalism” as a Red Team vice misses the point. In the U.S. (or any similar democracy), nationalism requires more-or-less moderate political views. There’s lots of room in the middle for healthy (and ultimately entertaining) debate, but very little room at the extremes.
Try going for the middle.
To quote Victor “Animal” Palotti in Roland Emmerich’s 1998 film Godzilla: “C’mon. It’ll be fun! It’ll be fun! It’ll be fun!”