2016 Was a Nasty Year for Moderates (and Nearly Everyone Else)
O for an FDR (or at least an Eisenhower) to reunite us, reassure us and revive our fractured national spirit! Obama’s minutely measured rhetoric couldn’t do it, high-minded though it was. Trump’s half-mad Twitterspeak won’t save us, either, although he threatens to blow the lid off the bubbling cauldron of animosity that is latter-day America. Maybe blowing the lid off will prove to be a good thing, although the cynic in me doubts it.
As 2016 rumbles into the far horizon, it leaves behind a smoking ruin of celebrity deaths, political insanity and battling Facebook memes. Any year that propels alt-right (read “neo-Nazi”) provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos to fame and riches while shooing Leonard Cohen, Muhammad Ali, John Glenn and Debbie Reynolds off the stage is a year that has lost my respect. And that’s the least of its evil accomplishments.
I’ve already written too much about Herr Trump in 2016, and you can bet I’ll be writing more about him in the future. For now, let me just observe that he’s squandering a rare chance to emerge as a populist hero. Not that he has the stuff of heroism anywhere in his gold-plated bones, but he might have done a remarkable service to the country by wresting our government from the corporatist establishment and returning it to the common folk who believed his promises. Instead, he’s populating his brain trust (and he could use a few extra brains) with hidebound conservative insiders of extraordinary wealth and questionable intentions. On the plus side, they might help restrain Trump’s inner four-year-old.
Trump is no ideologue, at least, and neither was Hillary: Mrs. Clinton was a lukewarm liberal, and Donald believes only in himself. So why was my Facebook feed littered with the most virulent anti-right and anti-left propaganda all year long? One of my friends actually posted 138 times in a single day (yes, I went to her page and counted) — mostly anti-Trump memes and tirades. (We get it; you hate Trump.) Another friend berated me for proclaiming, on the anniversary of 9/11, that our special-interest identities should finally take a back seat to our identity as Americans.
I have to ask, as I asked that day, whether we’ll ever be united again. Extremist and fake news sites constantly confirm the biases of their fans, inflaming their hatreds and reinforcing tribal solidarity on the right and left. The big losers of 2016 were truth and moderation.
Why are we so divided? Factionalism is probably written into our very genes; it would explain why our species has been warring ever since rival tribes fought over some prime mammoth-hunting turf. Why else would Sunnis and Shiites delight in beheading each other when they believe in the same prophet and the same book? Why else would everyone but New Yorkers hate the Yankees? (Even some New Yorkers hate them.)
We used to be able to subordinate our tribal instincts for decades at a time. Political squabbling in the U.S. is a time-honored tradition dating back to the Revolution, but for most of our history we’ve been able to function as a reasonably united nation.
No longer. Coastal urban America and inland rural America might as well be on different continents. Citified sophisticates now despise their backward bumpkin cousins openly and almost triumphantly; their shared disdain actually unites them as a self-made elite. At the same time, those unfortunate bumpkins seethe with resentment toward the Chardonnay-sippers who would control their beloved semi-automatics and drag them toward an increasingly nonwhite, non-Christian and multisexual future. Their shared resentment unites them, too. (Not everyone is a fan of diversity.)
In 2016, all that resentment finally popped out of hiding and into the open. Tribalism won.
Trump’s candidacy and upset victory have driven us even further apart. The president-elect, while not a raving racist himself, has enabled racism and quasi-fascist fanaticism to assert itself for the first time since the “Big Red Scare” era that followed World War I. Meanwhile, the “Not My President” faction threatens to polarize us even more than the birthers and tea partiers who made life miserable for Obama (and the republic in general).
If most of us have waited for 2016 to wink into history, 2017 promises to make us look back longingly at the year that brought us Trump, Russian hackers, Islamist attacks in Europe and peak misery in Syria. At least we saw the Cubs win their first World Series since Teddy Roosevelt was president and Tsar Nicholas II ruled all the Russias.
As it’s shaping up, 2017 will probably make us long for a reincarnated TR to carry his big stick and seize the presidency. If it gets bad enough, we might even wish that Tsar Nicholas would take the reins. (Wait a minute… the current Russian tsar is already pulling the strings.)
The political and social upheavals that most likely loom ahead are enough to send sensitive moderates into hibernation. Don’t go there, friends! Don’t let the rabble-rousing rhetoric on the right and left convince you that we have no place in American politics and culture. When the extremists are battling for the soul of America, we moderates are more valuable — more essential — than ever.
Who else will be able to understand both sides of an issue, separate truth from fiction, and keep the national fabric from splitting along its seams? Who else will protect the country from the bullying influence of narrow partisan and tribal interests? Not the media… not your neighbors… certainly not the government.
It’s up to us. The moderates. The forgotten ones. Buckle up, friends! Let’s charge into 2017 with our heads up and our eyes alert. We can’t afford to be namby-pamby middle-of-the-roaders. In times like these, we need to be road warriors.
Rick Bayan is founder-editor of The New Moderate and the author of Lifestyles of the Doomed, available wherever e-books are sold.