Monday, November 19, 2018

2/3 Of Americans Yearn For The Political Middle - A Case Of Moral Cowardice?

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Find a 'middle' with this asshole and his cult followers? Get real!

"The only things in the middle of the road are dead skunks and yellow lines."  - Progressive columnist Jim Hightower

In the interest of full disclosure let me come right out and admit I have no use or tolerance for the American political "middle". Hence, see no remote purpose in complying with the oft heard plaintive plea (from clueless pundits) that  we need to somehow find civility and "meet in the middle".  Why? As Tafari Jones writes in his TIME essay ('The Myth of the Moral Middle',  November 5, p. 56):

"I find myself annoyed by the hand wringing about how we need to find common ground. People ask how we might 'meet in the middle' as though this represents a safe, neutral and civilized space.  But this American fetishization of the moral middle is a misguided and dangerous cultural impulse. 

The middle is a point equidistant from two poles. That's it. There is nothing inherently virtuous about being neither here nor there.  Buried in this is a false equivalency of ideas, what you might call the 'good people on both sides' phenomenon. But when we revisit our shameful past ask yourself, 'where was the middle?"

He has a salient point and there are numerous examples. For example, when Native Americans were being wiped out by the U.S. Cavalry in the 1870s- 80s and their tribal lands seized where was the "middle"?  Was it to kill all the braves and leave the women and children? Was it to make fake treaties to grab Indian lands - and then ship the victims (like Geronimo and the Apache) off to reservations where they withered and died- but not kill them?

What about slavery? Where was the middle there?  If we reject the basest extremes of chattel slavery, i.e. as portrayed in '12 Years A Slave' - where if Massah wanted some entertainment he'd use some excuse to take out his whip and flog one or more of the slaves while banjo music played- where was the middle?   Would it have been a softer 'indentured servitude' - which actually ensued during Reconstruction when "freed" slaves were allowed to remain on plantations and work the land- but only for a pittance-  and it was never enough to be truly free, and own the land?

In terms of Dotard's immigration policy, where is the middle? Is it only to separate migrant families but not to cage the  toddlers or infants?

Transferring the concept of the threat of  'the other'  to Nazi Germany, where was the middle? Was it to inter the Jews by the millions in the concentration camps - but not to gas them in the Holocaust?

In the end, the embrace of the middle is the position of the moral coward. Or as Jones puts it (p.57):

"The search for the middle is rooted in conflict avoidance and denial."

Going on to note that for too many Americans it is "painful" to accept there are actually racist and sexist knuckle draggers, homophobes and xenophobes in our midst.   Hence:

"Perhaps there is some way to look at this, some view from the middle - that would allow to communicate and realize a national identity is the tie that will bind us comfortably.. ."

Which is arrant twaddle because it suggests that "the fact we can't all get along is more significant than the issues over which we are sparring".  Thus, it will never ever come to being that I will "get along" with a climate denier because our views are 180 degrees opposite, and I believe the climate issue is one of national emergency, hell, global emergency..   I will also never get along with a racist, a white nationalist or Trumpie. No, I can't say I hate them like vermin rats- like wifey does -  but let's say I deplore them intensely.   There ain't no way I'd invite any of them to the Thanksgiving table.

All this is relevant after a recent NY Times op-ed in which we learn millions of Americans in the middle are now "tired of politics" - especially after the tumult of the midterms, and are tuning out.  We learn, for example:

"Most  Americans do not see their lives through a political lens, and when they have political views the views are far less rigid than those of the highly politically engaged, ideologically orthodox tribes."

This confirms what I've always suspected about the middle: they are simply not as well informed precisely because they are non-ideological and hence less politically engaged. Hence, they typify the kind of voter who'd cast a ballot for a presidential candidate  he "could have a beer with".  In other words, the bottom basement sort of decision framework.

Rather than being "rigid" the ideological, non-Middle voter has an orientation and vision.    It is ideology that gives one’s world and perceptions context and color. If you lack an ideology, as an old logic teacher once put it to me, then you will find yourself cast adrift and swayed by any and every meme, blabber or blowhard that might try to influence you. Of course, one always checks his ideology against reality, this is important! But one needs a central POV to make any sense of the world. This is  precisely the quality that those embracing the middle lack.

Anyway, the Times' piece cites a  study by a nonpartisan organization, More in Common,  that paints a picture of a society that is far more disengaged — and despairing over divisions — than it is divided.  The study itself was ostensibly conducted in an effort to understand the forces that drive political polarization, and surveyed a representative group of 8,000 Americans.

Of course, no formal study was needed to grasp the forces driving polarization and division, only common sense and logic.  Thus, if you believe babies from immigrants need to be grabbed and caged while I do not, then we instantly  have opposition - hence, division. There is no amount of modulation that will dilute or remove it.   Spread it over a large enough population - with separate segments holding these opposite views - and we have "polarization".  But that is a GOOD thing because: a) we don't want every manjack in the country believing infants ought to be caged and separated, and b) it isn't morally right - and can never be!

This also applies to a host of other "divisive' issues from climate change, to taxes, to voter suppression (such as recently happened to Stacy Abrams' voters in GA) and the nonsense claim of "voter fraud" by the Right. . In other words, there must be division and yes, polarization,  if a pronounced segment of the population embraces regressive  policies and comes into political power- Then it must be checked, lest that power metastasize, and we get an authoritarian state where the Constitution becomes just a piece of paper.. Similar to what happened in Germany in the 1930s  when all the "good Germans" grew dumb and numb as the Nazis took control over their nation.

Then, predictably, we read in the Times' piece:

"At its heart is a vast and often overlooked political middle that feels forgotten in the vitriol, as if the country has gone on without it. It calls that group the Exhausted Majority, a group that represented two-thirds of the survey".

But these poor little exhausted folks seem to forget - or never processed- that political combat in the present circumstances is needed. Is "vitriol" necessary? Perhaps not, but let's say that it currently goes with the territory given how Dotard Trump is setting the direction and odious example for much of  it.  And as I've written before, so long as he's around and his lying, outrageous comments - and actions- are evident,  there will be hostile reaction from many of us and that will indeed become vitriolic on occasion.  Hey look, at least I don't depict Trump hanging by his orange neck in all my posts attacking him.   The article then quotes a 36-year-old home health care worker in Topeka, Kan., (Jamie McDaniel)  one of several people in the study  who was interviewed for this article:

It feels very lonely out here,  Everybody is so right or left, and you’re just kind of standing there in the middle saying, “What happened?’”

What happened, in case you missed it, is that a Russian stooge traitor took over this country in the 2016 mis-election, and is driving this nation toward destruction with his violation of the Constitution and embrace of authoritarianism.  Now, we could all make nicey- nicey and sing kumbaya - but then we'd be like the good Germans who allowed the Nazis and Hitler to take over Germany. This we cannot allow, so we fight against the minority faction in our midst and their dictator -Fuhrer,   Herr Trump, aka Drumpf.   If you are not part of the solution you are part of the problem. Deal with it but don't stand there scratching your butt wondering 'what happened?' - that only confirms my belief of cluelessnness and ignorance.

McDaniel, sad to say, embodies the problem with too many Americans, as I've often observed:   that they are unpracticed and untutored in deep politics .  This is why so many adhere to the "middle" or what author Curtis White once called  "the Middle Mind". The 'Middle Mind' is a safe mental space where all the old verities are true. These are the tropes trotted out endlessly by our shameful politicos and news media to manipulate our consciousness, i.e.. we inhabit  the "land of the free" - never mind we have more people incarcerated than all the other nations together.  And we are the "land of opportunity"  never mind upward mobility has fallen steadily the past 3 decades leading to unbelievable levels of inequality."

Meanwhile, the media white washers seek to enshrine in the American people the political and historical memory of gnats. This is why politicos can play them over and over again, and why the targets never advance their insights as to what is happening to them and why. It is also why author Gore Vidal once referred to our nation as the "United States of Amnesia".   This is now evident in the "More in common" survey which conceivably could see more than half of Americans checking out for the crucial 2020 election - where we have the chance to finally ditch Trump in a legal fashion.  As 'Last Week Tonight' host John Oliver put it last night in reference to Trump and authoritarianism:

"The world is dabbling with something very dangerous right now, and America needs to be careful. Look, I know democracy can be often by design frustrating.  Checks and balances can be irritating and slow...but removing them opens the door to something much worse."

As for Tafari Jones, for him - as well as me - the choice is stark and never clearer:

Is the search for a misplaced "national unity" more important than our core values and  principles?   I.e. "is it more important we understand the motives of white nationalists or that we prevent them from terrorizing communities?"

At least for the people directly affected by the terror of white nationalists there is the sober recognition of no safety found in the "in between".  The rest of us need to grasp that too. 

See also:

Trump and American Authoritarianism

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