This litany of incompetence is not as much fun as I thought it would be. The Trump White House was meant to help the traditional Republican Party assert itself; the alt-right buffoonery precipitate out into a more moderate form of government in the same way that the threat of a hard Brexit would motivate centrist conservatives to re-establish their dominance in the party. There are few signs that either is happening. Instead the chaos is deepening. Senate Democrats were even unable to block the appointment of gibbering supply teacher, Betsy DeVos, surely the worst candidate for a senior role in a US administration. This already feels like a long cold winter for moderates who find themselves abandoned by events.
You would be excused if you wanted to bunker down for the rest of winter. It’s not that politics aren’t fascinating or that there aren’t things to be said, but the epicentres of the twin blasts that were Trump and Brexit are still glowing hot. In the US, the Republicans have a utter stranglehold on Congress that has left minority leaders, Pelosi and Schumer, making futile flag-waving protests on the steps of the Capital Building. In the UK, Corbyn’s Labour Party displays the political acumen of a parked skip, occupying the space normally reserved for a real opposition. There’s nothing now to tether the May government to the centre ground and talk of a soft Brexits have been replaced by talk of how hard the hard Brexit will be when it comes. For moderates, the tunnel is so long and dark that it might as well be a hole.
As our survival training kicks in, we need to keep our psyches healthy. The either/or of politics is beginning to matter too much, as does where one gets one’s news. Are you loyal to Fox News or CNN? Do you like facts or alternate facts? Are you pro-ban or anti-ban? Pro-women or anti-women? Pro-Brexit or Remain? Even, in the deep ridiculousness of all this, are you pro or anti-Australia? Even as the Left screams, the Right march on with their agenda, leaving the rest of us stuck watching from the sidelines. The irradiation of politics has made it too toxic for moderates who have nowhere to go; no place to hold up our signs that read ‘I’m not entirely convinced by Brexit but I’m not entirely against it either’.
We should accept that this is partly our own fault or, at least, a inherent problem with all moderate politics. The philosophy of centrism might well be that attributed to Aristotle: ‘The more you know, the more you know you don’t know’. It accounts for the way moderates doubt the idealizations of the radical margins. We try to be pragmatic, worldly and somewhat progressive, because we know that dogmatic beliefs prevent our moving forward. We think of this as our virtue but it is also our chief weakness in extreme times. Humility in the face of a complicated world is admirable but leaves too much room for Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway to challenge our facts. We labour too long over our doubts. Who are we to judge? What right have I to say that? Perhaps I’m wrong…
Much of this is the result of the guilt that comes to us via the political Left who taught us to view conflicts from multiple angles. If you’re a centrist, you probably believe something like the assertion that colonialism was sometimes bad but also did a lot of good. Immigration, in your view, probably hovers around the skeptical mark: that we need immigration but that it must be controlled. Because we leave room for doubt and are hesitant about stating facts as if they are unqualified facts, we also leave room for extremists to exploit that space to establish their falsehoods.
Meanwhile, over on the Left, The Labour Party (and perhaps even the Democratic Party in the US) is dying (or could die) a slow death because of their intractable commitment to an idealization of society that no longer exists. Labour cannot accept that voters are concerned about immigration and put their personal wealth above social issues; Democrats couldn’t moderate their liberal east and west coast message to appeal to Rust Belt America. The implosion on the Left has produced on the Right the phenomenon of Trump, UKIP, and more broadly, nationalism. How voters could switch from Labour to UKIP (or Obama democrats could vote for Trump) remains the most compelling intrigue of recent elections; a political quantum mechanics whereby particles leap across gaps they should in no way be thought capable of crossing.
All of that is the bad news.
The worst news is that there’s no sign of a re-emergent middle.
The vacating of the centre ground is something we now see on our nightly news. To protestors, Donald Trump’s travel ban is the sign of an emerging fascist state. To the Right, it’s a long needed anecdote to the threat of radical Islamic terrorism. The Left lionise the oppressed whilst the Right demonise them. For one group, it’s all about the Iraqi translators and children needing medical help. To them, every person is a refugee. To the other group, it’s about the illegal immigrants who are either potential bombers or low wage workers ready to suppress living standards as well as change the cultural profile of a Christian nation. Such is the rough granularity of politics that we are meant to choose a side yet moderates are unable to choose a side and are left feeling disenfranchised. Politics has move beyond us.
Where, then, should centrists find hope?
The protests would make you believe that answer will come from the Left but one might suspect the real salvation is on the Right. The American Left are wrong if they believe the best way to counter the Right is by adopting the same tactics. A Tea Party movement of the Left would not be the best way to solve the problems caused by the original Tea Party on the Right. Rather, it would simply exacerbate the forces that put Donald Trump into power. What is needed is that calmness that’s organic to the centre.
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If politics were working as normal, the salvation could come from opposition parties. Yet with the opposition in turmoil, salvation in the short term can only come from moderates in the Republican Party in America and the Conservatives in the UK. Liberal conservatives are the factor missing from the current political equation. What we need are the traditional wings of the parties to begin to reassert their power. Moderates should not be so fearful of staking out their plot of land. It’s only the centrists that recognise that both the Left and Right worldviews have their cogencies. The centrist is willing to argue that Donald Trump is correct (hard words to write) when he demands that America have rigorous vetting as to who they allow into their country. The centrist can also explain why is wrong to believe it will significantly reduce the terrorist threat to America.
It is vital that this happen because the Trump narrative (and one favoured by many right-wing conservatives) is growing increasingly theocratic, as evidenced by his plan to ‘totally destroy’ the Johnson Amendment, which keeps religion out of politics by refusing non-profit organizations from endorsing or opposing political candidates. This would feel like pandering to his base if it weren’t for the broader push of his administration, particularly towards Iran. If we’re to discount the more salacious theories, the only explanation for his diplomacy towards Russia would be a geopolitical one: splitting Russia from Iran, in a concerted effort to combat radical Islam.
Standing outside the looming battle between Christianity and Islam (a battle that Trump’s advisor, Steven Bannon, thinks is inevitable) centrists and progressives (sometimes one and the same) should feel justifiably aggrieved that the world might tear itself apart in the name of the old superstitions. We must not lose focus on our core values and our most obvious and cogent truth: that the world is better today that it has been in the entire history of our species. This is a fact and it is time for moderates to stop hiding and help bring the insanity to an end.