I’m a part of the political middle, and I think my kind is going extinct.
In the interest of full disclosure, I am a registered Democrat and am left-of-center, though not too far left. I’ve always considered myself moderate, pragmatic and not swayed by pure ideology.
I attended a relatively liberal university where I was routinely disturbed and even disgusted by the statements of some of my “progressive” peers. Those same peers thought I was a neocon because I didn’t vote for the Green Party candidate. I felt like ripping down signs posted around campus that said “Support the insurgency in Fallujah” during the height of the Iraq war. I cringed at the students who gathered around U.S. military recruiters at a job fair and shouted them down any time an interested student approached them.
I’m the most conservative member of my immediate family. Republican friends generally think I’m a bleeding heart, and many liberal friends think I’m a conservative. I’ve always taken a little bit of pride in the fact that the hard core on both sides of the aisle rejected my political beliefs.
Recently, I attended a small get-together with family and some people I had never met before. When I was introduced to another partygoer, I was presented by my name, my relationship to the host and as a “left-winger.” I immediately objected to this categorization because I’m not by any definition left wing.
When questioned about the presidential election, I revealed I had voted for Hillary Clinton. I was then asked if I supported Kathy Griffin’s recent ill-advised foray into mock decapitation. I answered a question with a question, and asked whether he supported Richard Spencer and the alt-right movement. We tried to find common ground, and we all got out of the conversation unscathed, but it was a microcosm of the polarization Americans have come to expect out of our country’s new political Weltanschauung.
These days, it’s common for us to demonize our political opponents and to define them by the fringes of their parties. We all need to do a better job of condemning those within our ranks who are helping to destroy the American moderate.
I’ll start by denouncing Kathy Griffin for her tasteless and offensive “joke.” We not only need denounce it, but also avoid the temptation to draw parallels between racist memes spread about President Barack Obama. Pretending to hold a sitting president’s severed head is abhorrent, period.
By the same token, supporters of President Donald Trump have to stop responding to criticisms of him by simply stating that Hillary Clinton or Obama were worse. This doesn’t require any critical thought or introspection and serves only to prompt all sides of an argument to retreat into their comfortably entrenched preconceived beliefs.
I also wholly condemn the students at Evergreen State College in Washington who asked all white students and faculty not to come to the campus for a day, as part of an annual “day of absence” tradition. This doesn’t further the cause of social justice, it’s an act of overt racism.
Similarly, there are the students at universities across the country who are protesting and rioting to keep rabble-rousers like Ann Coulter and Richard Spencer from being allowed to speak. It’s important to distinguish protesting their beliefs from those who protest their right to speak those beliefs. The former are as American as apple pie. The latter are enemies of freedom of speech, and just as odious to me as those who vandalized a bumper sticker on my wife’s vehicle in the days after the election, or the person who stole a sign out of our yard that simply expressed support for our neighbors, no matter their background.
I’m not naive enough to believe that the polarization of American opinion that has been building for decades will change anytime soon. But I do call on the principled among us to put country and reason above party, whether you’re a Democrat or Republican. Condemn the extremists in your own ranks, think critically about your position without just thinking about how evil your opponent is and acknowledge that extremism and ultra-polarization are harmful to the very fabric of our government and society.
If some of us can start to build on those ideas, we’ll go a long way toward reviving an important and seemingly forgotten political group: pragmatic moderates.
Dylan Whitehead is an insurance professional in Richardson, Texas. He wrote this for The Dallas Morning News.