Thursday, July 19, 2018


The Left keeps careening leftward, imagining that this is a golden opportunity for, like, Bernie. Meanwhile, the Right seems determined to keep sticking with Trump, despite his escalating corruption, treason, and authoritarianism.

When there's tumult, when we're angry or scared, we instinctually bifurcate. We tribalize. If you imagine the political divide was ever about ideology, you haven't been paying attention (conservatism recently did a 180 - toward statism - with buttery ease). Really, it's shirts-and-skins. It's us-and-them. This sort of thing explains why history unfolds via a succession of immoderately reactive pendulum swings; why we never learn to react to extremism with enlightened moderation rather than with reciprocal extremism.

We feel particular aversion to conciliation when we're riled up. As I once wrote, "'Character' is measured by the rate at which one discards one's values as stakes rise." And we humans don't always have much character. While it gives hope that three of our most adulated figures - Christ, King, and Gandhi - taught a better reaction, it's dismaying how easily we reject their vaunted lessons whenever emotion kindles.

Both ideologically and tribally, I'm centrist. And I believe the majority of the country is, as well. As explained in that link, I think most people are veeeery loosely attached to an identification, mostly out of pure momentum plus asymmetrical awareness of the sins of the other side (which is also how racism happens).

What does Centrisism mean? Easy: "a pox on both their houses." Only a true believer could feel no attraction for such a stance. When I see children playing Color Wars, I don't get drawn in to taking sides, because I'm not a child. I understand the benefits of giving children arbitrary excuses to compete - to flex strategic muscles and develop their sense of teamwork - but, as a grown-up, my perspective is lithe enough to recognize the silly exercise it actually is (I also completely understand how odd and bloodless folks like me appear to those in the throes of it all).

There are, paradoxically, two sides to a reluctance to choose sides:

1. No Thirst for Villainization

With a few exceptions, the Right isn't the Right; it's the anti-Left. And (again, with exceptions) the Left isn't the Left, it's the anti-Right. But my aversion muscles have atrophied, so I can't muster sufficient hatred of The Other to really motivate myself.

As a native New Yorker, liberalism feels like the more familiar tribe even if it's not my ideology. But Texas (mainstream Texas, not just Austin) is one of my favorite places, and I relate easily to people well as to my Trump-supporter friends back home. So I simply can't summon a good strong "Fuck these people!" I grok both perspectives (which is why I can effectively explain conservatives to liberals). I clearly identify the ignorance and anger driving both extremes, and I'm no fan of ignorance or anger.

Being non-tribal, all that's left for me, then, are issues, and my feeling on issue is moderate and conciliatory in the best of times, and utterly beside the point in times like these. I'd be very happy with a president who's honorable, smart and institutionalist in 2020, even if I disagreed on tons of issues (I didn't love Gerald Ford's policies, but he sure was a relief after Nixon!). For instance, I'd vote blindly for Sally Yates (and who knows what she believes?).

Trump has shown us the damage a loose-canon demagogue can do. Give me a low-key mensch for a leader, period. In 2024 maybe I'll go back to thinking about issues! That's the centrist position (and, once again, it's potentially the majoritarian position; for one thing, bear in mind that Trump approval among Republicans doesn't count those who've stopped identifying as Republican!).

2. No Flocking Instinct

I don't flock. I don't seek the refuge of safe space, of tribal familiarity, of haven. I don't watch a Michael Moore and think "sure, he's an asshole, and he's over the top and sanctimonious, but, hey, he's fighting the good fight," and the same goes for a Rush Limbaugh. I can't get over the assholery and sanctimony. In-tribe gestures - the amplifications of my visceral predilections - don't help me forgive it. It sends me the other way, refusing to embrace divisive indulgent buffoonery from figureheads. Many people enjoy watching the performance of someone roughly like them only comically exaggerated as a guilty pleasure. It strokes their confirmation bias. In fact, there's the Fox audience, right there! But I don't chuckle forgivingly at the seething dimness of a Maxine Waters because she and I happen to agree on this administration's venality.

The Republican party will incinerate along with Trump (people who Know Stuff - hardened NatSec folks - say the truth that will eventually emerge is eyeball-searing and much worse than we imagine; the fever will be broken, and the end game began in Helsinki). I'd love to see it replaced with old-time conservatism. Not social conservatism, telling me how to live. And not libertarianism, a radical and nonviable utopia for sheltered eggheads. And not Koch-ism, deferentially trusting unconstrained elites and corps to act in society's best interest. Rather, I mean an emphasis on honor, moderation, small government, rule of law, and institutionalism. And I'd love to see the Democratic Party return to its traditional role as mild irritant to Conservative complacency, stoking a moderately heated grind between idealistic new initiatives and leery skepticism of change. I'd contribute and vote across party lines in such a scenario.

Of course, that's what America traditionally was like. To be sure, it never felt idyllic in the least. The moderately heated grind often felt like siege warfare - much as long TSA lines before we're whisked around the world in hours for the cost of a couple day's work feel to us like a form of torture. It's all how you frame things. The problem is we ratchet our framing in order to ballast our happiness.

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