In the wake of this week’s primary elections, I have a suggestion. Spend a couple of hours in the wildfire of uninformed opinion we call social media. And don’t look at the sites you already like, but pass a little time in those blazing corners you’d rather avoid crackling with comments about politics, society, and your mother’s virtue. I dare you. You may not come across many facts or well-sourced stories, but you will find one area of sizzling agreement between the far left and far right: they both despise the middle.
The latest voting drove that home, with the headlines dominated by a young progressive booting a mainstream Democrat in New York, and Trumpers driving more traditional Republicans into retreat elsewhere. With increasing vigor, the acolytes of extremism are setting fire to every tender shoot of moderation. Talk of compromise on immigration reform, a unified approach to entitlements, or bipartisan cooperation on…well, anything? Burn it all to the ground.
The fervor is understandable. On the right, Trump land is loaded with arch-conservatives who feel their greatest beliefs (the very soul of American exceptionalism in their eyes) have been under liberal assault for years. On the left, progressives are seething over what they view as a burgeoning dictatorship wrapped in racist robes. Both sides fear if the other gains one more ounce of power, the nation will become unlivable for them and their kind. And both sides are treating any talk about finding an agreeable middle, as a sort of neo-treason.
The result? Voters this fall will find ballots in many places littered with fierce ideologues betting everything on an outright win for their side.
But most of us, despite our leanings to the left or right, are not so hard-core about our politics. Polls have long shown a significant part of the electorate would like a mix of liberal and conservative policies. We may feel forced to the extremes by the current state of things, but neither party should think that’s because everyone likes being there – rather it is a measure only of how molten the center has become.
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