In the divisive arena of American politics, the conversation often focuses on how “polarized” things have become. Op-eds and online blogs have proliferated the idea that America must turn away from “extremism on both sides.” But in this fairy-tale world of constant compromise and middle-ground, what is actually being lost?
Recent years have seen the American political sphere shifting further and further to the right. The markets have been deregulated; taxes—for the wealthy—have been cut; laissez-faire capitalism has run rampant to the point where even the slightest hint of regulation or taxation has politicians branded as “Communists.” Upon these uneven scales, the political position of the “moderate” becomes especially insidious.
One might well be wondering, I thought moderation was a good thing? Perhaps it is when you’re wondering whether to take a large slice of pie or stick to a smaller one, but in the political world, moderates are dependent on a shifting center.
Let me put it in perspective: if the campus of Mississippi College is measured from the pods to Lowrey Hall, then Jennings Annex would be the campus center. On the actual map of campus, however, Jennings Annex is the educational building furthest to the right. From the perspective of someone at the pods, someone at Lowrey Hall is on the extreme left side of campus. It’s the same with the political spectrum. We’ve drifted so far to the right that someone whose platform is slightly left of center is painted as a “far-left radical.”
Part of the problem is that America is so incredibly insular that its citizens don’t even realize how different they are from the rest of the world. The United States is the only developed country in the world that does not have a system of universal healthcare. The readers of The Collegian might recognize this by its other name: Medicare For All, the “radical socialist” platform of Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, two of the heavy-hitters in the Democratic party. Even amongst members of the Democratic party, Medicare For All is a divisive subject and garners only limited support because they don’t want to appear “too extreme.” Oftentimes, what seems like extreme leftist policy in the United States has been par for the course in every other developed country.
The purpose of this article is not to offend any self-proclaimed moderates but to raise awareness of what moderation truly means. As a moderate, you are dependent on the ideologies of others to define your own position. Many Americans claim to be moderates because they have an aversion to appearing “radical;” however, this aversion allows true extremists to set themselves up as a baseline for comparison.
For example, after the Civil War, the United States implemented segregation under the guise of “Separate but Equal,” because slavery was outlawed. Obviously, this doctrine was anything but equal, but at the time, segregation was the moderate choice. On one side were the Confederates and allies who resented that Black Americans had been granted their freedom, and on the other side were the activists who lobbied for racial equality. The myth of moderation allowed for the continued oppression of Black Americans.
So what can we do? I’m not exactly trying to tell everyone that they should self-identify as a socialist or as a leftist, but if you choose to define yourself as a moderate then you need to understand what it truly means. As a moderate, your political stance is dependent on that of others rather than based upon your own beliefs. You are not hot or cold, but simply lukewarm.
We’ve probably all heard the sentence, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor,” but only rarely do we encounter the rest of Desmond Tutu’s quote: “If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” To be neutral—to be moderate—when far-right extremism has become the ground zero is to align yourself with the elephant by default.