Over the past couple of years one of the woke crowd’s harshest critics has been political comedian Bill Maher. At first glance, that may seem a bit surprising, considering that Maher proudly proclaims himself a liberal who glorifies drug use, rails against environmental abuse, incessantly mocks religion and wears his atheism on his sleeve, and donated one million dollars to Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign because he couldn’t bear a Mitt Romney presidency; he treated Donald Trump far worse.
On a recent episode of his hit weekly TV series Real Time, Maher described how many people ask him why he’s been so hard on the left lately. His answer: “because they’re embarrassing me.”
I can relate. I feel the same way when it comes to some Trump supporters. Particularly, the ones who think that a pillow salesman has key information that proves the 2020 election was stolen; who brandish confederate flags with no consideration that – whether fully justified or not – they’re a symbol of horror to many; and, most egregiously, who defend those who breached the hallowed halls of Congress by criminally trespassing into and throughout our glorious, magnificent U.S. Capitol on January 6, surely one of the most humiliating days in American history.
Why have the extremists on both sides taken over, or are, at least, on the verge of doing so? Why has our modern political discourse deteriorated into professional wrestling theatrics? Why is the group of people who have nice things to say about both President Trump and President Biden (not just one or the other, but both) so small? The Wall Street Journal’s Gerald Seib has a brilliant answer.
In his October 5 column titled Why the Political Center Has Eroded, Seib astutely blames it squarely on political redistricting. What I glean from Seib’s insight is that the real culprit as to why Uncle Bob and Cousin Emma can no longer playfully banter amid the turkey and stuffing at Thanksgiving dinner about who’s a better president, Trump or Biden, is because nationwide, legislators took it upon themselves to redraw Congressional districts based on ideology. Seib wisely points to the Partisan Voter Index, which the nonpartisan Cook Political Report has been issuing since 1997. That year, there were 164 swing districts (not inevitably solid red or solid blue). Today, there are just 78.
To put things in further perspective, consider that although Biden won the 2020 election by a sizable 74 electoral vote margin, he only captured about 51 percent of the popular vote to Trump’s 47. When considering how extreme Ilhan Omar (D-MN) sounds to the right and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) sounds to the left, keep in mind that in Omar’s district 80 percent voted for Biden and only 17 percent for Trump, and in Greene’s district 73 percent went for Trump and only 25 percent for Biden. Given such lopsided districts, it’s no wonder that Omar’s and Greene’s messages, which in great part would have been rejected not so long ago as inflammatory rhetoric, are now embraced as manna from heaven.
But the nourishment is mutual and codependent. Candidates want to win, and once they get a taste of DC power, they don’t want to give it up for anything. With rare exception, political survival is their primary concern, and if they run in extreme districts, they’ll keep on giving the people what they want. Voters, in turn, will continue to like what they hear and will continue to reelect them umpteen times, and Uncle Bob and Cousin Emma will become even more fanatical and more intolerant of the other.
All of this creates an ubercombative political climate across America, a nation that throughout most of its history – and certainly over the past two or three generations – has preferred to remain largely apolitical. Americans often chuckled at their own political ignorance. Analogously, they didn’t have to know about their government, much like a lion doesn’t have to worry if a mongoose is lurking behind the big tree, but a frog or a chipmunk does. That’s because the lion is the king of the jungle. So’s the United States. That’s why many of its people until very recently couldn’t name the three branches of government even if you spotted them two.
Consider the rapid drop in the U.S. Supreme Court’s approval ratings. To the untrained reader, understanding an unabridged Supreme Court opinion (written decision) can be a daunting task, and so most people won’t even attempt to read one. Granted, the widely held belief that justices want to rule a certain way and then find the applicable law to justify their decision is longstanding, but nowadays we are mired in a mindset of immediate and oversimplified gratification, and so people want our nation’s preeminent legal scholars to be a bunch of hacks who’ll vote the way they’ll want them to. “Analysis-schmanalysis. Just vote pro-life (or pro-choice)!”
The good news is that politics are like a thermostat. If it gets too cold, you turn up the heat; too warm and you turn it down. Centrism, or moderation, may seem boring, but over the long haul it outlasts every other political ideology. Sure, if you’ve left the furnace off in the middle of winter and you return to a freezing house, you’re not going to turn it up to merely 68 or 72 degrees, you’ll crank it up to 90 so the house can warm up in a jiffy. Same with your car that’s been baking in the hot summer sun. You’ll turn your AC up to maximum level, but once the car cools down, you’ll choose a more moderate setting.
Similarly, there are moments when party politics become too extreme and there needs to be a sharp tug – yes, either leftward or rightward – to return closer to the center. The guy with the Viking horns who broke into the Capitol and the looters who took over Portland and Seattle last year don’t speak for the vast and no longer silent majority of Americans. Sanity, sincerity, and wisdom shall rise again.