By Tom Ehrich
Here’s what we know so far:
Passions are running high in American politics. If this keeps up, even the quiet center might be drawn forth.
The right-wing will lash out at anyone who doesn’t accept the premises of their extremism. Voicing opinion as opinion and not as revealed truth, for example, will draw fire. So will trying to see the nuances of an issue or a person. So will trying to insist on respect both for oneself and for the other. Extremists want nothing to do with nuances and respect. Self-restraint is seen as weak.
Exposing lies will be a full-time job for modern journalism. Schlock pubs will peddle their venom. But increasingly, people with any degree of seriousness will listen for responsible voices who make an effort to sort, sift, discover, verify, fact-check, and do actual news-reporting.
That said, here is my advice to centrists who decide to venture into the fray:
First, welcome! It has long been said that the nation cannot stand if only the extremes have voice. The center must stand up, speak out, risk it all.
Second, your opinion matters. All opinions matter. The loud might have gotten to the microphone first, but the nation needs your voice, too. Take your turn, and don’t let anyone stop you from speaking. Yes, it’s dangerous poking your head out, but it’s far more dangerous to let the extremists win.
Third, remember that this presidential election isn’t about gender, style, physical appearance, hairdos, or likability. It’s about substance: issues, personal character, experience, fitness for the job, personal maturity. These are what we should be discussing. Democracy itself is at stake, not style points.
Fourth, don’t buy into definitions of “other.” Whether or not a judge is “Mexican,” or a Hoosier with Mexican parents, is irrelevant. Even if he were just sworn in as a citizen the day before he was sworn in as a judge, he is an American now and a sitting judge. Lumping all dark-skinned people into one category, or all immigrants into a single category, is sheer demagoguery and not consistent with true American values. Don’t buy into the alleged debate about whether a Muslim judger could be fair to a Muslim-hating presidential candidate. That’s a phony issue, intended to divide and demonize.
Fifth, get ready for pushback, some of it vicious and threatening. Extremists on the right will call you names, question everything about you, and, in some instances, will make ominous threats like those voiced by their candidate: We know who you are, we know where you live, and after we win, we will come to get you. Yes, discord has reached that level.
All I can say is thap started forming his followers into a mob, once he began threatening violence and retribution against his foes, once he vowed that his people would riot if he weren’t nominated and, one now presumes, not elected, the normal bounds of democracy were breached. The answer isn’t to mob up and threaten back, or to meet violence with violence. The answer is to engage in democracy – speaking up, voting, seeking truth amid the lies and reality amid the illusions – and then to trust a nation of laws and decency to withstand the right’s insane drive to fascism.
None of this will happen if the center doesn’t mobilize. All is risk at this point. Better to risk the bully’s pushback in the open playground than to risk the pounding on your door after darkness falls.