Where does this all end? At some point Donald J. Trump will no longer be president. Either the electorate, his health or some array of political forces will end the Trump presidency and America will have to reckon with the policies he enacted and the global relationships he forged and frayed.
To an extent unlike any other modern presidency, Trump and his media supporters have gone all-in. Fox News’ Tucker Carlson told viewers last week, “If you’re looking to understand what’s actually happening in this country, always assume the opposite of whatever they’re telling you on the big news stations. And that’s certainly the case here. They are lying…”. Meanwhile the Trump White House makes official statements with blatant falsehoods. Team Trump has obliterated any set of common facts, and has told viewers at home that anyone who disagrees with him is unworthy of respect.
And it’s working: A recent poll shows North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un has higher approval among Republicans than House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. How does that make sense?
Past elected leaders have always kept in mind: At some point, I won’t be in power, so if I want my accomplishments to continue past my tenure, I need to get a super-majority of electoral support. Not with Team Trump. They burn it all down, ram it through, and proclaim conspiracy theories to denigrate their opponents.
What will happen when a new president and a different Congress want to change Trump’s policies? Will we have to endure more of the same? Will it draw blatant lies, political tar and feathering to ensure Trumpism remains in place?
Instinctually, Americans on both the left and right dread what’s to come. To protect ourselves, we are entrenching. We get our news from sources we already agree with. Those with means, are moving to communities with like-minded neighbors. The Republican Party, thrown to the right by Trumpism, may foreshadow a leftist surge among Democratic voters this election season.
Meanwhile, researchers are beginning to suspect our political conflicts have become pathological. Self-righteousness, a by-product of our Facebook arguments and comment battles, may be a form of addiction, which would be no surprise to those of us who struggle to get through family Thanksgiving gatherings in peace.
The conflicts of the Trump era force everything into sheer black-and-white contradictions. Even policies that tack against a steadfast majority of Americans are wrapped in Trump’s American flag. You don’t like family separations at the border? You must be pro-MS-13! You’d like to see Obamacare’s patient rights protected? You’re just looking to tax the little guy!
Steadily, the Trump-right is undoing the accomplishments of Barack Obama’s previous, slightly-left tenure. In response, a growing chorus of Bernie Sanders supporters vow to reinstate Obama policies, and do even more.
Inevitably, whether because morality tugs at our senses or because many Trump policies are so broken they defy the laws of physics, a majority of voters will demand a change. And then things can either get better, or much worse.
Just as in physics, every action in politics sets off an opposite and equal reaction. Our partisan-ified media lures us into thinking we can “demolish” and “destroy” the ideological opposition, but nothing could be further from the truth, as ideology only changes slowly over time, not as a result of assault by fact. Instead, global political history has shown that radical lurches to one political group only emboldens opponents to go even farther, introducing an endless cycle of left-right combat and increasingly worse governance.
If there was ever a time for moderates to rise up, this is it.
But a centrist revolt seems unlikely, as former Democratic Congressman Barney Frank once pointed out, “Moderate Republicans are the people who are there when you don’t need them.” His riposte is thin gruel however, since leftist Frank cheered the collapse of the Blue Dog Democrats, his party’s moderate wing in the 90’s.
Being a moderate is hard under any circumstances. Moderates are often mistaken as weak or lesser beings, but at crucial times they can be the flywheel of political society, slowing down the machinery before it tears itself apart. And because of who they are, moderates tend to lack the romance and dash of their right and left-wing compatriots. After all, their basic message is, “Let’s not do anything too hasty, okay?”
Whoever leads us out of this morass will be challenged with tremendous inequality among economic class, race and gender. Making it all worse, we suffer from a broad sense of distrust of the media, politicians and institutions.
Looking at how big these problems are, the idea of “moderation” seems a cop out when radical responses will be necessary to counterbalance Trumpism.
Yet, at this very moment, moderate leadership would seem relatively inviting, wouldn’t it? Bring us back to the center and calm the debate. Reintroduce a common set of facts and bring back a steady level of progress with which we can all be comfortable.
As we march in rallies, donate to campaigns and ultimately, cast our ballots to repair our government, let’s take care to remember that for lasting change, we need to bring more than just a temporary majority with us. We need to demonstrate why a new, better America will be good for all Americans, with moderation.