It’s not a refreshing take to say that politics, particularly in the United States, have become incredibly polarizing and personal. The very thought of bargaining and compromising with those from across the aisle is often seen as indicative of a lack of principle or poor moral character. For these reasons I can understand why it may appear intuitive in this political climate to believe that the “truth” lies somewhere in the middle of more radical views and that only through a balancing act of both give and take can politicians arrive at pragmatic and beneficial outcomes. This sort of analysis, however, is easy for Centrist Chads—many of whom are here at Duke—precisely because it is a cop-out. Centrism, “bridging the divide,” or whatever you want to call it isn’t innovative or intelligent; it’s an erroneous and shorthand solution to complex critical judgments and commitments about the political.
I know that there are people who are simply moderate because of conflicting interests and well-intentioned indecisiveness. However, I do think that many centrists adopt their political affiliation as a result of privilege and general political apathy. I think that the biggest reason why many people identify as a “moderate” is that they are personally uncomfortable or simply don’t care enough to interrogate their own beliefs to make difficult judgments. I don’t believe it’s realistic to expect or mandate all people to actively participate in politics or even to inform themselves, but it’s undeniable that anyone remotely affected by the political has at least formulated some stances about the existing political structures and regimes. It takes a certain level of socioeconomic standing to be able to evaluate the existing political conflict, the tangible and material consequences of poor policy decisions and still believe that “both sides are really bad” or “I just don’t really think about politics.”
For these people, the moderate view is appealing in debates and conversations because the term rarely forces one to commit to defending specific policies or beliefs about concepts like state power or inequality, especially when one is ill-informed. The moderate view is trendy and simultaneously illusory; it allows the participant to constantly shift between particular stances based on where the conversation goes or what currently seems more appealing without consideration to internal consistency or guiding principles. Oftentimes the result is an incoherent conglomeration of news channel talking points; the most prominent example is probably the “socially liberal, but fiscally conservative” type. Although this topic has been widely explored amongst college-aged adults, I still think it is an excellent example of the dangers of moderation. For instance, these types are fine accepting popular and widely held soft-left social stances such as the existence of racism and discrimination but are then unwilling to extend the identical warrant of empathy to economic policy in terms of government intervention in response to a history of racial discrimination or even cross apply core values like compassion to the status of underpaid and exploited workers.
In fact, I think that centrists often make fallacious political judgments because they begin with the assumption that moderation is an objective good and that seeking the middle ground is effective praxis. Many believe that centrism is an enlightened or more rational political ideology because of the “unique” faculty of being able to understand and work with the other side. I’ll certainly concede that understanding the experiences, values and arguments behind one’s political opponent is useful for interpersonal relationships and navigating politics but will contend that such a faculty not only presupposes the importance of compromise but is also insufficient for advancing a convincing argument or coherent political ideology. Moreover, moderate politicians, at least today, pride themselves on being able to survey a wide array of opinions and private interests to ultimately devise policy that hopefully makes some universally accepted improvements. Here it’s obvious that the consequences of the western political system conflate empirical considerations with deductive validity. The middle ground between a truth and a lie is still false; just because particular compromises may bring about beneficial outcomes does not suggest in the slightest that moderation is necessarily correct. We should always seek to—at least at first—uncover the “absolute truth.”
Even if we were to adopt the centrist’s logic of seeking to be “more correct than not,” on almost all salient political issues it would seem natural to make certain judgments about the differing opinions and then to conclude that one side might be “less wrong.” For many issues, such as Israel or climate change, the “middle ground” seems to be incoherent, even further from the truth and infuriating for the advocates of opposite sides—overly reductionist applications of moderation as a solution to conflict have historically resulted in unacceptable conclusions such as with the Three-Fifths Compromise. Realistically speaking, understanding that both sides have faults is not sufficient to believe that all ideology is foolish or that opposite opinions can be equally valid.
Others argue that certain political realities such as divided government or the influence of corporations may necessitate compromise, but it’s easy to draw a distinction between truly believing that the ideal political reality exists in center versus fully considering the optics of particular rhetoric or policy stances; centrism concedes the inevitability of imperfect, moderate actions while the latter focuses on devising strategies by which politicians can pass legislation that brings us closer to specific ideological stances.
Moderation is easy to defend because it’s obvious why people might feel this and that way on certain issues, but a deeper dive easily exposes the prominent internal inconsistencies in certain moderate beliefs. I think that it is possible to be well informed about politics, hold oneself to consistent principles, and ultimately end up as a political moderate. I have no qualms with this situation, but I find it hard to believe that a majority or even many self-identifying “centrists” fit this particular mold. All I’m asking is for Centrists Chads to critically examine their own political stances and to minimally seek consistency.
David Min is a Trinity sophomore. His column, milk before cereal, runs on alternate Thursdays.
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