Not long ago, I wrote a piece on why I stopped watching the news. I outlined my general reasoning, everything from cognitive bias to rampant sensationalism. However, it recently occurred to me that my assertion was somewhat skewed. Did I disconnect from the world like a cave-dwelling hermit? No, I just restricted my time to vetted sources. I still receive news, just not from a steady diet of partisan bunk.
Be that as it may, my inherent curiosity reels me back to the flames from time to time. It’s especially tempting whenever a contentious story drops because the narrative becomes a master class on pundit spin. It’s a handy bullshit barometer, but a recent peek behind the curtain nearly melted my face like an Indiana Jones villain.
Time away yields perspective. It’s like being in a toxic relationship or working a dead-end job. You cannot see the overt flaws of something that you deal with every day. It takes time away to bring everything into focus. Nowadays, whenever I revisit the fevered news cycle, especially in America, I am forced to back away with my hands in the air. The bitter divisiveness and blatant hypocrisy is galling to the point of nausea. It’s like watching two rabid dogs bark at each other through a chain link fence.
This prompted me to reflect upon my childhood. I understood that my family held certain views, but I never heard them bark nonsense at strangers without any sense of decorum. Furthermore, every family has its designated loon, the proverbial angry uncle. They were typically dismissed as outliers and hip-checked whenever their toxicity polluted the table. But in today’s political climate, they are shouting like cult leaders with everybody nodding along (or frantically shouting back). It’s a sad reality that the “us verses them” mentality has fractured otherwise stable families.
But again, I don’t recall any of this growing up. Not from my family, my extended family, my friends’ families, from school or work, nowhere. That’s when it hit me: the 10% rule has been obliterated.
The 10% rule in America asserts that 10% of each party is batshit crazy. We can all cite prevalent examples, but that’s been the accepted reality for as long as I can remember. The fringes are never part of any reasonable solution. They are little more than outliers who shout drivel and wear silly hats. Most people reside somewhere in between, from resolute backers to leaning centrists. My favorites have always been the “socially liberal but fiscally conservative” types. In the middle, people can talk to each other and hold respect for opposing views. It’s not about being right. It’s about achieving a fair resolution.
What I came to realize is that the centrist position has been squished by the creeping 10%. The 2016 election clamped the barriers shut, effectively muting the moderate voice by turning the entire political spectrum into a 50/50 street fight. Today, it is impossible to hold two competing views, like a liberal stance on marriage with a conservative stance on spending. Both sides will actively attack you. The centrists have been bullied out of the narrative. They watch from the sidelines as party loyalists fling feces over the fence. Being right is now more important than generating useful ideas. And since the media is attracted to blood in the water, all moderate viewpoints have been silenced.
So what’s a lonely centrist to do? Not much, I’m afraid. At least, not in America.
Full disclaimer, I’m a pessimist when it comes to politics. As history has shown us time and time again, when walls get built, they only come down when regimes fall. Americans have built a wall between themselves and it gets higher and higher every year. The fringes keep adding bricks while the moderates facepalm themselves into obscurity. What is truly frightening to me is that history (even recent history) is chock full of precedent, but in a world of alternative facts and social justice, those lessons are being willfully ignored. I do not pretend to know how this travesty will end, but I suspect that it will be very messy and no one will come out a victor.
In the wake of it all, my wife and I moved to Canada. It was a career-based transition, but I would be lying if I said there wasn’t a sense of relief attached. Having withstood two years of white-knuckled vitriol, the civility we encountered was shocking. Let me repeat that. The civility was shocking. What does it say about the state of affairs when an American centrist can be genuinely surprised by decency? A balanced perspective has returned to our lives, and all it took was the end of a toxic relationship. I sincerely hope that my home country finds its way back from the abyss. But until then, I plan to stay where courtesy reigns.