American politics: the mistake of the Moderatists
My old friend Aristotle is well known for the claim that moderation is a virtue - indeed, that we can locate virtue at the point of moderation. The latitude and longitude of Courage, for example, can be defined exactly once we know the coordinate of Rashness and Cowardice.
The problem is that this is either true by definition, because the extremes really do lie at a measurable distance and are equidistant from the place where we better people take our stand - or false, because any such geometry tells us far too little about where we should stand. And that, in a nutshell, is why I think "Moderate" (it's usually capitalized, because it feels surer of itself that way) is such a dangerous siren-word in the vocabulary of America's politics.
Left or right? Liberal or conservative? Chicken or beef? If the alleged liberals are left, and the alleged conservatives are right, then sensible people are in the center - worried by all the foolishness, yet smug as bugs, patting each other on the back at the still point of the churning whirl. QED.
In column after column, year after year, the error of stopping at this place is performed like a kind of homely trick by avuncular New York Times columnist, rueful sometime-Republican and house cod-philosopher David Brooks. He's just done it again, coming back yet again to the same basic error. See The Future of American Politics, January 30.
In this moment of un-impeachment - in this moment when the American Dream holds its breath like a helium balloon, waiting to be popped - we are told that "on the left" we have Bernie Sanders, and "on the right" Donald Trump. On the left - actually - a man of fiery demeanor and proven integrity who stands out from the crowd only because he's the one candidate who dares to commit the policy outrage of milquetoast European social democracy. "On the right" - actually - a man of fiery demeanor and bottomless corruption who, the little business of treason aside, is a racist thug with undisguised contempt for the truth, the Constitution, the rule of law, women, immigrants, children, his own contractors and employees, his aides, his hapless Republican stooges, democracy, and what actual conservatives, in a distant era, referred to as God's Creation.
There is moderation, and there are Moderatists. In private life no doubt Mr. Brooks is wonderfully moderate: hats off. But when will people like him - political Moderatists - come to understand that claiming to be a moderate between "extremes" like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump is a sign not of reasonableness and sophistication but of intellectual and moral decay?