Beware the Moderate

One of the most significant barriers to progressive change in America is the moderate, also known as the centrist. While the labels are different, the agenda stays the same. The moderate seeks to maintain existing power structures, and in doing so, chooses to support oligarchy. It is a political philosophy that ignores the reality of our circumstances and perpetuates inequity. 

Like any political ideology, the moderate comes in many forms. Some benefit directly from the existing legal, economic, and political structures. They may have inherited their wealth, earned it through a combination of effort and luck, or benefited from intangible aspects such as race or religion. For them, any change is a threat to their power and position within the universe. It is for these reasons that they seek to maintain the status quo.

There is the generational moderate, people like my mother. She thinks Donald Trump is an unqualified and unfit president, but to her, the fast pace of change is a threat. As a hard-working single mother, she built a career for herself during the ’80s and ’90s, a time when being a professional woman was even more challenging than today. Everything was going great until the 2008 recession hit, and suddenly after 20 years, she was out of a career. Radical change can be dangerous and often entirely out of our control.

The generational moderate is less an enemy of transformation then they are a product of circumstance. They grew up at a time where change was linear, slow and gradual but consistent. Then the 2000s came, and the exponential pace of change began to speed up growth in all directions. The generational moderate chooses to approach politics from the same perspective because they fear the unknown. They did not have the opportunity to grow up in a world where radical change was commonplace. Their opposition to progressive political and structural change has less to do with progressive policies than it is an attempt to maintain stability.

Consider also the career moderate. Politics in the United States is a career for millions of people. It’s a line of work that depends on corporate patronage to sustain itself. Some may have joined the process intending to become wealthy, while others may have entered politics to make a difference. For the career moderate, politics and our national direction is a job. It’s nothing personal, but their survival depends on it. They believe that there’s no way to change the system, so it’s best to cooperate with the corporations funding their campaigns.

What the moderate does not understand is that there is no neutral vision of the good. Every decision we make, whether in our personal or political lives, sets the course of our experience in a specific direction. Any centrist position is simply another way of reinforcing the status quo.  

Now in the past, there may have been an excuse for fighting to maintain the status quo. Information was not as widely available and accessible as it is today, so you might have been able to overlook the significant racial and economic disparities throughout society. Oil and gas companies were doing a great job of hiding the studies they conducted linking their activity and global warming. People may not have known the full extent of the crisis at hand [1]. 

So while there might have been an excuse a decade ago, it’s hard to imagine one today outside of personal benefit. Moderates should recognize that their position strengthens everything they claim to hate. Donald Trump, above all else, is a tool of the oligarchs. The same can be said about every president since Nixon, all of whom have transferred wealth from the lower and middle classes to the wealthy. The political moderate is as much a danger to American society as the Trump Republican.

In 1963 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. penned his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” where he wrote:

“I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality.

Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.”

It is a statement that echoes more accurately today than ever before.  

The irony of our circumstances is that the moderate can never be satisfied. There will never be a return to the way things were, that would be impossible under the laws that govern the universe. No matter how many times they cry socialism or communism (without actually understanding anything about the two modes of production), they will never convince those awakened to the new reality.

Moderates should ask themselves exactly what it is they want to preserve. Is it the gross wealth inequality, or is it the stagnant wages despite record corporate profits? Do they prefer a slow approach to the climate crisis, one that has no possible way of meeting the recommendations put forth by the overwhelming majority of climate scientists? Perhaps they like being the only industrial nation on the planet with a for-profit healthcare system that leaves millions of Americans uninsured or underinsured and millions more bankrupt due to medical debt. It’s a list that could extend into another essay on its own, one that is readily available to any American seeking to learn about it.

Here we see in plain sight the primary reason to reject centrism in 2020. The ideology offers no pathway to progress in our current circumstances, no hope of avoiding the crisis on the horizon. They care not about racial equity and systemic inequality, seeking only to preserve their way of life. Whether through selfishness, ignorance, or apathy, the moderate offers no alternative vision of the future.

Beware of the moderate in 2020 and beyond. Their political ideologies are as significant a threat to the United States as the hardcore Trump Republican. By attempting to reject change at the pace it is occurring, they are helping ill actors across the United States lead us towards a dystopia. We have two choices in our upcoming election: progress or regression. Neutrality is a false ideal and will lead to ruin.

[1] Climate Exxon Knew about Climate Change almost 40 years ago By Shannon Hall Scientific American Oct 26 2015

If you like this essay you may also enjoy...