There is an old truism that applies to both winning a game of chess and succeeding in politics: You win by moving toward the center. With each passing year, Democrats seem more and more to forget this vital lesson—at their own electoral peril.
Outrage politics succeed in riling people up, but they rarely build sustainable coalitions of voters because all but the most extreme Americans grow weary—and suspicious—of those who peddle endless rage and division. A nation as diverse as ours cannot but eventually conclude that inevitable differences of opinions and values are unlikely to be sorted out by belittling and badgering one another.
It is both good and necessary to be accepting of other people and ideas when one lives in a heterogeneous nation comprised of many cultures and religions, so it is self-evidently wrong to insist that only one set of ideas and values is acceptable. It is likewise unacceptable to force others to adopt—or unwillingly adapt to—that which seems logical or reasonable to only the most hardcore ideologues. This is most especially the case when people are compelled to violate or abandon their own moral or religious values in the process.
Only in the most frighteningly intrusive and punitive nation could every last individual be forced to accede to the demands imposed by government, and I shudder to think of just what might be involved were this taken to its logical, totalitarian conclusion by those who confuse compliance with consent. Therefore, for the good of every American of every political persuasion, we must accept that wide variations of behavior, ethics, and thought will prevail—and are, in fact, the living proof that our democracy still thrives.
However, does it naturally follow, as so many extremists now shout, that to challenge the ideas, values, or actions of others is impermissible and disrespectful, so censorship and more and more autocracy is necessary to create their odd vision of utopia—under the government’s whip hand?
This certainly seems to be the default argument of the Democratic Party during their long, strange trip to the social, cultural, and political fringe. Any time in recent memory that anyone has challenged the social engineering ideas they increasingly advocate, the dissenters have been branded with the most searing invective and accused of encouraging hatred and violence. The result has been the death of the many dialogues and compromises that are necessary in any free nation—but which are even more necessary in America due to the heterogeneity of our population.
We no longer discuss our many innate differences and search for a middle ground that requires all involved to give a little in the search for a solution. Today we slash, attack, and destroy one another—which leaves broken minds and hearts in its wake. It should be little surprise that a 2020 YouGov poll found that roughly a third of both Democrats and Republicans now “feel justified to use violence to advance political goals.” We should all be very, very worried about where this could lead if we don’t immediately change how we work with one another to solve our country’s many problems.
Democrats, of course, protest that they have veered leftward in reaction to the historic bigotries in America, and they perceive Republicans as being implacably opposed to the freedoms they deem both deferred and desirable. There is certainly some justification for this attitude, and caustic words are harmful on both sides of any debate—so this must stop. However, in order for everyone to cool down, we must also be able to respect a diversity of beliefs regarding a wide range of topics—immigration, global warming, government spending, gender and sexuality, law enforcement, freedom of speech, and many others—that are now tearing us apart on a daily basis.
Just to take one example, debates about gender identification and sexuality have always been contentious, but they have gone white hot today because instruction regarding these topics has become entrenched in America’s schools, and this is typically occurring without either parental consent or knowledge. Educators who are discussing these issues with students as young as early elementary school see themselves as heroes who are protecting children and helping them to understand their feelings. Many parents feel that these discussions are theirs—and theirs alone—to have with their children, and they believe the often very explicit nature of these discussions can confuse and harm those who are too young to process what is being forced into their minds.
Where do we go from here, and how to we work toward the reasonable compromise that now eludes us?
First off, we have to resolve that there is a continuum of attitudes regarding human sexuality—and, more specifically, homosexuality and transgenderism. On one end, we find a lack of acceptance, which often springs from traditional religious beliefs. Next up is the muddled middle of tolerance or acceptance, which is many times fluid, situational, and subject to sudden change. At the other end of this spectrum of attitudes we find endorsement and advocacy, and those with this mindset find the muddled middle intolerable because they do not—and likely never will—celebrate homosexuality or transgenderism.
Trying to parse the attitudes of Americans toward alternative sexuality is, of course, limited by the many obvious problems with surveys where people might be unwilling to discuss their true feelings regarding an issue that many consider personal or even embarrassing.
However, my educated guess is that the overwhelming majority of our very diverse nation resides somewhere in the muddled middle that prefers not to dwell on gender fluidity, or may find same sex relationships personally objectionable, but still harbors no ill will toward others based on their life choices as consenting adults. It is the American shoulder shrug of indifference or disinterest that those who crave a broad endorsement of their sexuality now characterize as injurious to their lives and insulting to their personhood.
America’s lack of endorsement and advocacy for homosexuality, transgenderism, and the broader range of human sexuality beyond—that muddled middle of politically and culturally moderate citizens that so frustrates the champions of explicit sex education in America’s schools—is the reason that so-called parents’ rights have become the most recent controversy launching countless diatribes on all sides of these issues. The fights now raging around efforts to incorporate explicit sexual discussions into the daily work of our nation’s schools, which is often presented as an effort to create a welcoming environment for all students, are both corroding faith in our educational systems and distracting from their academic missions.
There is a middle ground to be found here, but those on either side of this issue are not going to like it.
Both public and private schools are accountable to the parents who pay their costs, and it is simply wrong to either dismiss parental concerns or attempt to hide the scope and nature of the sex education in our nation’s classrooms from mothers and fathers who are focused on the well being of their children. On the other hand, many young people are struggling to navigate a sexually supercharged society where the most explicit material is readily available to anyone at any age with a few taps on a cell phone. Many parents are both shocked and confused as they try to navigate both their own feelings and the needs of their children, and very few know where to turn for the guidance that they need.
Therefore, it might be best to have the advocates for sex education and the concerned parents meet in the (very likely muddled) middle in this manner: Educate the parents and let them decide how to best instruct their own children. School districts could design programs that incorporate a mix of online instruction, group meetings, and individual counseling in order to equip parents with the tools and information that they need—on a purely voluntary basis. Not all parents will decide to use these resources, but many would, and school districts could be in a position to better understand the needs of the communities they serve while avoiding any concerns about superseding the rights and responsibilities of parents.
If this were put into effect, it would be a compromise that would make everyone just a little unhappy, but this is what compromise in a civil, democratic, and respectful society is supposed to do. Democracy is not about winners and losers; it is the business of groping toward common ground. This bit of less than inspiring knowledge is not carved on the facades of any of the stately marble and granite government buildings across our great nation—but it should be.
Winston Churchill once observed that “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” Democracy can indeed be messy and maddening, and this is particularly true for ideologues who believe that their ideas—and theirs alone—are worthy of our consideration. Children grow cranky and defiant when they don’t get their ways; adults should not be this way, but they too often are.
Compromise and respect for the needs of others is a learned skill, and we must no longer be influenced or governed by people who skipped this vital lesson is kindergarten.
There is, of course, a loud subset of overgrown adolescents in our nation who enjoy endless drama, hurling insults, and ostracizing their enemies. They provide a certain degree of entertainment for other immature and incomplete individuals, so they will always have a platform.
However, for our own good—and, more importantly, for the good of all Americans—the rest of us need to turn our attention to the stable, relatively dull negotiators and compromisers who do the thankless business of listening to all sides, making decisions on evidence and not emotion, and focusing on the best interests of our country and our people.
This might be the only hope we have left to us today.