Diversity And Its Discontents

One of the main insights of Sigmund Freud’s classic of modern psychology, Civilization and its Discontents, is that a major tension—and source of dissatisfaction—with our modern world is that the will of the individual must be restricted by communal norms in order to create a harmonious society. Therefore, we are trained from infancy to obey authority, restrain our impulses, and look out for others before we attend to our own needs.

This process, which sounds rather dark and unnatural when described by Freud, sounds suspiciously like the normal development of maturity and empathy as we proceed from child to adult, but we know many have now decided that the key to their personal happiness is to not give a hoot about what others think or need. It could, in fact, be persuasively argued that the signal feature of life in much of the developed world today is that many people have decided that to do and say whatever you want is the key to happiness. Communal norms have likely never been so weak and ineffectual, and many laws are, in fact, now written with the express intent of denying any effort to reassert past controls over behavior or attitudes.

However, communal control is still exercised, although in a distorted and unfortunate manner, through the ruthless and regular public attacks on those whose viewpoints or ideas suggest a distinction between that which is right and that which is wrong. Given our prevailing cultural milieu and desire for absolute individuality, to make a judgement of any kind for any reason is, by definition, to be hateful and intolerant—so you must be punished by the herd.

It, of course, makes perfect sense that increasingly diverse nations would admonish—or actually sanction—those who express disapproval of others. One of the reasons that President Trump grates on the nerves of many is that his persona and pronouncements are a clear and unmistakable repudiation of decades of efforts to promote tolerance—and he is, for many, a gigantic trigger warning with a tan. However, the often cruel cudgel of virtue signaling that flies right behind the imperative to be “tolerant” also has a tendency to cause reasonable conversations to spiral down into accusatory personal attacks that are poisonous to discussion and inquiry. Logic and evidence are no longer necessary in the marketplace of “ideas” in our world today. A clever and nasty put down is now considered all that is necessary to “win” an argument.

A misguided attempt to promote social harmony and cultural understanding by adopting an ever more censorious attitude toward individual disagreements and innocent misunderstandings has resulted in a world where every thoughtcrime is a felony. If someone displays a swastika in their living room and builds their life around quotes from Mein Kampf, it is entirely reasonable to question their actions and motives. However, if someone prefers to marry someone who shares their own religious background or avoids certain ethnic foods because they don’t like the taste, it is wrong to accuse that individual of harboring hateful attitudes before immediately launching into an attack. If we insist on punishing people for their natural diversity of opinions or values, we are creating a world where unending anger is the norm.

It is, of course, preferable that individuals be comfortable with a range of people, experiences, and ideas. However, we cannot condemn others simply because they prefer that which is familiar to that which is not. A great many wonderful Americans are still hanging around with the same friends they have had since elementary school, populating their Spotify with the same songs they have been listening to forever, and craving the same casseroles that Grandma cooks for Thanksgiving each year. To insist that those who revel in routine and regularity are racists is more than a little overboard, but it is not unfair to ask everyone to try their best to be open to new ideas, experiences, and people and resist the urge to automatically reject that—and those—which are unfamiliar.

Education, which until World War II was seen primarily as a mechanism for transmitting core academic skills along with a hefty dollop of cultural norms on the side, has been seen—especially since the social and cultural upheavals of the 1960’s—as the mechanism through which progressive educators could create citizens of the world and promote understanding. I still remember the elaborate presentation on the African nation of Zambia I did for my fifth grade classmates and the day we sampled the “cheeses of the world” in my seventh grade Social Studies classroom. Our multicultural experiences were, of course, greatly limited and designed for a much more innocent and parochial era. Today’s technology has opened up a range of possibilities that were simply unavailable in the slide rule and rotary dial telephone days of my youth, and students can now enjoy a range of culturally immersive experiences that can broaden both their perspectives and understanding.

Consequently, our political, educational, entertainment, and business worlds have never been so welcoming to the full richness of humanity. So why are so many convinced that bigotry of all types still runs rampant in America today—and violent and virulent speech is the necessary cure for those hatreds they see all around?

It could be the case that the unyielding dogma of “tolerance” and the messy reality of diversity might be a more combustible combination than we tend to realize, particularly when the 21st century disease of self-interest and self-absorption—turbocharged by the inherent narcissism of much social media usage—is added to the equation. If one believes that happiness depends upon acting with as little restraint as possible—“Hey, don’t oppress me!”—and we can now instantly lash out to either our circle of friends (or a worldwide audience) when we feel our experiences or opinions are not granted sufficient deference or respect, the end result is going to be a lot of outrage driving yet more outrage in return. If one is determined to create a world that respects diversity, it could be the case that we all must learn to be comfortable with the inevitable outcome: a diverse society that will have to accommodate a diverse—and sometimes judgmental—range of opinions.

Humans have always—and will always—disagree about every aspect of life. We cannot long survive if we insist that ideas that differ from our own must be attacked, suppressed, or outlawed altogether. Were Sigmund Freud alive to update Civilization and its Discontents for the Age of the Internet, I wonder what he would identify as our main source of discontent and where he might see civilization going in the years ahead. Can any civilization long survive if our passions are powered by the most powerful technology ever made available, and we are ready to use that power to defeat the “enemies” so many now seem to see all around them? This is an uncomfortable question for an uncomfortable age, and we are still groping toward personal and communal mechanisms for balancing our desires to express with our urges to attack.

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Is Free College Really The Best Idea?

One of the pillars of Democratic Party orthodoxy today is the push for free college for all.  At the state level, one of the most ambitious programs is to be found in New York, where the Excelsior Scholarship program has rendered tuition-free both 2 and 4 year public colleges throughout the state for students whose family income is under $125,000 per year.  Approximately 17 states now offer some form of free college to their residents, and it seems likely that more states will develop these sorts of programs in the years ahead.

These free college programs are not, of course, without their critics.

Many have pointed out that these programs many times actually function as a massive subsidy offered to middle class families that previously did not qualify for income-based scholarships; poor students have long paid nominalor zerotuition costs due to existing federal and state aid programs targeted to low-income students and their families.  Moreover, these free college programs are typically available only to those who attend full-time, which locks out those who need to work while attending school in order to cover their daily living expenses.  Although the college tuition might be free, students still need food in their stomachs, clothes on their backs, and a roof over their heads, which may greatly restrict the use of many these free college programs.

In addition, freeis a deceptive term to use because these programs are certainly not free for taxpayers.  The New York State program, although much more limited in actual scope than advertised because of the many restrictions attached, still carries a price tag of $87 million this year alonewith costs estimated to rise to at least $163 million annually when fully implemented.

However, the fundamental problem with free college is simple and direct: Access does not equal success.  The scandalous and continuing national crisis of inadequate college preparedness at the K-12 levelwhich decades of incredibly expensive education reformhas yet to addresstranslates into a great many students starting college but failing to complete.  

How widespread is this problem?  Tennessee has for many years offered free tuition to the states community colleges at a taxpayer cost of only $45 million annuallykeeping the outlay lower by covering only that portion of tuition not already picked up by federal Pell Grants.  

However, although the costs might be relatively low for Tennessees taxpayers, there is still ample reason to question whether this is a wise investment of state funds.  Data shows that during the 2016-2017 school year nearly half of the states high school graduates required remedial coursework during their first year of collegeand nearly half had dropped out after two years.  No matter how much educators might want to try to talk their way around it by desperately pointing to other factors that sometimes affect college completion, it is plain that the promised economic and individual benefits of free college are colliding headlong with the disappointing academic preparation that is the daily reality of Americas public schools.

Therefore, looking at the soaring promises of the politicians and educators who advocate putting taxpayers even further on the hook for the costs of free college, a reasonable person might be prompted to ask if the reality is somewhat different from the rhetoricand whether the estimated $70 billion needed to fund the College For Allplans supported by many Democrats is a good use of scarce tax dollars when our national debt now tops $22 trillion.

The many well-meaning promises attached to college that is freestill will be hampered by the vast number of American high school graduates who are academically unprepared to succeed in collegefree or otherwise.  If we want these taxpayer dollars to have the impact we hope that they will, we need to be smart enoughand brave enoughto ask whether college for allactually means failure for many.  Rather than asking taxpayers to pay for college students to again try to learn material that should have been mastered in high school, perhaps a more impactful program would tie taxpayer support to documented student academic preparedness for college-level coursework.

However annoying this discussion might be for those politicians who are anxious to create yet another endlessly expensive entitlement funded by already beleaguered taxpayers, it seems sensible to ask a few difficult questions now about this hazy dream in order to prevent a great deal of money from being pointlessly wasted in the years ahead.

Higher education is important, and we now knowall too wellthat our burdensome and outrageous student loan programs have been an unmitigated disaster that has both enabled obscene increases in college costs and created a gigantic debtor class of Americans whose financial futures are terribly hobbled.  Perhaps it could be persuasively argued that any college experience is beneficial, so free college would be a worthwhile taxpayer expenseregardless of the outcomes.  This is a viewpoint deserving of careful considerationas is the idea that money spent on education can never truly be wastedin the manner that other tax dollars often are.

Nonetheless, it might be worth stopping and thinking before we rush to pay for many students to make a pit stop on a college campusonly to later leave with little learning and no credential.  College is a great experience for many, but it may be the case that we still have thinking to do about how we pay for itand whether freeis the best path forward.  Perhaps some combination of grants and merit-based scholarships will be the mix that provides the magic.  Before any further decisions are made to create a new line in the federal financial ledger, we need to carefully study the long-term experiences of state-level programsparticularly regarding the impacts on student success.

However, whatever direction we ultimately take from here, we also need to give immediate consideration to the question of how we can relieve the frightening burden of the student loans that are now ruining the lives of many.  We cannot continue to ask so many to pay for a grievous past error in government policy that became a trap for so many Americans and their families, and I believe this is the step we must first take before we decide how to help those who will attend college in the future.

Our Celebrity Culture Does Great Harm

Two recent incidentsthe Jussie Smollett street attackand the D.C. confrontation involving high school students from Covington, KYwere disturbing in and of themselves.  In the case of Mr. Smollett, it now appears that he contrived an elaborate racist/homophobic attack on himself and filed a fake police report, but we will have to wait for the final adjudication of his case.  In the case of the Kentucky high school students, a racist narrative regarding the incident that was later proved to be false was spread by news organizations and millions of social media posts, and this resulted in these adolescents, their school, and their families being targeted for frightening abuse by total strangers. The New York Minute from first notice to outrage (prior to a thorough investigation in each of these cases)certainly points to the necessity for restraint and reflection before going nuclear regarding what you read or hear.  It typically takes only a few days to sort out the facts, and reasonable people can be expected to wait before reactingor at least control their reflex to viciously attack at first sight.

However, each of these situations also highlights the role that celebrities and our celebrity-driven culture now play in creating a rush to judgment and inflaming public discourse.  To wait is to left behind by the howling pack, and celebritiessome of who are nominally journalists or politicianscan ill afford to fall behind in the mad dash to amass more clicks and views.

Never in human history have so many pursued fame with such unmitigated lustand never have our standards been so crushingly low.  Notorietynot actual accomplishmentis what matters in America today.  If this fame can somehow be amplified by the suggestion of the grotesque, the hint of the salacious, or a soupçon of victimization, you have hit the Trifecta of 21st century click bait.  As a result, it is likely that more Americans know the name of Lorena Bobbittwho sliced off the penis of her abusive husbandthan Dr. Jonas Salk, who created one of the first vaccines against polio.  So many of usparticularly the young, the impressionable, and the troublednow feed an unhealthful hunger for the bizarre through social media and newsthat titillates the senses rather than informs the mind.  Like a cat frantically chasing the elusive light from a laser pointer, we race to fill some void in our own psyches by trafficking in raw and disturbing emotion rather than careful analysis.

I suspect the secret fantasy of many who are addicted to social media is to be famous themselves because their daily lives lack the drama they desperately crave.  Perhaps the rewards of honesty, sobriety, and responsibility seem meager compared to the bright, shiny lives of celebrities who apparently race from party to party while dressed in the most fashionable clothes and surrounded by the most beautiful people.  If our souls are empty, it could be the case that that which has a shiny surface can be mistaken for that which sustains us spiritually.  A society that lacks faith in itself or its future is especially susceptible to the lure of living for only the moment without regard for the long term consequences for either ourselves or others.

Celebrity culture is, after all, about nothing other than the here and now.  Planning and introspection are both unnecessary and, quite frankly, a huge and unwanted annoyance when the focus is entirely upon yourself at this very moment.  The sheer wonderfulness of being you is all that matters, and in order to keep the spotlight focused and bright, celebrities of all stripes must continue to engage in increasingly wild and potentially self-destructive behavior.  Because so many other celebrities (and potential celebrities) are now vying for the publics limited attention span, sheer shock value is sometimes needed to cut through the clutterwhich only further degrades our already dismal standards of speech and behavior.

Therefore, moderation in both words and actions are quickly discarded by those seeking fame.  Because celebrities by definition need publicity and attention in order to remain celebrities, they are many times the worst offenders when it comes to posting nasty and snarky comments and rushing to pass judgment before all the facts are available.  Sadly, we also see many political leaders moving in this direction in order to keep their names in front of voters.  It often seems to be the case that political commentary in America today follows a drearily predictable formula: Insults + Innuendo = Eyeballs.

Mean-spirited comments from actors, singers, and wannabes are obviously unhelpful; however, when those who hold or aspire to elective office go on the attack to garner attention, they call the basic fairness of our governmental processes into question and further corrode our already shaky faith in our political leaders, which is currently bumping along at historic lows if polling data is to be believed.  We should be able to expect more from a Senator or President than we do from someone who once acted in a sitcom or had a hit song.  Although it may be true that, as the saying goes, there is no bad publicityon an individual level, our nation suffers terrible harm when a politician decides to be a clever little quote machine.  Those who want to lead our nation should be able to demonstrate more restraint than an eleven year old.

This being said, it must be pointed out that sane and fact-basedcommentary posted on social media platforms often provides a forum for discussions that avoid the politicized myopia that has become so prevalent in the mainstream media today.  Given that we cannot expect MSNBC or Fox News to soon escape from the ideological straitjackets that stifle open and honest discussions of the many pressing issues facing our nation, thoughtful debate and discussion often falls to citizen bloggers who do not need to worry overly much about the disapproval of their peers or the annoyance of advertisers.  This unique opportunity for those who live outside the hyper-partisan media bubble to inject some sanity into our national debates, which is possible only because of the internet and social media, offers the clearest possible proof that the problem is not the existence of social media itselfwe simply need to learn how to use it to inform rather than inflame.

Will the downward spiral of celebrity slams ever end?  Although I would like to believe that maturity inevitably triumphs over immaturity, too many have now learned to define themselves by the insults they automatically heap upon others.  It could just be that lawsuitsand the massive financial awards that can followwill be the awful chemotherapy that finally cures the vile cancer of hate that infects our online discourse and daily media commentary.  Nicholas Sandmann, the Kentucky high school student most prominently featured in the recent online and media persecution concerning completely fake charges of racist behavior earlier this year, has filed a $250 million libel lawsuit against The Washington Post over their unsupported and insulting coverageand other lawsuits are soon to follow.  

Will Mr. Sandmann prevail in court?  This is obviously yet to be determined, but it might be the case that fear of grievous financial harmrather than a return of basic human decencywill be what finally tempers our outraged and outrageous urges to shock, snark, and smear rather than simply converse when the next topic of national debate presents itself for our evaluation and reaction.  I am certain this will be a terrible disappointment for the many who now heighten their celebritystatus by denigrating others, but it could be the best possible outcome for both our nation and our people.

When it comes to any of the issues and problems facing our nation today, creating a meme must not be more important that discussing a sensible solution.

Beware The Good Intentions Of Government

One of the strange truths of history is that most of the miseries of our world are created by people who believe they are doing good. The nagging parent. The rigorous teacher. The disapproving minister. The desire to improve the lives of those around us tends to be expressed in a manner that irritates the ones whose lives are being improved, but sometimes it is true that a little tough love is the best love of all

The small scale efforts that we all make out of love or concern for others have the potential for much greater good—or disastrous harm—when amplified by the enormous power of government. Public safety, national defense, and public health are all typically enhanced by centralizing these functions in the hands of government and government officials, although we all understand that the keenest citizen oversight is necessary to avoid waste, mismanagement, or unwarranted intrusions into our lives. Government that works locally as often as is feasible, stays lean, and is responsive to the natural desire of Americans for the greatest possible personal freedom is government we can all support and celebrate.

However, government overreach combined with an all-too-human hubris regarding the excellence of both our high ideals and best intentions can cause catastrophes that reverberate from person to person, community to community, and generation to generation. It is perhaps fitting that so many of these high-minded efforts of various sorts are described as “wars” because they leave so many innocent victims in their wakes. We have fought a war on poverty since the 1960’s that has both failed to eliminate poverty and facilitated the creation of a permanent economic underclass. Over this same period of over 50 years, we have also fought a war on drugs that failed to eliminate drug abuse and has devastated cities and towns from coast to coast. We now are fighting a thousand other wars among ourselves and against our own government on many fronts, and the anger and frustration many now feel over constant and problematic “wars” on the ills of humanity has reached a boiling point—which has resulted in record low faith in government and trust in government officials.

A pure heart does not guarantee a pure outcome, but our desire to do good sometimes leads us to forget this. In addition, humility is often in short supply after an election because the first taste of power over the lives of others can be a frighteningly intoxicating brew. Those who aspire to the highest offices often, quite naturally, have the highest levels of personal and professional ambition; their private visions for how we all should live must, therefore, be considered with healthy doses of both caution and skepticism.

The “Green New Deal”, which aspires to evoke resonances of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal legislation during the depths of the Great Depression in the 1930’s—but which some have already dourly dubbed the “Green Deal Forward”, a sly reference to Mao Tse-Tung’s disastrous and deadly Great Leap Forward during the late 1950’s, both because of the scope of its soaring ambitions and the breadth of its mind boggling impracticality—has become a centerpiece of Democratic policy proposals looking forward to the 2020 elections.

This Green New Deal, which is a basket of ideas that is short on details but long on rhetoric, is a blueprint for a truly revolutionary reordering of the American economy that seeks to somehow transition our nation to a 100% use of renewable sources of energy, which would require ending the use of all fossil fuels altogether in order to reach a goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions. Income and job guarantees tied to the magical creation of millions of “high wage jobs” by—or at least through the beneficent auspices of—the federal government are tied to a radical reordering of our manufacturing, transportation, healthcare, and real estate sectors that would touch every aspect of our daily work and personal lives. While all of this was occurring, government and government officials would also be given new and unprecedented powers meant “to promote justice and equity” for everyone that will result in “economic security for all people” and the counteracting of “systemic injustices.” All of these will, by the way, happen during a window of only ten short years.

Attention, America! Ten years from now—if we agree to allow government to have total and complete power over every facet of our existences—heaven on earth is guaranteed.

As with our government’s previous wars on poverty and drugs, which were surpassingly modest efforts compared to the incredible dreams of the proposed Green New Deal, the powers of legislators, regulators, and law enforcement to monitor and control our nation would be greatly enhanced at the cost of our personal liberty. The huge bureaucracies (maybe that is where all those promised new “high wage jobs” would come from?) necessary to manage this earth-shaking endeavor would dwarf any growth we have previously seen in government employment—as well as the new taxes and fees that will obviously need to be enacted in order to pay for the costs of our new overseers.

Although the thought behind the Green New Deal—which is most closely identified with the Democrat’s new socialist superstar, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez—is predicated on the belief that a massive effort by government to eliminate fossil fuel usage is justified by evidence of global warming that has been caused by the fossil fuels themselves, the proposed legislation also sees this as an opportunity to enact a sweeping Social Justice agenda designed to right historical wrongs. Whether this is reasonable or practicable is a topic for ongoing discussion and debate, but the key environmental component is based on the idea that a very small window of opportunity exists to save the earth from global warming effects that would catastrophically impact life on our planet. Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez stated just last month that “The world is gonna end in 12 years if we don’t address climate change…” This doomsday pronouncement of our imminent demise would seem to justify the kind of extraordinary action that she is advocating, but many scientists are not endorsing this apocalyptic vision. However, creating a sense of blood-curdling fear and immediate crisis is useful when attempting to justify an extraordinary economic upheaval—by way of the Green New Deal—that might, in fact, be unjustifiable.

We already know that the track record of doomsday prophecies leaves much to be desired, but any good cult leader knows that fear both motivates your followers and binds them to you. Looking back along the course of my own lifetime, I remember many sage pronouncements that the end of the world was at hand, but I’m still sitting here today typing this—and trying to keep warm on a bitterly cold winter’s day. Given how little we truly understand about our planet and our ecosystems—much of what occurs in our deep oceans and beneath the earth’s crust is, for example, still a mystery to us—perhaps the merest touch of humility about the range of our knowledge is warranted. Moreover, our ability to manage the consequences of government mandates—much less an enterprise of the unbelievably vast scale of the Green New Deal—should perhaps require some humble reflection before we proceed.

Sometimes even the most heartfelt belief in our own knowledge and skills needs a bit of a brake. The aforementioned Great Leap Forward, which was meant to improve the lives of its people by quickly catapulting China to greatness through an extraordinary economic intervention by the communist government and its central planners, should perhaps serve as a clear warning. The program both failed to meet its economic goals and—because its authors could not foresee every possible consequence of this radical reorganization—led to the deaths by starvation of approximately 20 million Chinese. The most dangerous person in the world, when you review the history of our world’s miseries, is perhaps a government official who is convinced that there is no possibility whatsoever they… could… be… wrong.

Government-imposed solutions, as we know all too well, many times lead to government-created catastrophes because they fail to recognize that the many benefits of individual love and concern—which are sometimes expressed as nagging—do not necessarily scale up to the many misguided mandates managed by bureaucrats. Handing over control our future health and happiness to government officials who believe our freedoms must be subjugated to their own ideas about how we must live and work is certainly a step we must not take.

We Must Reject Extremism

President Trump’s State of the Union address, which had been delayed by the federal government partial shutdown, was finally presented to Congress this week.  The speech was lengthy, packed with predictable applause lines and obligatory calls for unity and swift actionand I doubt it changed a single mind in the chamber.  The sneering and snark was flying through social media from pundits, late night comedians, journalists, celebrities, and political opponents even before the speech was concluded.  The battle lines were obvious, the political gamesmanship was all too apparent, and the criticisms were predictable.

Now what?

If you took a step back, you would have to wonder what someone living outside of our nations deeply partisan bubbles would think of the vehement criticisms they heard or read after President Trumps speech.  Considering that the overall national economy is doing quite well, unemployment is at historic lows, efforts are being made to extricate American troops from deployments overseas where the original missions seem to have been accomplished, another summit with North Korea to discuss nuclear de-escalation is scheduled, trade imbalances are being addressed through tough negotiations, domestic manufacturing is booming, and more intractable national problems with healthcare costs and public education are being evaluated and discussed, it might seem a puzzle.  Although there will always be differences of opinion regarding the nature of our challenges and possible solutions, there seem many reasons to hope for a peaceful and prosperous future for our nation and its people.

But many are still filled with a frothing rage.

The explanation for this boils down to two words: immigration and abortion.  Although I strongly suspect that the vast majority of the American people occupy the high middle ground, our political leadersegged on by their most vociferous supportersseem trapped in deep and narrow valleys of extremism.

Take immigration, for example.  As has been pointed out repeatedly, the Democratic Party was until only recently perfectly content with policies that restricted entry into the U.S. and favored the swift deportation of those who entered illegally.  This was once a mainstream and moderate position that attracted support from across the political spectrum.  Speaking at a town hall in California in 2009, President Obama neatly summarized the position held by the many who elected him twice:

“…I think what we have to do is to come together and say, we’re going to strengthen our bordersand I’m going to be going to Mexico, I’m going to be working with President Calderón in Mexico to figure out how do we get control over the border that’s become more violent because of the drug trade. 

We have to combine that with cracking down on employers who are exploiting undocumented workers.  We have to make sure that there’s a verification system to find out whether somebody is legally able to work here or not.  But we have to make sure that that verification system does not discriminate just because you’ve got a Hispanic last name or your last name is Obama.

You’ve got toand then you’ve got to say to the undocumented workers, you have to say, look, you’ve broken the law; you didn’t come here the way you were supposed to.  So this is not going to be a free ride.  It’s not going to be some instant amnesty.  What’s going to happen is you are going to pay a significant fine.  You are going to learn English.

You are going toyou are going to go to the back of the line so that you don’t get ahead of somebody who was in Mexico City applying legally.  But after you’ve done these things over a certain period of time you can earn your citizenship, so that it’s notit’s not something that is guaranteed or automatic.  You’ve got to earn it.  But over time you give people an opportunity.

Now, it only works though if you do all the pieces.  I think the American people, they appreciate and believe in immigration. But they can’t have a situation where you just have half a million people pouring over the border without any kind of mechanism to control it.

Now close your eyes and imagine President Trump saying exactly the same words.

The reaction is easy to predict.  He would be immediately denounced as a xenophobic white supremacist who was planning to build an immoralwall of hatred, and this would be just the start of a crescendo of anger that would sweep the blogosphere like a tidal wave of toxic waste.  It could perhaps be argued that the exceedingly suave speaking style of President Obama was the sugar that made the medicine go down more easily, but it is also certainly true that Democratic proposals regarding immigration policy have undergone a startling and radical shift over the past ten years that has rendered any negotiation or compromise nearly impossible.

The Democratic position on abortion also seems to have been hijacked by extremists over the past decade or so.  According to The New York Times, Hillary Clinton had this to say on this matter in a landmark speech back in 2005:

“I, for one, respect those who believe with all their hearts and conscience that there are no circumstances under which any abortion should ever be available,” she said.

Toward the end of the same speech, she even described a possible future where “the choice guaranteed under our Constitution either does not ever have to be exercised or only in very rare circumstances.”

This seems very different from today’s Democratic support for abortion on demand up toand now includingthe point of actual birth.  It would not be inaccurate to suggest that the recently passed bill in New York that codified these ideas throughout that state is crossing a dangerous and distinct line into support for infanticide in all but name onlyand it is not only in New York that these notions are becoming mainstream Democratic dogma.  

Although his comments on this topic have been eclipsed by the outrage over a deeply offensive racist photograph he featured on his personal page in his medical school yearbook, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam caused great concern with his comments concerning a third trimester abortion proposal in his own state:

[Third -trimester abortions are done with] the consent of obviously the mother, with consent of the physician, multiple physicians by the way, and its done in cases where there may be severe deformities or there may be a fetus thats not viable.  So in this particular example if a mother is in labor, I can tell you exactly what would happen, the infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if thats what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.

Governor Northams suggestion that a baby born alive might be provided with palliative care only and be allowed to die flies in the face of both a physicians solemn oathGovernor Northam is, remarkably enough, a pediatric neurologistand the basic human decency that informs our lives.  Nazi Germany encouraged the deaths of those babies born with genetic problems or serious health issues in order to strengthen their master race.  However, having learned the horrible lesson of history that such practices inevitably lead to genocide, any suggestion of choosing which babies should be allowed to liveand which should be compelled to dieis firmly rejected by all but the most heartless and cruel among us.

However, state level efforts by some Republicans to restrict or deny abortion access during the first trimester of pregnancy are clearly wrong as well. The ugly and sad reality is that not all pregnancies are the result of loving relationships between men and women, some women may be utterly incapable of either carrying or nurturing a child, and others may be but a child themselves when a pregnancy occurs.  To, for example, force a thirteen year old girl who has been raped to give birth lacks all compassion and human understanding of the horror she has endured and simply amplifies the trauma she will be living with for the rest of her life.

Why is it that extremism has come to dominate our politics, and what does this imply for the future of moderate and sensible positions on immigration and abortion that will allow the vast number of voters who occupy the middle ground on these issues to feel that their voices are being heard and respected?  To insist that national borders serve a purpose and illegal entry should not be rewarded does not translateas so many seem now to believeinto bigotry and hatred.  To argue that late term abortions should be restrictedparticularly in light of the remarkable medical advances since Roe v. Wade in 1973 that now allow even the most premature of babies to survive and thriveis not at all equivalent to taking away the right of women to control their bodies.

Extremism in thought or action is generally marked by two signal characteristics: a tendency to hate those with differing ideas and a refusal to acknowledge the possibility of your own error.  Moderation in most matters of the heart and the mind is a sign of an individual’s ability to understand and embrace the sloppy complexities of life that often require one to abandon immature and inflexible ideological beliefs.  I hope that we will see more moderation and less extremism leading up to the 2020 elections.  We need cooperation and compromise in order to address key issuesincluding immigration and abortion.  Reducing the national fever of hate and insult that is corroding our governmental processes is essential.  We must find a moderate path that will recognize and reconcile all values and viewpointsor we will tear one another to pieces with our extremist passions.