Politics in America is now dominated by extremism. Every issue is made out to be the difference between protecting the disadvantaged and normalizing fascism. Your actions get conflated to ten times what they actually were so that people can easily categorize you into one side or the other. I don’t believe many people have such extreme views, but some will accept their prescribed side while others will choose to avoid the conversation entirely. This dynamic results in America’s important values being pushed aside for political expediency or personal well-being. There’s no question we live in extraordinary times that demand action. We have a President who seems to dismiss the core values of America in favor of his own interests, but his most vocal opponents have been willing to do the same for their own ends. In light of this, the true political battle in the United States is revealed and it is not good versus evil but decency against savagery.
During the campaign trail, I was more disturbed by Trump’s flagrant approach to protesters at his rallies than anything else. Specifically the incident where he asked his crowd to “knock the crap” out of protesters and that he’d “pay for the legal fees.” That moment disturbed me because it was the bridge from ordinary disagreement to violence against your opponents. It wasn’t enough to insult your detractors, now they had to physically pay for it. That moment was a glimpse into Trump’s values (or lack thereof) and how far his supporters would go with him.
It was a clarifying moment for me, because regardless of whatever your specific views are on issues, silencing opponents is not only un-American, but normalizing that action pulls at the fragile toothpicks that support our free society. America’s commitment to free speech has allowed the war of ideas to be fought with appropriate tools: arguments, logic and shared experiences. If you can’t talk to your enemy and explain your differences, you’ll surely fight them instead. Our system can survive a few incompetent politicians, or a few years of incompetent leadership, but it cannot survive removing the mechanism meant to reveal that incompetence.
Yet here we are on the other side of a Trump presidency and his critics seemed to have shed their “when they go low, we go high” mantra in favor of violence. Whether that’s literally punching people in the face, lighting their hair on fire or rioting to prevent a pro-Trump speaker. These actions would be bad enough on their own but the reaction for many liberals is not to condemn violence or make excuses – they endorse it. They don’t see this as hypocritical because violence against “nazis” is always justified.
Most of the people willing to endorse violence come from the younger generation. You can find endless tweets from people supporting the recent riots. They are self-appointed experts on how to beat toxic ideologies despite never reading a history book in their life. It’s natural that younger people have more energy while the older generation shares their experience and wisdom for how best to channel that energy through productive means. But the current younger generation has delegitimized everyone but themselves. Boogiemen come in the form of the patriarchy or identity politics, cutting off all influencers who are not fellow travelers. The few remaining figures who could dispel these toxic views are fearful that upsetting their base will diminish their chance to stay in office. This is predicated on the concept that America’s political battle is between the left and right, but as any political science expert will tell you – the two directions eventually curl back toward each other if you go far enough. This weariness for replacing one extremist with another is why the country remains so staunchly divided.
Trump’s first weeks in office have been a disaster. He’s created a domestic crisis with his sloppy immigration actions, he failed his promise to “make Mexico pay for the wall,” he’s forced most of the state department’s higher-ups to resign and his administration has been the cause of more riots in the past dozen days than most of the past dozen administrations. In the face of spectacular failure, there’s no reason democrats shouldn’t be careening toward high approval ratings, but that’s not what has happened. Instead they’ve placated this dangerous anti-American extremism in hopes it will serve their own ends.
During the North African campaign of World War II, Supreme Commander of the Allies Dwight Eisenhower oversaw a deal with Vichy France’s Francois Darlan. The armistice was — in effect — an alliance between the free world and the fascist regime of Vichy France. Tactically, the deal served the allies. They had better standing in North Africa, key strategic resources and spent less vital manpower fighting the French. After all, Germany was the true enemy. But the deal was harshly criticized by Free France’s Charles de Gaulle, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and several critics in America, including one renowned journalist Edward R. Murrow, who said:
“Are we fighting Nazis or sleeping with them? Why this play with traitors? Don’t we see that we could lose this war by winning it?”
What good is fighting a war against an ideology that has sunk the world into conflict if you’re willing to use those same ideas for your own victory? Unlike that historic example, there is no literal war being fought on a battlefield. America is constantly in a war of ideas. Our country has stood the test of time because of its commitment to personal freedoms and choosing to fight the war of ideas instead of the war of violence. America needs to revitalize a movement that adheres to the rights that made this country great if it hopes to survive the current wave of extremism.