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Ben’s Bench: A Moderate’s Take on 2020

In this modern political world, there are only two ways to get to “know” someone: by peering at their political record, and diving into the person behind it. 

Looking at my official voting record, it would be hard to believe I am anything if not a clear-cut, red-blooded Republican of generations’ past. In the 22 years of my existence, I have grown fond of the Bushes and McCains of the world – having been raised in a family that does the same and thrives on traditional family values – and backed the best that individualistic capitalism and the American Dream can offer: work hard, dream big, and be your own man. 

By contrast, looking into my person tells a different story: that individualistic capitalism cannot come at the cost of leaving others in the dust bowl of poverty; that no person of any gender, race or origin deserves to be less of an law-abiding and freedom-loving American than anyone else; that those who come to seek the Statue of Liberty’s promise of welcoming the “tired and poor” deserve a nation that can properly provide for their wellbeing and posterity; and that tradition should not always be mistaken for trajectory. 

Simply put, I am a moderate. I am a moderate who has always preferred the purple-hued spotlight of center-stage, where left and right can unite to create something beautiful and lasting of which both sides will not just reap the benefits, but also share with the people that elected them. 

In generations’ past, the spotlight has undeniably swung back and forth between the blue-tinged left and the red-toned right – akin to a pendulum wave toy – but its gravity has always brought it back to a middle-ground of compromise, comradery and playing the political game by the rules established by both sides. We accredit this exceptional balancing act to the staying power of our Charters of Freedom (the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights), as well as our mutual respect for their precedents and foundation after a time of extraordinary revolution. 

In this chaotic excuse for a year called 2020, however, the forces that have held the spotlight stable are threatening to cave to the accelerating partisanship and radicalism engulfing both Democrats and Republicans whole. These new darker forces – fueled by growing hatred and fear towards the opposite side, the numerous flaws with both presidential candidates, the fragile yet frantic fire of social media, and rampant misinformation – have turned nearly every institution into a suspicious political weapon of mass infuriation in one way or another.   

It certainly does not help that this nation has been plagued by countless diseases since the year began: the coronavirus (COVID-19) in March, another viral exposure of institutional racism in May, and international voter manipulation year-round. It also does not help that a decades’ long decline in trust towards Washington since the breaking of Watergate has granted our current political system with an ugly aura of doubt and cynicism; this latter fault became one perfectly exploited by a certain Donald J. Trump, whose still-surprising 2016 victory equated that aura with national weakness and fading glory. 

In 2020, that aura’s meaning has changed: it is now not only a sign of weakness, but also a call for help. All men are still not created equal, and the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness as it stands now has left us stranded in an American Pompeo, where a rumbling volcano of chaos and societal collapse looming over our 50 states threatens to burn and bury each and every one of them alive should a little thing called “progress” fail to plug up that fiery hell-hole and clear its smog from the sky. 

Now “progress” has and can come in numerous forms, most of them beneficial to the wellbeing of the national and global order. One only needs to look toward the likes of Lyndon B. Johnson’s Civil Rights Act of 1964 or the series of START nuclear treaties between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. started by Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and renewed by Barack Obama in 2009, as examples of such. However, that does not mean that progress cannot be negative, ignorant or politically charged to the point of breaking the game of fair politics, and this is where my moderate side begins to worry.  

As both candidates claim to be agents of progress – one calling for a never-ending fight against the Washington “swamp,” red tape and cultural sensitivity that protects it, and one surrounded by rejectors of their own moderate counterparts and backers of radical proposals like court-packing and the end of the Electoral College, among others – it makes me wonder: how much “progress” is too much, and when is it just for the sake of it or winning a losing game of politics alone? 

As a moderate, I want to see the good intentions and reasons for each ticket’s definition of “progress,” such as wanting to simplify D.C.’s complex and often opaque inner machinery and powering through our problems on one end or pushing for greater government involvement to answer bigger issues like healthcare or race on the other. Nevertheless, I cannot help but fear the heat of extremism emanating from those same platforms, especially when they do not learn from failed attempts in history’s past.  

Regarding Trump, his biggest problem might just be his refusal to confront his own issues. While it is true that deregulation and changes in how our presidency, politics and culture are perceived have been major foundations of his administration, it is equally factual that he cannot let go of his dangerous habits – whether it be his daily stream of lies, self-exaggeration and “fake news” name-calling (a strategy that lost its bite two years ago), or his stubborn insistence that problems like racism (which has thrived off of a lack of definitive defeat for centuries) and COVID-19 (whose seven-plus-month reign is close to its third surge) will just “go away” if we ignore them.  

At best, he is pushing optimism to the breaking point and hoping that his calls of denial and “this is fine” will extinguish the fires surrounding his term; at worst, he well knows the detriments of denial but also knows that his most unwavering supporters will nevertheless back him as a middle finger to his opposition, a direct threat to the goal of political scholars and civics professors everywhere. 

On the other hand, the campaign of challenger Joseph R. Biden and running mate Kamala Harris have the opposite problem. They do not deny or ignore the problems facing the country; instead, they choose to confront them with procedures that play into the hands of the farthest of left-leaning activists, with the two most prominent being abolishing the Electoral College and, as of the past month, court-packing.  

With the former, presidential elections threaten to become even more partisan than they already are, as the lack of a representation and elector balance between the smaller, less populous states in the heart of the country and the metropolitan powerhouses that border them on all sides turn elections from winning all types of peoples into selective campaigning exclusive to larger cities like New York and Los Angeles, granting unfair electoral advantages to the party who owns them and transforming a race of policy and direction into a numbers game that only the party in control of those cities can win. It is the equivalent of a Congress with the House of Representatives as the only chamber. 

Meanwhile, the resurgence of court-packing pitches following Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s approval as the 115th Supreme Court Justice proves that Democrats, too, refuse to learn from their past. One should only need to be reminded of FDR’s failed efforts to pass the Judicial Procedures Reform Bill of 1937 (which would have allowed a president to add one Justice to the Court (up to six) for each sitting Justice that was above the age of 70 ½ in order to force the constitutionality of his second-term New Deal reforms) to understand just how toxic this strategy can be to the last truly non-partisan branch of government. In the face of understandable rage emanating from Democrats due to Barrett’s potential to give enough leverage to the Court’s more conservative justices for them to render the likes of Roe v. Wade unconstitutional – and despite Biden’s refusal to fully commit to the idea of packing the court (instead opting for a court “Reform Commission” to investigate the court system as a whole) – his ticket’s inability to fully silence the calls for court-packing proposals either illustrates Biden as someone who is hiding his full plan or unable to reason with his far-left colleagues, or his party’s overall resolution to change the rules to a game they are losing. 

Were I to be a more politicized activist, perhaps these tickets and positions would appeal to me more; as someone with a more objective and moderate background, however, I once again see flashbacks to the common consensus of 2016: we are faced with choosing the lesser of two evils. Do we go with an incumbent who holds on to tradition and the most right-wing of “family values,” albeit with a gallon’s worth of ignorance regarding institutional cracks to chug on; or do we take a dive into most uncertain waters with a challenger who, at worst, is a vehicle of political extremism and constitutional undermining in the clothes of a white-haired traditionalist? 

And what can moderates do to ensure that future elections instead pit two goods against the evils of the outside world, you may ask? I will let Jefferson answer for me:  

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation…Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. 

While 2020 will not be our year, it can be the beginning of a new tomorrow; regardless of who wins on Nov. 3, we must act now to break down the infighting and elect representatives, senators and presidents who respect the intelligence of their voters, voters who care not for the overwrought political wars that consume our current legislators, and only for the beautiful and unifying results they can create when harmony conquers harm and the centuries-old balance of American greatness is restored. 

In other words, it is time to take the spotlight back from the fringes and shine it where the light deserves to be the most: in the middle of it all. 

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