Stuck In The Middle

The politics blog of The Little Hawk.

Mira Bohannan Kumar

The politics blog of The Little Hawk.

Ellis Chen, Reporter

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The 2016 campaign season and election of Donald Trump marked a change in American politics and divergence from norms. The unorthodox nature of some candidates also highlighted increasing political divisions. This led many Americans to harken back to times of greater unity and a shift towards the concept of centrism for many political issues.

However, despite its growing popularity, there are significant flaws in the particular types of centrism that have become more popular recently. This isn’t to say that all forms of moderate politics and centrism are equally flawed, though. In the more traditional form of centrism, it’s seen as simply supporting different sides of the political spectrum on different issues. But in a more recently developed idea of centrism, people are assured that on nearly every political issue the solution lies in the middle and both sides are in some way flawed.

Within this idea of centrism, there seems to be a conception that being in the middle of the ideological left and right grants one an elevated status or perhaps a level of superiority because of an ability to “see both sides” of an issue. It doesn’t.

While thinking through opposing views can be beneficial, this doesn’t necessarily mean that both sides of an issue are equally right or that you should refuse to acknowledge that one side has a better position on certain issues.

Additionally, arguments are often one-sided, with the facts falling in line with one perspective. An example is that many politicians have refused to acknowledge the existence of human-induced climate change, despite there being a scientific consensus on its existence and that it will cause negative impacts on humankind as rising temperatures threaten biodiversity.

Some might find unconditional centrism appealing because they can always feel that they are thinking rationally. One can feel good and gain the moral high ground by refusing to weigh the costs and benefits of any advocacy and pointing out how one is better than both the liberals and conservative. But ultimately, this ends up as a failure to take a stand for what is right.

Centrism also becomes warped in the context of moral issues. The idea that one can, and should, find common ground with a person that is pushing for policies that would directly cause violence against people or invalidate their existence is absurd. When applied to historical situations, we can see how ridiculous the argument is. Were there valid points for the United States both, directly and indirectly, murdering Indigenous groups and taking their land in events like Andrew Jackson’s Trail of Tears? Were there valid points on both sides of slavery? Should slaves and abolitionists have tried to “find common ground” with slaveholders or, perhaps, reached a solution in which slaves were only forced into indentured-servitude for a few years? Obviously not. One side was wrong and one was not. And while these examples are extreme, they show the faults that can arise from the ideas of radical centrism.

To be clear, the traditional form of centrism does have some utility. Having some opinions that align more with liberals, some that align with conservatives, and some that align with neither is not necessarily bad nor is trying to understand people with different views. However, the fetishization of centrism is where it becomes problematic because it justifies inaction and a lack of concrete advocacy.

America has pressing problems that urgently need to be resolved. The solution, however, is not necessarily in the middle. On some issues, it is likely that there will never be common ground. Despite this, we should dare to take strong positions and refuse to take the easy, feel-good way out of any conflict in ideology by saying that there are always valid arguments on both sides.