GOING TO EXTREMES
Extremists receive considerable attention these days, the fringe frequently overshadowing the middle. Isis, which proclaims the restoration of the Caliphate while gobbling up large swaths of territory certainly does. Same with climate change deniers who reject overwhelming evidence that human activity is producing unsustainable global warming. Proponents of economic austerity receive a respectable hearing as they argue that recovery and growth can only be achieved by draconian budget and deficit reductions. Strong Libertarians who insist upon a sharply reduced role for government are highly visible as are extreme anti-government elements who’ve labelled the National government, the “enemy”. Pro gun activists are widely quoted in opposition to most every government regulation of weapons and in favor of arming nearly all citizens. Anti-abortion zealots have a platform from which to urge conferring “personhood” upon fetuses and banning nearly all abortions.
While the views of Americans tend on most issues to cluster in the middle, extremists often capture the headlines, their beliefs accepted as legitimate entries into the public conversation. The media is partially responsible for this. It thrives on controversy and thus welcomes strident voices that challenge majority opinion. For example, when most all climate scientists believe global warming represents a real threat, many question why media discussions often include climate change skeptics. When a standoff occurred between a Nevada rancher and federal officials over grazing rights, reporters rushed to the scene and remained there in order to record the threatening actions of his armed anti-government backers..
Extremists are easily identified, can be classified with relative ease. Moreover, their messages often are simple – “no gun regulation”, “no abortion“, “end the debt”. Those occupying the center of public discussions ordinarily assume positions more nuanced more amenable to compromise. And extremists are anything, if not bold – establish the Caliphate – government is the enemy – the embryo is a person – guns for all. And uncompromising. Strong gun advocates are prepared to challenge any and all efforts to restrict firearms possession. Isis will execute anyone who does not adhere to their articles of faith.
While the general public rejects extremists and their messaging, still there may be a grudging and unspoken respect for these groups. After all, in an era of political apathy and widespread passivity these people have defied the existing order, have spoken out, often stridently, and taken a stand , rejected compromise. Because many of the issues are complex and not easily resolved, simple solutions, already noted, are welcome. While many confess to powerlessness, the activism, dedication and organizational skills of extremists can seem impressive.
But the middle must hold. Men and women of good will, relying on solid information, speaking out with confidence and clarity, people who acknowledge the diversity of interests in play and are willing to accept less than perfect legislation must lead the conversation and determine the outcome.