In Politics, The Age of Extremes
by Mike Trivella | University of Notre Dame
It’s funny how an argument with your friends about hipsters can lead to a serious insight on the extreme state of American politics.
Last Sunday, we were driving from a great round of mini golf when my buddy Mike and I started to rip our other friend Max for being a hipster; let’s be honest, just because you can put a cool filter on some picture of the sun setting over a lake doesn’t mean you’re an artist.
Ok, so we’re obviously joking when we call our college-football-playing, man’s man of a friend a hipster, but almost anyone can conjure up an image in their mind when the word hipster is used. Hipsters are the artsy folk, the people you’d see with a beanie on in the sweltering heat of June, with the Ray Ban glasses, horizontally striped v-neck tee, corduroy pants and generally liberal worldview to match. After Max had thoroughly convinced us that he in fact did not fit this stereotype, Mike responded, “No, that’s fine. I don’t care if you like doing things that are typically considered hipster. I just hate those hipsters that are so in your face about it that you’re forced to know they’re hipster.”
And we all agreed.
I did not write this article to degrade hipster culture (because truly everyone has little quirks here and there that are considered outside the mainstream), but rather because I believe Mike’s comment is equally valid when applied to the realm of American politics. Compared to the other democracies of the world, the United States of America is a rather moderate, center-right country.
Most Americans get up every morning to go to work in order to provide for their families, saving and spending in a fair proportion so as to pay the bills, be able to send kids to college and retire at some point in their 60’s, but at the same time be able to enjoy some of the finer things in life that our capitalist-democratic system offers. And despite what commuting to and from New York City would have you believe, Americans are generally nice if you reciprocate those random acts of kindness.
“Wait a minute, you’re telling me that the American worldview is more or less similar? I’m calling shenanigans!” I would bet good money that any foreigner who was knowledgeable of the American political scene would say that, because all you ever hear on the news these days is how hopelessly partisan American politics is. Roger Sherman would have a tough time getting any legislation passed because, in this Age of Extremes, it appears that any sort of moderation or compromise is no longer a strength, but a weakness. In this Age of Extremes, there’s no room to be purple; you’re either a true-blue Democrat yearning for socialist utopia, or a blood red Republican longing for the Golden Age of Reagan.
If my earlier claim that the American population in general is more or less moderate is correct, how can it be that our politics are so acutely divisive? Perhaps it is the simple fact that the mainstream, being the majority, does not need to be vocal to have their positions on certain issues be understood.
Take, for example, my brother, a diehard Red Sox fan living in northern New Jersey, a territory painted in the Yankees pinstripes. Nobody has to ask me why I like the Yankees, as there is a general assumption in place that locals tend to root for the hometown team. My brother, being not of the mainstream in this case, needs to vocalize his reasons for loving the hated Sawks, such as family history, current collegiate residence, etc.
And not only is the minority forced to vocalize their views, they usually end up doing up much more ferociously than anyone else. It’s the same thing with politics. Mainstream politicians are a dime a dozen, but those politicians leaning a little too far in one direction are usually much more vocal about their ideologies, and, since very few people share their beliefs, they are much more in-your-face about convincing you that they are right.
Now this is by no means wrong. In a federal republic like our own, people have the right to express their opinions freely (so long as they are not slanderous or bordering on libel). The problem comes when only one group of people is expressing their opinion or is being heard louder than everyone else. One only has to hearken back to the tragedies of Nazism and Soviet communism to realize that radicals from both ends of the spectrum, while at the onset very few in number, tend to become very influential with time. All that is needed is a charismatic, eloquent leader who can voice his or her idealist views in such a manner that the pragmatic majority becomes more and more entranced with each passing word.
For those of you who think I’m on the verge of restating Nietzsche’s thesis on Christianity as a slave religion through a different lens, truly think about it. The candidates in this year’s presidential election both have a track record of being pragmatic. Sure, they both have their ideals, but, in the end, they are always to be balanced by the trials and tribulations of everyday life. Yet, how have two very pragmatic politicians become embroiled in one of the most bitter and divisive campaigns in recent memory? The answer is simple: they are both catering to what the hardcore elements of their party desire.
Before he was the Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney was the Republican governor of Massachusetts, inarguably one of the more left-leaning states in the Union. During his time in office, he achieved what few others have achieved: universal health care. Now Republicans decry it as almost sacrilegious, but what’s the problem with providing health care to everybody if it can be afforded? If a state or country is better off because of a certain policy, that policy should be praised, regardless of which side of the aisle signed the bill into law. In this light, it seems rather odd that Romney should be so diametrically opposed to Obama’s attempts to provide universal health on a national level. How else could it be explained except that Romney is trying to cater to the desires of his party, which at the present is influenced rather strongly by the Tea Party and neo-conservatives across the country?
Neither is our current President innocent in the matter. As recently as last week, I watched an Obama campaign ad brandishing Romney as a soulless businessman, all to the tune of Romney’s rendition of “America the Beautiful.” By approving that commercial, President Obama is basically damning every American businessman who contributes to the capitalist society that has given us a higher quality of life only dreamed of fifty years or so ago. Any person with a minimal education in economics knows that jobs are not moved unless the job can be done more efficiently elsewhere.
To make an analogy, Apple would not have manufacturers in China make the MacBook, with which I am writing this article, if it came out looking like a Lenovo (just an analogy, not an insult). Throw into the boiling pot the ridiculous comments Senator Reid made about Governor Romney not paying taxes for ten years, and you really start to despair.
The point I’m trying to make here is not that our candidates suck and we should root against them if they are not of a familiar political affiliation. Rather, it’s a sad occurrence that two men with so much to offer are being forced more and more into espousing competing idealistic worldviews- which in reality, they may not truly believe in- all in the name of being in accord with the party platform.
Pragmatic men are needed in times of crisis like our own, because they are more likely to try to do what is necessary, rather than do what would be ideal in some rosy future. Perhaps that is why Americans (especially in my generation) are so disillusioned with politics. Conservatives and liberals come and go, but the moderate mainstream has much more staying power. We need a leader who can voice our concerns and wishes not only for our futures but of our progeny as well, and neither party in our American system provides that at the moment. What a shame: we really could have used one right about now.Mike Trivella is currently a junior at the University of Notre Dame. Majoring in Accounting and minoring in Philosophy, Mike splits his time between classes, working out with friends, balancing debits & credits, pondering the true essence of the universe, and as always watching the New York Football Giants.