Over the past few years, many books and movies have received notice for their prescience in regards to modern times — or at least our fears about modern times. Orwell’s “1984,” for example, is often used by people on both the right and left as an example of the totalitarian hellhole they believe the country will soon become if [fill in politician’s name here] is elected.
Almost any dystopian future depicted in film and literature from the last century serves nicely as a roadmap for the coming communist or fascist regime.
Some slightly less-ominous predictions exist as well. President Nixon once wrote Donald Trump a letter telling him he’d be a success if he ran for office, and an episode of “The Simpsons” from 2015 accurately predicted his win a year later, even though they were trying to make a joke.
But perhaps the most prophetic, Nostradamus-like work predicting the modern ethos has to be “Stuck in the Middle With You” by Stealers Wheel. This 1973 classic penned by Scotsmen Joe Egan and Gerry Rafferty perfectly predicted the state of America 47 years later.
“Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle with you,” they wrote. As we watch the extremists on both sides of the political spectrum continue to hijack our country, Joe and Gerry should step up and curtsey in their kilts for the amazing precision with which they described our condition. Even if they were actually just writing about their next-door neighbors, it still translates perfectly to how I — and a whole lot of other people — feel in 2020.
We’re trapped between two groups who hate each other for acting much the same way. Neither the hardcore right nor hardcore left care much at all about trampling the wishes of the 70 percent of the country that doesn’t want what they want.
There is a total inability of people on the far left or far right to have empathy for or understanding of each other. So many people on both ends say how they can’t possibly understand why anyone would or wouldn’t vote for President Trump. If you’re somewhere in the middle, it’s pretty easy to see why someone would or wouldn’t vote for him. There are certainly plusses and minuses and the computations also include the views pushed by his opponents.
“Wingers” have become so aggressive about their own views, it’s frightening for most people to express their own. I had someone essentially tell me the other day that any of us who aren’t actively fighting racism in the streets are part of the problem, for example. That position immediately puts people on the defensive. Someone else wrote me excitedly the other day about how state legislatures could refuse to certify the election and force it into the U.S. House of Representatives so Trump could win. I didn’t even respond, knowing a lesson on how votes are actually counted would be useless.
It’s constant these days. A woman angrily writes to cancel her subscription because she thought a cartoon made fun of Republicans. Others have canceled expressing love of the paper but hatred of Jeff Poor’s conservative column. There are a lot of hair-triggers out there. This column may trigger of few of them again.
We didn’t start Lagniappe to be a liberal or conservative mouthpiece, and I couldn’t advise anyone with such fragile sensibilities to subscribe or even pick one up for free. There’s bound to be something “offensive.” Part of the fun of newspapers used to be exposure to thoughts counter to your own. Some used to just turn the page if they didn’t like a story, or even write an intelligent, well-thought-out letter to the editor to set us straight instead of just yelling, “I’m offended!”
That’s where we live now, though. The yellers, screamers and fist-fighters on the far right and left bully the rest of us with their aggressive rejection of anything that deviates from their idea of perfection.
Maybe it’s time for independents to get more dogmatic about being stuck in the middle. We need to be proud of not being extreme. Being in the middle doesn’t mean we don’t have opinions or understanding, it just means we can see both sides and employ some logic.
For example, maybe you’re totally in favor of sick people getting medical marijuana, but not fired up (sorry) about having weed and edibles sold on every corner. That’s OK. That’s not a wishy-washy position, it’s just not absolutist.
If you think everyone should have access to medical care, but also want to keep your private insurance, that’s not a weak position. If you think low taxes are good, but don’t think it makes sense for Alabama’s land barons to pay almost nothing for property taxes while the poor deal with the highest sales taxes in America, those concepts are not non-sequiturs.
You may recognize race relations in this country aren’t what they should be, but also not think race is the most important problem we face. You may wonder, if Black deaths at the hands of police are all racist, then what drives cops to kill even more White people each year? How can racism be the driving force in one part of the equation, but not the other?
You may think it makes sense to get rid of Confederate statues and memorials that are highly offensive to many of our friends and neighbors, but understand there is a point at which your right to free speech and expression outweighs someone else’s “right” not to be offended. There is no right not to be offended.
I could go on and on, but I’m sure you either get the point or are writing an angry email canceling your subscription by now.
The election proved the middle still has tremendous power in this country. Exit polls show about 38 percent of voters identified as “moderate.” That’s equal to the number who identify as “conservative” and 14 points higher than the number who identified as “liberal,” according to CNN exit polls. That seems borne by the closeness of the election, even with tens of millions more people voting than in 2016. The takeaway was that the American public isn’t terribly interested in the radical ideas espoused in the wings.
I know the wingers are convinced they need all three branches of government (there will be a test on this later, Tommy Tuberville) to really implement their “vision” for the country, but we’ve often done quite well when the power is split up. Remember Bill Clinton and his Republican Congress balancing the budget for a couple of years? Trump and the Democratic House may not love each other, but they were both enjoying a pretty rollicking economy pre-’rona. That won’t comfort people who either hate America or think it’s perfect the way it’s always been, but it makes sense to the rest of us.
Be proud to be stuck in the middle. It’s a sign you’re a thinker and not someone who just follows dogma or flashy politicians. I’m proud, and I’m going to stay here stuck in the middle with you.
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