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The moderate majority

It might be hard to tell from our overheated, post-Charlottesville media coverage, but the vast majority of Americans are neither neo-Nazis nor anarchists and probably have nothing but contempt for those who are. They also aren't white supremacists who want to restore slavery, or sexist bigots who want to keep women barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen.

There are, in other words, a lot more moderate, reasonable people out there than the shrill Twitter universe suggests. Such moderate, reasonable people agree on far more than they disagree, including a commitment to individual freedom, self-government, and the rule of law, the very things that define our great nation and that the white supremacists and anarchists despise.

The key is that the "moderate majority" doesn't spend all that much time thinking about politics and doesn't think all that ideologically about it when they do. They have jobs and families and friends and churches to attend to. They don't troll about in Internet chat rooms or send out hysterical tweets about the latest offense against political correctness because they would rather take their kids to the county fair and tailgate at Razorback games.

Most Americans either didn't vote at all, or voted only reluctantly for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton last November. They didn't rush to the barricades when Trump won, and wouldn't have if Clinton had, either. The hunch is that they aren't paying much attention to the latest Trump outrage, whatever that happens to be; they probably go days on end without even thinking about him.

To acknowledge these facts is not to approve moral negligence, but to praise what can be called psychological "normalcy." Anyone who wakes up with the cold sweats in the middle of the night out of fear that fascism has come to America in the form of Donald Trump is probably a greater threat to American democracy than Trump is.

A highly politicized society is, by definition, a dangerous one for individual liberty.

Part of this complacency flows from confidence in the steps the founders took to insulate us from both tyranny and ideological fanaticism. Within their framework, there is remarkably little that a president can do to actually threaten our liberties, hemmed in as he is by all forms of tested constitutional safeguards.

As such, if there ends up being anything salutary about the Trump presidency it might be a renewed effort on the part of the citizenry to rein in the powers of the administrative branch; to rethink the wisdom of giving the chief executive that "phone and pen" with which to issue the equivalent of royal decrees.

As deplorable as Trump might be, he shouldn't matter anywhere near as much in our republic as those with politics perpetually on their brains think.

Within this context, the extent to which the violent radicals on left and right have come to dominate our public discourse, or at least the extent to which that discourse is pervaded by anxiety regarding them, stems less from their actual levels of support than from the need of a 24/7 mass media to stir up as much hysteria as possible.

Have a couple dozen skinheads announce a march down Main Street in South Suckatash, throw in the obligatory black-clad Antifa counter-demonstrators who fly to the flame like moths, and it's lights, camera, action, especially when the police, for inexplicable reasons, and as in Charlottesville, fail to do their jobs and prevent the nutcases from beating on each other.

But this isn't America, and isn't a harbinger, unless we allow it to be. It is only a freak show staged for the entertainment of people increasingly accustomed to viewing politics as a form of reality TV.

It is also helpful to remember that there were periods in American life when radical ideologies, including fascism and communism, were vastly more powerful and threatening than they are today--the American extension of Hitler's Nazi Party, the German-American Bund, filled Madison Square Garden with 20,000 people for a rally in 1939, just months before the eruption of World War II, with the assembled goose-steppers collectively hissing each time at the mention of "President Rosenfeld."

The ticket of a CPUSA (Communist Party USA) funded and directed by Joseph Stalin received more than 100,000 votes in the 1932 presidential election, while CPUSA stooge Henry Wallace got over a million as late as 1948.

Today's wanna-be fascists and communists are, by comparison, both minuscule in numbers and bereft of powerful foreign sponsors, let alone menaces on the order of Hitler and Stalin.

Rather than mortal threats to our political order, our neo-Nazi and Antifa faux street fighters tend to be the kinds of pathetic creatures who couldn't get dates in high school or make the football team and likely still live at home in their parents' basements. When they're not play-acting like stormtroopers or black-clad ninjas, they're likely to be found midday on the couch munching Doritos and playing video games. They have plenty of time on their hands because they (deservedly) lack gainful employment.

They are society's losers, not our political future, deserving more our derision and mockery than our fear. Ignore them and they will go away.

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Freelance columnist Bradley R. Gitz, who lives and teaches in Batesville, received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Illinois.

Editorial on 09/11/2017

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