Clowns to the left of me,
Jokers to the right, here I am,
Stuck in the middle with you
— Stuck In the Middle With You, Stealers Wheel
Do you increasingly get the feeling that this country has gone mad? I mean, really mad? I’ll come right out and say it: I do.
Just look at the events of the last week or so. First we have some whacko in Miami sending out pipe bombs all over the country. And then, with those events still occupying the news, we get some other crazy who goes into a synagogue in Pittsburgh and kills 11 people at a baby-naming ceremony. Either of these events would be deplorable enough on its own and one would think all Americans of right mind would stand together to reject them. But no, not in the current frenetic environment, where everything it seems has to have a political interpretation put on it.
While the pipe-bomb thing was going on every shade of political spin was put on it. The Left said it was Trump’s fault, while the Right hypothesized that it might be some Democrat trying to discredit the Republicans in advance of the mid-term elections. And then, in the aftermath of the synagogue shooting, once more the Left said it was all Trump’s fault while Trump condemned the violence in the strongest terms and somewhere in the clamor calmer minds learned that the killer couldn’t stand Trump and was just some garden-variety loner anti-Semite.
These dichotomous reactions, disturbingly, are becoming pretty reliably predictable. To the Left, of course, everything bad that happens, without exception, is Trump’s fault. This includes some misguided whacko sending out pipe bombs, a crazed anti-Semitic mass murderer targeting innocent people, category 4 hurricanes, rising sea levels, Russians showing up in jack boots at U.S. polling places, and – if it ever comes to pass – Martians landing in New Jersey. It’s not a misnomer when this is called Trump Derangement Syndrome. And on the Right all blame rests with the Democrats and that misleadingly labeled sub-set, the Progressives, whom they say are the real instigators of violence in the country.
Amid this national insanity I somehow, and somewhat unexpectedly, find myself in what arguably remains identifiable as the Middle. I guess I can say it’s the Middle if I find myself condemning violence of any ilk, whether advocated or carried out by anyone of any political persuasion. I guess I can say it’s the Middle if I keep troubling myself with seeking out the facts and not relying on the blather that increasingly marks what one gets told in the mass media. And I guess I can say it’s the Middle if I still value discourse and reasoned debate and don’t go willy-nilly cutting people off because I disagree with them.
Actually, I think I’ve inherited this Middle because all the other shades of middleness receded around it. Mostly this has been the Left moving far away, indeed, in that direction. And the Right, while not moving all that much, taking up something of a fortress position in its direction to defend against the war parties of the Left. While before one could say one was in the mainstream to be in the Middle, lately it feels pretty darned lonely here on this shrinking island.
The divisions brought out by the two big news events of the last week didn’t end with just hurling accusations and inuendo back and forth. No, they go far beyond that. And – I have to say it – mostly the more extreme divisiveness is originating on the Left. For instance, since when has it become acceptable to spurn the President of the United States and shout out insults at him? What has happened to the idea that, even if we don’t like the occupant of the office, we respect the office of President? I was no fan of Barrack Obama or his policies, but I can’t imagine that if he invited me to the White House (spoiler alert: He never did) I wouldn’t have gone. Or, if he came to visit some group I was part of, I wouldn’t have welcomed him. That’s called respect for the office of the President. One can even say it’s common courtesy. But all that has gone out the window when White House invitations regularly are now spurned, whether by athletes, performers, or business people.
But wait, it gets worse. In the aftermath of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, the President said he was going to visit the scene of the worst act of anti-Semitism in U.S. history. It’s hard to imagine that he would not do this. It’s equally hard to imagine how he would not have been roundly criticized if he didn’t. But then he’s criticized for actually going, spurned by members of the congregation, and greeted by thousands of organized demonstrators loudly hurling insults at him. Is this the madness America has descended into? At least Rabbi Jeffrey Meyers, whose congregation it was that was attacked, in the end did the right thing and met with the President and First Lady.
“I welcome him as an American. He is the president,” Myers told the Washington Post before the visit. “I chose to take the polite and respectful path.”
Myers had some other words of wisdom to offer. Speaking to his congregation after the killings, he said, “Words of hate are unwelcome in Pittsburgh. It starts with everyone in this room, and I want to address for a moment some of our political leaders who are here. Ladies and gentlemen, it has to start with you as our leaders. Stop the words of hate. My mother always taught me, ‘If you don’t have anything nice to say, say nothing.’ If it comes from you Americans will listen.”
Well, I don’t know how much Americans are listening. Or maybe they are, as the rhetoric of our so-called leaders becomes more and more vitriolic and inciting. There is little talk of unity, of mending fences, of coming together first and foremost as Americans. Instead, every trait, both mutable and immutable, seems to have become a point of division. It goes beyond the political divisions, and encompasses race, sex, religion, class, income, even age, with one group pitted against another, each individual set against every other individual. This divisiveness didn’t start in the age of Trump, but it certainly has not abated, either.
It seems not that long ago when we could be classified as a net-gain society. A gain made by some could be seen as a gain by all. When did we become a net-loss society, when a gain by some becomes a loss to everyone else? It feels like that’s where we are now, and have been for much of this century. It’s more than sad. It marks a fundamental change in our previously optimistic society. And it will be hard to turn it around.
Is this really where we want to be? Is this as good as it gets and it’s all downhill from here?
Well, there’s still some room in the Middle, and I’m going to do my best to cling to this shrinking island and hope the crazies and whackos don’t overwhelm it. Are there any other resistors and residents of the Middle out there? If so, please make your presence known.