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Nov 30

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The Incredible Ever-Moving American Center

Jonathan ChaitOf all the failures that have led to the historical disaster of the Trump presidency, perhaps the least-remarked-upon is the abdication of responsibility of the American center. Those of us with moderate inclinations need an effective center as a brake against extremism. When one party veers too far from the center, the center joins the opposing party, until the extreme one can be coaxed back into the mainstream. David Brooks calls for a rejuvenation of the center under the Trump presidency. But Brooks himself is the perfect encapsulation of why the center has proven so hapless, allowing itself to enable extremism rather than prevent it.

The premise of Brooks’s column is that there needs to be space “between the alt-right and the alt-left, between Trumpian authoritarianism and Sanders socialism.” This is a terrible way to conceptualize the political map. First, it distorts the ideas of the two sides, equating a small-d democrat like Sanders (who merely proposes more regulation, taxes, and spending) with Trump, who — as Brooks concedes — is authoritarian. And second, it distorts their power. Sanders remains a left-wing outlier among his party, while Trump is the dominant force within his…

The effect of all this commentary was not to empower the moderate ideas Brooks favored, but to disempower them. Brooks was emblematic of the way the entire bipartisan centrist industry conducted itself throughout the Obama years. It was neither possible for Obama to co-opt the center, nor for Republicans to abandon it, because official centrists would simply relocate themselves to the midpoint of wherever the parties happened to stand. The well-documented reality that the parties were undergoing asymmetric polarization was one they refused to accept…

The centrists could have played a role in braking the growing extremism of the Republican party. It would have meant telling the country that there was now one moderate, governing party and one extremist faction, and parking themselves with the moderate party until such time as the dynamic changed.

–Jonathan Chait
David Brooks and the Intellectual Collapse of the Center

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2016/11/30/moving-american-center/

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