Where have all the moderates gone? Capitol attack highlights failing party system
What started as a historically routine joint session of Congress quickly became the staging ground to a historic attack on American democracy. The scenes of insurrection stretching from the White House to Capitol Hill along Constitution Avenue elicited memories of the distant War of 1812. This time, however, the insurrectionists were domestic, unapologetically domestic that is, leaving America with nowhere to look but within for resolution.
A day of pomp and ceremony to formally count the electoral votes was abruptly interrupted when supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol building in a violent effort to stop Congress’s Electoral College duty and block the certification of now President Joe Biden’s November victory. After Vice President Mike Pence refused Trump’s instruction to exercise unilateral authority and reject the election results, Trump left it to his mob to “stop the steal.”
It’s a battle call Trump should have minced his words for, as his instigatory rhetoric at his “March to Save America” rally earlier that Wednesday morning is now inarguably credited with fomenting the Capitol attack that occurred shortly afterwards.
While many Trump apologists have often dismissed the possibility of such insurrection throughout Trump’s term, Jan. 6 was a sobering display of the lethal effects of modern partisanship. Lawmakers became congressional prey to the insurrectionists operating in the president’s name.
Trump and his band of loyal enthusiasts may be the antagonists in this instance of regressive behavior. However, it's the country’s unwitting adherence to an increasingly polarized party system, separatist by nature, that fuels the polarization the Trump administration exacerbated. Four years of incessant fear-mongering and gaslighting pushed voters to either ends of the political spectrum under the pretense of a false dilemma.
Our submission to the idea that there is a definite “right and wrong” affiliation has decided that “moderation” is no longer a virtue, but is complicity, leaving moderates politically homeless. Voters are being taught to think “inside-the-box,” suggesting there are only two sides to policy issues and forcing Americans to cleanly vote among party lines regardless of ideological inconsistencies.
As Americans continue to seek identity in the parties they align themselves with, as opposed to commonality, fervent party loyalty is leaving affiliates myopic. We are witnessing a significant paradigm shift for American politics - preserving democracy is no longer the goal - rather, it is the immediate ability to control the political narrative of the nation that is being sought-after.
Ideological warfare has caught today’s moderate voters in a catch-22, forced to settle for a particular party to offset the potential damages of the other. Trump oppositionists experienced this during the Democratic primaries last year, when Democratic-socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders looked to be their last resort at potentially defeating Trump in November. That was until Biden’s campaign-saving success in South Carolina, bringing some moderation back onto the ballot. For staunch party affiliates however, settling is not an option, as seen at the Capitol.
We have accepted that the appropriate response to legislative and executive blows is retaliation of equal petty partisanship - cheap shots to the groin if you will. If last year’s State of the Union address on Feb. 4 was profound in any way, it was to teach our lawmakers not to throw stones across the aisle before acknowledging their own fragility.
After Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi unsuccessfully spearheaded a campaign to remove Trump from office over allegations of quid pro quo with Ukraine, Trump used his address to flex his impunity a day before his acquittal in the Senate. The political partisan theatrics continued when Pelosi tore a transcript copy of Trump’s speech in half, live on the air and with a look that left no guessing as to intent.
With leaders of the two-party tyranny like Pelosi assuming the role of the ambitionist and now U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell the obstructive conservationist, this unending cycle of extremism at all governmental levels has antiquated the moderate’s position in modern politics. Politics has become a zero-sum game, pandering the notion that those across the aisle are antagonists in the race to “save” the soul of the nation.
In a society where half of the country pledges allegiance to the “MAGA'' flag while the other inadvertently leans towards a positive liberty system, both spinning the nation off its axis, we are left utterly stagnant. History has taught us before that when we abandon the civility in discourse, chaos ensues. The carnage displayed at the Capitol boldly underscores the impracticality of a binary system focused more on defeating the other than creating feasible policy.
Many optimists of uncertainty believe that a more moderate president, like Biden, will inevitably pull the country back to the center. That assumes “moderation” is easily embodied by the soft-spoken or those who don’t openly identify as a socialist or a Proud Boy. The truth is, however, while Biden is moderate at first glance, he does have a slant, and it leans to the left and towards progression. His calls for “unity” while repealing the acts of the preceding administration, a few dozen at a time, suggest unity actually means “comply with the status quo.”
We are no closer to civility than we were two weeks ago. We have instead become a cautionary tale for posterity, warning that the efficacy of our democracy, and the weight of our voice in it, is conditional. How we choose to wield the privileged, uniquely American power we possess over the next four years will determine whether the country will remain a beacon of resilience or if the disconnect is too extensive to reconcile. The efficacy of our party system is completely determined by how we choose to use it, whether we choose to romanticize its function or use it critically.
While pride might be the ultimate test of citizenship in this country, it will lead to our ruin if it does not lead to a reckoning.
By Haley Hartner