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Sunday, February 25, 2024

Smith: Proud to be in the center

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My parents and grandparents are all deceased. That makes me an orphan. Using that term always feels a little odd given that I was 44 when I became one. (My mother was the last to pass away, in January 2014.) Fortunately, I did not have to navigate this reality when I was a child.

Being an orphan isn’t a unique experience; there are plenty of people who share that distinction. Still, being one can be isolating. It can feel as though you’re the only person who is enduring that state.

While I am a literal orphan in a familial sense, it often seems as though I am one in a political sense, too. I have frequently described myself as a “reluctant Democrat,” which is to say that I’m a Democrat solely because I cannot in good conscience be a Republican. And, given everything that is at stake these days, I won’t risk being in a third party.

I am a center-left person who is uncompromising in fighting for racial equity. While I could not identify with Ronald Reagan’s GOP, even that iteration of the Republican Party is much preferable to the one that exists in Donald Trump’s image. Still, I am increasingly uncomfortable in a Democratic Party that is lurching ever more leftward, apparently content to leave behind people like me.

Were it not for the threat to democracy that Trump poses, I doubt that Joe Biden — the quintessential centrist — would have won the Democratic nomination. People who are on the fringe are pushing both major parties to become more ideologically “pure.” By degrees, they are supplanting the mainstream. If things continue to evolve (or devolve) as they are, both parties are in danger of collapsing. While some openly welcome that outcome, it is advisable to remember the Chinese proverb: “May you get everything that you ask for.”

Naturally, most orphans want to feel that they are part of a family that loves, welcomes and values them. Political orphans don’t need “parents,” but brothers and sisters are paramount. I often feel like the quirky cousin. The other kids may talk to me out of a sense of obligation, but they don’t want to.

The Democratic Party would not be viable — at all — without African Americans. It is a very odd sensation to feel as though you’re a stranger in the house that you built. Black men who are Democrats often feel that way. The NBA and NFL are apt analogs. We dominate those respective leagues as players, but it is rare for us to be head coaches or general managers. And team ownership is nearly unattainable. I’m hopeful that the elevation of Hakeem Jeffries to be Democratic leader of the House heralds needed change. Hopeful, but not optimistic.

In addition to the racial component, my political sensibilities are increasingly unwelcome in the party. For example, while I did not support the overturning of Roe v. Wade, my personal moral stance is pro-life. Unfortunately, there are prominent Democrats who argue that there is no place in the party for people who aren’t “all in” on being pro-choice. This is just one of myriad illiberal tendencies in the ostensible “liberal” party.

The fact is that both major political parties share a proto-fascism in which loyalty is not enough; they demand an uncompromising fealty to a narrow set of principles or — in the case of Republicans — a person. We see this phenomenon even on a micro-level. In theory, Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets offer a chance for the democratic exchange of disparate viewpoints. But it’s up to us as individuals to be moderators. (We certainly can’t depend on Mark Zuckerberg or Elon Musk.)

Many of my posts are designed to get people who have substantially different viewpoints to talk to each other respectfully. Such is the sine qua non of democracy. My desire is to provoke thought, not dissension. I don’t allow myself to get caught in “liberal” or “conservative” echo chambers — despite Facebook’s best efforts. I’m a Democrat; I’m also a democrat.

Unfortunately, I find that people often project their entire ideology onto me if I post something with which they agree. Then, if I post something with which they disagree, I have “betrayed the cause.” When I attempt to engage in dialogue, rationality often gives way to an eruption of emotion. That, in a nutshell, is the contemporary state of our polity. At a minimum, it’s exceedingly unhealthy for our democracy. At worst, it’s an existential threat.

Larry Smith is a community leader. The views expressed are his own. Contact him at larry@leaf-llc.com.

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