The Moderate is Under Attack

A rekindling of citizenship.


On the evenings of  December 2019 – before the life-altering year to come – I was volunteering for Zoo Lights at the Calgary Zoo. The lead coordinator was a jumpy man in his 80s who looked incredibly energetic for the time of day. I was paired with him and another man at the fire pit, tending and building flames for the guests outside to warm their hands. Four hours of picking at timber generated interesting conversation, and the old man left me with some advice that I am still trying to process.

“If you do not want to get into an argument with strangers,” he said, “Then do not discuss religion, politics, and economy. Look at the sky and comment on the weather if the conversation runs dry. But intelligent people avoid those three and maintain a reputable public image.”

I sometimes wonder what he thinks about the world after 2019. He had understood the polarizing power of the three subjects, but was most likely just as baffled as the rest of us at how politics on its own could cause so much chaos. Sharing and acting upon individual and collective beliefs has been the focus of 2020, occupying just as much – if not more – of our lives as the pandemic.

But what would happen to our world if we avoided politics and discussed trivial matters – like the weather – in fear of conflict? A different type of problem exists then, one of compromise and compliance without question. Sadly, this passivity still does exist, representing most of the population who assume an efficient and fair government exists without checking. Most of us leave politicians to “do their job” and the media to police their actions, thus externalizing accountability to other organizations. There is only so much time in a day, and we want to spend our hours with our family, friends, classmates, and coworkers. After a long day of work, we want to stop working – keeping up with the day to day news is almost like a part-time job.

We become preoccupied with our reality and forget another one controls it – one where citizen participation in government is both a right and a responsibility because the stability and security of our lives are at stake.  Collective avoidance of politics  – for any reason under the roof – results in the death of democracy, which is why I respectfully disagree with my Zoo lights coordinator.

It is a collective disregard for political discussion and knowledge that has led to the United States’ current social, political, and economic standing.  


The United States’ Ideal Image

Politics has always shaken the United States, but the pandemic and the following 2020 election was unmatched for their hostile nature. When there was a national emergency in the past, American citizens reconciled their differences and strengthened their sense of nationalism, rekindling what it means to be American. This was seen during 9/11, when Bush addressed the terror attack on the United States, as “a day when all Americans from every walk of life unite in our resolve for justice and peace.” Many poems about the day were written, all with the common theme of “freedom grown through liberty” and standing tall “with [their] flag in hand.” Americans have always prided their county for its democratic values. 

The pandemic, however, has forced the country out of its bubble of self-importance and glory, ultimately realizing their ideal of the American Dream was fading away. The excessive polarization of the people supporting the two parties – Democrat and Republican – until individuals are judged based on solely their political ideologies challenges the world that their founding fathers imagined for them. Now, sharing an opinion with the wrong crowd could get one in serious trouble, which is something unheard of in a truly democratic world. 

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Because of the lack of discussion, politics within the United States is being dictated by the extremes, both radical and reactionary. Both groups – whether for or against tradition – are fully invested in their associated mass movements, unwilling to listen to the other side and rationalize the situation. They believe that their ideology must be correct, and leave death and destruction behind, such as the killing of an 8 year old black girl during the BLM protests and the infamous storming of the Capitol building by those disputing the results of the 2020 election. There are extremists on both ends in the United States, and they are equal in number. 

In the classic political spectrum, moderates represent the majority of the population, understanding the arguments of both sides, but resistant to extreme political change. They are open to new beliefs but are likely to rationalize it with the traditions of the day to allow for balance and unity. Moderates are the anchor of civilized society. If the two extremes become the majority of a population as they are today, tension mounts and the scales tip, causing instability that wrecks a nation’s sense of unity and progress.

But how can an outsider – though born in the States – comment on the political turmoil of a country that she does not live in? Isn’t that very ignorant of me? Some might say that only an individual who is living in the country – who is affected personally by the decisions made by their politicians and people – has the right to an opinion on their nation’s matters.

Yann Martel, the author of Life of Pi, sent a book every two weeks to Mr. Stephen Harper when he was prime minister because he believed that the man that was ruling him should be reading insightful fiction. He states, “As long as someone has no power over me, I don’t care what they read, or if they read at all… But once someone has power over me, then, yes, their reading does matter to me because in what they choose to read will be found what they think and what they will do.”

In the same way, Canadians have every right to judge the United States’ citizens for their moderate population’s lack of democratic involvement. The country’s position as a superpower does indeed influence the culture, economy, and politics of the rest of the world, especially their next-door neighbor. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the United States – knowingly – took the responsibility for both their citizen’s and the world’s. We are watching their showdown, wary of the rippling effects. 

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Right before the election, both parties were aggressively encouraging their supporters to vote. Many celebrities became involved in this campaign, something somewhat unique for this election. In a conversation between Kamala Harris and Selena Gomez a few days before the election, Selena was asked by Kamala, “Why are you voting?” She repeats the question once more, emphasizing on you.

Selena responds, “To be honest, I think in the past when I was younger I wasn’t very educated on the voting process. [In] the past four years, I have experienced a lot and I just feel my vote counts more than ever as a citizen, as someone who truly truly cares about their country. Not voting is just not an option.”

Moderates may defend themselves with the high voter turnout of 160 million Americans, a statistic illustrating citizen involvement in the politics of their nation. But, is voting a reliable metric of responsible citizenship? 

A recent study by Columbia University showed that voters were 10% to 30% less likely to know stories unfavorable to their own political party, aware of stories that confirm their views instead. This “partisan echo chamber” created a mob-like mentality where individuals vote for specific people because they are following a collective they trust, rather than individually seeking out answers. 

It is not the informed moderates that represented the millions of votes on both sides, but rather the ignorant ones that chose sides based on a superficial knowledge of the full picture. A narrow point of view is just as bad as no opinion at all – both result in the stubborn polarization of people. Thus, voting is a true representation of democratic values only if there is an attempt at education before. 


Mainstream Media

To ensure the continuation of the democratic process, the media needs to be impartial and cover all sides of a story. A lack of equality in coverage results in an unfair playing field, where the definition of moderate begins to shift – people choose sides and unsustainable revolutions shake a nation. As mentioned before, when the moderate begin to adopt extreme ideologies, instability is the result.

Education on political matters is a prerequisite for voting, and many citizens do tune into their local and national news stations, as they trust their journalism and analysis. In fact, the Journalist’s Creed, an oath taken by individuals of the profession, presents the ideal journalist in a democratic world. It states the importance of “clear thinking and clear statement, accuracy and fairness,” and networks that are “stoutly independent” among other things.

In other words, the media’s agenda should solely be to spread the truth. Any change in motivation can have drastic impacts on the culture of society. The perfect example of this is in the brilliant work of George Orwell.

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In Oceania, which is present-day London, citizens are under the absolute power of Big Brother and The Party. They have no free time or will, and are compliant with the government’s ruling. Among other things, citizens participate in Two Minute Hate, where they scream at the country Oceania is at war with, and weekly parades of pride for the party.  The individual has no space to think, and, as a result, is susceptible to the systematic brainwashing of the media. Through them, all historical records are changed to support the party’s image and purpose. 

The citizens of Oceania are not any different than us. They have minds that retain information, compare it to their past beliefs, and make decisions based on what makes the most sense. In this world, the root of citizen submission is the lack of accurate information, rather than the citizen willingness to understand.  In his totalitarian world, Big Brother and his party are able to control all aspects of citizen life because citizens are not being given information that their freedoms are being taken away. They are indoctrinated to believe everything the Ministry of Truth tells them, even though the past tells them otherwise.

There are parallels seen in our world as well. The New York Times Article titled, The Message for Today in Orwell’s ‘1984’  did an amazing analysis on the subject stating,  

“Even in the free world… inroads have been made: commercial interests try to doctor the news and sometimes succeed, elected officials are tempted to misrepresent the truth, Government agencies attempt to and sometimes do invade the privacy of the individuals, and military leaders feel compelled to hide some of their activities.”

As of 2021, 15 billionaires own America’s news outlets, a fact that threatens American citizen’s control over issues that affect them the most. News media will be less inclined to report on topics that make their investors look bad, and will support the agenda of those that fill their pockets. Citizens may pay subscriptions, but they have little influence over the stories presented. 

Another trend is the lack of independent ownership of these organizations. Quoting PBS on the topic:

The trend of media conglomeration has been steady. In 1983, 50 corporations controlled most of the American media, including magazines, books, music, news feeds, newspapers, movies, radio and television. By 1992 that number had dropped by half. By 2000, six corporations had ownership of most media, and today five dominate the industry: Time Warner, Disney, Murdoch’s News Corporation, Bertelsmann of Germany and Viacom. With markets branching rapidly into international territories, these few companies are increasingly responsible for deciding what information is shared around the world.

If a moderate does want to educate themselves on the politicians they intend to elect, mainstream media is not the right choice to make. Individuals such as Laurene Powell Jobs – who owns the majority of The Atlantic  – donated 1.2 million dollars to Biden’s campaign in the past year, creating a striking conflict of interest. There is nothing inherently wrong with billionaires lending support to their political party of choice, but when these individuals are in control of the news media the population consumes, the very essence of equality of coverage and transparency of reporting is in limbo.

Canada is no different. With $600 million dollars of subsidies paid to specific Canadian news outlets, The Liberal Party has essentially bought all of Canada’s information, as the Democrats have done in the United States (shown in this interactive diagram by Bloomberg). Companies, such as Google, AT&T (owning CNN), and Facebook have their employees paying for Biden. Not to mention that Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, owns the Washington Post, and is a supporter of Biden.

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American moderates are being fed poorly reported information about the politicians that they trust. As a Canadian, I can see the effects of the biased media trickling into our population as well. People have become echoes, spreading the news they perceive to be true on social media, and making anyone else with a different opinion seems alien.

I was having a conversation with one of my friends about the results of the American election, and she said, “Isn’t it amazing that Kamala Harris is the first female American politician of South Asian ancestry?”

Of course, it is, so I say, “Yes, but what else did she do?”

She couldn’t answer my question, illustrating a perfect example of identity politics – reinforced by the media – influencing the opinion of the masses. In fact, there are many past actions against Kamala, such as her work locking up African parents for their children missing school where she was quoted saying, “If you fail in your responsibility to your kids, we are going to work to make sure you face the full force and consequences of the law.” Parents could be fined up to $2500 or face one year in jail. Her current position in the Black Lives Matter protest is laughable, considering her haunting past of locking up black people as the “Top Cop” of California. 

Quoting Bishop Patrick Wooden,

“You know Kamala, oh she’s running for the vice presidency. I call her ‘Miss lock up a brother’ for when she was the AG in California. A n**** knew; a black man knew that he was dead in the water … if you appear before her because she took pride in locking up black folk, and all of a sudden she’s trying to be sister girl. Check out her record. She locked us up left and right, yes she did.”

Most know nothing about Kamala other than her ancestry and her current campaign – that is certainly not enough to gauge a full understanding of a candidate. A politician’s past holds greater value than their promises for the future.

Also, Joe Biden was against busing to desegregate students in the 80s, saying, “Unless we do something about this, my children are going to grow up in a jungle, the jungle being a racial jungle with tensions having built so high that it is going to explode at some point.”

Yes, there are many stories against Donald Trump as well, but the mainstream media does an excellent job on reporting those. The problem is that many moderates are not aware of the past of leftist politicians and flock to them. The number of voters means nothing if citizens are not exposed to the facts.

I am disappointed at the mainstream media, to say the least. but as I write this piece, I know that this is my educated opinion, and others may disagree with me based on their own research. What is infuriating about the mainstream media, however, is their guise of equality. The recent trend of journals “fact-checking ” information with their biases has only added to the problem of the manipulation of citizen opinion.  The way in which they show partiality and lack of transparency in their stories, while the homogeneity of opinions that support their agenda is only aired is a direct cause of the United States’ chaos.

George Orwell’s 1984 is a mirror image of that of the United States.


The Crippling of Democracy

Though Biden won after multiple disputes of the results, there is still a divide. Seventy-four million American citizens do not accept the current president as their own. Seventy-four million American citizens represent the complete opposite end of the political spectrum and will continue to fight for their ideologies, in the way the Democrats did when Trump was president. Seventy-four million American citizens have lost faith in their nation’s attention to their needs. The same would be true if Trump was the winner. Does the United States’ government stand for all of its people?

In the same way, Athenian men debating politics at the agora, and Biden signing 30 executive orders in his first three days as president paint two very different portraits of democracy. The promise of a free press to the current conglomeration of news media presents two very different portraits of democracy. The democratic passion of the United States’ founding fathers versus the moderate’s lack of action presents two very different portraits of democracy. Does the United States’ citizen stand for his/her own democracy?  

A four-year term is not enough to make a change for any president by any means. It just rocks politics back and forth without really giving people what they need. It is ineffective, and raises the question: how long will the American ideals of freedom continue to delude its people?

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When Bush announced his “war on terror” after 9/11, the United States army invaded Afghanistan to remove the Taliban regime and terminate al-Qaeda and their soldiers. However, this mission shifted from removing terrorists to one of imposing liberalism on the citizens of the nation, something that goes against the core ideologies of Afghani tradition, which values tribal rule and an honor system. Since the invasion by the Soviet Union in 1979, Afghanistan has not had the freedom to choose its form of governance. 

The chaos of the 2020 American election may seem abnormal to those in the Western world, but the Afghans have always had very high tension elections. There have been 13 000 official claims of election fraud since the United States intervention in 2001. Citizens are tired of this instability and have seen the ineffectiveness of democracy for many years. As the country was in a constant state of civil war – with extreme polarization between tribes – individual citizens are no longer making decisions voting.

But democracy has been the pride of the United States and other Western countries for providing individuals with a chance to speak their truth symbolically through a vote, or literally through the media. It has been a reoccurring doctrine that democracy is the only way of government that listens to the people – and, for many many decades, it has worked. But many social phenomena have come that have rocked democracy’s footing in the world. As seen with Afghanistan, when a country is in political turmoil, leaders and citizens are not able to properly communicate, thus decreasing the effectiveness of society. 

The 2020 election is not a true representation of who is fit to govern the United States. In the next four years, another campaign will be held, one where another president of a completely different ideological background could take power and undo all the action of Biden, just like how Biden is doing the same to Donald Trump. Times of high tension as these – where the moderate represents the minority – society is bound to transition, as it has multiple times in history. 

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“Let them eat cake” is a quote attributed to Marie Antoinette, in a time of great political tension between the citizens and leaders. Although there are disputes as to if she actually said it, the quote is remembered for its role in shaping the French Revolution.

With the hierarchy system, hungry peasants, and little political voice, the Third Estate was not being served by France’s system of government after the country lost its war with Britain. The monarch’s increased demands on the production of food only added to the unrest, and though moderates of the time craved stability, conceding was not an option.

People realized that one individual leading the masses and burdening them with the economic aftermath of the war was hindering their quality of life and created their own government (their actions were partially influenced by the American Revolution), one where individual rights and freedoms and rule of law is valued.

The French Revolution is remembered for its democratic values when it actually exchanged one authoritarian regime for another authoritarian regime. The Jacobins, who were the leaders in this fight, were the extremists of the group who ultimately took part in killing citizens for lack of allegiance to the state. A government chosen by the citizens lasted for a very short time – and with terror – before Napolean and other kings took the throne again. 

The polarization between the people and the monarchy created a society led by mob culture that ultimately was unable to uphold democratic values. After the pandemic and the election, the United States finds itself at the same crossroads, trying to reconcile left and right-wing citizens while also upholding the required unity of a democracy. 

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Freedom House is a non-profit organization since 1941 that now runs studies and promotes the protection of democracy around the world. Every year since 1973, they rank countries around the world for their democratic values in an annual report called the “Michelin Guide to democracy’s development.” 

They reported the 14th straight year of democratic decline. For the United States, they stated, 

pressure on electoral integrity, judicial independence, and safeguards against corruption. Fierce rhetorical attacks on the press, the rule of law, and other pillars of democracy coming from American leaders, including the president himself.

In other words, the fact that conversations about threats to democracy – instigated by the previous president and the pandemic – are taking a toll on the United States freedoms.

The corona-virus was not initially a political issue. In fact, most were compliant, in fear of losing their loved ones. However, as time progressed and lock-downs were initiated, the virus took a different tone. People were worried about their rights and freedoms being taken away from them. Whether this is a valid fear or not is irrelevant. Political change is built on the feelings of the masses, and the more passionate they are, the less the moderate has control.

In a time of great uncertainty, governments have to take action quickly to ensure efficiency and lives not being lost. However, to what extent should this be permitted? We have seen how Hitler’s rise to power was a result of concessions and lack of civilian push-back ultimately leading to censorship oppression and genocide of many members of society. The pandemic is no different than a World War because although soldiers are not being sent to battle, citizens are facing the consequences of opposition against the people.

The pandemic restricted the mobility of many, causing right-wing citizens to bring concerns of individual rights and freedoms. The left-wing made the argument of collective security. Tensions in the United States reached a new plateau.

But the moderate’s fight is not one of nationalism. In fact, for the first time in history, this problem does not have a human enemy, as it was virus that resulted in many political fault lines being exposed. The protesting, frustration, and polarization of the masses is a result of a life shaken by a global pandemic.

Eric Hoffer writes in the True Believer that individuals who feel that the present is meaningless will join mass movements in order to feel hope for the future. They do not see the present as a means of happiness, and, as a result, will put all their efforts implore find the future, ironically something that has no certainty either. 

The effects of the pandemic, black lives matter protests, ruthless political attacks, storming of the capital, and suspicions of voter fraud are foreshadowing democracy’s downfall in the United States. It seems like the fall of the Holy Roman Empire of ways. The one constant that we had believed to be true is shuttering underneath us and many are welcome to this change.  The problem is not the people then, but rather the system’s inability to serve the people. It is the French Revolution once again. 


Politics needs the anchor of the moderate, and the United States is lacking this at the moment. Being a moderate is not a glorious position to be in, but it is noble. It is noble to be rational, to see the citizen as more than their political beliefs.  It is surprising that a two-party system has managed to exist for so long before ripping the country apart. Societal change is bound to happen, but the citizens are the drivers of this change if they choose to take the role.

If the United States loses its democracy, however, the nation will lose its very soul. The nation used to be the land of the free but many citizens are expressing shame at the way their government and their people are acting. Is it time for another world leader? 

If they are unable to take their position as a stable world superpower again, then another country will take over, forever shifting the tone of the world.  Another era of cultural dominance will echo over our world and shape our future methods of governance and economy. Times of transition are very uncertain and volatile. It is almost impossible to predict what will happen in the next few months, but as I sit here on January 15th, 2021, days before the US inauguration, I believe that a moment of pivotal change is about to happen. We all have been holding our breath since December 31st, 2019.

There is little a moderate can do to control the grand finale.


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Yann Martel

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1984

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