Radical Moderation

Jewish Light Editorial

The polarization and vicious rhetoric on so many issues in 2016 made us feel like the middle was hollowing out of society. It seemed like everywhere, from the world stage to our Missouri backyard, people were lining up on opposite sides of a deep chasm, intent on not stepping toward the edge.

Whereas historically the fear of falling into an abyss mostly related to avoiding extremes, this year it felt like the middle was nowhere anyone wanted to be. Retreating to political corners, using rhetorical hyperbole, even resorting to vulgarity: Those were the themes of 2016. 

Look where it got us. Even though we had one of the relatively few mixed presidential votes — one side winning the electoral vote, the other the popular — we came away convinced that ne’er the twain could meet on matters of political, social and cultural significance. In 2016, it felt like hopelessness had taken the world and shaken it hard.

There will be those who will press their advantage no matter what, and we should brace for some of that in the coming year. Certainly conservative legislators in this country have expressed an interest in undoing a wide swath of the legacy of the President Barack Obama era. Israeli leaders, embracing the newish party line that a two-state solution is all but impossible, are inching toward annexation of part, if not all, of the West Bank.

But we do not have to accept this tendency to move farther away from one another. We can choose to resist it. Whether you sit left or right, you can make an affirmative choice to reach out to those with whom you disagree, and try to build lasting and meaningful bridges that include more, not less, in the decisions that shape our community, our nation, our planet.

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So as we enter this new year, the 70th anniversary of the Jewish Federation’s creation of the St. Louis Light (the predecessor to the independent non-profit St. Louis Jewish Light newspaper established in 1963), we ask those who care about building coalitions not by force, not by fear, but inclusively from the inside out, to recognize, respect and engage with those of differing stripes.

In short, we ask for radical moderation, an insistence on putting commonalities ahead of separations, of finding common cause even when there are apparent irreconcilable differences.

We ask for it in so many areas, all the way from the world stage down to our own homes:

• In hoping that the United Nations can rise to become all it was intended to be, a place where all nations come together in support of human rights and lives, and not a hotbed for advancing agendas for or against different peoples. 

• In helping us strive for a peaceful and lasting solution among Israelis and Palestinians, one that recognizes and respects the dignity, rights and opportunities of all.

• In American political discourse, where there is room to work out compromises on issues such as immigration, gun control, safety nets and voting rights.

• In our state capitols, where we hope that parliamentary procedures used by majorities don’t drown out the ideas and words of minorities. Our system of enacting public law was predicated on listening, debate and persuasion, not on autocratic bully pulpits. Having enough votes not to pay attention to those who offer a varying perspective does not mean attention should not be paid.

• In our local community, where we can hopefully together recognize that it is not incompatible to insist on safe and secure African-American communities while also standing up for the law enforcement officials that risk their own lives to defend those areas.

• At the dinner table among our own families, by finding the space for respectful conversations on difficult and challenging issues. We need to understand that the love and honor of parents, siblings and children can withstand disparate opinions, and by cultivating tough conversations, we can come out the other end with a greater sense of understanding and unity.

There is no place that cannot be bettered through engaged discourse. There is no issue that cannot benefit from give and take. There is no group of people that cannot come together better through the mechanism of siting down and talking it out.

So that’s what we wish for in 2017, a retreat from the edges and a return to the middle. It starts with respect for those with whom you disagree, hearing and understanding their concerns, and paying attention to them. That approach may solve no one single issue, but it will create an environment that could over time solve many. 

Without a desire and the effort to come together, we’re destined to be as splintered as the biblical Babel. With them, anything is possible.

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