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Guest editorial: Will ‘sober centrists’ ever return to debate?

As we step onto the first stage leading to the general election in November the thought is that an unpopular president is giving rise to our better selves; we’ve tasted the extreme and the unconventional and found it lacking. We want the political pendulum to swing back toward the center.
But what if it doesn’t? What convinces us that the way we communicate is about to bring us back to something that resembles normalcy?
If we look to other nations what makes us so sure that the populist rants we hear elsewhere don’t make their homes here? That’s another way of asking whether there is the appetite for the return of “sober centrists,’ those who specialize in telling us what we don’t want to hear, that compromise is unavoidable, and that there are no easy answers.
These centrists typically are considered the educated elite and their messages are decidedly unappealing to people who want quick fixes or radical change. President Trump is more to their liking; he rejects the status quo and he has done so brilliantly.
And for good reason. As a nation we’ve been at a stalemate for a long time and saddled with a system that has been ineffective. Mr. Trump was elected to fix what many Americans thought was broken.
But, to use a Vermont example, Bernie Sanders isn’t any more inclined to be a “sober centrist” than Mr. Trump. He uses the same sorts of polemics Mr. Trump does, but from the far left.
It’s like a game of ping pong. The action is on both ends, never in the middle.
When a leader fails, or promises are broken, our response is not to find those who told us the dirty little secret — that good policy isn’t a zero-sum game — it’s to lurch to those who promise an even more radical approach, and even greater winnings.
This rejection of the political middle is brought about by the enhanced ability of single-interest groups to mobilize online and to push their own agendas to the political extremes. By definition, these groups are interested in anything other than their own causes and they are highly skilled in their abilities to distort and persuade.
To push their causes forward they are beginning to find like-minded groups embracing similar causes. This patchwork of alliances is problematic for a two-party system like our own. As we push the extremes to the edges the question is what holds it together?
It used to be the thought that the truth brought us back to the center. But our collective ability to create our own truths, and to disseminate that “truth” without it needing to be passed through any filter, has put the center at risk.
We’re watching this play out across the globe. Our hope is that we don’t fall into the same irrational pattern. There is no stability in either extreme.
— Emerson Lynn
St. Albans Messenger

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