Mulholland: What Is political extremism?
Political news stories in the media during this election season often decry the extremism that divides our country. The targets of such pronouncements are usually Republican Donald Trump and his Democrat rival, Bernie Sanders, but political activists as well. Sanders is a self-proclaimed socialist, a political system once viewed with horror by US citizens. Trump is a successful capitalist, an economic system viewed with suspicion by many people. So we are given a simple political choice of opposite views, and most people embrace one and view the other with trepidation.
As with most complex systems, our political economy is not that simple. Most of us view the political spectrum as a line, with a left, or liberal, end and a right, or conservative, end. The center is the compromise position, where left and right can come together to find solutions that almost everyone can live with, but in actuality no one likes. A better way to label the opposite ends is to place despotism, or complete government control of people, property, and law on the left and anarchy, or no government at all on the right. More forthrightly, it would be tyranny, or serfdom, on the left, freedom on the right. These are the true extremes. Clearly, American government is somewhere in between.
Our founders tried to create a government based on natural, or God-given rights; that is equality in the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In essence, it was based on individual liberty and individual sovereignty. Ours is the only nation ever created on that basis, and it is what is meant by American exceptionalism.
As created, our constitutional government is to the right of center, closer to the liberty end. I believe, then, that the center of our political spectrum should be that of our founding government, with its separate but equal three branches, its checks and balances, limited to its enumerated powers (there are seventeen of them), and whose sole purpose is to protect and defend the lives and property of the people it serves.
Our present government and most politicians are left of our founder’s vision, while libertarians are right of it. The defining characteristic of this distinction (left vs. right) is an individual’s choice of how much personal liberty he is willing to give up for government control of his life. Liberals may give all their personal liberty away, including their right to life (via wartime conscription), conservatives some of it, and libertarians none. If the Constitution is our political center point, then only constitutionalists are not extremists.
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