The Quiet Majority
My wife’s grandfather reminded me a lot of Yoda – small and wrinkled with big ears. The most notable difference was that Grandpop Sam was way smarter than Yoda.
I once ran a business idea by him intended to appeal to a very high-income segment. He listened patiently, paused for a moment and, then, after blinking a few times behind his thick glasses said:
“Eric, target the masses and you’ll dine with the classes. But target the classes and you’ll dine with the masses.”
In other words, significant business success is often – with exceptions, of course – achieved when targeting a mass audience.
During the years that followed, I would sometimes reflect back on this wisdom when evaluating a business opportunity. I’ve also thought about this philosophy as it relates to our current political climate.
If Democrats were to run a charismatic, intelligent and high integrity presidential candidate to the left of Trump but remained a moderate voice, what do you think the outcome would be? That candidate would capture voter support of the more extreme left – as the only alternative would be Trump – yet one would expect that this moderate candidate would also carve into the more moderate part of the Trump base. We don’t know how many voters this segment represents, but even a few percents can swing an election as we have seen in the past two decades.
A combination of gerrymandering and extreme political rhetoric in the media has drawn attention to the fringes for many years now and a lot of formerly mainstream voters have – at least for the moment – drifted to one extreme or the other. I get sucked into this vortex occasionally. After listening to someone representing the “other side,” I find myself thinking, “I hate that bastard.”
This is also my default reaction when I see heated and often untrue statements, especially on Twitter and similar online platforms. My second reaction is that maybe my first reaction makes me just another foaming-at-the-mouth member of the political extreme. My final reaction is to self assess and recognize my political philosophies place me squarely in the middle.
Nearly fifty years ago, Richard Nixon coined the term “silent majority” referring to the many Americans who shared his opinions on the Vietnam War, but who were reluctant to voice these opinions. He asserted this majority was nearly invisible, especially in comparison to the loud, tie-dye wearing, war protesting youth of America.
In hindsight, it is clear that Nixon got a lot wrong, and the youth of the 60s got a lot right. But it seems he was correct in his characterization of the silent majority. After that 1969 speech where he first used this phrase, a Gallup poll found that 77% of Americans were in favor of his Vietnam policy, even to the extent it was subsequently judged by most to be misguided.
This moment was a notable example that, in US politics, loud and extreme voices drown out those of us who are more moderate, even in instances when the moderate audience is much larger than the extreme audience.
There is a good argument to be made that, no longer having to be silent due to the digital media megaphone, today’s quiet majority should assertively take back the political discourse from the extreme ends of the political spectrum.
There is a dire consequence to extreme politicians and positions. Increasingly, we are experiencing the political incarnation of Sir Isaac Newton’s Third Law: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
Polar positions primarily serve to inflame and activate those at the opposite extreme. The result is full-on gridlock. The fact that approval ratings of Congress and the President are mind-numbingly low tells us that Americans want and deserve better. If you want to be highly confident that our leaders in Washington continue to get nothing done, go ahead and support politicians who want to attack the judiciary to score political points or send troops on meaningless missions to heighten airtime on cable news.
The art of compromise is gone so that, in a real world where half a loaf is better than none, we end up with none. Sadly, elected officials often place their own job security ahead of what is best for the country. Few have demonstrated the backbone to stand up and simply do the right thing.
My theory is that the vast majority of Republican and Democrat voters are moderates at heart and they need to participate more actively in our political discourse. They must find leaders who will guide our politics back to the mainstream. I was not a fan of most of John McCain’s politics for several reasons, but he was the closest example of an American hero that I can recall in my lifetime. A year before his death, he made an impassioned plea in the Senate saying:
“Let’s trust each other. Let’s return to regular order. We’ve been spinning our wheels on too many important issues because we keep trying to find a way to win without help from across the aisle.”
I am all in with the goal of making America great or even greater for those of us who believe it is already so. I don’t think we have to sacrifice kindness, compassion, tolerance, or integrity to achieve this greatness. In fact, sacrificing these values by definition renders the achievement of greatness impossible.
We need leaders who have a very strong “GSD” ability – they know how to Get S**t Done. This is impossible when a leader is playing to one extreme or the other such that there is no unity of purpose. Our country has been at its greatest when it was led by people who inspired us and who brought the country together when dealing with vital issues. FDR, Kennedy, and Reagan were imperfect, but they appealed to our better selves and united us in an optimistic vision of the future.
We must express our moderate beliefs and support leaders who will get things done. We must pursue mainstream strategies that become the basis for unity, compromise, and results. They must pass the morality and humanity tests with flying colors – that would be a unifying theme. Failing this, we will be stuck with the same sorry state of political affairs that exist today.