Tuesday, December 17, 2019

"The Center Is Not Holding"

Which is what they call out in battles.  I believe it’s a bad thing. 

So we go see New York Times columnist Frank Bruni, speaking at Rachel’s kids’ upscale private school about cultural division.  (Yeah.  I get it.)

Frank Bruni is a hero of mine, because he is thoughtful and conciliatory, sticking tenaciously to his moderate guns, when the “heat”, public attention and megabucks book deals go to the fulminating extremes.

Bruni’s college selection backed up his beliefs.  Rather than going to Yale, “Northerner” Bruni instead opted for the University of North Carolina, where he believed he would encounter people different from himself, which, he thought among other things, was what college was for.

That wished-for encounter would immediately transpire.

Bruni, who had known he was gay since he was twelve, had decided to “come out” in college.  Arriving at his assigned dorm room, he met his freshman roommate for the first time.  Entering their shared living accommodation, Frank was instantly greeted by a mounted poster, championing Christian beliefs.

His response:  “It’s going to be a long year.” 

It turns out, though he, understandably, did not directly let on, his religious roommate eventually gleaned Bruni was gay, and, befitting the point of the lecture,

“It turns out he was okay with it.”

Leading to a year of mismatched roommates, learning and growing.

An experience unlikely to have happened if there was a designated, exclusive “gay” dormitory and Frank Bruni had chosen to live in it.

In turns out, Bruni’s story was not only about “People sometimes surprise you.”  It was also about what we lose when we burrow ourselves away in protective enclaves. 

In a culture riven with division, argued Frank Bruni, we must take every opportunity to connect with people who are racially, culturally and economically outside our habitual “Comfort Zone.” 

His message was welcomed by the, I am guessing, liberal audience, for whom acceptance and tolerance are natural “givens.”  (In theory if not always in practice.  On our way out, Rachel tells of a family who, dropped from previously provided financial assistance, was forced to leave the school and go somewhere cheaper. (Bye-bye, “Economic Diversity.”)

I admire Bruni’s announced “left of center, but not that far left of center” approach.  Because it is also my own.  (Meaning, to some reflective degree, I am admiring myself through New York Times columnist Frank Bruni.)

I am familiar with the drawbacks of holding moderate views.  You are generally shunned, and nobody likes you.  (Dr. M has related that my views have elicited eye-rolling reactions from liberal visitors, some of whom never returned.)  Still, that’s where I am, believing the reasonable approach is not always – because I am not an “always” kind of a guy – but primarily in the middle. 

I just know there are apparently not a whole lot of us. 

I wanted Frank Bruni to know that I knew.  (And how admirably noble and brave we both were.)   So, during the follow-up “Q & A” section of festivities, I uncharacteristically offered a “Q.”

In a raspy voice, bearing the waning remnants of lingering bronchitis, I said,

“You said you were politically ‘not that far left of center.’  I wonder, if you could tell me, how popular is that group?

(Which got the laugh I was hoping for.)

“… and where exactly is its national platform?”

The upbeat Bruni said he knew a lot of people like him (and me.)  And that the strong showing by centrist candidates for the Democratic nomination demonstrably attests to its strength.

(Which considerably less upbeat Earlo sees less as support for the incremental “Middle Way” than the concern that the candidates to the Left have no chance to beat Trump.)

I hope Frank Bruni can expand our struggling franchise.

But I am not totally convinced. 

When people are juggling fireballs, it’s tough to attract audiences with a speech.

Even if it’s true.

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