Several years ago, Southern Utah University named a small room in a campus building after Senator Harry Reid, who had graduated from S.U.U. years before. Earlier this year, a city councilman and the Iron County Republicans mounted a campaign to have the senator’s name removed on the grounds that his name on one small room was discouraging conservative donors from giving money to the university, which is a state institution. The university president capitulated, and Reid’s name was removed. At the time, Reid said nothing. Last week, when he was asked about it as part of a much longer interview in Las Vegas he simply said that the effort to remove his name had been the work of “right-wing whackos.” The Iron County Republicans, an extraordinarily conservative bunch, were incensed by his rather accurate characterization of them as extremists, apparently ignoring the fact that they’re among the most conservative Republicans in the most conservative state in the Union. They’re not extremists; they insist they’re true Republicans who believe in the Constitution… or their interpretation of the Constitution, which includes believing that Obama should be impeached for doing the same things that Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush did and that all federal lands in Utah belong to the state and not the federal government.
This rather small episode got me to thinking, because that’s a pattern we’re seeing more and more of these days. Whatever the brand of extremism, the extremists aren’t extreme – they maintain that they are the followers of the true way, and establishing and maintaining that “true” way justifies whatever behaviors or tactics they employ.
Foremost among such extremists, of course, at least at present, are Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and ISIS (but certainly the Catholic Church in the 1500s wasn’t any better) in that they insist that they need to establish and maintain the true faith and that killing unbelievers and infidels is totally justified. They weren’t and aren’t extreme, but just doing God’s work.
Correspondingly, the leftwing ultra-feminists who declare that every sexual act between a man and a woman is an act of rape are merely pointing out “the truth.” Just as every right-to-life type who believes murdering doctors who perform abortions is justified in order to save the unborn is following his “truth.” Cliven Bundy and more than half the state legislators in Utah who declare that federal lands belong to them aren’t extremists; they declare they’re true patriots. Ultra-liberals who embrace all change and the newest thing as good are extremists, as are the internet extremists whose truth (“information wants to be free”) effectively embraces the extremes of socialism/communism with regard to intellectual property, but insist that they’re merely empowering the people.
All in all, as we’ve become more polarized in our attitudes, all too many of us have also come to believe that “our way” is the only way… in everything.