The dramatic events of January 6, 2021, when the U.S. Capitol was stormed by a mob incited by the 45th president of the United States, have steered America into dangerous, uncharted waters. Donald Trump and his violent supporters put a bullet through the body of the republic, deliberately assaulting its foundations. As we are learning more details about what happened during that tragic day, we struggle to answer many important questions. How extensive is the damage inflicted by Trump’s conspiracy theories and his endless distortions of the truth to America’s democratic guardrails? Will the Biden administration and new Congress be able to effectively govern if many Trump voters question their legitimacy? How can our democratic institutions operate when public trust has fallen to alarmingly low levels?
These open-ended questions will loom large on our political agenda in the months ahead. Hyperpolarization in American politics is not without precedent, but the toxic level of the current social-media-fueled partisanship is a relatively novel phenomenon that poses a great threat to our democracy. The crisis we are facing today goes far beyond the political sphere; it is also economic, social, cultural, and demographic. We seem to live in parallel universes and can hardly agree on the same set of facts. Addressing all these challenges will require complex policies, significant resources, and innovative strategies. At first sight, the magnitude of our problems invites pessimism. And yet, for all our existential uncertainties, we may also find reasons for cautious optimism in light of a few promising signs. In some important respects, the elections marked a victory for political moderation, even if not necessarily for moderates. The elections featured record voting levels and civic participation. Key public officials displayed remarkable commitment to the principles of the U.S. Constitution and courageously resisted calls to falsify the outcome of the elections.
Building upon the work of scholars affiliated with the Niskanen Center, we reflect on what might be done to recalibrate our politics using the principles of moderation, which have kept America on an even keel during previous crisis points in its history. This task, we argue, requires a bold balancing act and a novel form of political eclecticism as an alternative to the present ideological style of politics. The moderation and eclecticism we discuss in this essay do not preclude, when necessary, bold responses proportionate to the daunting challenges we face today.