Moderation isn’t sexy. Romeo and Juliette did not burn with an even-keeled temperament and devotion to compromise and civility. In the film adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility” ( screenplay by the incomparable Emma Thompson), Elinor is excoriated by her sister Marianne for offering a less than passionate response when asked about a paramour. “Esteem him?! Like him? Use those insipid words again, and I shall leave the room!”
We live in a time of clickbait headlines and social media posts brimming with anger, hate, revenge, and fear. It seems quaint to think about professionals who made careers out of being honest, gracious, and civil. Yet, many people did, including Judy Woodruff, who will sign off this year as the anchor/host of the “PBS Newshour” after a lifetime as a journalist. Reading her profile in the New York Times a few days ago, I was struck by her willingness to take her career to places that allowed her to be true to herself. Joining PBS is not exactly an expressway to fame and fortune, but her middle-of-the-road political reporting made her one of the industry’s most respected and trusted journalists – on both sides of the aisle – which is saying a lot in this day and age.
Last week’s elections, which saw voters rejecting some of the more extreme candidates in San Francisco and beyond, suggest that we are all yearning for more civility and moderation in our lives. We want smart, competent people to govern us. We want our discourse to be respectful. But being civil takes work. It’s much easier to mock your opponents and give them coarse nicknames that trigger giggles from the peanut gallery or scare your supporters into thinking the world is ending.
The shift in our communications about politics and culture from spirited debate to all-out-shrill has fascinated and alarmed me since I began watching the changes twenty-plus years ago. As a novelist, I created The Council and my Dark Horse Trilogy because I was resigned to the fact that the only way to thwart extremism in society existed solely on the pages of fiction. In the third and final installment of the trilogy, which will publish next summer, the supernatural political consultant Olivia Shepherd is working to get a woman elected president of the United States and finds herself forced to summon help from unusual places to be successful. I can’t wait to share some passages from the novel. Keep an eye out next year.
Fortunately, last week’s election results demonstrated that we don’t actually need magic to move toward the center. Still, with icons like Judy Woodruff retiring, a little magic might not be a bad thing.