In today’s polarized society, politicians are increasingly using the term “extremist” to label their opponents. But what is an extremist? Merriam-Webster defines the word as “the quality or state of being extreme,” being the “farthest possible point from the center.”
Now those definitions by themselves are largely subjective; my view of the center and how far something is from it may be entirely different than yours.
But let’s consider an example: you are well within your constitutional rights to peaceably oppose partial-birth abortions. Likewise, someone who peaceably opposes the banning of such abortions would be within their rights. One could argue that this free exchange of ideas, for or against abortion, would be the “center.” Since neither group imposes upon the rights of the other, this is how our civilized society properly functions. Each citizen is entitled to his or her opinion and we empower government to express the will of the majority, provided the majority itself doesn’t interfere with the rights of the minority.
Extremists, those at the furthest possible point from the center, would be people willing to break laws and violate the rights of others in order to enact their goals. Someone willing to blow up a clinic that performs partial-birth abortions would be a perfect example of an extremist, as there is no further point from “the center” than taking the life of another in defense of your cause.
But someone who attempts to silence the constitutional rights of those who peaceably protest could also be considered an extremist. Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and Democrats across the country have repeatedly used the term “extremist” to marginalize and smear anyone who opposes their agenda.
Don’t believe our elected officials would do that to you? Just type in “extremist” and the name of a politician – of any party – in a search engine and see for yourself how far we have slid down the slope.
By labeling opponents as extremists, the politician creates the illusion that his supporters have moral superiority while portraying opponents as villains. Maybe you’re not quite on board with his agenda, but you don’t want to be one of “them” – the extremists, do you?
This behavior goes far beyond making your case to the people so they may decide the laws which they will live by. By resorting to the “extreme” of labeling their opponents as extremists, politicians show us they know voters won’t willingly support their party platform unless they are deceived.
This is how tyrants behave.
Words have meanings, and their meanings sometimes change over time. But are Americans willing to permit a political party to redefine “extremists” as anyone opposing their agenda? Once we allow them to control the language, they control the debate. And once they control the debate, we no longer control anything.