Trump Could Learn Something From The Middle Path

A wise person following it would know that post-Charlottesville was not the time for a "both sides" argument.

08/23/2017 15:13 EDT | Updated 08/23/2017 15:14 EDT
Kevin Lamarque / Reuters
U.S. President Donald Trump answers questions about his response to the violence, injuries and deaths at the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville as he talks to the media in the lobby of Trump Tower in Manhattan, N.Y., U.S., Aug. 15, 2017.

Aristotle declared that following the Middle Path is the best way to live. What he meant by this directive was that, while human beings, generally, determine their choices in life — including their values and ethics — through their emotions and passions, he, rather, was calling upon individuals to make their choices through the power of the intellect. To follow the Middle Path was a call for people to make important decisions regarding opinion and behaviour with balanced reason, with full consideration of the entire spectrum of facts and alternatives in any given situation.

There is, however, a common mistake that people make when they speak of this Middle Path. They think that this choice, by definition, must be passion-less, a cold result of sterile thought. This perception emerges from an understanding of the Middle Path as just another point on the spectrum of alternatives in life choices. On any given issue, at one end of the spectrum lies one position of extreme passion which people, motivated by such a fervour will embrace. At the other end of the spectrum lies an opposing extreme view which those of a contrary perspective will adopt. The choice of the Middle Path is thus seen as some point in the middle which balances out these two extreme passions leaving an intermediate, cold alternative of reason. Such a choice in the middle, however, is not really a correct understanding of the Middle Path.

The great Jewish philosopher, Maimonides, also defined, within Jewish law, one who followed the Middle Path as a wise person. The noted twentieth-century Jewish thinker and Talmudist, Rabbi Dr. Joseph B. Soloveitchik, in reference to this statement, explained that the Middle Path thereby must also include a call to thoughtfully choose between passions. As presented in Ecclesiastes 3:18, there is a time for everything. A challenge of thought thus lies in finding the proper time for any endeavour. There, indeed, may still be times that the passion-less choice in the middle is the right choice but equally possible is that another choice on the spectrum of options is the correct choice in certain circumstances. The mark of the wise person is this honed ability to choose amongst these possibilities the one that is most appropriate in a particular setting. This is the true Middle Path: not to necessarily occupy the centre but to thoughtfully determine, from across the entire spectrum of choices, the correct, specific response in the specific circumstance.

Herein actually lies the essential problem with President Trump's words regarding Charlottesville. This was not the time for a balanced presentation that declared there were problems with both sides even if there may be some truth in such an assertion. The tragic damage caused by one side's hate far outweighed any call for balance. The car ramming into a crowd of people, killing Heather Heyer and injuring countless others, demanded a focus on the hate emitting from this one side. The Middle Path of thought, as such, would actually demand, in consideration of such circumstances, not balance but such a focus.

Imagine, as Soviet troops liberated Auschwitz, a person declaring that there are still really problems with both the left (the Soviets) and the right (the Nazis) and, as such, we must also still note the gulags in Siberia. Would this person be wrong? Stalin and Hitler were, indeed, both, to say the least, evil dictators. But as the world confronted the horrors of the Holocaust and the specific horrors of Auschwitz, it would not have been a time for such a balanced approach. This was a time to single out the evil of the Nazis! This is what, I believe, people really meant when they called upon the president to single out certain hate groups. Are there, sadly and unfortunately, more hate groups existent than white supremacist ones such as the KKK and the Nazis? Were some on the other side also, perhaps, drenched in hate? This, though, was no longer the issue. The extreme tragic event of the car ramming demanded a focus on the particular hate that led to this overwhelmingly appalling result. There will be other times to express arguments of balance.

The same applies to the argument, made under the banner of balance, that many of those protesting the removal of this statue were not white supremacists but wished to simply protect their historical heritage. There is an ongoing issue in the United States in regard to how the nation should look at its Civil War. This debate would indeed best be served through an acknowledgement of all the arguments. But, in this circumstance, under the weight of this loss of life, this discussion must be placed aside. It was presently subsumed in the murderous actions of a white supremacist.

The fact is that one is also judged by those with whom one associates. If you are marching with white supremacists, there is a strong possibility that circumstances may lead to you being even further joined with them. What occurred made it no longer a time for arguments of distinction regarding those protesting the removal of the statues. The tragic consequence of death sent the issue far away from simply the statues.

Bottom line, to fight hate, even across the spectrum, the focus, at this time, had to be on the specific hate expressed in this most violent act. Only from there would it be possible to move on to other issues. If you now attempt balance, the result will be a perceived allowance for this specific hate — and this was President Trump's mistake. This is why leading white supremacists thanked the president for his comments even though he also condemned them. By inappropriately arguing for balance at this time, he thereby included them in the legitimate conversation. This was wrong. There will be other times to argue for balance. The wise person following the Middle Path would know that this, however, was, and is, a time for focus.