When deciding who to blame for the current state of affairs in our country, we always run through a familiar list of shadowy villains: the “system,” the “establishment,” politicians, lobbyists, the schools, the media, etc. These are fine suspects in their own right, but I find it ridiculous that, somehow, we skip right over the first and most dastardly culprit: ourselves.
We never blame us, do we? We always get off the hook. All of the misery and misfortune in our culture have been hoist upon us from Washington, D.C. and Hollywood and Ivory Towers, and none of it from us, we claim. We’re victims. We had no say in any of this at all, according to us.
Well, at the risk of alienating literally every single person reading this, I’d like to suggest that you are an adult and a voter, and this is your fault. And mine. And your mother’s. And your neighbor Jim’s. And all of our accomplices who generally make up the club known as “We The People.”
Here’s what I know: If you and me and your mother and your neighbor Jim and the rest of them were prudent, rational, resolute, wise, well-read, morally courageous and intellectually engaged, we wouldn’t be in this fix. What’s more, we wouldn’t have the same sort of politicians because we wouldn’t vote for those sorts of politicians, and we wouldn’t have the same sort of media because we wouldn’t watch that sort of media. Right on down the line like dominoes, everything would change if we changed. Everything.
But there is no accountability. We all say we want accountability, but what we really mean is we want everyone else to be accountable. Very few people will actually hold themselves accountable for anything. Our Republic crumbles while we all sit around pretending we’re victims of a culture we’re actively creating and politicians we actively vote into office. We put torches to our own home and wonder why it’s on fire.
And then, surveying the destruction we wrought upon ourselves, we weep like damsels in distress, crying out for a white knight to save us. Inevitably, a charlatan in a suit of armor comes along and promises to do just that. We faint and fall into his arms, and he proceeds to immediately betray us. Then we weep again for another white knight to save us from the last one, and another comes along, and he betrays us, and we weep again, and another one comes, and so on and so on and so on and so on unto infinity.
In the midst of all of this, nobody ever says: “Hey American people, STOP IT YOU FOOLS.” Instead, even the people who know better continue making patronizing excuses for us. They pontificate about how the “blue collar workers” and the “middle class” are feeling quite sad and angry at the moment, and we can’t very well be expected to take charge of our lives and make better decisions when we’re feeling this way.
Nonsense. It’s all nonsense.
Any notion that we’re victims of some mysterious outside force rather than of ourselves should be laid to rest because of this election season. After everything we’ve been through as a nation, suffering the incompetence, corruptions, and failures of one ruling regime after another, look at what we’re doing when given the opportunity to go in a different direction: flocking to Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton.
Some of us support other candidates, but, if polls are any indication, something close to a majority are threatening to vote for one of these three. We could well be looking at a Trump-Clinton or even Trump-Sanders showdown for president. And whose fault will that be?
Ours. Such an election would be a searing indictment not of Washington, D.C. or “the establishment” or any other vague entity, but of us. We the people.
We vote for petty bullies, crooks, and charlatans. We vote for them. We select them. Our politics are a reflection of us. Just like the deterioration of the family, the divorce rate, fatherless homes, the moral bankruptcy of our culture, the decline of faith, collective apathy, ignorance and intellectual laziness are manifestation of our choices, so is the political system. None of this was hoisted upon us by dark overlords or mystical sorcerers. We have made choices, we have done things, we have decided to be a certain way, and that way has proven poisonous to the future of our country.
So whose fault is it when we form cults of devotion to populist con artists like Trump or Sanders? Whose fault is it when we treat politics like middle school girls treat a One Direction concert? Whose fault is it when we refuse to think? Who’s to blame when we make important decisions based on emotion rather than principle? Who’s responsible when a person’s only rationale for voting for a particular candidate is that candidate’s warm smile or motivational campaign slogan or entertaining showmanship?
If you listen to most people, the answer is anyone but the people doing these things.
Indeed, when discussing the Trump phenomenon with other non-Trump supporters, the conversation often becomes so nonsensical that you’d think I was actually talking to a Trump supporter. Usually it goes like this:
Me: “Man, I really can’t stand how Donald Trump is a tyrant and fraud but his supporters follow him blindly.”
Other person: “Yeah but you can’t blame his followers. This is the result of a corrupt D.C. establishment. People are angry!”
Me: “OK, but why are they supporting an unapologetically corrupt man if they’re tired of corruption?”
Other person: “This is happening because of the system.”
Me: “How is the system forcing people to vote for a candidate who will perpetuate what they don’t like about the system? There are other options. Why don’t they try someone who at least has a chance of not being an egomaniacal crook?”
Other person: “People are angry!”
Me: “Yeah, you said that. So why are they choosing more of what makes them angry?”
Other person: “Look, you have to understand, the ruling class brought this on itself.”
Me: “HOW DOES THAT EXCUSE PEOPLE WHO ACTIVELY AND PURPOSEFULLY SUPPORT A BLATANT CHARLATAN?”
Other person. “…People are angry.”
And eventually the conversation ends, not because we reached a conclusion but because I have a brain aneurysm.
People are certainly angry, but anger only excuses ludicrous behavior when you’re a toddler or insane. If I walk into the room and see my daughter writhing around in the corner chewing on a shoe or something, it would make sense if my wife explained, “Oh, she’s just angry because I told her she can’t have a cookie.” She’s two. When two-year-olds are angry, they’re expected to communicate it in ways that make no sense and may in fact only exacerbate their original frustrations. But if I walk into the room and see an adult in the corner heaping praise on Donald Trump, the anger excuse is utterly preposterous. They might as well be chewing on a shoe. They’re grown ups. They should know better.
Besides, what’s shallowly buried in this “don’t blame the voters who support bad candidates, blame the system” stuff is the implication that, essentially, people are incontinent morons who cannot be held responsible for their own actions. Weak-kneed apologists who agree that Trump/Sanders/Clinton/whoever is atrocious but insist that their supporters can’t be criticized, are claiming to be smarter than those supporters. When they say, “Yes, I see that this candidate is an insidious despot but you can’t blame the people who don’t see it,” what they’re really saying is, “Yes, I see that this candidate is an insidious despot but you can’t blame the people who don’t see it because they’re stupid.”
So while I’m accusing the American public of wreaking havoc upon their own country, I’m not actually the one insulting the public. I do not believe that people are, by and large, stupid. And if people are stupid, I don’t believe I’m among the small minority of smart people. My access to information and my capacity to understand that information is about on par with everyone else. Yet, while I must claim responsibility for my share of this country’s decline, I’m at least not intent on voting for a socialist, a reality TV game show host, or a criminal.
Why is that? Do I have mental capabilities that exceed those who support these reprobates?
No, I don’t think so.
If a lack of intelligence were at the core of our nation’s problems, it might be true that our dear leaders in government, media, and education are solely to blame because they’re the smart ones taking advantage of a bunch of drooling imbeciles. But I don’t believe that to be the case. I believe at the core of our nation’s problems — especially our electoral problems, but also everything beyond that — are a collection of common vices, not mental deficiencies: laziness, apathy, greed, pride, envy, hatred, etc.
Our sin is our undoing. I’m as irritated with “the establishment” as you are — or at least I would be if I knew what that phrase meant — but “the establishment,” whatever it is, isn’t responsible for your sloth and your selfishness. Although nobody will acknowledge it, there is indeed a profound selfishness in the person who interjects himself into the democratic process yet refuses to think deeply, evaluate all the evidence, listen to opposing arguments, and scrutinize the principles, character, and integrity of the candidate he supports. To plug your ears and put on your blinders and plunge determinedly into the voting booth, having spent months aggressively refusing to apply any serious and considered thought to your decision, is an act of supreme self-centeredness. Even more so in the case of the people who vote for the politicians who promise to give them money appropriated from their fellow citizens. That’s greed and self-indulgence, not mere gullibility. In fact, these people are anything but gullible. They know exactly what they’re doing.
Ignorance, especially, can no longer be the stock explanation. We all carry around little devices that grant us access to all of the information in the world. The sum total of human knowledge is contained tidily in our pockets. We may choose to use this godlike tool to watch porn and take pictures of our own faces, but the fact remains that none of us have an excuse to be ill-informed. We continue to make reckless and shortsighted decisions as voters not because we lack information, but because we’ve seen the information and don’t care, or perhaps because we don’t care about seeing the information. In both cases, again, the fault is ours and ours alone.
We’re living in the country that we made for ourselves, though I suppose there are some who remain truly blameless. Children, first of all. We’re giving this society to children who’ve done nothing to deserve such a punishment. Beyond them, there may well be a small minority of people who’ve been truly engaged and thoughtful citizens, selfless community members, great parents and spouses, and have all around done everything they possibly could to create a better world. But I know these folks are not in the majority because if they were, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
You might be in this group, but you’re probably not. And I’m not. I have my own flaws as a man and a citizen, and I don’t want anyone to tell me they aren’t flaws, or they aren’t my fault, or I can’t be blamed for them because I’m a middle class worker fed up with politics as usual. I don’t want to be pat on the head, given a lollipop, and assured that I’m a victim of everything and everyone. I want to be blamed when I am to blame, because to blame someone else is to rob me of my free will.
That said, my flaws notwithstanding, I’m not at all tempted towards the same trap as Sanders fans and Trumplings and Obamabots. I’ve no inclination to mindlessly fawn over a politician. I’ve never in my life taken it personally or become violently angry because someone criticized a candidate I support. I’ve never been a “fan” of a politician. I may find one I can tolerate, but I always remain a fair weather supporter. If the weather turns ugly because of the politician’s own ineptitude or dishonesty, I’ll ditch him on the side of the road without hesitation and look for someone else.
I don’t view my relationship with a politician like I view my relationship with my wife. I’ll vote for someone in the primary, but I’m not bound to him for a lifetime. I haven’t sworn my allegiance to him in sickness and health. He’ll be useful so long as he upholds the Constitution and conducts himself honorably. The moment he stops doing that, he’ll no longer be of any us to me at all. Politicians are utterly disposable and temporary. Actually, they ought to be quite a bit more temporary than they are.
The cultists and Kool-Aid drinkers on both sides of the aisle have a very serious flaw, and this flaw — their propensity towards blind allegiance to political figures — makes them dangerous. In fact, it makes them far more dangerous than the political figures themselves. After all, the worst thing about having Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton as president is living among people who would choose to have Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton as president.
Our bad choices and our flaws and our sins have brought us here politically, culturally, and in every other sense. That’s the truth. So if you want things in this country to improve, stop whining about the system and look in the mirror. We aren’t the victims, we’re the cause. If America is ever going to be “Great Again,” it has to start with a little personal accountability.
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