A Reader of the most recent entry in my “Press the Battle” series — This Is What You Should Be Making This Election About, Mr. President, commented:
“I heartily agree that we have a dysfunctional government, but isn’t it the people’s fault for voting in the Republicans in the first place?”
To which I gave a response I’d like to share here, because it says a lot about how I see the essence of what’s going on in America today. I wrote:
The question of “fault” is a tricky one.
Yes, at the very least one can say that a serious defect is revealed by the vulnerability of so many millions of Americans to being conned in this ugly way. It is possible to perceive the defect in these people, and in the culture that shaped them.
I live among these people, and they are many of them wonderful people. And they’ve got no clue what it is that they’re supporting.
So yes, there is a lot of brokenness that goes onto having these people get conned into lending their support to an evil force.
But the question of whether, or how much, we should look at this as their “fault” depends on how we understand the whole workings of brokenness in the world.
For me, the answer comes from seeing how this vast “force of brokenness” works through the culture, and has advanced in our era– how it advances by exploiting all the brokenness it finds, in the people and in the culture that socialized them into what they have become.
I’ve written here several pieces about how it is that (basically) good people can be manipulated into lending their support to an evil force, and how (basically) intelligent people can be led into believing incredible things.
Looking at how there are forces at work much more fundamental to the action than the individuals, I am inclined to leave the dimensions of fault and blame out of it.
But I do not leave moral fervor out of it. I am filled with a moral passion — when I look at this force that advances deception, injustice, and strife in our world — to do all I can to defeat it. It is this force that I see as an enemy.
It is this force that I condemn when I fight against today’s Republican Party. For that Party, which in earlier eras did have some genuine virtues in it, along with its faults — has become an instrument of that force.
Yes, we should be outraged at the outrageous behavior. But the enemy is not Rush Limbaugh, or Karl Rove, or Dick Cheney, or the Koch Brothers, or Rupert Murdock. The enemy is the set of forces that have opened up the way for such terribly broken people to play their destructive roles in furthering brokenness.
In a healthy society, no one like Rush Limbaugh could ever have become the Godzilla of talk radio.
Limbaugh is the one person I hate most viscerally. But I realize two things:
First, I realize that “there but for the grace of God go I.” Had I been born Limbaugh, I’d have become Limbaugh. So I see this ugly Limbaugh as the fruit of the world as he came into it. And though I don’t find it easy, I at least try to feel some compassion for him as I imagine what growing into such a twisted human being would have entailed.
And second, it is not Limbaugh that must be defeated, but the whole “Evil Force” that has pushed some real human monsters into prominent positions in the power structure of America.
The enemy is not so much any or even all of these manifestations or channels. It is that Thing that manifests itself in all these ugly and broken ways. It is that wave like a tsunami that is inflicting such damage across America’s moral landscape.
The more we can see it that way, the better able we will be to see the coherence of it in the world, and to focus our attacks in a way that makes sense, and that stirs us when we see the vast forces at work in a dynamic that warrants being called, “battle between good and evil.”
Besides which there’s this: America can never be a healthy society so long as millions of America’s good people are aligned with an evil force, and live in the unreality they have been swindled into perceiving.
So, if we want a more whole America, we have to be asking: How should we relate to those people in order best to bring them back to a healthy relationship with power in America?