The past few months have been particularly tragic ones in the United States when it comes to mass violence. In the last few weeks alone, we’ve seen attacks in both New York and Texas, with vehicles and firearms used as a means of killing dozens. Yet, over time, Americans who once turned to elected officials for guidance through times of tragedy now seek something new. Thus, highlighting a bigger problem in our society: the embrace of political opportunism at the expense of true leadership.
Today in America, most politicians can’t trudge through an election campaign without touting their laundry list of qualifications, always making sure to squeeze their leadership capabilities in somewhere down the line. Somehow though, after every disaster, these skills seem to vanish, inevitably replaced by emotional antics and finger-pointing, oftentimes at an uninvolved political opponent before the facts of the crisis even emerge. And, like clockwork, Americans swoop in to either attack or defend the myriad accusations flying around, based more on their political affiliations and less on the truth. Like a reality TV series, we’ve become addicted, leaving the death of effective leadership behind as collateral damage.
In this sense, the political realm operates completely backwards from the rest of society. In our personal lives, someone saying they wanted to do something out of the ordinary following a tragedy would be immediately recognized as an emotional response, and we’d begin trying to convince them not make any rash decisions. No parent teaches their child that important decision-making is done best while they’re emotionally distraught over something. Yet, in politics, not only do we applaud this type of behavior, but you run the risk of being labeled as heartless or malicious if you don’t have an immediate, emotional response and a meaningless piece of legislation to go with it. Common sense dictates that you wouldn’t expect an objective opinion regarding drunk driving to come from the person whose child was just killed by a drunk driver. Nevertheless, people have been led to believe the opposite, that victims are granted supreme moral authority and any dissenting opinion must stem from a lack understanding. Likewise, it should be obvious not to make decisions on foreign policy directly following an attack in New York, or change domestic policy after a mass shooting in Texas. Unfortunately, this once common consensus is quickly becoming another taboo opinion.
This has become the nature of politics today. It’s been barely a month since the concert shooting in Las Vegas, and instead of rationally discussing solutions to this ongoing problem, we’re hearing calls to ban bump-stocks and seeing more gun control legislation rushed through before the next bandwagon comes along. Never mind the fact that bump-stocks were only created as a direct result of these kinds of regulations. Further illustrating how Washington would rather opt out of making any difficult decisions in favor of continuing its façade of political whack-a-mole – as if $20 trillion in debt didn’t already make that obvious.
They aren’t the only guilty ones in this charade though. Politicians respond to what they think voters will want to hear, and Washington is notorious for being behind the curve when it comes to change. Just look at how many were against things like gay marriage, desegregation, or slavery until public opinion swayed them in the opposite direction. Unless the American people are willing to sober up and demand we drop these ineffective calls for change, we will quite literally continue putting Band-Aids on bullet wounds.
What we need to do is empathize with those affected, but expect sound judgement to be exercised by those in positions of authority, and relentlessly hold them to this standard. Solutions to complex problems often require complex ideas, not rash policy change. And until we forgo the pearl clutching and party-line blame game, these tragedies will persist as the underlying symptoms continue to go untreated.
Thomas J. Eckert
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