I first became politically aware around 10 or 11 years old. I mean, actually understanding politics at a level slightly above what was taught to us in schools, especially for 1993. I remember once making a joke with friends about Meet The Press thinking that other people watched it and looked around as no one understood my reference. Assuming I was just around the wrong people at the time, I made the same joke with different people to a resounding thud. Turns out that Meet The Press wasn’t a popular show amongst people I hung out with.
I also remember at 14 looking at a political cartoon in the paper while with my dad and a friend of his. He told his friend how more aware I was of the subject matter and said that he didn’t understand the cartoon but knew that I did. (It was of the Statue of Liberty covered in immigrants that said “Stop” in case you’re wondering if 1996 held any better attitudes towards them.) Within a year or so of that, I realized that I usually agreed with people who had a (D) by their name and never seemed to understand why the people with the (R) by their names seemed so out of touch. I got to vote for Al Gore in my first election in 2000 based on my then-like of President Clinton and watching that go down really threw me into the ups and downs of government, politics, and the media.
My political affiliations have gotten a little murkier over time but one question has always remained for the last 20 years: why do people constantly vote against their own interests? How is it that people can know that they’re in a specific situation in their lives and yet find candidates that speak against it but still go directly for them? And yes, I get some of what it is. For a lot of people, it comes down to religious beliefs, some are single-issue voters while others just go with the endorsements of others or who have the (D) or (R) by their names. However, recent events have made me realize why this phenomenon keeps happening.
Metaphorically: people always talk about how in a zombie apocalypse they’ll be a hero who’ll have everything planned out and contributing to a group or leading in some way...and never thinking that in order for there to be a zombie apocalypse, there have to be zombies. And even though zombies outnumber regular people, they somehow never think they’ll be a zombie, when in reality, they’re zombies now.
In practice, it looks like what has been going on recently. People get mad at insurance companies for price gouging and yet when given the opportunity, will do so themselves. We’re seeing it now with people buying up supplies that used to be widely available and affordable, then hoarding them and marking up the price exponentially. Are these the same people that were mad at Pharma Bro Martin Shkreli for doing the exact same thing with life-saving drugs? Do they find there to be a difference? Or were they okay with it the whole time?
That’s the thing about this all that I’ve realized; this is us. People don’t see millionaires and billionaires as inherently evil because they think they’ve got a shot at being one. Then when all of their hard work pays off, they want rules in place to prevent Joe Schmo from getting their riches. They just have to vote for the better interests of existing millionaires while screwing themselves in order to one day screw everyone else below them. Look at eBay during the crisis and see what people are charging for things that should be widely available. Regular people are doing this without thinking of the ramifications. They’re not screwing over millionaires, those people have already got unimaginable resources. Your neighbor isn’t that upset about kids having their funding cut in schools because one day they’ll get subsidies for their super-large business and sacrifices have to be made. They’re above all of this, at least the promise is that they will be eventually. All of them will be marching towards the same goal of being the leader...not realizing they’ve been the zombies.
There’s no reason to think the most radical candidate is going to win because too many people secretly don’t want things to change and change is bad for business and America is nothing if not a business. Why should it matter how you got the dollar so long as you have it? Money has no ethics and the market will correct itself, right? Except we all know that it won’t. A radical candidate generally tries to put everyone on equal footing and if everyone is on equal footing then how will they be able to step over you? How can a person prove their superiority if they can’t show they’re better than you by how much money they've gotten by any means? In this country a person who decides to charge $2500 for a roll of toilet paper sees themselves as an entrepreneur and a person getting screwed over is only mad that they didn’t think of the idea first and neither of them considers the ethics, only the dollar. So a candidate promising “free stuff” will never win, especially not in the long-run. Not because they shouldn’t, but because we want others to suffer. This is us. Hell, even now we’ve got all of the worlds' information in our pockets at all times and that’s not good enough so many of the conspiracy-minded would like you to know that even the information that YOU have isn’t real but the information they found that only APPEARS to be made up is the real deal because they have to be able to show intellectual superiority if they can’t do it financially. This is us.
This is a country that lived in relative peace until it was invaded, foreigners committed genocide, then claimed the land as their own and got mad when anyone else came over without asking first. I realized in 1996 that made no sense but, this is us. This is a country that enslaved an entire race of people, claimed them as property, then got mad when they were asked to be treated as people and somehow the descendants of those that held them as slaves don’t think that there are any long-lasting effects from that. But, this is us. When an unarmed Black person is killed we’re quick to blame the victim instead of the murderer and yet wonder why the police don’t change. Simply, they don’t want them to. This is us.
Even on the other end of the spectrum are people who want things to change. They want different and more effective systems in place and truly want to work towards that goal...but they also want this place to burn to the ground in order for it to happen. Instead of just getting people to try and see how helpful a better way could be, they want to take the Lex Luthor route and stand amongst the ruins of a desolate land then claim rulership of a better tomorrow. But that suffering would mean everyone they know would have to suffer, too. That their quality of life would have to dive in order for them to come out on top. So basically...they want to vote against their own interests in order to be seen as the hero, not realizing that they would just as well end up a zombie. Guess the two sides aren’t too different after all, huh?
I’m speaking in a lot of general terms right now even though I’m sure you’re either reading this in the present and can tell what events led to this or reading in the future and can check the date, but for those in the future, I want you to see if anything I’m saying matches what’s going on in your world right now? Or does it match up with your recent past? Are you expecting another event to cripple your normal way of life? Where are the helpers and where are the money makers? And of course, what are the leaders actually doing? If you can relate to what I’ve written here then I’m sorry, but we don’t have the capacity to be better, not as a whole. We just want to root for the bad guy so we can take his spot. Never listen to someone so naive who says that this downward spiral isn’t who we are or who we’ve been. On the contrary, this is who we’ve ALWAYS been. We kept asking for a new plague and we got the same old one. We are the plague.
This. Is. Us. This is America.