It’s easier to point at others than at ourselves. If you doubt me, try this—extend your arm and point straight ahead. Now turn your hand and point at yourself.
The difficulty is not just anatomical; it’s also psychological, a fact increasingly evident today. Though it is most prominent among politicians—Republicans and Democrats blaming each other, and both blaming the American people—it can be found among average people as well.
The blamer-in-chief is President Obama. For years he blamed George W. Bush for virtually every national problem, including the financial crisis, the BP oil spill, the budget deficit, the national debt, unemployment, and the lack of progress in dealing with Iran and Afghanistan.
When Obama’s own problem-solving efforts proved unsuccessful, he argued that the problems he had “inherited” were more serious than he had imagined. In time, his blaming eventually became so obvious that one wit predicted he would rename the San Andreas Fault “Bush’s fault.”
Early in President Obama’s second term, the scandals and failures became more obvious, notably “Fast and Furious,” Benghazi, NSA surveillance, IRS discrimination, and Obamacare. With his approval numbers sinking and the option of blaming Bush no longer plausible, Obama sought new scapegoats and settled on Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, claiming that they had caricatured him and prevented people from hearing about his accomplishments. (Of course, they had been criticizing him since before he was elected the first time, so it’s hard to imagine that they were suddenly successful five years later!)
As I said, the President is not the only one playing the blame game. The key question, therefore, is why do so many people in high and low places refuse to accept responsibility for their actions? And why are so many unwilling to consider even the possibility that their ideas may not be the best ones but in fact may be seriously flawed?
The answer is that for almost a half-century American culture has promoted three mistaken ideas: (1) that everyone creates his/her own reality; (2) that everyone’s opinion is true and therefore not open to question by others, or for that matter by oneself; and (3) that such questioning can undermine something crucial for healthy living—self-esteem.
Embracing these ideas produces a thought pattern that leads people to reject personal responsibility and instead blame others when things go wrong. Here is that thought pattern:
- My ideas are true and therefore not open to question. Because of this, all actions based on those ideas, including policies and programs, must be the correct ones.
- Since my ideas are true and my actions correct, any failure that results can’t possibly be my fault. It therefore must be the fault of individuals or groups who oppose my ideas.
- No honest, responsible individual would oppose true ideas and correct actions, so my opponents must be dishonest and irresponsible.
This thought pattern reveals why people blame others for their failures rather than accept responsibility for them. It also reveals why so many people go beyond simply blaming others to demonizing them. For example, liberal politicians claiming that conservatives don’t just disagree with them—they want the poor to starve and the elderly to suffer and die.
Evidence of that thought pattern can be detected in many views being expressed in the discussion of contemporary issues. For example:
- The idea that those who oppose a particular education policy can’t possibly be acting in good faith—they must not care about students.
- The idea that those who say the War on Poverty has failed must hate the poor.
- The idea that anyone who supports tightening the security of our southern border must hate Mexicans, Hispanics in general, or all immigrants.
- The idea that those who criticize Obamacare must be racist.
Until we find a way to rid our national discourse of such senseless demonization, and the blame game in general, it will become increasingly difficult to have a meaningful discussion of challenging issues. And without such discussion, no democratic republic can survive.