Like the old myth that the fall of Rome was linked to its increasing decadence, there’s a temptation to put your finger on something, some newly epidemic sin of our civilization that presently seems to have us bent on wanton self-destruction.
Lately, if i had to pick something (and i am not so naive as to think that an uptick in generalized global bad-decision-making has one cause), i think i might point the finger not at decadence, but at plain old selfishness, in an increasingly pure form. Assholery*.
The idea that nothing should stand between You and What You Want Right Fucking Now. As we look forward to a government for and by assholes, maybe it’s good to think about what we mean when we say ‘asshole’. It’s not just someone who’s mean, someone who insists on getting their way, someone who cheats. It’s someone who looks at other people around them and sees no reason not to do those things, someone unbound by any need to think of other human beings.
My wife has developed the habit of noting asshole behavior in the wild and just muttering, “Trump’s America.” An implicit link between those thinking only of themselves and well, the most famous example of same.
A pretty classic example lately is the epidemic running of red lights here in Boston. On a fifteen-minute bike ride, I generally see half a dozen or more cars enter busy intersections, frequently at high speeds, after their light has gone red. We’ve all silently learned paranoia of this, but someday some tourist with a walk signal is going to be flattened by an Audi. I didn’t miss that light and I don’t have to stop.
Obviously, you can also draw a clear line to peoples’ behavior online. Identified only by an avatar and screen name, even one with their likeness, one that’s undeniably them, for some reason the boundaries of what’s okay have expanded outward and grown more pungent like heated flatulence. There’s no line. No one listens to any voice saying, “sure, go ahead and flirt with that nebulously female-seeming player, but don’t threaten rape when she beats you.” No one concedes a point, no one accepts another side of an argument, it just ends in shouting and worse. I didn’t lose, you didn’t beat me, you couldn’t have because you’re less than me.
Hell, it even shows up in our entertainment and play. Hugely popular YouTube feeds that are about nothing but one personality insulting another one over some perceived slight. Walking on stage at an awards show to declare someone else the winner. Moaning in the locker room about how “the better team lost”. More personally, swinging elbows and studs-up tackling in rec league soccer, just because you were beat to the ball but didn’t feel like accepting it. Cultural norms, general decency, actual codified rules are minor obstacles, transgressions that sound worse than they are, especially when you do it all the time. You haven’t beaten me, and you won’t because you’re not willing to do what I’m willing to do.
And we get the government that we deserve. Sometime in what, 2000? Sometime, Republicans decided, then discovered that they didn’t have to lose anymore. When beaten in a fair fight, no one was going to actually hold them accountable for turning it into an unfair fight. No one was going to remind them that they lost, so long as they just kept acting like they won. So they had the Supreme Court make one of them President even though he lost. They defied the next, popular, decisively elected President in increasingly strident ways and no one called them on it. They brazenly set to tipping every last playing field in their table, knowing this was required for them to win, and despite countless articles, no one says ‘stop’ in a way that makes them listen.
Because they’re rewarded for it. Assholes win. Evil will always triumph because good is dumb. Victories against them only come with extreme, embarrassing failure, or even more extreme transgression, both of which tend to have significant side effects for the rest of us, and even these defeats are only temporary, because assholes do not have shame.
We’ve all just become a little bit more awful. Our civilization has evolved to the point where we’ve all learned that we’re ill-equipped to truly stop someone who flouts rules both hard and soft, and our leaders become the people who are most willing to do that most often. We get exactly the civilization, the leadership we deserve, then.
Government for and by assholes.
*note that i don’t necessarily intend this in the Team America sense, although theirs also remains a good point.