Harry S. Truman, the 33rd President of these United States, is perhaps mostly mythologized because he had a sign on his desk in the oval office that read: The Buck Stops Here! The clear connotation of that sign was that the ultimate responsibility for the actions of the American Government stopped at the President’s desk.
The ultimate failing and failure of Donald Trump as President and as a human being, is that he steadfastly refuses to take any responsibility for his actions. This failure to take responsibility for his actions by Trump is characterized with the corollary that any problem ascribed to him, is really the fault of someone (or some thing) outside of his control. The fact that Trump never apologizes for his actions, nor accepts responsibility for the results of his actions, is something that has become accepted by all, even his supporters, who actually view it as a sign of strength. What this really indicates about Trump is that psychologically he behaves on a childish level and that ethically he is a person who lacks the capability of accepting moral responsibility for his actions, or omissions. Sadly, while it seems Trump has become a poster boy for refusing to accept responsibility, his failures in this realm are far from unique in human politics. Casting oneself as blameless, even assuming the mantle of victim-hood, is an age old human trait whose origins begin in early childhood. Why is this such a pervasive problem throughout humanity that it pollutes our political and social processes.
From the time we humans learn to speak we are faced with dealing with the consequences of our actions. When a four year old breaks a glass knickknack out of sight, when confronted they will make up some excuse like “Fido Did It” to escape parental anger. At eight, in school, Fido gets blamed for missing homework…….and so on and so forth. As a retired Psychotherapist, my own extensive psychotherapy taught me the importance of accepting personal responsibility for the consequences of my actions, I view the failure to take responsibility as an impediment to healthy human maturity.
For all of us, our lives are continually evolving “Decision Trees” where we are offered a multiplicity of choices for our daily actions. Some decisions work out well, some are neutral in effect and some can have disastrous consequences for ourselves, or for others. Taking Responsibility means giving yourself power over your life and accepting the consequences of your mistakes. Not Taking Responsibility casts you as a victim of outside forces, beyond your control and so justifies any action, or inaction on your part. Taking Responsibility is actually purported to be the philosophical bedrock of political conservatism. Republican politicians constantly mouth the cant phrase “that we must get Government out of our lives” in order to be free to live our lives. This notion of individual responsibility allows Republicans to shred so-called entitlements and health care, under the specious premise that individuals are more than able to provide for themselves.
In practice Conservatives under the form of Republican politicians are not only awful when it comes to taking responsibility for their own policies and actions, but actually are in favor of stripping people of the right to take responsibility for their own bodies (anti-abortion rights); for their own working lives (anti-Unionism); to act collectively (anti-class actions); and even for their own right to vote for the candidate of their choice(voter suppression and gerrymandering). When it comes to taking responsibility for their own actions, Republicans, not just Trump, are notorious for refusing to take any blame for the ill effects of their political actions. Thus when the consequences of the Bush Administration’s $3 Trillion spent off budget for its’ Wars, coincided with a gross failure to regulate financial markets, the Great Recession of 2008, which occurred before Barack Obama won the Presidency, became Obama’s fault in later years.
Actually though, while as a Left Wing type I tend to feel that conservatives are particularly adept at not taking responsibility for themselves, politicians on my side of the aisle also have a history of doing likewise. However, as we saw in the real witch-hunts of the Clinton’s (in the impeachment and with the Benghazi nonsense}, and as we saw in Democrats forcing the resignation of Eliot Spitzer for using a prostitute, Republicans have far more nonchalance when the likes of Newt Gingrich and Paul Vitter behaved similarly.
Harry Truman to the contrary, the American way when it comes to “passing the buck”, which means “the act of attributing to another person or group one’s own responsibility“, is a staple of our political tradition. From my perspective, learning to take responsibility for oneself is a key part of becoming an adult. In America, as past history has shown, avoiding political responsibility is the political norm and it seems to be a norm that people accept and tolerate. In fact, from our history of slavery, genocide of indigenous people, war for economic motives and other actions that have caused chaos at home and abroad, we often lay blame on everyone but ourselves. When a nation cannot act with maturity, introspection, admissions, apologies, recompense and remorse, its’ immaturity is dangerous to its’ survival.