Electing the scapegoat

Suppose your neighborhood got together in one of those interminable association meetings, to talk over the problem of the other neighborhoods.  Unsavory characters are now loitering in your streets, burglaries are up, people feel unsafe.  What to do?

Suppose, further, that your neighbors select one of their own, a tough ex-cop — call him Buzz — to solve the problem.  Buzz gets to work, wasting not a minute.  And almost immediately, the neighborhood improves.  The unsavory loiterers disappear.  Crime is down.  While not perfect, the place feels safe again.

For a short while, Buzz is a hero.  People feel grateful for what he’s achieved.  But then the good neighbors ask the question:  how was it done?  The word goes out that Buzz is a pretty ruthless character.  He used violence.  He broke the leg of one of the loiterers.  By accident, he beat up one of the neighborhood kids.  He also traded with crooks.  He made a deal with the crime syndicates to skip your neighborhood when it came to burglaries.

Even faster than his rise to herohood, Buzz gets turned into the neighborhood’s most despicable character.  The good neighbors now realize he’s little better than a criminal himself.  He has blood on his hands.  He socializes and bargains with the lowest type of person.  Plus, he’s indiscriminate in his violence.  The parents of the kid he assaulted are planning to sue.  Plus, he didn’t even end the problem completely.  Crime still occurs.

Then one of the neighbors has an inspired thought:  “If it wasn’t for Buzz threatening and dealing with the other neighborhoods, we’d be left alone.”  Everyone agrees.  Buzz, once the solution, is now believed to be the problem.  What to do?

So your neighborhood gathers in one of those interminable association meetings, and selects another neighbor, a tough insurance investigator — call him Chaz — to end the scandalous administration of Buzz the ex-cop, and tackle the problem of crime honorably, as befits the people he represents.   And Chaz repeats the cycle.

Welcome to the American presidential elections process.  It has very little to do with electing a president.  It’s mostly about making demands on the world.  I, for example, want to live in a Jeffersonian paradise, in which the choice between being good and being free never comes up.  It’s a great place to be.  But how do I get there?

Simple.  I vote for President Buzz.  He makes the choices.  At first, I will be grateful for this.  I can live in my private Eden, while Buzz, poor man, dwells in a public hell.  But eventually, I’ll have to ask myself:  what’s he doing down there?  He bullies other countries, and fight wars that sometimes go wrong, and conducts himself with far less moral purity than my ideal — which, by the way, is me cavorting in my Eden.

Off with Buzz.  In with Chaz.  The world should never pose tragic riddles to Americans.  That’s my non-negotiable demand of the new Chaz administration.  Be pure.  Be perfect.

But keep me safe.  Preserve my Eden.

Round and round it goes — the cycle will repeat.  See you in four years.

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