America's Root Disease: An Aversion to Responsibility

One of the crucial things I've found wanting in modern-day America is a simple concept: responsibility.  We are living through what David Bahnsen calls a "crisis of responsibility."  It's from this aversion to blame that many of our troubling trends flow.

The pusillanimity was recently present in the Supreme Court's unwillingness to define what rights the religious have in abstaining from commercial activities that violate their conscience.  In Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the high court ruled in favor of Jack Phillips, who declined to fashion a custom wedding cake for two men because of his religious conviction.  The Court did not uphold Phillips's right to do so – instead, the justices for the majority fell back on nasty language used by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission to support their ruling.

This was a cop-out.  The issue of balancing religious liberty with gay rights remains unsettled.  And with a recent ruling by the Arizona Court of Appeals that found two Phoenix calligraphers in violation of the city's anti-discrimination law for refusing to offer their services for a same-sex ceremony, the Supreme Court is guaranteed to revisit the issue in the future.

The judicial example is emblematic of the risk-averse mentality that is widespread in the federal government.  Just consider Congress and lawmakers' refusal to tackle big issues.  This year, Social Security has begun to tap into its "trust fund" for revenue, which is to say it's cashing in IOUs that aren't actually revenue.  Medicare is projected to become insolvent by 2026.

Should these two big entitlement programs continue without change, financial calamity is guaranteed.  Yet few elected officials want to deal with the looming catastrophe.  Doing so would require assuming the burden of making tough choices, including necessary cuts to benefits.

Then there's immigration, long the uncounted third rail in American politics.  Our immigration system is byzantine in complexity and ineffective at actually controlling the flow of people into the country.  No politician – with the obvious exception of the big man in the White House – wants to assume the first responsibility of statecraft and say, "No, you can't stay here" to anyone.  Crafted by big business to secure a willing pool of cheap labor, and celebrated by a party using demographic change to boost its voter rolls, immigration laws are untouchable, other than tweaks that continue the status quo.  It's a Herculean effort to do even the most rudimentary of government functions: secure the border.

Privately, Americans have broken the fetters of responsibility usually reserved for adulthood.  Younger generations are putting off home-buying in favor of renting.  Students are staying on college campus longer, avoiding the job market.  The birth rate is at a 30-year low, as fewer people assume the ultimate obligation of raising children.

Our cultural institutions, mostly run by leftists, aren't any better.  Hollywood and academia push the victim narrative, which allows for a skirting of culpability.  So when tragedies like the Chicago murder rate come up, blame is pinned on vague societal sins like "white supremacy" rather than the individual murderers.

Our penchant for blame avoidance is so bad that even in Game 1 of the NBA finals, Cleveland Cavaliers shooting guard J.R. Smith, mistakenly thinking his team was ahead, pushed an easily winnable game into overtime by holding on to the ball as time ran out after an impressive rebound.  It was his fault for his team's eventual loss, but he passed the blame to star Lebron James.  As P.J. O'Rourke said, the problem with individual responsibility "is the difficulty of finding somebody to blame your problems on."

On a smaller, more personal scale, we can see the lack of responsibility more clearly.  The recent suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain represented the ultimate in irresponsible action.  Being human means assuming responsibility.  Suicide is the negation of that responsibility.  And yet, the twin felo de se garnered an outpouring of sympathy and tribute, despite the families and loved ones left behind.

The general lack of responsibility reflects a greater pessimism in America.  If our best days are over, then the future holds little hope. And why put in the work, take risks, make an unguaranteed investment, for a future that seems so dim?

There's a pervasive feeling that most of us are just hanging on, trying to get by, being careful not to rock the boat.  It's hard to be responsible when you're ducking ownership of your own actions for fear of failure.

But just as the dog returns to its vomit, the troubles caused by responsibility avoidance return as well.  They can't be escaped by running – only by confronting them head on.

There are exceptions to our cowardice.  President Trump, for all his faults, is someone who assumes responsibility just by acting, come Hell or high water.  His decisions to bomb Syria in retaliation for a chemical strike, impose a travel ban on terrorist-friendly countries, increase immigration enforcement, and even meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un were all decisive moves that previous presidents would have been loath to take.

But Trump's an aberration from the political norm, which has become defined by posturing with your head in the sand.  There's something to learn from Trump's go-it-alone approach.  If our political class would spend less time tut-tutting Trump and take a page from his unapologetic style, perhaps the rest of us could, too, and quit living in fear of our own shadows.

Image via YouTube.

One of the crucial things I've found wanting in modern-day America is a simple concept: responsibility.  We are living through what David Bahnsen calls a "crisis of responsibility."  It's from this aversion to blame that many of our troubling trends flow.

The pusillanimity was recently present in the Supreme Court's unwillingness to define what rights the religious have in abstaining from commercial activities that violate their conscience.  In Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the high court ruled in favor of Jack Phillips, who declined to fashion a custom wedding cake for two men because of his religious conviction.  The Court did not uphold Phillips's right to do so – instead, the justices for the majority fell back on nasty language used by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission to support their ruling.

This was a cop-out.  The issue of balancing religious liberty with gay rights remains unsettled.  And with a recent ruling by the Arizona Court of Appeals that found two Phoenix calligraphers in violation of the city's anti-discrimination law for refusing to offer their services for a same-sex ceremony, the Supreme Court is guaranteed to revisit the issue in the future.

The judicial example is emblematic of the risk-averse mentality that is widespread in the federal government.  Just consider Congress and lawmakers' refusal to tackle big issues.  This year, Social Security has begun to tap into its "trust fund" for revenue, which is to say it's cashing in IOUs that aren't actually revenue.  Medicare is projected to become insolvent by 2026.

Should these two big entitlement programs continue without change, financial calamity is guaranteed.  Yet few elected officials want to deal with the looming catastrophe.  Doing so would require assuming the burden of making tough choices, including necessary cuts to benefits.

Then there's immigration, long the uncounted third rail in American politics.  Our immigration system is byzantine in complexity and ineffective at actually controlling the flow of people into the country.  No politician – with the obvious exception of the big man in the White House – wants to assume the first responsibility of statecraft and say, "No, you can't stay here" to anyone.  Crafted by big business to secure a willing pool of cheap labor, and celebrated by a party using demographic change to boost its voter rolls, immigration laws are untouchable, other than tweaks that continue the status quo.  It's a Herculean effort to do even the most rudimentary of government functions: secure the border.

Privately, Americans have broken the fetters of responsibility usually reserved for adulthood.  Younger generations are putting off home-buying in favor of renting.  Students are staying on college campus longer, avoiding the job market.  The birth rate is at a 30-year low, as fewer people assume the ultimate obligation of raising children.

Our cultural institutions, mostly run by leftists, aren't any better.  Hollywood and academia push the victim narrative, which allows for a skirting of culpability.  So when tragedies like the Chicago murder rate come up, blame is pinned on vague societal sins like "white supremacy" rather than the individual murderers.

Our penchant for blame avoidance is so bad that even in Game 1 of the NBA finals, Cleveland Cavaliers shooting guard J.R. Smith, mistakenly thinking his team was ahead, pushed an easily winnable game into overtime by holding on to the ball as time ran out after an impressive rebound.  It was his fault for his team's eventual loss, but he passed the blame to star Lebron James.  As P.J. O'Rourke said, the problem with individual responsibility "is the difficulty of finding somebody to blame your problems on."

On a smaller, more personal scale, we can see the lack of responsibility more clearly.  The recent suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain represented the ultimate in irresponsible action.  Being human means assuming responsibility.  Suicide is the negation of that responsibility.  And yet, the twin felo de se garnered an outpouring of sympathy and tribute, despite the families and loved ones left behind.

The general lack of responsibility reflects a greater pessimism in America.  If our best days are over, then the future holds little hope. And why put in the work, take risks, make an unguaranteed investment, for a future that seems so dim?

There's a pervasive feeling that most of us are just hanging on, trying to get by, being careful not to rock the boat.  It's hard to be responsible when you're ducking ownership of your own actions for fear of failure.

But just as the dog returns to its vomit, the troubles caused by responsibility avoidance return as well.  They can't be escaped by running – only by confronting them head on.

There are exceptions to our cowardice.  President Trump, for all his faults, is someone who assumes responsibility just by acting, come Hell or high water.  His decisions to bomb Syria in retaliation for a chemical strike, impose a travel ban on terrorist-friendly countries, increase immigration enforcement, and even meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un were all decisive moves that previous presidents would have been loath to take.

But Trump's an aberration from the political norm, which has become defined by posturing with your head in the sand.  There's something to learn from Trump's go-it-alone approach.  If our political class would spend less time tut-tutting Trump and take a page from his unapologetic style, perhaps the rest of us could, too, and quit living in fear of our own shadows.

Image via YouTube.