Politicians of every stripe are so focused on becoming and remaining incumbents, that they have little time to worry over the consequences of their actions and decisions. It's easy to see that the economic abyss into which we are descending is the unintended consequence of allowing them to extend their sphere of influence into every aspect of our lives
It can be argued that the ten plagues visited upon the Egyptians were the unintended consequences of Pharaoh's refusal to let Moses' people go. Even so, unintended consequences didn't receive serious study until Adam Smith introduced consequentialism during the Scottish Enlightenment, then languished in obscurity. The study of unintended consequences returned to public attention in the 20th Century with the publication of “The Unanticipated Consequences of Purposive Social Action”, a paper written by sociologist Robert Merton in 1936. Even so, awareness has brought scant relief.
I bet you trust a lot more people than you've ever thought about.
Do you drive? You wouldn't unless you trusted other drivers to obey the law and handle their vehicles somewhat competently. You couldn't unless you trusted the people who designed and built the roads and bridges to have built them well.
Do you ride in elevators? Attend public events? Eat out? There are countless activities that require trust.
Whom do your trust for advice? There are professionals who dispense advice on health, finance, relationships, and countless other subjects. Have you ever availed yourself of their services?
In many cases you carefully consider whom you're going to trust. In others, you throw caution to the wind and trust anonymously.
Then we come to politics. Whom do you trust? Who will influence your voting decisions and who won't? Family and friends? Some yes. Some no. Generally, I trust those whom I respect, but not always because sometimes the people we trust disagree with us.
Let me tell you a story...
Metaphorically speaking, a contest in which no one wins is a “tie”, “draw”, “dead heat”, “wash”, “standoff”, “Mexican standoff”. However, a contest in which everyone loses is a different matter.
Once upon a time, a contest in which everyone loses was known as a “train wreck”. Sadly, few alive today remember that metaphor unless they're really old or are model railroad hobbyists. For most, a train wreck is just another day of operations at Amtrac.
Train wrecks were spectacular. Carney men even staged train wrecks as public entertainment. Two engineers set their beasts in motion and jumped clear. The crowd held its breath in anticipation as the two locomotives gathered way and then unleashed a roar of appreciation at witnessing their mutual destruction. There seems to have been something cathartic at witnessing a staged “accident”, an opportunity to see an event recreated in which many had died. It was a precursor to “rubber necking” motorists passing an accident scene on the highway.
Sadly, we are not mere witnesses to this year's train wreck. We are passengers and yet we all have had a hand on the throttle. We the People selected the candidates and now stand aside helplessly as one of them becomes the next President.
No matter who enters the White House, neither will win. They won't have the support of their political party or Congress. They won't have the support of a majority of the constituency. They will only have an empty title. And what will We the People win? We are fighting among ourselves as though either of these candidates actually represent US. Neither is Right nor Left, Conservative nor Liberal, Progressive nor Constitutionalist.
No rational person expects either to be a good leader or even a satisfactory leader. At a time when the tempest is upon the nation, we will be a ship without a rudder. If we are to survive, We the People will have to step up and save ourselves. Maybe that's not such a bad thing, is it?
Imagine offering a child a dish of ice cream but allowing them to only take it out of the freezer once a day and each just one spoonful at a time. That's what it was like for my wife and I trying to limit ourselves to just one episode of Stranger Things per day. We failed
Stranger Things is an eight-part SciFi thriller produced by Netflix and it's well worth the price of subscribing if only to watch his one program. Starring Winona Ryder and Matthew Modine, it is the tale of a weapons development program that accidentally opens a portal to another dimension, a dimension occupied by an unspeakably vicious predator. And that's all I'm going to tell you about the plot. Just imagine ET written by Stephen King.
I once read that science fiction tends to reflect the temper of the people in the time it is written. During the Cold War, space aliens were threatening. In the peace that followed they were warm and cuddly. Stranger Things is definitely a product of our time when Stone Age terrorists are lurking in the shadows and authority figures are distrusted and cops are being ambushed in the streets. If you are living in 2016, you'll feel right at home.
If you watch, I'm sure you'll be joining us, waiting for that next dish of ice cream.
Imagine my surprise when, early in my sixth decade, I discovered that I had an aunt and twelve cousins of whom I had never even heard. A few years later I was speaking with an aged aunt, my father's sister. “Speaking with” does not quite describe it. Conversations with Anna were more like being spoken to. Sometime during the telephone call she mentioned that she had been talking to her sister's daughter. It took me about fifteen minutes to stop her and guide her back to that point.
“Your sister's daughter? I didn't know you had a sister.”
“Of course,” she explained, obviously perplexed that I didn't know. “Your Aunt Mary.”
I had never heard of Mary.
Have you ever discovered that your family had a skeleton in the closet? A black sheep? How would you feel to learn that the "black sheep" may have had a golden fleece? This is the story that I had to tell.
I'm guilty. I voted for Perot. I've regretted that decision ever since. If I and others who voted for Perot hadn't we might not have ever suffered through the embarrassment of the Bill Clinton Administration and the threat of a Hillary Clinton presidency. Imagine that. Now that we are faced with two unqualified candidates for President, I am once again tempted to cast my ballot for the third party choice, Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party. Dare I?
The election of '92 was a crazy affair. George H. W. Bush should have won. Few imagined that he wouldn't. Teddy Kennedy didn't believe he could be beaten. That's why Kennedy refrained from throwing his hat into the ring. He was going to wait for the end of Bush's second term when he'd have a chance of winning. Yes, Bush was that popular. His coalition of nations had not only chased Saddam Hussein and his minions scurrying back into Iraq, but also reminded the world of America's supremacy. The Pax Americana established by this nation's ascendancy over the evil empire of the Soviet Union was reaffirmed. No other President had such high approval ratings at the end of his first term.
If you read the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, you're familiar with Calvinball. It's a game in which a young child changes the rules to favor his chances of winning regardless of what happens.
Now imagine life were like that. Imagine the frustration of teenagers returning home and being punished because parents changed the curfew without telling them. Imagine the frustration of waiting for delivery of a product or service you ordered and paid for only to learn that the terms of the contract changed without notice. Imagine the frustration of being jailed because the law you obeyed no longer applies and it's been replaced by a new version.
Traditionally, Presidents enjoy a brief period following their election and inauguration during which they get a pass. No one complains. Criticism is held in abeyance. Why? Probably because we're exhausted. The campaigns are over. Everyone is tired of arguing. The loser has conceded. We give politics a rest. Not for long. Just a while. When has any honeymoon lasted more than a couple of weeks?
Normally, that happens. Sadly George W. Bush didn't get one. Instead of throwing rice, the opposition threw hanging chads and went to court (and I don't mean courtship). The case went all the way to the Supreme Court and even their wisdom couldn't put the conflict to rest. Indeed, the wrath of the opposition fell on their heads as Candidate Gore and his followers accused the Justices of playing politics. Thus, even before his inauguration, Bush was named the “President-Select”, and the acrimony never ended, even after he was sworn in.
RallyPoint is an online forum for the military. Its members are scattered all over America. More than a few it seems are scattered over other parts of the world. I've made friends with a few of them. Some are even contacts. But I had never met one in person before yesterday. I had posted a notice about the 50th Commemoration of the Vietnam War at Fort Irwin, California, and Ken Ellis contacted me to find out if we could go together. We could and did.
We rallied at the Main Place Mall in Santa Ana, California, about midway between our homes. A car club of Shelby Cobras happened to be meeting there and provided a welcome diversion before setting off. Another Vietnam Veteran, John Gleason, a member of my VFW post, met there too and we took off for Fort Irwin about midway between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Actually, this Army post, affectionately known as the nation's cul-de-sac, lies 30 miles off Highway 15 in the middle of the desert.
We may well-imagine sound arguments being made for several wars or the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) being worthy of the trophy as the greatest or costliest mistake in modern U.S. History. However, all of these are merely the symptoms of other mistakes, aren't they? Finding the root cause depends upon how far back you're willing to look for it..
Ultimately, it may be argued that We the People are accountable for all of the decisions made by our representatives in government, state and federal. Yes, We pay the price, don't we? We pay the taxes. We shed the blood. But the responsibility for those bad decisions vests in our elected representatives.
How does responsibility differ from accountability? Simple. Those who make the decisions are responsible in that they were elected for that purpose: They are responsible for making decisions or executing them. They may even take the blame for making bad ones. However, they never really pay the price for those decisions. They never actually suffer the consequences of them. More often than not, they are reelected so they can return to their seats of power and continue making bad decisions. Whose fault is that?
That being said, We the People electing poor representation to government is not a very satisfactory answer to the question: What is the greatest or costliest mistake in modern U.S. History? Ultimately, it is too broad. It means that We are both responsible and accountable for all mistakes. To determine which is the greatest or most costly mistake, We must narrow our vision to one specific mistake.
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