Foglesong: Hypocrisy and Inaction in America

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By Samuel Foglesong

If you talk to people on the right, you’ll notice a common theme running through their reasons for inaction on certain social and political issues. They angrily claim, “Why should I listen to Obama or Al Gore and drive a hybrid, carpool to work or recycle when they fly around on private jets and drive massive SUV’s?” The supposed neglect of “black on black crime” in Chicago and other cities has been a reason cited for opposition to gun control by some on the right. “If nothing is being done about that why should I accept restrictions on my rights?” Using hypocrisy, as an excuse for inaction is not just illogical, it’s against the fundamental principles of what people on the right traditionally stood for.

In fact, there is a considerable amount of work being done in inner cities to reduce gun violence. Innovative programs like the interrupters who seek to stop gang violence at the source through community engagement, reformers who are working to change the existing structure of policing systems and improving public schools are all efforts geared towards reducing rates of violence.

In recent years, public disdain for politicians among the American people has been on the rise. Yet the right appears to be the most frustrated and disappointed. One would imagine that such dislike of politicians would inspire people to be better than them, yet those on the right use the fallibility of politicians as a justification for inaction. Now there is this strange dynamic where people on the right openly admit that they doubt the character of politicians yet they are unwilling to be better themselves.

This goes against traditional Republican values of strength, moral force and doing what’s best for the country. It is the antithesis of John F. Kennedys famous words, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” It is impossible to “Make America Great Again” if we aren’t willing to make a sacrifice, or willing to set an example for our politicians to follow.

As I write this I am imagining the responses of people on the right. Their thoughts will first turn to searching for ways in which people on the left avoid difficult problems or embrace similar hypocrisy. By no means do I suggest that that the left is free of such problems. However, the responses of people to criticism are equally detrimental. Whenever criticism is directed towards the right or left, the first thing we do is to immediately point out flaws in the ideology of our opposition, or point to mistakes they have made in the past. This prevents us from making any real progress because criticism is only followed by more criticism and no action. Scapegoat explanations and contrarianism are serious problems for the future of our democracy. We must all choose action over inaction and cultivate the power of self-awareness and self-criticism.