Although I changed the names, the following two incidents are true to the best of my recollection.
In the second grade, Randy was a class hero of mythological proportions. He was regarded as the fastest runner, the best ballplayer, and the smartest student. He was a good looking kid, yet in reality he was not the best or the brightest… far from it.
However, he was the cockiest kid–arrogant beyond his years. And he was mean and aggressive, getting his way through intimidation. He had a powerful influence on his classmates especially when it came to making fun of the most vulnerable. He labeled them fat, ugly, and dumb, and most of the class followed his lead in sneering at them because it was easier than resisting or even thinking for themselves.
However, he stopped being the leader when he was expelled from school for physically harming one of the girls in our class.
Then there was Jerry, the hero of our ninth grade class in another school and another city. He wasn’t smart or handsome and he was far from a star athlete, but it didn’t matter because he was charming and aggressive. Just like the kids in second grade, the ninth grade students were under his influence.
He was elected prom king (or something equivalent) and there’s a picture of him in our school yearbook wearing a tux with his arm around the prom queen (or the equivalent).
In the summer after ninth grade, Jerry shocked the whole town, including the school that revered him, with a monstrous act of violence. One afternoon, he knocked on the door of a neighborhood house. A pregnant woman answered and he asked to use the phone. When she declined, he stepped into the entranceway of her home and stabbed her to death. Then he went into the home to use her shower before he went to the park to swim with his friends.
I have often wondered why these two separate communities of children regarded these boys so highly. How could the whole group be so influenced? Was it because they were so young?
I see adults acting this way, too, allowing predators the freedom to harm the more vulnerable. Whole communities, even nations, allow individuals the power to harm others. Think about leaders in our American society: the clergymen, Hollywood producers, elected politicians, and athletic coaches, to name a few, who have taken money, molested the vulnerable, and abused children—often for decades before they were called to account. They could have been stopped much earlier but people allowed it to happen. And even after the deeds were made public, people adored them.
Which brings me to the presidential election. Actually, I’m thinking of 2016 where the nation elected an abusive, unqualified person to the office. He cheated on his wives and people didn’t care. He bragged about groping women and people didn’t care. Like a bratty kid, he insulted people, especially women, referring to them as fat and ugly. And people didn’t care.He mocked a disabled person while on camera and people didn’t care.
He actually joked about being able shoot people without losing any of his followers. At times, I have feared he was right.
In the time since he took office, he hasn’t can’t kept his staff intact… he keeps firing people. His followers don’t care.
He’s a terrible statesman, insulting our allies and toadying to our enemies. His followers don’t care. He has kept his finances secret so we don’t know if he has benefited personally from his national economic changes. His followers don’t care.
He has bungled the pandemic crisis and is still bungling it while blaming it on others. Nearly a quarter of a million people are dead because of his ineptitude. And his followers don’t care.
He has been the darling of the Evangelical Christian movement even though he does things that these religious folk teach against. However, it doesn’t surprise me that evangelical Christians follow him. Through history they have blindly followed many of their own immoral leaders. They have a history of not caring.
What would happen if people cared more?
What if the communities of Randy, Jerry, and Donnie had been more functional? What if no one had bought into their superficial charm? What if the people had chosen not to elevate them or give them so much power? Would they have been better men? Would more people be alive?
And what would it be like if we had a whole nation of grownups who knew how to think critically and cared enough to resist the hysteria of crowds? What kind of leaders would be chosen?
If people cared more, they wouldn’t choose people like Randy, Jerry, or Donnie.