The “in my name” shame
No, it’s not. I tried.
I heard it a couple of times personally in the past few days. One friend was talking about America’s wars, another about the concentration camps for children along the Mexican border. Both were distressed that these policies are carried out “in my name.”
The logic goes like this:
- The United States government is a republic (or democracy, if you will), whose legitimacy is based on citizen participation.
- I am a citizen.
- The United States government does terrible things.
- Therefore, I hate to be judged by people in other countries, or by history, because I didn’t “do enough,” as a citizen, to prevent or stop the evils.
That sense of responsibility for a government doing things “in my name” can be as much or more distressing than the evil itself. If country A starts a war with Country B, we may condemn country A. If Country A creates concentration camps for children, we may be angry at Country A and pray for the victims. But we don’t feel personally responsible for Country A’s behavior. When it’s our own country, however, we add shame. We’re ashamed of ourselves, if we voted for somebody who supports the evils, or — mostly — we’re ashamed of our neighbors who don’t think they’re evils at all.
But what if I told you, I’m not responsible for what the government does.
For about a decade I was a paid activist. My organization focused on policy, not candidates. I’m proud of our efforts and what we stood for. But for the most part, we moved some things in a positive direction, only to get our proposals mangled in committee or shut down by this or that (often both)party’s leadership. For example, it seemed like half a dozen times we partnered with other groups in supporting some sort of surveillance reform bill, which itself was a compromise, only to be compromised further by the House, which if passed would be tabled, or watered down to nothing, in the Senate. It’s demoralizing.
As far as voting for candidates goes: I haven’t spoken for a party, and haven’t been a dues-paying member of a party for 15 years. But I think I’ve opened several minds within my extended family, longtime friends, and general audiences. Let’s exaggerate that to the nth degree: what if I, having never appeared on radio or television, had persuaded 10,000 people to switch their votes.
Over 50 states.
If my own efforts swayed that many people to switch from one of the Two Parties to the other, that still wouldn’t have influenced any election, let alone a Presidential election. Even if it did, Obama promised to end Iraq and “win” Afghanistan; nobody expected Libya and Syria. Trump promised “America First,” and now we’re meddling in Venezuela and threatening war with Iran. What you hope for when you vote isn’t what you get.
Even though I advocated for “third party” candidates instead, and even if I persuaded that many people, my efforts couldn’t have even risen to the level of spoiler.
And of course, I didn’t change anything close to 10,000 minds.
So how am I to do to say “Not in my name” or “I do not consent?” with integrity? Join a mercenary group? I’d sink Naval ships to import goods from China. I’d sink them to send passengers to Cuba. Or food to Venezuela. I’d smuggle anything into Iran. I’d take up arms to set the captives free in America’s concentration camps. I’d take up arms to defend Texas landowners who oppose the border wall.
And all of those would be suicide missions. Think of how they treat Julian Assange who used peaceful means.
Speaking of which, I’d destroy all the NATO forces to rescue Julian Assange, but even he doesn’t want to live life as a fugitive.
Violence is not the answer. Voting is not the answer. Policy change can be the answer if there’s emotional power in it and if you’re patient. But meanwhile while we like the progress on, say, marijuana legalization or gay marriage, foreign children are being put in concentration camps.
Focus energy to make one thing better, then another evil pops up. It just goes to show, politics is war. And as Jeannette Rankin said, “You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake.”
Short of taking up arms, being branded a terrorist, and destroying the lives of friends and family in the process, what is it, exactly, that I’m supposed to do prove that the evils of my federal government doesn’t go on “in my name?” That I didn’t “do enough” to resist?
What does anybody have to prove?
All anybody can ask of everyone else is to survive under the system in which they exist, and to provide for whom they love and protect what they value as best they can.
Nothing you didn’t do is your fault. Trying to survive within the rules handed to you is not your fault. The atrocities your fellow citizens commit under your government are no more your responsibility than the atrocities committed by other governments. All of my efforts amounted to less of a blip.
Just because you’re told it’s a democracy or republic, doesn’t mean you have any political power.
Make peace with it.