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John Beck - Thursday, November 17, 2016

Our Scapegoating Nation?

Donald Trump made a scapegoat of me and many of my friends. This is not the first time in American or world history that an electoral strategy of scapegoating minority groups worked. As a gay man, I’ve watched this method (sometimes used against me) roll-out in US elections for most of my life—making or promising to make some people illegitimate to garner the vote of a larger population.

Nevertheless, I am not joining the riots … yet. 

I strongly believe that we should support the duly elected president and representatives of our country.  It is good sportsmanship and good citizenship.  Many things are said/written in the heat of trying to win an election that never materialize in policy.

But we also have a responsibility to ensure that history does not repeat itself—as it is prone to do. Adolph Hitler’s party came to power in 1933 with a minority 43% of the total votes. Within weeks, Hitler consolidated power and began to issue directives following through with his campaign promises against minority groups. Hitler’s “scapegoats” were seen as taking jobs from, and threatening, the historic power-base of good “Aryan” Germans.

Scapegoating has happened throughout history. The term comes from the Jewish tradition of imbuing a sacrificial goat with all the sins and ills of a community and then putting the goat outside the city walls. After the scapegoat is cast out, the community then begins to heal and consolidate (becoming an unified “in-group”).

Scapegoating is natural. When I was teaching a group psychology course at Harvard many years ago, my teaching notes (written by the previous professor) explained that a scapegoat would appear in the group in the fourth or fifth week. Every semester, it happened like clockwork—and the group notably strengthened because the majority of the group members had determined that one member would become the object of their derision. (It was a teaching moment for me but, more than once, I had to “counsel out” a student to whom damage had already been inflicted.) 

 We humans are, oddly, at our top performance when we have a clear enemy. Ask any sports coach.

There is only one way to ensure that 1930s Germany does not repeat itself in the United States: at the first sign of scapegoating hate-speech or discriminatory policies from our elected officials, we all have to reject this in the strongest possible ways—even if that opposition carries with it grave penalties. Hitler’s atrocities happened only because he knew he could get away with them. Good Germans who disliked many of his rules offered up only muted resistance—partly because these policies had little effect on them personally.

We naturally will scapegoat; it is built into us. But when elected leaders focus that scapegoating internally—turning citizen against citizen, we need to draw a line.

We have plenty of “bad hombres” in the world without having to vilify our own people; Mexican-Americans, Muslim-Americans, African-Americans, Gay-Americans, Transgendered-Americans, etc. make our in-group more powerful and brighter by far. On the other hand, scapegoats like climate change, expansionist nation-states, disease, terrorism, and poverty all deserve our focussed hatred.

So I choose to honor our democratic process ... until it becomes clear that the systems put in place by our recently elected officials are no longer honoring all of our people. Then no penalty—no price—will be too dear to protect innocent neighbors from the horrors of a scapegoating nation.


image: flickr/AndrewHux