Political partisanship and the outsized influence of money have made effective governance at all levels, difficult to achieve. Lack of accountability is another significant contributor to the dysfunction and is greatly speeding us down the road to ruin.
Accountability is defined as “the fact or condition of being accountable” and “the quality or state of being accountable especially: an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions”. We tend to think of accountability in terms of institutions, but it is just as important to think about it on an individual basis.
There have always been people who pushed the limits of the law and then gotten away with it, but over the past five years, I’ve seen a serious uptick in disregard for rule and law abidance from individuals led no doubt, by examples set by our leaders.
We were all shocked by so many things Trump said and did during his initial campaign for president and then even after he was elected. From calling Mexicans “murderers and rapists” to bragging about “grabbing women by the pussy”, to self-dealing for financial gain while President, Trump flagrantly disregarded convention and got away with it. This type of behavior from our leaders, particularly THE leader of our nation, only encourages others to do the same saying, “well, if the President can do it…”
Think about it. When’s the last time you drove somewhere traveling “safely” four or so miles above the speed limit while everyone around you was passing you like you were standing still? And, after being passed by numerous cars going way over the speed limit, don’t you start to feel like a schmuck for being the only one obeying the law? That’s what happens, lawlessness begets lawlessness. With each guardrail crashed through, we tumble further down the mountain. What’s to keep us from ending up in a flaming pile at the bottom?
This pile could easily have been the result of the January 6th insurrection if not for police, military, and lawmakers who acted bravely that day. Years of stoking resentments and perpetuating lies culminated in treasonous attacks on our democracy and although hundreds have been arrested for their unlawful actions, the lead insurrectionist, Donald Trump, has yet to be held accountable. Not only has he not been held accountable, he still vociferously maintains the election was stolen and that those who marched on the Capitol were heroes and martyrs.
So, the President gets away with murder (figuratively and some would say literally, e.g. COVID), and the rest of us feel empowered to misbehave with impunity. In fact, not only are people empowered to break the law or bend the rules, they often feel it is their God-given right to do so. At the same time, they don’t want to be held accountable for their actions. Take anti-vaxxers for example. They say it is their right to choose whether or not to be vaccinated, after all, it is their body. But…what happens when they contract COVID and wind up in the hospital? Insured or not, there is a cost to society for their care.
Maybe we ought to treat the unvaccinated (by choice), the way the military treats members injured on motorcycles while not wearing a helmet. Although medical treatment is normally free for military members, if found in violation of the mandatory helmet requirement, the military can deny coverage of the cost of medical treatment. Sound harsh? Maybe, but the potential impact on individuals, units, and mission accomplishment requires severe accountability.
But unlike choosing not to wear a helmet while riding a motorcycle, choosing not to be vaccinated for COVID doesn’t just put yourself at risk of injury or death. Yes, 99.2% of U.S. COVID deaths in June were unvaccinated people. But, not everyone who is unvaccinated has chosen not to get the vaccine. Some can’t get vaccinated because they have medical conditions. And with an efficacy rate of only 95%, a small percentage of previously vaccinated people are contracting the virus. The good news is that these vaccinated people are much less likely to die from it. We continue to learn though, about the potential long-haul effects of those who contract COVID, even if they are asymptomatic. That means others could be held accountable for a person’s choice to deny vaccination. That is not okay and reminds me of the Abraham Lincoln quote, “my right to swing my fist ends where your nose begins”. In other words, your right to proceed unimpeded must be tempered by the potentially negative impact of your actions on others.
If we are to live in a civil society, we must agree on rules of behavior and standards of conduct that keep us safe and peaceful. Rules such as as those that ensure our children are protected when in school, those that keep us safe on our roads, and yes, those that prevent the spread of disease and viruses.
It continues to amaze me how much our “greatest generation” sacrificed for the common good and how now, so many of their grandchildren refuse to make even the simplest sacrifice such as wearing a mask. Not only do they refuse to do it, but they’ve somehow managed to brand mask-wearing as un-patriotic and un-masculine.
I have no idea where all this ends, but because those refusing vaccination are the same ones refusing to be accountable to others by wearing a mask, I am certain it is a long way from over. The only thing different this time around is that it is almost entirely those who are not vaccinated who are dying from COVID. That of course is the ultimate accountability.