Our politicians are supposed to be leaders. I’m not naïve enough to expect them to be role models and have no expectation for them to be pillars of virtue and morality, but we should be able to expect that they at least try (or pretend) to do what is right for the country and those they serve. Unfortunately, most of the time they act like entitled children and belligerent teenagers. In our current environment, most people have given up on expecting anything from the White House, but when it comes to Congress, it should be reasonable to expect better. Unfortunately, most of the time we see the same sort of stereotypical group behavior which we all experienced in high school, led by any number of villains and sidekicks from any bad 1980s teen movie.
They’re all in there (and not just the overplayed yet ultimately lovable-by-the-end types like the misunderstood nerds, the privileged jocks and the mean girls): the teacher’s pet overachiever who torments everyone else behind the teacher’s back; the “outsider” who still manages to have a hand in everything that goes on; the “popular” kid who nobody actually likes, but who remains popular because nobody is willing to admit it; those who manipulate every situation to make it about them. You dealt with them growing up, and now you deal with them every time you turn on the news. Everything is structured into a set order, and nobody is willing to challenge the status quo, at risk of losing whatever standing they may have. They throw public tantrums, they bully each other in congressional meetings, disparage each other on social media and lie at will to cover their poor and often illegal and unethical choices. They abuse their power, mistreat anyone that is perceived as inconsequential and discard anyone who isn’t of use to them. They travel in cliques (only in this case, they are parties, committees or caucuses), where if you’re not part of the right group nobody can talk to you or socialize with you. Sure, sometimes someone or other will let down their façade and be friendly and reasonable with those outside their group, try to accomplish something other than winning at all costs, but once they’re back into the pack mentality, their guard goes back up that better version of them disappears, often followed by excuses for the uncharacteristic likable behavior.
I have four kids, three of whom will be of age to vote by the 2024 Presidential election. While they may be young and appear solely focused on cartoons, unicorns, and video games, the fact is they are quite observant and are far more aware of what is going on in the world than I willingly give them credit for. They know the names or our elected leaders and an approximation of what they stand for. They know there are two parties, even if they don’t quite understand the differences between them or why this is how the system works. They see it, they comment on it, they may or may not learn something from it. Most importantly, they ask questions. They know this all affects them, and that they’ll be responsible for making decisions eventually, so they want to understand. They want it explained to them, and they want to discuss current events, but sadly most of what they see is just a variation of the worst that they deal with on the playground and the lunchroom, only on a larger scale and with much higher stakes.
As a parent, I expect behavior from my children that should not be lacking in our leaders. Mutual respect for others regardless of race, religion, personal convictions and special interests is not unreasonable. Working in groups to figure out solutions to complex issues and each compromising to create viable resolutions are ideas that we are teaching them as preteens. Teaching them to vocalize their thoughts in constructive non-insulting ways is also emphasized. Maintaining integrity despite what their friends are doing or encouraging is an essential life skill that we focus on often. Morality in life can get difficult at times and be unclear. When I expect these complex yet essential life skills from my children, is it too much to expect from our nation’s leaders? Treating others with respect and dignity, owning up to their actions, follow expected norms in society and showing a daily degree of decency from our elected leaders seems far too much to expect. Instead, they send the message that winning is more important than compromise (which in itself is considered an unacceptable sign of weakness). People who look or think differently than you don’t count. There is no need to apologize for your actions (again, this just means you’re weak) as long as you get what you want. Bullies are turned into heroes, and those who oppose them are vilified. Young kids are taught by our leaders that they can be pushed around with no consequences as they have no voice and literally do not count as they cannot vote. Our leaders exhibit attention-seeking behavior to get ahead since only the most antagonistic get free airtime on cable news. This is a frightening and dangerous mentality that in adolescents is addressed and should never be exhibited in adults, let alone men and women leading our country.
I hold a small solace in that there can be found a few good and honorable persons in both houses of Congress, and on both sides of the aisle. Despite all of the hostile rhetoric and childish attempts to prove who is more successful and patriotic based on some arbitrary and impossible to achieve metric, I still believe most of Congress love their country (at least the version of it that they see) and, in some way, wants to improve it (even if this was not their primary motivating factor in seeking office, and though they may not particularly like the diversity in the country they actually live). I also do not doubt that most of our elected officials, even if only selfishly chasing power, entered public service with the best of intentions, before they were corrupted by the system (and the lobbyists, we can’t forget them) they sought to improve. Most of these people, however the moderating and rational voices, are drowned out by those louder, angrier and divisive voices. Just like our children, these quieter voices in our nation’s leaders need to be encouraged to stand up to the bullies and create a better future, if not a better present, for all our sakes. It should not be unfathomable to hold our elected leaders to the same expectations I hold my children. So who in Congress is willing to act like responsible and community-minded teenagers… and dare I say, adult?