A friend and I recently had a conversation, wherein he recalled the aftermath of the January 6th Capitol riot and the reaction he witnessed from some political acquaintances. That reaction, encapsulated as “this is on you, Trump voters,” had him pondering his visceral desire to fire out “this is on you, Biden voters,” in response to the Afghanistan disaster.

He opted not to. That’s a good thing, not only because “I told you so” is a terrible tactic, but because it’s not really fair. Voters do bear a generalized responsibility for the entirety of a winning candidate’s actions, both good and bad (voters get the government they deserve, after all), and we can guess as to a candidate’s proclivities, abilities, and intentions, but the true responsibility for outcomes lies with the decider, not the voter (and especially when the decider does things he didn’t promised to do, or promised not to do.

Biden, as President, and with the final buck-stops-here authority, bears the final responsibility for Afghanistan. It’s the job he signed up for, so it’s on him.

That’s only the preamble of the aforementioned conversation, however. The crux was a sense of guilt or shame he felt as a conservative/sorta-Republican regarding the Capitol riot, since he voted for Trump, and a sense of shame he’s feeling as an American for the Afghanistan mess.

I disagree with both of those. And, after conversation, he evolved away as well.

When someone does something we neither wanted nor expected nor had reasonable reason to believe would, feeling remorseful for that person’s act isn’t warranted. We might have reasonably believed that Trump would raise a fuss about distrusting the electoral outcome if he lost, but we (as my friend did) could manage that expectation by trusting that the system would check that fuss. It did. Biden got inaugurated. The Capitol riot, on the other hand, ran contrary to the history of Trump rallies, which were far more peaceful than those by his detractors. Such as my friend had no expectation of that riot, legitimately.

Similarly, did anyone predict that Biden, supposedly surrounded by “adults” and the best -of-the-best military commanders, could screw up the Afghanistan withdrawal so badly? A high schooler would have done a better job, and voters who picked him over Trump can reasonably be exculpated from guilt-by-association. Assuming they accept that he screwed up, which some refused to do.

Likewise, many speak of feeling ashamed as Americans for what’s happening in Afghanistan. I don’t. While I support and have supported disengagement (we should have gotten out 17 years ago), I have criticized and will continue to criticize the method of that withdrawal.

Nor do I feel personal responsibility as an American for what this administration has done in Afghanistan.

In the words of Amerigo Bonasera, “I believe in America.” I believe in the core values that formed the basis of the Constitution. That document and those values are America. Nothing our politicians have done and nothing any politician may do, will dissuade me from my belief that these values (the primacy and autonomy of the individual, the protection of individual and property rights, and a limited government of enumerated powers and distributed authority) are the best precepts for organizing and running a society. If they fail to live up to those values, or if they actively work against them, it is they who should feel shame. As individuals entrusted with upholding those values and swearing an oath to protect and defend the Constitution.

Collective shame runs counter to these values. I can regret a vote for a candidate if the candidate acts in a way I dislike, and I can be honest with myself in hindsight if I should have predicted those actions… within the context of the choices I had. While I’ve argued and believe that voting for the best choice, even if that best choice has no chance of winning, is a legitimate and defensible option, there are times when least-worst between the two likely to win is also a legitimate and defensible action. But, even under both rationales, sharing in collective shame for the government’s actions doesn’t jibe with American values.

Those who peddle collective shame do so for insidious reasons, reasons that go beyond the gamesmanship of winning elections. If we fall into the trap of collective shame, we are more easily led down the path of collective government. We can be talked into believing that we need to cede our rights and our money to the government, so that it can (at least pretend to) look after the less fortunate. We can be convinced to put power in politicians as the collective means of assuaging the collective shame we’ve been unjustly taught to feel.

They’ll never let us off the hook for that shame, by the way. It’s bottomless and eternal, and the more you give, the more they’ll demand.

Want to feel something about the government’s massive screwup of the Afghanistan exit? Feel anger. Towards the politicians, generals, and other experts who gave the orders, made the plans, presented the risk assessments, etc. They are the screwups, not “America.”

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

If you'd like to help keep the site ad-free, please support us on Patreon.


Like this post?