Why are so many Americans so excited about electing a selfish, greedy, manipulative, bully to Commander-in-Chief? A controversial theory of evolution may have an answer.
Selfishness vs. Altruism
Don’t worry, this isn’t a science lesson, except to say that an interesting offshoot of “group selection” is that within a given group of people, the greediest are the ones who generally do better, while competition between groups favors those groups which are altruistic. A fun and easy read on the subject is The Social Conquest of Earth by renowned biologist E. O. Wilson.
Turn now to American politics, and in particular, the oft-made suggestion that Conservatives are driven by a moral imperative to preserve hierarchy (greed), while Liberals are driven by the imperative to promote equality (altruism).
Selfishness certainly can put you at the top of the hierarchy, keep things good for those who have it, and make those who don’t have it slobber and drool at the prospect that one day, it could be theirs too. Isn’t the American dream going from dirt poor into the biggest house at the richest end of town?
A Brief History of America
Now I may be bastardizing history, but our country had a long period of isolationism during which we had no real standing on the world stage. We had a few tycoons, a lot of poverty, and of course, a Great Depression. Classic selfishness. We changed our tune during the Depression, finally asking “how can we help?” Think the WPA and Social Security. And after World War II, looking outward on the world stage, we became a superpower.
Was it all altruistic? Of course not. It was self interest that drove the Cold War for example, but we did it with the intention of using our riches to help others. Indeed, there is no way to avoid the interplay of greed and altruism – they are the yin and yang of how we act and interact – but we can learn to moderate them.
American society has been in the throes of a wave of Conservative selfishness for almost two decades, perhaps as the natural backlash to decades of progressive change. Disproportionate amounts of wealth are held by handfuls of people, and the GOP is hell-bent on keeping it that way. Conservatives push back at every form of social progress and seem to endlessly try to legislate morality. They seem almost gleeful at obstructionism, perhaps because all they ever really cared about was being in charge. After all, being in charge means being at the top of the social order.
The man who can never Make America Great.
Now someone comes along like Donald Trump, the epitome of selfish success, who is also narcissistic enough to promote it 24 hours a day. Of course he appeals to throngs of voters. He is the voice they’ve been longing for. He made himself great (or so he claims) and the greedy want the same. It is basic human nature.
But play out a Trump presidency on the world stage. Forget his insults and shock value and cheetos tan. He legitimizes the one aspect of human nature that can not ever help the group as a whole. Is he a successful American? Yes. Can America be successful if we act like him? Absolutely not. Human history and evolution show this to be true.
The Founding Fathers figured this out when they “brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Abraham Lincoln, altruist extraordinaire.
I have a hard time seeing how we can maintain the greatness to which conservatives so tightly cleave, if we embrace the rejection of the very acts and practices that got us here. A country of selfishness and inequality cannot prosper on a global scale. Worse yet, it will fail.
The Donald Trumps of the world can never be allowed to become political leaders.
Featured image credit: ROBYN BECK/AFP/GETTY IMAGES