Playing politics is dangerous. You run the risk of alienating yourself, depending on which side you choose—conservative or liberal. This system drives the endless culture war, which feeds on the concrete separation between the two.
Therein lies the choice of every good American boy and girl. Pick one side and receive a great big stamp of red or blue, then it’s smooth-sailing on down the factory line.
So with that in mind, I’m forced to accept the label liberal scum by the time I finish writing this next sentence. The prevailing conservative ideal of individualism is utter bullshit. And it started with Ronald Reagan.
I say that, not as a Democrat, but as a human who walks this earth.
A Conservative Pipe Dream
Now, late one night, I ambled through Facebook, checking-in on acquaintances that I know, knew, or never spoke to. And it hits me. The entire conservative ethos staring me right in the face. It was Ronald Reagan.
Reagan—that golden God of conservative idealism. The 40th President of the United States, pointing a finger from beyond the grave; a vision of honest, good-natured Christian decency and goddamn American beauty.
The meme above appeared on a “friend’s” timeline, courtesy of conservative page Right Wing News, who make a habit out of posting this type of fodder. Unsurprisingly, the post received 61,574 likes and over 500,000 shares.
After all, Reagan’s idea of personal accountability essentially fuels the entirety of modern conservative policy. Not to mention he’s achieved cult status among Republicans seeking an idol to worship.
The core ideal behind Reagan’s quote above dictates the conservative view on the free market system, “promotes competition” with private healthcare, allows private ownership of prisons and oil, propels doubt that mere individuals could effect the entire earth’s climate, and supports personal rights to gun ownership or encourages less government.
But, guess what. Reagan’s statement is pure fluff—the saccharine pipe dream of an America that exists in Leave It To Beaver; an America that never was. And one that certainly doesn’t exist today. It’s the same conservative vision of purity that’s under attack by President Obama.
Ronald Reagan is dead wrong.
Individualism (brought to you by white males)
On a micro level, Reagan’s idea makes sense; individuals are responsible for their actions, like committing a crime. But what if an entire social system is pushing you to make that decision? Or worse, what if you’re arrested without even breaking the law?
It’s no coincidence that the Reagan quote was shared shortly after the Freddie Gray riots took place in Baltimore, in which case, a young black man was arrested and killed by police without committing a crime.
In Gray’s situation, police abused power and succumbed to the social affliction of racial profiling and bigotry. And yet, many right wing thought-leaders, including Right Wing News, decided to focus on Gray’s past as a drug dealer (naturally).
Which is true. Gray did deal drugs. But to focus on that would be missing the point.
One deals drugs when they’re left with no other option to survive; in a society of institutionalized poverty, this was Gray’s only option to earn a living wage. The minimum wage in Baltimore is $8.00 an hour, but the living wage (which considers housing costs, food, healthcare, transportation, etc.) is $11.24.
That’s just for one adult. When you add a child, that necessary income goes up to $22.88 / hour. How about two children? $27.71. Again, this is just a living wage—as in, the ability to financially tread water in urban Baltimore, already a poor quality of life. What’s more, wealth inequality is soaring higher.
Freddie Gray was the unfortunate statistic in a system of perpetual poverty. Not a thug who inherently chose a life of crime. Now, add a police force with a history of unwarranted brutality itching for a reason to arrest you because of the color of your skin.
Take a look at the incarceration rates of blacks and latinos compared to whites.
This chart can be interpreted in two ways:
- Blacks and Latinos are unfairly jailed at a higher rate
- Blacks and Latinos are inherently more likely to commit crimes than Whites, based on the American precept that each individual is accountable for his own actions
Just to be clear—if you selected option #2, you’re an idiot.
What’s the reason for the clear disparity between incarceration rates (of which, America holds the highest in the world)? Well, let’s not forget about Old Man Reagan’s War on Drugs.
With the same gleeful hysteria of the aforesaid quote, Reagan enacted this sentiment into policy and gave birth to one the most expensive and unsuccessful wars in American history. And, of course, it also correlates with the imprisonment skew against minorities, particularly with marijuana possession, a non-violent and harmless “crime.”
It’s for this reason why Reagan’s War On Drugs is an epic failure, a system of organized racism and suppression under the guise of valuing personal accountability.
This issue becomes systematic oppression once you consider a study on the American recidivism rate that showed 76.6% of prisoners were re-arrested within five years of being released.
In other words, massive numbers of minorities are being cycled into a system of perpetual incarceration, not because of who they are as individuals, but because of the sociological structure that surrounds them.
And to tie it all together with a neat bow of greed, in the past two decades of the War On Drugs, revenue for The Corrections Corporation of America (a business that profits from privately owned prisons) rose by a whopping 500%.
Private prison millionaires profit from incarcerating human beings as though they were cattle—where’s their individual accountability?
On top of all that, add the sociological effects of individuals growing up in poverty and being told—in ways both subtle and direct—that they’re not as good as a white person.
Thus, the primordial conservative fallacy, so eloquently given life by Ronald Reagan—the American Dream means “every man for himself.” The individual dictates their own life.
It’s a nice, cozy thought, isn’t it? The ability to beat on one’s chest and look down on an empire built by hard work. But it’s a lie. In reality, society provides the structure that made it all possible.
No, dreamers cannot pull themselves up by the bootstraps and become handsome actors turned President of the free world. Not in impoverished Baltimore, they can’t. Not with institutionalized oppression they can’t.
Conservative individualistic ideals are nothing but fodder for a fictional Hollywood movie.
It’s no wonder Ronald Reagan was a fucking actor.