Who is responsible?


I just finished reading a wonderful book entitled “Shattered.” This book follows the Hillary Clinton campaign from its inception through post-election.

The 2016 presidential campaign is one that will get significant attention in history books. It was the first time a woman had a legitimate shot at becoming president and the first time a complete outsider, someone with no political experience, won the presidency. It was also the first time a presidential candidate used social media as his primary tool to defeat establishment politicians.

Anyone who loves politics, regardless of partisan feelings, would enjoy this insider’s look at a political campaign. The two authors, embedded reporters during the campaign, describe in detail the many strategies employed by Clinton’s campaign to battle Bernie Sanders as a party opponent and then later to battle the Republican nominee Donald Trump.

But as much as I enjoyed the book, I saw a pattern. Strategists for Hillary carefully planned how to attract voters from various blocs – Latinos, African-Americans, and women – using carefully phrased campaign slogans and advertisements. Following each primary, debate, and eventually the general election, in their summative reviews these same strategists tried to explain Hillary’s losses.

Among their ideas were that people couldn’t see the “real” Hillary – that they couldn’t see past the introverted Hillary and recognize her heart for service to the American people. These strategists supposed that various scandals – emails among them – created a fog that drowned out her message.

A clearly millennial perspective screamed at me. As much as I think the authors were generally objective, oddly nowhere in the book do the authors even hint at the prospect that voters may have heard Hillary’s message loud and clear. Maybe they just didn’t like what they heard.

The campaign assumption was that if the message was delivered properly, each demographic group they targeted would vote for her. Yet I find it fascinating that not once in the book do they consider that they did, in fact, present their message clearly. Voters simply weren’t interested.

I’m not naive and I’m not suggesting that various issues during the campaign – the protracted primary fight with Bernie Sanders, email server issues, James Comey, and Trump campaign strategies – didn’t have any effect. I am suggesting, however, that the thinking presented in this book is descriptive of a millennial generation. It is egocentric and presumptive.

I encounter this type of logic in my students. Over a three-decade career as a college professor, I’ve seen a transition in thinking. Years ago students recognized that in order to make a certain grade, they had to do what I asked of them. Today’s student thinks, “Why do I have to do this? Make your case to me.”

In other words, the onus is on me to prove that I know what I’m doing and that what I expect is reasonable instead of the student believing I might – just maybe – know a little more about the subject than he or she does.

“I don’t want a D,” one student actually said to me, not even trying to defend his poor grades, assignments he ignored, and lack of effort. In his mind, his desire for something made his request reasonable. His assumption was that there was something wrong with me – that he held no responsibility.

In Clinton’s post-election comments, I saw some of the same. She said she lost because of Comey, the media, or other external factors. Qualified as she was, her egocentrism (and that of her campaign managers) led to the assumption that her loss didn’t have anything to do with her.

As I age – my short life just a blip in history – I have seen many changes, but this egocentric trend has never been more distinct. From the micro level in my university classroom to the macro level on the world political stage, the phenomenon is the same.

The belief is that the world out there exists to serve us rather than concluding that the world is a big place and we are expected to find our place in it.

I’m not sure what this cultural shift is bringing to us, but it worries me. The supposition that everyone else is at fault for our failings is a dangerous trend. I hope that this is a passing trend, but I’m not optimistic.

[Gregory K. Moffatt, Ph.D., is a college professor, published author, licensed counselor, certified professional counselor supervisor, newspaper columnist and public speaker. He holds an M.A. in Counseling and a Ph.D. in Psychology from Georgia State University and has taught at the college level for over 30 years. His website is gregmoffatt.com.]