Shortsighted Self Interest

I’ve been struck by three observations I’ve come across in as many days.

The first was a comment by someone I don’t know, made in response to a post by a Facebook friend. The friend had (surprise!) criticized Trump; the comment challenged him to identify any way in which he, personally, had been harmed by Trump’s policies. The thrust of the comment was “you haven’t personally experienced a problem, so your criticism is unjustified.”

The very next day, I was watching “Morning Joe” while I was on the treadmill. The panel members were analyzing (okay, pontificating over) the Democratic Presidential field. During the discussion, Scarborough asserted that voters are ultimately motivated by their own interests, by what they believe the candidate will do for them, personally, not by “big ideas” or “abstract” policies or principles.

I wasn’t sure why, but both of these opinions nagged at me. Then my older granddaughter posted a meme that clarified the reason for my discomfort: it said I don’t know how to explain to you that you should care about other people.

That post crystalized what bothered me.

There clearly are people–probably more than most of us want to admit–who base their actions and their votes solely on their perceived personal self-interest.  That self-interest may be financial, but in the age of Trump, as I’ve repeatedly noted, it is more often cultural.

Such people cast their ballots for candidates they believe will favor their tribe, however they define that tribe. It might be bankers or fossil-fuel investors–but it is more often white Evangelical Christians or white people generally.

Other people, not so much.

Are children being caged at America’s southern border? Well–as a Fox “personality” put it–they aren’t our children. Is the minimum wage far below the level of a living wage, with the result that working Americans need to hold down two or more jobs just to pay the rent? Well, I’m doing okay, so why should I care? Are millions of people unable to access even minimal healthcare? I have health insurance; if others don’t, it’s probably their own fault.

It isn’t just that these people are a lot like “it’s all about me” Donald Trump–less obvious or crude about it, perhaps, but similarly self-engrossed. It’s that there is a great irony in their perception of where genuine self-interest lies.

As Alexander Pope wrote, “no man is an island.” He was so right.

If my neighbors have the plague, and it goes untreated, I’m likely to catch it too. If they’re too impoverished to maintain their properties, the value of my property will suffer a decline. If those who live in my city are unable (or unwilling) to pay reasonable taxes, my car will be damaged by driving on streets filled with potholes, there won’t be enough police to keep my family safe, and numerous public amenities that I use and enjoy will be shuttered or limited. If significant numbers of children in my city are consigned to substandard schools, live in homes with un-remediated lead paint and/or contaminated water, my business will have problems finding both workers and customers.

The (very obvious) point is that my well-being depends upon an extensive physical and social infrastructure. Humans are inextricably interdependent– which is why enlightened self-interest requires attending to those “abstract policies” that affect the wellbeing of others.

Enlightened self-interest requires us to care for others.

The fatal flaw of plutocracy is not that some people have more than others. It is that some people, when they have a great deal, no longer see themselves as part of an interdependent social fabric, no longer realize that the problems of their fellow-citizens inevitably and adversely affect them.

They’re wrong–and their wake-up call is coming.


  1. bravo, my whole effort is to help advance the people above the poverty level,to a living wage for all,and have a level playing field. banks that lend equally,employers who do not exploit its workers for personal gain,and graft,or invade privacy.. equality, democracy,and a country where,everyone works for the bennifit of all. that includes the plutocracy we have today. but, the world itself is changing due the immediate politcal forecast in America. its need cohesion from all of our allies. best wishes. p.s. i havent heard a thing about the dreamers from one forum with the canidates. send some leads,

  2. My Swiss friend and I were talking about this yesterday! She asked me why our country was so divided and we came to the same conclusion. Lack of empathy for another.

  3. And for all those who consider themselves Christians AND Trump supporters, Jesus commands us to love others as ourselves – including the brown people at our southern border and their children who have been separated from their parents into cages. Adult caretakers are not permitted to hug crying refugee children and the children are not permitted to hug each other – not even siblings. If that doesn’t break one’s heart, the heart is made of stone.

    Melania and Ivanka Trump, Mike and Karen Pence, HHS staff, the evangelical leaders like Pat Robertson, Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell and others should come to comfort refugee children and parents and speak up for them to receive better conditions. I want to see all the White House players on the scene NOW to serve and comfort these chidren as they wonder if they’ll ever see their families again. It’s time we saw all the asylum seekers who come to us to escape death and gangs and offered a helping hand because that’s whar a Christian Nation would do. Let’s put family values first.

  4. Government “of the people, by the people and for the people” is perishing from existence at all levels of our government at an increasing rate of speed.

    At age 82, I will not be around to see the full outcome of Trump’s destruction or any level of salvation from those who want a return to democracy, Rule of Law and support of the Constitution of the United States of America but I will continue voting my conscience for the return to sanity. Will those of us who understand the current “Shortsighted Self Interest” based administration be victorious in the 2019 and 2020 elections to begin the return? Only time and a true vote count will tell.

  5. If your neighbor and your community is not healthy and safe, you are not healthy and safe. There is no ivory tower to protect you. Who grows your food? Who provides the stores for your food?

  6. Some years ago when I taught school in Colorado Springs, aka the Vatican of the Evangelical Right, my high school was literally falling apart. You could actually see through the roof and every ceiling tile on both floors was water-stained. The floor tiles were cracked. The head custodian told me that the boiler was going to blow one day soon, because it was as old as the building; about 40 years. SO, the new superintendent put forth a bond issue to do building repair on ALL the decaying buildings in the largest school district in the county (El Paso). With a low voter turnout (25%), the bond issue failed 2:1. Reasons given in the media: Well, I don’t have kids in school, so why should I pay more in taxes?

    We teachers were asked to pound the pavement and stuff windshields with bond promotions for the next election. This time, over 60% of the electorate voted and the bond passed 2:1. It was the first successful bond issue passed in the country in 22 years at the time. This is an example of what “conservative” communities do: The so-called conservatives (Read: I’ve got mine, so screw you and yours.) vote en masse even while they are the minority. When the “real” people turn out to vote, the self-serving, backward-thinking population are swamped.

    Let that be a lesson to us all in this gerrymandered world in which we live.

  7. It’s Ayn Rand’s objectionism — I should only care about me. Or, collectivism is a waste of time.

    Ayn snuck into the GOP halls and kidnapped them without a whisper.

    And you’re correct; it will be their downfall over the long term. The “I’ve got mine” mentality has built resentments and movements to go with the resentments. The interconnectedness works with the planet as well, which is causing profound irritation in young people. We are turning over a planet that is in deep crisis, and the younger generation will experience the consequences.

    As a note of interest, Hillary Clinton lost to the Libertarian candidate with the 35 and under voters. They see through the corporate madness in this country and are much more enlightened. They know what it’s going to take to move the needle.

  8. Sorry, Sheila, but your quote, “No man is an island,” comes from John Donne’s “Meditation XVII” and not the good Mr. Pope…

  9. Scares me because of that old observation from the Lutheran pastor the Nazis killed, “they came for the communists and I said nothing, the mentally ill, the disabled, the homosexuals, the racially impure, the dark skinned foreigner, the Jews. They came for me and there was no one to speak.” Personally I feel the hatred these Trumpites for liberals such as myself. They are gleefully installing a coercive environment to stifle opposition to anyone within our government who balk at their Nasty aims. It took the National Socialist Party some years to get the power to destroy millions of lives. It can and does happen, and Trump is most proud of his army of the red hat set. To see these trends as innocent is naive..

  10. Here in Florida, our most recent governor was all about job creation. By the time he finished there were enough minimum wage jobs in Florida for nearly everyone to have the two or three jobs they would need to make ends meet.

    We seem to vote based on sound bites and the Republicans have a knack for taking everything out of context to create great sound bites. Between that and their marketing arm, they seem to get everywhere. I checked out a conservative friend’s twitter page once and now my spam is filled with right-winged tropes, instead of the offers to cure my ED like it was in the good old days.

  11. The plutocrats don’t give a rats ass about an interdependent social fabric.

  12. Selfishness, greed, and entitlement are the driving forces behind most of the ostentatious consumerism we see daily in our society. Comfort and convenience cannot be delivered fast enough. Pretentiousness becomes the norm. And phony enclaves of stolen ideas become exclusive gated communities. To be rich in America is to loose your soul in the quest for admiration and envy.

  13. Actually, it was John Donne who said “No man is an island.” At the end of the sermon that contained the phrase, he said “Send not to see for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.”

    With respect to today’s comments, the problem can be summed up in two words: Identity Politics.

  14. Mea culpa! I knew that quote was from Donne–must just have had one of my increasingly frequent “senior moments.”

  15. Growing up in the Chicago area as a Boomer, politics was always about identity, and triangulation of voters. Voters were sliced and diced along racial, ethnic, religious and economic class. There was the goal of something for everyone and in the old days patronage jobs could be handed out as the reward for getting the vote out.

    Scarborough, I suppose is right, voters are motivated by – What’s in it for Me. Scarborough is wrong in thinking big ideas have no effect.

    As an example a new poll has been released by Washington Post and ABC News reporting that 83% of those who think we should move to a universal health care system have no problem with doing away completely with private insurance. Universal Single Payer is a big idea that satisfies – What’s in it for Me.

    By the way I would suggest Newsy vs Morning Joe or any other MSDNC or CNN entertainment. Newsy has News without all the pundits trying to influence you.

  16. We now agree now on who said – “No man is an island.” However let me add that the Evangelicals and Roman Catholics have always have seen themselves as an Island. They wall themselves off and turn inward.

    The Cathedral Catholic high school is one of several that have been grappling with teachers in same-sex marriages after the Archdiocese of Indianapolis told all schools under its purview to enforce employment contracts that require teachers, counselors and administrators to live according to church teachings.

    According to the Indiana Department of Education, Cathedral received $1,136,258.73 last school year in public money through the Indiana Choice Scholarship Program.

    So in essence the State of Indiana is allowing discrimination, rewarding it and enabling it.

  17. The magnitude of economic interdependence is completely lost on most people: no economics at all is taught in High School, and of the third of the population that attends college, less than half take Econ 101, Microeconomics.

    So, essentially, only 10-15% of the population has even the most elementary understanding of how everything fits together. The rest prefer being stupid.

  18. When a person can’t tell where she starts and the country begins there are problems. Frankly, I don’t need government to manage me, I apparently have good fortune to thank for that. I learned right from wrong long ago and it hasn’t changed.

    However I do need social order to live my life of freedom immersed in so part of my good fortune is to have been born in the United States when I was and our government has succeeded over most of my life in managing social order so things got better and better for me at no limitation on my freedoms.

    Right wing extremism was taught to Trumpublicans by social media propaganda/advertising/fake news/brainwashing in order to sell them poor politicians in the pockets of oligarchs. It worked. It taught them if you don’t need government than why do you have to pay taxes or live under laws? You would be more free without those burdens.

    Of course that’s wrong. That’s power not freedom and power only works if you have it and nobody in a democracy will give it to you for good reason. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

  19. Obliquely, this same issue came up in my Countable app alert this morning, asking if I would support Congress in mandating a safety feature in cars to alleviate leaving children in hot cars. My response, which follows, could very also be feedback for our country’s current malaise of shortsightedness:

    Yet another example of why our government has to step in when the private sector is not accountable or responsible for their actions and choices and the impact on society.

    We shouldn’t HAVE to rely on a Congressional act to initiate the creation of a lifesaving product. What has happened to corporate innovation without government dictates?

    Where has commitment to the public good from corporate interests gone? Oh, yeah, right into stockholders’ pockets. You know, the people who make companies exist—not. Public consumption and public investment is the wheel that propels companies forward.

    “With great power comes great responsibility” is not a superhero phrase. This was how previous generations lived. Now, it’s “no responsibility” until, or unless, one gets caught. And even this is an entitlement ideology. Only the rich and powerful can live off this idiom. The majority of Americans are forced to be accountable and responsible, from taxes, mortgages and child care, to education, career shift training, and retirement.

    So, until the private, business sector pulls on its collective big boy/girl pants and owns its portion of the social contract, the American government will have to be the adult in the room.

  20. I just watched Trump and Acosta display this administration’s “Shortsighted Self Interest” to explain away Acosta’s reason for resigning. Trump repeatedly praised Acosta’s “fantastic” job performance (his latest favorite word) in his briefest speech to date. Then Acosta bragged about the low jobless rate, the lower number of workplace injuries and he fewer fatalities in mines. The low jobless rate is partially explained by the number of minimum wage or low-income jobs requiring people to work 2 or 3 of them to survive. They have never before stressed workplace injuries and the fewer fatalities in mines is probably due to the closing of so many mines; which might be the explanation for the lower rate of workplace injuries. We used to refer to this as “CYA”. No idea if Trump spoke again after Acosta; my gag reflex has weakened over the past 2 1/2 years.

    The growing media coverage and complaints about the past Epstein “issue” was skimmed over quickly ; no mention of the child victims or the bogus “conviction” approved by Acosta. So another traumatic Friday is upon us with the tragedy of the immigrant roundup scheduled for Sunday to look forward to. Trump still fighting to know how many immigrants are living here, not stressing illegal status but only the number of immigrants, with his Executive Order demanding reports which will duplicate workloads and provide duplicate information already required and provided by the government. The citizenship question is off of the 2020 census form but Trump continues his battle; never mind that these issues involve people’s lives and livelihood, Trump remains in the media which is his primary goal in life displaying his egotistical “Shortsighted Self Interest”.

    “The fatal flaw of plutocracy is not that some people have more than others. It is that some people, when they have a great deal, no longer see themselves as part of an interdependent social fabric, no longer realize that the problems of their fellow-citizens inevitably and adversely affect them.”

    “They’re wrong–and their wake-up call is coming.”

    Have a great weekend!

  21. Trump’s fear-mongering and selling the idea that immigrants are taking away from you, while he has relatives in the White House actually making self profiting deals with hostile foreign players is so egregious to the American Way. Exclusionary politics seems to give power to his base in a negative way. Getting people to vote against their financial self interests for membership into identity politics is such a con! Ayn Rand ended up on welfare at the end of her life. In the long run ” just me” politics self destructs.

  22. Thus, following this logic, you become a serf matter what your economic status. Because, in reality, you are beholden to the 1% who.control 95% of our national wealth. By allowing others to be deprived you will be constrained and deprived.

  23. Joanne, who did you quote who said:

    “The fatal flaw of plutocracy is not that some people have more than others. It is that some people, when they have a great deal, no longer see themselves as part of an interdependent social fabric, no longer realize that the problems of their fellow-citizens inevitably and adversely affect them.”

  24. Pete; that is the last full paragraph on the blog today. Also the single line below it.

  25. Nancy, I like the idea of Trump Administration members going to the border and actually comforting the detained families. I mean I like the irony of it and the humor and ridicule of it. I could visualize members of the Kennedy, the Johnson, the Carter, the Obama administration doing that, but then, those administrations would not be mistreating refugees in the first place.

    However, please note: the USA may be a nation predominately of Christians, but we are not a “Christian Nation”.

    The habit of using that phrase weakens one’s criticism later of the justification of a Far Right florist, for instance, who refuses to serve a gay wedding, and who defends her policy by saying, “This is a Christian Nation, and Christians believe homosexuality is an abomination.” Or when the Far Right justifies barring Muslims from US entry, proclaiming, “We are a Christian Nation”.

    Also weakened is the fundamental argument against theocracy.

    I think too many people inappropriately use “We are a Christian Nation” to justify their preferred policies or to condemn undesirable policies. And too many people, having heard the phrase a million times at home and on the town and in the school, nod their approval, like programmed robots, even when “We are a Christian nation” is used to justify atrocities.

  26. Todd Smekens:
    “As a note of interest, Hillary Clinton lost to the Libertarian candidate with the 35 and under voters. They see through the corporate madness in this country and are much more enlightened. They know what it’s going to take to move the needle.”

    The fundamental Libertarian idea is to stop protecting the weak and let the strong win, which plays right into the worst of corporate ambitions. Evidently, so-called Libertarian voters don’t know what their Party believes. Which means they don’t have a clue of what it’s going to take to “move the needle”.

  27. In the mean time,Bernie Sanders is leading a group to Canada to get much needed insulin.

    Of course,the DNC and establishment apparatchiks HATE Bernie, his policy proposals and his advocates.

    Bernie is doing it. The folks here just want to virtue signal on a small blog….It’s no wonder why the establishment hacks hate him. His determination and actions show them to be nothing more than impotent clowns and ineffectual pawns.

    DNC = More of The Same. Bereft of New Ideas. OMG RUSSIA!

    DNC Slogan;” We’d Rather Lose With Biden Than Win With Bernie!”

  28. As the Rev. Martin NIemoller said following WWII:
    First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.
    Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.
    Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
    Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

  29. I just keep reminding myself — the US lived through slavery and then the Gilded Age and came out the other side in the 1890’s. The recovery took time and we had to live through two depressions, but the 1950’s tthrough 1970’s did, eventually, come to pass.

    And yes, then Reagan happened. Before the current massive divide began, there was a concerted effort to tear down what had been accomplished in regards to making life bearable for the population. Aamof, the current divide is a direct result of that effort and the finger-pointing by those who perpetrated it: “It’s THOSE PEOPLE who are causing your pain — not the people in power!”

    The fact though, is that, during the 1890’s, the people did recognize that the total lack of empathy among the Gilded Class was the cause of the pain. I trust that we will recognize the history we are repeating and will rectify it. Again.

  30. Speaking of empathy —– here’s a good explanation as to why Republicans, as a group, seem not to have it:

    And, in case you’re interested, here’s how Goulka, a former Republican, BECAME a former Republican. It’s a fascinating read and, jfwiw, his reasons were all about empathy:

    I guess you can’t become empathic and remain a Republican — which explains a lot when you think about it.

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