Last week was one for the books both on the home front and in D.C.
Richard Burr, U.S. senator and chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, found himself in hot water after it was reported that he sold much of his stock in the midst of downplaying the severity of the coronavirus to the public.
The main complaint: Burr left Americans with little information and put self-preservation above others’ well-being.
But his actions are the downside to a longstanding American ideal.
Turbulent moments like these, although difficult, offer an insight into our cultural obsession with rugged individualism.
At its very core, rugged individualism is described as the idea that success is accessible to everyone with little to no help from outside influences, especially the government. This idea dates back to President Herbert Hoover at the beginning of the Great Depression era.
Since then, it has gained momentum, prevailing in our electoral cycle and giving power to politicians who, like Burr, may let down their constituents.
These politicians subscribe to rugged individualism, which breeds selfishness and isn’t sufficient in determining good leadership.
Come election time, voters from all walks of life marvel at candidates’ journeys to power and notoriety, deeming them enough. This is the appeal of rugged individualism: If one could struggle by themselves and still come out on top, they can easily do the same for others. Look at all they’ve already accomplished alone!
Their accomplishments might seem good in retrospect, but politicians don't lead on their past accomplishments. Thinking so means we only get to know the person after the storm, not how they behave inside of one.
That is why during this election season voters shouldn’t be wooed by the accolades and followings politicians have acquired. A maintained focus on what they do for their communities and constituents is first and foremost.
Politicians aren’t the only people who abuse this ideal. Although unfortunate, hoarding of essential resources, medical supplies and wages should not come as a surprise. It’s been deeply embedded in us.
Look at the qualities of the people who are deemed successful. We praise them for their ability to self-prioritize and “get money by any means” without thinking about who is at stake. We forget that these same people are our employers, landlords and leaders who often hold the keys to much of law and policy. If this behavior was celebrated in the good times, what would inspire anyone to change in the difficult ones? Bad times only magnify existing issues.
This idea leads to the vulnerable being left out to dry on their own. College students are a prime example. Already dealing with the burden of student debt, wage stagnation and increasing rent prices, the effects of the coronavirus have likely worsened these conditions. Without the necessary help and guidance that rugged individualism discourages, many are at-risk for food, economic and housing insecurity.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with being independent, but there is something wrong with being selfish. Not everyone has the ability to do well with little support, and no one should be overlooked or left out because they require help.
If not anything else, this ongoing pandemic is a reminder that life doesn’t abide by our plans and gives little explanation. We can’t always determine what will go wrong in the future, but we can decide who and how we choose to handle things.
2020 will be host to not only a worldwide pandemic but also an influential series of elections.
People who are eligible to vote help determine what is considered important, and it’s time we advocate beyond ideas that stifle empathy and progress. Man is not an island.