Think back, if you will, to the halcyon days of the Reagan regime, with the Great Communicator’s elaborate economic agenda he called “trickle-down economics.” The alleged benefits never trickled down to most of us, and we know now that the whole thing was little more than a hoax disguising further wealth distribution upward. (We’ll put aside, for now, the fact that the current administration has once again duped the nation and resurrected this bogus plan with its recent tax cuts and other deep discounts for the wealthy and superwealthy.)
Now, wealth might not be “trickle down” as the GOP claimed, but the locution is quite applicable to some other situations, and we are now almost daily experiencing the effects of a steady toxic drip onto our lives and the lives of our neighbors across the country. Turns out, there are some things that really do trickle down, things that are even less tangible than wealth. When people or organizations in roles of prominence and/or authority speak out, many people hear them.
Some people listen. Some even take in and espouse what they hear as important, true, useful, sometimes even inspiring or motivating. In other words, ambient messages seep in to varying extents, on various levels, both conscious and unconscious. When ideas and opinions are repeated forcefully over and over again, especially by persons in authority, their power to influence increases proportionately. When opposing voices are simultaneously denigrated, stifled, or demonized, that power can increase exponentially. (We’re speaking metaphorically here, not as statisticians; this is not rocket science.)
Case in point: The president pontificates about the criminality of immigrant populations; tacitly defends white supremacists as holders of some kind of legitimate opposing view to those who fight inequality and oppression; models disrespect, intolerance, othering, victim blaming, impulsivity, vindictiveness, reactivity, cruelty, lawlessness, and elected ignorance as acceptable ways of being with others in a civilized society and of conducting the government’s business. Well, guess what? This all trickles down and empowers others to espouse the same views, and some among these individuals to actually act them out in their own families and communities. Seems like common sense, no?
We may well deplore — and should — both the disgraceful lack of comprehensive mental health services nationwide and the corrupt legislative insanity that makes our nation the best armed and most violent “civilized” nation in the Western world. These are certainly issues that urgently need to be addressed now. But the degree to which people with emotional issues are being scapegoated by government agents is itself an immorality, all the more so given the concerted assault on social service systems spearheaded by the Republican Party at every turn.
Similarly, it is appropriate to look at entertainment platforms and question the types of violence routinely encountered in video games and many films. We need to do a better job all around at mitigating the influence of these things on young minds. But we also need to come to grips with the extent to which the current focus on online/on-screen violence — like the current administration’s focus on mental illness as the common thread in civilian gun violence — often amounts to scapegoating. Its purpose is to dilute the response to larger issues that are even more charged. The current administration is externalizing blame when it should be taking a sober look at itself. The hate rhetoric and the modeling thereof must stop first. Legislation comes next, but the trickling down — which now feels like a torrent — must stop for the sake of everyone in this nation and our government.
And while we’re at it, it is fine to be repeating over and over again that we must get rid of this gang in 2020. Yes, of course. No argument there. But we cannot wait for the next election to somehow miraculously turn things around. We are reaching a critical point in this country in the assault on our system by forces seeking to turn back decades of progress that has benefited everyone and served as a model for the rest of the world. We all need to vote, yes, but we also need to make our voices heard NOW. We cannot be a silent majority — forgive me for using that term — lest we end up a silenced majority. And we cannot expect human decency to trickle up, not with this gang. We all have to demand it clearly, forcefully, and continuously, so the coming election will truly mean something. We need to make our voices heard now — and then, vote the bums out! ■
Charles A. Rizzuto, LICSW, currently maintains a practice in clinical supervision in Amherst, MA. He was an adjunct assistant professor at NYU Silver School of Social Work and adjunct faculty member at the Smith College School for Social Work for eleven years. He earned his analytic certification at the Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy Study Center in New York City.
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