The fallacy of the Great Person theory of leadership, accountability and personal agency

Over the next 4 years, if it becomes apparent that Donald Trump was the wrong choice for POTUS, we can expect to see people who voted for him attempting to deny accountability in several different ways:

1. They will forget or deny that they voted for him or supported him in the first place (The Amnesia approach)
2. They will protest “when I voted for him I didn’t think he would really do all of That Dumb Stuff!”
3. They will blame Other Actors for sabotaging his presidency (“those Other Forces did not allow him to do what he really needed to do so it’s not his fault”)

(1) is not particularly sustainable in the internet age. I can, for example, fairly easily mine Facebook postings to determine which of my Facebook friends were Trump supporters in the election cycle. (2) and (3) are more arguable, but I usually respond to (2) with some variant of “if you didn’t take him seriously when he promised to do that stuff, more fool you”.
Currently, I am part way through reading “Hillbilly Elegy” by JD Vance, which is a memoir of a guy who grew up in Appalachia and Ohio in a deeply dysfunctional family, embedded in areas of the United States that have lost out to the last 40+ years of globalization and employment shift.
While the areas that JD Vance grew up in are indeed economically deprived, and many people are suffering badly financially and socially, one of the points that Vance makes consistently in interviews and articles is that the blame does not rest entirely with the “outside forces” that many people in those areas rail and rant against on a daily basis. He was also totally unimpressed by Donald Trump’s candidacy, describing his promises to “bring back coal” as part of a pattern of what he calls an opiate fix for the people in Appalachia.
One of Vance’s central points is that people have agency, and the victim-centered attitude of what he terms “learned helplessness” reduces the chances that the economically deprived areas of the USA and their populations can improve their conditions.
The idea that people are not responsible for what happens to them and their country is also a viewpoint that many historians outside of Germany have focussed on when dealing with the history of the rise of Naziism in Germany. The view outside Germany tends to focus on the claimed charisma, oratory and power of a few bad men (Adolf Hitler, Rudolf Hess, Josef Goebbels et al) and rather less on the underlying reality that Adolf Hitler came to power by being elected democratically, and that Naziism was wildly popular in Germany right up to the point that it began to become obvious to the German people that they were losing World War II. Inside Germany, historical analyses of Naziism focus rather less on the individual Nazi leaders and more on answering the awkward question of why and how the German people collectively signed on to the Nazi worldview and philosophy.
Most Germans have learned the hard way that their ancestors, for a period of a dozen or so years, enabled great evil. They are, by and large, determined to not allow that to ever happen again.
This leads us back to today, with Donald Trump as the President-Elect. While people and the media focus to a great degree on Trump’s personality, worldview and policies, the underlying reality is that his espoused views do reflect the attitudes of a lot of Americans, and he was elected by a significant percentage of Americans who thought he was the best choice to be President.
Those people, whether they want to see it that way or not, had agency when they voted, and voted for Donald Trump. They are therefore accountable and culpable, collectively, for the outcome of that decision.
The bottom line is that electors who voted for Donald Trump are culpable for enabling not only his actions, but also the worldviews and attitudes underpinning those actions. And if the outcomes for the United States are negative, I will have no hesitation in pointing that out to them. We all own the consequences of our decisions.


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