Make America Great

Like all men of weak character, he placed great stress on not changing one’s mind. – Somerset Maugham

I make mistakes, I admit them. Sometimes, it’s excruciatingly painful, and I think, “Well, I could just not say anything, and keep going.” It’s bad at work; I think, “If I say something, I might get fired.” Still, I am a strong believer in, “You can fix the blame, or you can fix the problem.” So, I do my best to focus on the problem, and take my lumps.

Sometimes, in meetings, people get bogged down arguing over blame, finger pointing. And I say, “I’ll take the blame, now let’s fix the problem.” (Yes, I really do.)

I had an exchange last night with a guy, who epitomizes in his response to me the perils of admitting a mistake. I made the mistake, according to him, because I was a “failure” and my admitted mistake proved I “lacked the capacity” for nuanced thought. Period. Everything I write is wrong because I admitted I had been wrong in the past.

In my experience and observation, quite a number of people think this way. Once you’ve admitted that you were mistaken in the past, everything you say or do going forward is suspect; you’re not to be trusted.

This thought pattern leads to one of the peculiarities of American political life, the politician’s nearly complete refusal to admit a mistake. Watching some of these characters, and their surrogates, walk ten miles around a subject to avoid admitting a mistake, one can’t help but think — “Damn, just say you were wrong and get on with it!”

But, this atrocious and irritating behavior has a sound psychological basis. Because, once admitted, a mistake becomes a permanent attribute of the politician’s career. The admission of error is considered a weakness, proof of unreliability, and exploited as such. In America, politicians are not credited with approval for having admitted a mistake. They’re condemned for being “unreliable.” Admission of error is actually more contemptible than error itself.

I have a handful of passages from the Bible that deeply influence my thinking. One of them is the story of Peter, who “denied the Lord three times before the cock crowed.” Surrounded by Roman soldiers and unsympathetic Jews, Peter denied that he was one of Jesus’ disciples. Not once, not twice, but three times he was accosted and three times, he denied it. Should we believe that we are more than the rock upon which the church is founded?

America is not a landscape, nor a government, but an idea, and each of us represents a part of that idea. The way to “Make America Great” is to remember that we are all Peter — yes, even the politicians and bureaucrats.

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