Many years ago, Bruce Springsteen, on a recording of a live concert, warned his fans that “blind faith in your leaders will get you killed.” I recall the message all too well – not just because I am a fanatic of ‘The Boss,’ but because of our current moment in American history.
He’s right. Blind faith in leaders will get us killed. We have seen many examples of this faith throughout history with catastrophic results. But after the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6th, we must revisit this idea again. There were many types of people who marched on the Capitol that day, but the vast majority of them attended out of loyalty for a single man: President Donald Trump.
We no doubt need a certain degree of faith in our leaders. However, unlike the authoritarian states or monarchies of the past, we place faith in titles, not the personalities occupying them. We respect the powers of the President, Vice President, Speaker of the House, Chief Justice, and the institutions bolstering them. This is so because our Constitution commands that our leaders, regardless of name, temporarily fill positions and perform duties associated with their elected office. When it comes to our government, the person is never more important than the role he or she has been empowered to play.
We must remember that our democracy was – and continues to be – a great experiment in self-governance. As citizens of this republic, we are parties to a social contract where we relinquish personal rights for order. If we commit to the exchange, we should be able to live peacefully as neighbors.
But in recent years, the social contract that our Founding Fathers laid out has been tested. Much of what they conceived in colonial times bears no resemblance to the United States of the 21st century in terms of size, diversity, industrialization, technology and so much more. More than anything else, the Internet has created a new age of communication that pushes us to devour and share content that aligns with our values. Social media and other platforms have weaponized information (and misinformation) to sort us into echo chambers and ideologically homogenous groups that are primed for collision.
Our leadership has become a reflection of this division. Furthermore, they come to represent the different truths – or mistruths – that these communities come to embody, even if those truths differ from those held by the country at-large. Consequently, in an attempt to score political points or self-preservation, politicians pander to these mistruths rather than act with principle. These ideological divisions are only reinforced over time.
This is what led to the insurrection at the Capitol. Some Americans no longer have faith in their government institutions at large. As such, they strayed from the institution of the American President to the unwavering and, at times, irrational support of an individual.
In this case, it was President Donald Trump. Trump embodied the distrust – even cynicism – towards the government. No matter what he said, no matter how he said it, no matter how many lives he impacted negatively, many treated what he said as gospel. It was no doubt short-sighted for the insurrectionists to have believed that they could have taken the Capitol and restored Trump to power under our existing Constitution. But they believed they could.
As such, it may be equally short-sighted for the remainder of our citizenry to fail to see the threat imposed by limitless and unbridled blind faith in any one person. We Americans came far too close to losing our democracy, and we must learn from this experience to prevent this fervent devotion to a single figure in the future. This most recent experience with blind faith led to death and significant alterations in the lives of many Americans. It is not something we can afford to ever experience again.
In today’s overloaded information environment, we as a unified people need to decipher truths from untruths, the mistaken from the intentional. Some of those who were led astray by their blind faith have started to come to their senses. Unfortunately, far too many continue to live in the dark.