Using the deaths of public figures as political commentary distracts from personal political responsibility.
In this past week, the deaths of two individuals from very different places have dominated headlines and social media. The first was Republican Arizona senator and two-time presidential candidate John McCain to a battle with brain cancer on August 25, marking the end to an undeniably remarkable political career. In recent days, we have seen debate spark between conservatives and liberals on how we should frame his legacy, including memes that serve to both mischaracterize, and occasionally contextualize, McCain’s story.
The second was the tragic loss of Mollie Tibbets, a twenty-year old University of Iowa student, which was finally confirmed over the past two weeks. Rather than mourning the life of a human being, however, the focus of the controversy has been on how she died. Christian Rivera, an undocumented immigrant, has been charged with first-degree murder and his status has led to conservatives scrambling to wield it as a political weapon against immigration and promote Trumpism generally.
If you’re looking for an article that condemns liberals for panning the political career of an elder statesman, you’re looking at the wrong place. If you’re thinking, “Oh, then he’s going to condemn Trumpers for contorting the tragedy of Mollie Tibbets into a message of hate,” you should probably make your way to Tumblr or Reddit. No, the subject of the article is you.
Be honest with yourself: you don’t care. Not about John McCain, not about Mollie Tibbets, not even about Donald Trump. To be a modern human, according to the immortal Shakespeare or French political theorist Benjamin Constant, is to be self-interested. Not necessarily selfish, but you care about yourself and your immediate concerns over those of people around you. As long as you can pursue your private interests and ensure your family and friends are there to support you, what does the death of an Arizona senator or an Iowan college student really mean to your immediate life? It doesn’t.
The point I’m making is that to politicize death is natural. Not because, as Aristotle says, humans are “political animals,” but because we would rather justify whatever bias we already had about the person or phenomenon, rather than concentrate the blame on ourselves. If liberals really believe John McCain was instrumental in stifling inclusivity, a harbinger of this New Gilded Age, or a war hawk who led us to multiple destructive conflicts, where was that conversation or movement to oust him from his seat? As far as I can see, he’s been in Washington for the past thirty years. Or, if conservatives really want to fix illegal immigration, their party is in complete control of the federal government and most of the state governments: where’s the supposed solution?
Politicizing death only serves to shift the onus away from your own reluctance to uphold your civic duty. Democracy hinges on the participation of the sovereign citizen and, sorry to inform you of this, commenting on the next Fox or CNN article that comes across your feed does not count.
The hard truth is that you want to complain but not act. You want to be right without proving it. We live in an America torn apart by the Baby Boomer generation, whose complacency led to a world worse for their own children. It will take extraordinary cognizance and a willingness to partake in the American political arena to remedy our parents’ and grandparents’ mistakes.
Instead of making memes and waiting for the next old politician of the opposite party to die, instead of waiting for the next life to be torn away too soon, rally; find and encourage the next politician who will represent your interests and vote for them. Persuade through meaningful discourse and facts and challenge conventional norms. You want to politicize death? Try politicizing yourself.