Us versus Them never works. Us versus Them is divisive and there is truth in the famous quote “United we stand, divided we fall.”
A video clip of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie well demonstrates an interesting and destructive element of the modern criminal justice system–the “Us” versus “Them” mentality.
(NOTE: Understand that an Us versus Them mentality is promoted by both major political parties. Governor Chris Christie does a fine job in the state of New Jersey and seems quite sincere. This simply happens to be a video clip which demonstrates this mentality. Such clips can be found from both sides from nearly every politician today. The only real difference is that Governor Christie does not mince words and makes the attitude clearly known.)
In this clip of Governor Christie, the GOP is told that they need to do certain things if they are to remain a relevant party. More than that, the good Governor reminds them that if they do not make the needed changes, they will not hold power. Power.
Power is a key element in behavior among humans. This is why the subject is explored here: an internal need for Power is a key element in criminal behavior as well. If you have read Human Behavior on this website you already know that power is an Emotional Form of our need maintain a personal Identity. But what does this have to do with Governor Christie’s speech?
The Need for Power in Leadership
The need for Power is strong in many people. As teenagers, it is manifested in crazy hairstyles and clothing; it is demonstrated in the effort by youth to exert their own Identity. Strip them of this power and other problems arise, such as sneaking out of the house, drinking with friends, or whatever else is “against the rules” or their parents wishes. Of course, not all teens do this because some embrace the identity of their parents, especially if their parents’ identity is respected. In the case of politicians, however, this need for power tends to be a driving force behind all they do as alluded to by Governor Christie.
Thus it was that Niccolo Machiavelli wisely observed that in his famous work, The Prince. He said,
“Power tends to corrupt; absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely.”
But Power need not corrupt. Machiavelli simply noted that power TENDS to corrupt.
There is a difference here. There have been sincere politicians who have risen to power from time to time and performed well. Most, however, tend to become “rotten” to quote Thomas Jefferson, when seeking political office. This simply means that as they gain power, they seek more and in order to get more, they must belittle opponents. This stems from both low self-esteem and lust for more power. From a human behavior perspective, any time someone belittles an opponent, there is an issue with self-esteem, an issue within which causes them to feel the need to denigrate another in order to feel better about themselves.
From a position of logic, denigrating another is a sign that one is losing the argument, that they can think of nothing better to say than, “You are an idiot.” In these instance, this is the equivalent to the old expression, “When you point one finger, there are three others pointing back.”
However, this craving for power to the extent of pointing fingers in an Us versus Them way causes problems in the criminal justice system — especially for those who must enforce the laws that those in power create. If they create laws in an attempt to simply gain more power the laws will be damaging to society and the system.
A Need for Power is Natural, but Harmful
To be sure, a need for power in and over our lives is natural and a part of each of us. Where problems arise is when a person begins to feel powerless over their lives, rightly or not. When this happens, they react like a cornered dog and come out fighting.
If we take a look at the political climate today, we see a number of radical Republicans decrying the loss of freedom and pointing the finger at the Democrats. On the other side, we see Democrats denouncing the economic policies of Republicans to decry a different loss of liberty, namely from the high cost of living.
In both cases, the words are meant to be a rallying cry in a political sense, but what these leaders are unintentionally doing is fueling the drive within their followers to react.
Another need we have is for stimulus, which is driven by Justice, or the idea that something is wrong which must be corrected. Stimulus results in action. Such actions must be directed towards an enemy and the Us versus Them mindset plays well to stirring up social unrest.
Does this sound like anything we see happening today?
Sure. Note how many mass shootings are performed by persons either directly involved in the Republican Party or on the fringes. Look at how many protests are organized by Democrats. Both are stirring social angst, fomenting divisions in society – both are destructive in their own way. The influential tell them there is a problem, a wrong, an injustice and that the only power they have is to vote. Study after study has shown that faith in the vote is at an all-time low. Ultimately, the only solution (in their mind) is to take matters into their own hands–they have a need to feel empowered over their own life. Taking lives becomes a natural outcome.
Given the outcome of the 2016 Presidential Election in the United States and the increased effort by those in power to further divide the nation, increased violence should be expected. Is this the case.
The FBI released the mid-year 2016 Uniform Crime Report and indeed, crime was up from 2015 to 2016. Experts are already predicting that 2017 will beat 2016. So, yes the fomenting of an Us versus Them attitude in America by the politicians is causing problems for the criminal justice system.
Power, Leadership, and Us Versus Them
The leadership in this nation demonstrates well the Us versus Them mentality.
Cannot control a foreign power? Start a war, take some lives. The message is resonating with an entire generation–if you want power, you must kill to get it. And we cannot blame any particular President or Administration for this us against them attitude because all share the blame. All have conducted themselves in this way at some point.
This is very well demonstrated in Governor Chris Christie’s speech to the GOP. He tells them that if they don’t get power, something worse will happen…”they” will. Who are “they?” Anyone different, primarily the Democrats, but really, anyone different. Anyone NOT them. This is the same mentality that drives crime between the Crips and the Bloods, the Hatfields and McCoys, Fundamentalist Islam and the Jews…the list is literally endless. This is a mentality of creating enemies and we all know what to do with enemies for the leadership demonstrates this to us with every war.
But Governor Christie does not stop With Telling his party that “They” are taking over.
He further adds that the reason Americans should not want “them” in office is because their ideas are inferior. He actually said it as “Our ideas are better than their ideas,” but the point is the same. This is VERY divisive speech and is ironic coming from a Governor who is known for working with others. But it does demonstrate two very key points that all students of criminal justice and law should remember.
First, remember that the more power is stripped from the hands of the public, the more the public will fight back in an effort to regain power–this will be done in the same manner demonstrated by those who lead. To wit, an abusive parent will raise an abusive child. An abusive government will develop abusive citizens. This is an unavoidable law of human nature.
Second, remember that an “Us versus Them” mentality is divisive and unhealthy for any society. It only leads to power struggles and power does tend to corrupt, which leads to greater power struggles, and so on in an endless cycle. At some point, the cycle needs to stop. The Us versus Them Mentality leads to Crime and good Leadership unites, rather than divide.
How does an Us versus Them Mentality Impact the Criminal Justice System?
An Us versus Them mentality is part of the issue in race relations today, in relations between police and communities, in particular communities of color. One of the key principles proposed by Sir Robert Peel was that police are part of the community, represent the community, and are the community. However, in many locations today, police forces are increasingly being seen by communities as an enemy (Them) and even some police departments are treating the public as if it is the enemy (Them). Such an attitude on the part of either side or both can only result in increased crime. Police were never supposed to adopt an “Us” against “Them” mentality towards the public. Police ARE the public, so this attitude puts them at odds with themselves.
Political leaders fostering an Us versus Them mentality as seen in the Christie video clip only add to the problem. Anyone who promotes such an attitude, regardless of the reason, only adds to the problem. To better understand why this mentality causes more crime, read, Human Behavior?
To stay free of such Us versus Them thinking, reject it and anyone who promotes it in American society. Remember, United We Stand…