Recent events have led me to contemplate the nature of evil—specifically as it pertains to government leaders.
I feel like there are two different types of ruler.
- Those who believe they’re doing unpleasant but necessary things that will ultimately make things better and lead to them being loved by the people, and…
- Those who don’t care what the people think and just want control and all the advantages that come with it.
I’m not an expert on either, but it seems like Quadafi just wanted to rule and didn’t care about the people’s opinion, whereas Hitler thought he was doing good for Germany and wanted its love and respect.
What I’m trying to untangle is whether the difference matters or not.
Let’s say you hated Obama’s presidency and you believe that even though he was trying to do the right thing he actually caused extreme harm to the country. This shouldn’t be hard to imagine, since millions of American’s clearly believe that.
And let’s say you hated George W. Bush’s presidency because you believe the Iraq war was unjustified, that it was based on a boy trying to impress his father and to become respected like Ronald Reagan.
In both cases, from each perspective, evil was done. Obama weakened our country, weakened our conservative values and our strength in the world, etc. And Bush lost us over 5 trillion dollars, killed hundreds of thousand of Iraqis and hundreds of Americans, and Iraq is now more of a mess than when Saddam was there.
So is Obama evil? Is George W. Bush evil?
I’d say no.
I’d say they’re misguided, or that they were at the time, and that their flawed understanding of the world caused them to make decisions that ultimately caused harm.
But then I think about Trump.
What does he want?
Is he someone who cares about America and who wants to be loved and respected for helping it succeed, like Bush and Obama and Hitler? Or is he someone who’s pretending those things simply for the purpose of gaining influence and wealth?
Does he really care, in other words, or would he happily cause pain and suffering to the entire country if he could become a supreme ruler with no risk of overthrow?
I think it’s the former. I think he deeply cares about the country and is actually trying to fix it.
But so was Jimmy Carter. And Reagan. And yes, Hitler.
I’m obviously not equating any of these people in any other way than intentions and motivations, but I’m starting to wonder if it matters at all.
Let’s assume that Carter and Obama were philosopher kings who were too good for the presidency. Let’s assume they tried too hard to be nice, and the result was harm to the country.
And let’s assume that Reagan and Bush and Hitler thought the answer was force and unpleasantness, but they truly believed that once it was all done they’d be left with a healthy, thriving country that remembered them as the leader who got them through.
Does it matter?
Does it matter what your intentions are? Or where your heart is? If Santa Claus, Sean Hannity, and Ted Bundy would all be bad world leaders, does it matter what would make them bad?
When I see Trump playing Celebrity Apprentice: White House, obsessing over his perceived popularity, insisting that people laugh at his jokes during official public addresses, making clumsy and dangerous policy decisions with no understanding or regard for implications, and attacking media who don’t report on him favorably, I am hit with multiple signals and thoughts.
- He’s trying to do the right thing and he’s just inexperienced.
- He’s a raving lunatic and we should start impeachment hearings immediately.
- The liberals really did mess things up, and maybe when the dust settles we’ll see some actual positives out of all this.
- The guy is 70 years old and everyone he cares about is a billionaire. He’s not in this for money.
- It doesn’t matter what he’s doing it for; he’s fucking everything up.
Honestly I’m not sure where I’m going with this. I was hoping for some resolution or clarity.
In the past when I saw what I perceived to be evil acts I always asked the question:
What is the person trying to do? What’s their goal?
And now I’ve realized it isn’t actually a good benchmark.
Hitler might have wanted lots of art galleries and Christmas music during the holidays. I like those things too. And maybe he had a great sense of humor and could do really good animal impressions.
I don’t care.
Maybe he wanted a united and vibrant Germany where everyone loved each other and smiled when they passed each other on the street.
I don’t care. He slaughtered millions of people.
And maybe Bush wanted to be a hero, and earn his Dad and brother’s respect, by doing the thing that everyone said he couldn’t do. And maybe he thought Iraq would love him just like America.
I don’t care. He lead to the deaths of hundreds of thousands, destabilized an entire region, and created ISIS.
And maybe Obama thought being nice solves problems, and that closing Guantanamo was complicated, and that giving Iran most of what they wanted and letting Putin walk all over us was best in the long run.
I don’t care. The result is that we have an alt-right revolution in this country right now because he let hyper-liberals hijack all the narratives.
Maybe the only thing that matter are actions, and whether those actions lead to better or worse outcomes.
And maybe that’s completely relative, based on who’s making the judgements of good and bad.
So we’re lost.
You can’t judge by intentions because you can have the best of intentions and produce the worst of outcomes. And you can’t judge by desired outcomes because nobody can agree on what the goals should be.
So I have no solutions for Trump, or even any good ways to analyze the problem. He probably wants to do good things. He’s had good ideas. He is also disconnected from reality in a frightening way, has shown at the very least lenience towards extremely non-humanist ideologies, and he appears prone to very random behavior.
In many of my essays this is where I give some sort of solution, or at least a direction to look for one.
In this case I have neither.