The infamous line “The Ends Justify The Means” from Machiavelli’s The Prince has been bouncing around in my head more and more lately. It is a particularly scary mantra for a counselor to think about because it is a mindset that can justify even the most heinous of acts.
I have been thinking about it more and more lately because as a counselor in private practice, I am on the front lines, I am in the trenches with regular Americans, I am the person with their finger on the mental health pulse of America and I am not liking what I see at all.
8 years ago, I could not tell you one single time that I had a client or a family come into my office with one of their presenting issues being anger or anxiety about politics or the media. Well take that back, when I was in community mental health I saw schizophrenic patients who’s primary delusion was political conspiracy theories. But aside from clients with severe mental illness I never saw or heard it. Now, I would say that 50% of the clients in my office are bringing up issues that are based on our current political and media climate.
I literally have clients telling me story after story about how politics are destroying their families, friendships, and jobs. For example, I had one client recently tell me they broke their wrist after punching a hole in their wall out of frustration arguing with a roommate about whether democrats were communists. I had a family call me out of fear for their son because he was so angry after the government shutdown that he was yelling at anyone who would listen and were worried he was going to hurt someone. I had a client start having panic attacks after Trump was elected and was worried about him bringing the world to the end.
Don’t believe me? How many stories in the news have we seen of people getting into altercations at rallies both on the right and the left? Just this morning we had a BBC reporter “severely assaulted” by a man at a Trump rally. Every week we see some story about somebody getting fired from their job because of something political they posted to their social media accounts. We never saw things like this happening 8 years ago and yet every week we see a story about how politically motivated assaults, protests, etc. and people getting arrested or hurt.
Just look in your own lives for a minute and ask yourself how many people do you know have been affected by our political climate? Hell, in my own circle of friends we had people who were able to get past somebody sleeping with someone’s girlfriend, but we have divisions now within this group because of the 2016 election and the comments that people have made to each other.
All of this is the collateral damage from a political and media climate that uses fear, anxiety, and division as their playbook to get their bases activated and to get ratings. I know this because people like myself were recruited in grad school to be human factors specialists for these entities to help them understand how to use our knowledge of the human psyche to get people to think what they want, what to pay attention to, and how to motivate them to vote.
When you talk to anyone in the media or a political campaign about their tactics, they simply use the logic that “The Ends Justify The Means”. Whatever it takes to get their candidate elected or to get their ratings is justifiable and in the end is worth it. They will even justify that the other side is doing it so if we don’t, they will win so we have no choice but to do this.
But do the ends justify the means anymore? The truth is that the collateral damage being caused by this mindset and these tactics is a cancer on society that is destroying it from the inside out. The ends do not justify the means anymore because what is the point of winning an election or being a media company that helps get a candidate elected if there is no country left to represent in the end? That is where we are at as a country and we need to look in the mirror and ask ourselves what type of country do we want to be and what are we willing to sacrifice to get there?