Scalise as Scapegoat: Unity at a High Price

Louisiana Congressional Representative Steve Scalise is this week's scapegoat. The role of the scapegoat is to unify a social unit. The only problem is that unity comes at the price of murder, or at least attempted murder. Evidently, American unity cannot be achieved by good will, compassion, and partnership. Unity requires scapegoating in America. This may be human nature, unfortunately.

Do you think I'm overreaching? Please read patiently as the invisible scapegoat becomes visible before your very eyes.

For fifteen months America's political rhetoric has been thorny, acerbic, and bitter. Virtually every political speaker draws a line between good and evil and places his or her opponent on the evil side. Once declared evil, then the opponent can justly be rejected, dismissed, or worse. When we attack someone who we have declared to be evil, we place ourselves on the good side of the line. Every political speaker I have heard since the January 2017 inauguration has portrayed himself or herself as good, righteous, and our nation's best friend. Because half of our nation is evil--who the evil half is depends on whether you're a Republican or Democrat--no unity is possible.

Unless, of course, we find a scapegoat. President Donald Trump found one, namely, Steve Scalise. The president visited the critically ill congressman at the MedStar Washington Hospital Center Wednesday, June 14, 2017. The following day, Thursday, in the Roosevelt Room, the nation's leader addressed the world. "Steve, in his own way, may have brought some unity to our long-divided country," Trump said. This was followed by the direct allusion to the scapegoat role of Scalise, namely, the sacrifice on behalf of unity. "We've had a very, very divided country for many years, and I have a feeling that Steve has made a great sacrifice, but there could be some unity being brought to our country." The price of unity is sacrifice. The sacrificial lamb is actually the scapegoat.

Here is the key to understanding the role of the scapegoat: the scapegoat provides unity in a social unit when the conflicting parties are unable to do it on their own. Sometimes the scapegoat is visible. Sadam Hussein played the role of scapegoat for two presidents named George Bush. In order to unite the American people into going to war in Iraq, Sadam Hussein was declared evil. Twice. America was righteous in uniting in violence to rid the world of this evil entity. Hussein was evil, visible, and unifying.

Frequently in family systems one individual will play the role of the scapegoat. Everything that goes wrong in the family is blamed on the scapegoat, frequently a misbehaving child. The daily blame game maintains family unity. Such a family scapegoat is partially visible and can be made fully visible by a family therapist.

The invisible scapegoat is different. The invisible scapegoat does not belong on the evil side of the line. The invisible scapegoat is innocent, at least in his or her scapegoat role. Steve Scalise is innocent. His attempted murder by James T. Hodgkinson, a superpassionate Democrat and Bernie Sanders supporter, became symbolic. The congressman's suffering was transformed by political rhetoric into something sacrificial, sacred, even redemptive. That's one of the ways we make scapegoats work for us in our society.

President Trump has tried and tried to create unity—a unified nation following only him—by appealing to visible scapegoats for considerable time, but this rhetoric has failed. He drew a line between himself as good and those on the evil side such as Little Marco, Crooked Hilary, rapist and murdering Mexicans, incompetent James Comey, and on and on. None of these attempts worked. I bet that appeal to Steve Scalise will work.

Congressman Paul Ryan trumpeted, "an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us." Ryan did not acknowledge the scapegoat role of the victim here, because the scapegoat role is invisible. Nevertheless, Representative Scalise performed his job as an invisible scapegoat marvelously. He simply did not know he was performing this job. And he certainly did not volunteer for it.

The sad thing is that our national leaders have been unable to unify the country voluntarily out of good will, compassion, and high-minded vision. If they fail to unite America at this point, we'll have to wait for the next scapegoat.

For you who do not regularly read my blog, I am a fictional character in the thriller, For God and Country. I am a former CIA operative currently serving as a Lutheran pastor on the south side of Chicago. My doctorate from Michigan State University is in astrobiology and I give special attention to Society, Science, and Spirit.

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