Busting Bliss: The Politics of Victim Blaming

As individuals, we often find ourselves receiving the short end of the stick when it comes to taking blame for large scale issues.

Guilt+is+no+short+supply+at+a+time+when+a+multitude+of+crises+face+human+civilization%2C+but+it+should+not+be+evenly+distributed.

digital art by Julia Poppa

Guilt is no short supply at a time when a multitude of crises face human civilization, but it should not be evenly distributed.

I’d like to go to Cancun, too, Mr. Cruz, but that’s not the reality of the situation — now, is it? Not while thousands of Americans are being blamed for their families dying, or as your state trudges on through longer and longer days of blackouts as the rich sit in their penthouses as if nothing’s changed except the weather. 

I’m not here to discuss the pros and cons of Senator Cruz’s actions, rather our inability as a people to recognize the abuse of power and victim blaming that runs rampant among the circles of power — circles I’m sure he is quite familiar with. But enough of discussing one politician, when my goal today is to expose the tactics of many, and the corporations who’ve offered up their pockets to them as a place to live. 

From blackouts in Texas to female-presenting individuals just walking down the street being catcalled, victim blaming is as much a part of American culture as imperialism and white people with dreadlocks. 

Texas seemed like the last place on earth that would face a winter storm of this magnitude, and as the largest producer of energy in the country, they should be the last place without power, right? In a perfect world, yes, but the world is far from perfect, and the Texas power grid is even further from it. 

busting bliss
digital art by Julia Poppa

Texas certainly is a state like no other — even its energy structure is vastly different from the rest of the country. To most other US citizens, state-controlled electrical grids are commonplace — something we barely think about, even when the energy bills are a little higher than normal. But in Texas, the energy grid is privatized and deregulated, leaving citizens to choose their power supplier, and leaving the power companies to set the prices. 

On a normal day, in a normal year, this wouldn’t be an issue. Texas’s abundant stores of cheap natural gas and wind powered energy don’t pose much of a problem in terms of bills, and if the cost gets too high, there’s always the option to seek out a new provider. But the climate had other plans for Texas this year, and it exposed the many flaws of treating energy as a commodity in the modern age.

As nearly 300,000 Texans continue to go without power, the city skylines are lit up bright as ever– a mockery of the citizens outside city limits who are dying of negligence and struggling to decide whether or not to submit to the brutal winter or spend the entirety of their savings on the energy bill for this past week alone. Saying “their entire savings” seems like a far cry, but it’s exactly what’s happening to the people left at odds with the weather by their own elected officials. 

A 63-year-old army veteran, Scott Willoughby, said he’s been broken by this crisis, and emptied his savings to pay for the $16,752 electrical bill— 70 times higher than what he would normally pay. Situations like these are being reported all over the state of Texas, and as Texans, and citizens around the country, call for the Texan government to protect its citizens from these skyrocketing bills, government officials seem to point the blame at anyone except themselves.

The former governor of Texas, Rick Perry, said on Wednesday  that Texans would rather spend longer in freezing temperatures and without energy than submitting to the Democrat’s oh-so-disastrous goal of regulating contributors to climate change. The current governor, Greg Abbott, also was unable to admit to his state’s failure to protect its citizens, blaming the outages on the wind turbines being frozen and solar panels being covered in snow. But the issue is not that fossil fuels are better or worse than clean energy — well, at least it’s not the most pressing issue right now– the issue lies more firmly in the government’s inability to take responsibility for their shortcomings. 

I’ve even scrolled past a few tweets blaming Texans for electing people like Cruz and Abbott, sharing sentiments that loosely translate to “you made your bed, now lie in it.”

It seems clear to outsiders that this issue rests solely in the hands of the people responsible for destroying Texan’s access to affordable power, but when anyone is the victim of a situation, it’s already hard enough not to blame themselves, and even harder when they’re being blamed by the people they voted into power.

In blaming a community that we often forget we are a part of, we are left pointing fingers at essential workers, our neighbors, and healthcare workers who are just trying to do the best they can with the limited resources they’ve been given. ”

But these issues of imbalanced power dynamics and widespread victim blaming from the mouths of perpetrators extend far beyond the borders of Texas. 

Since 2020 began, it seems that victim shaming is becoming more and more common. Unfortunately, there’s a culture in America — not only of victim shaming — but of normalizing things we should not normalize, and large corporations and governmental figureheads playing the blame game with citizens whom they’ve wronged is one of those things. 

Now, I could be talking about anything — body shaming, homelessness, police brutality — all of which have been carelessly labeled as effects of individual actions, but this past year alone, the pandemic has been a shining testimonial to American willpower when it comes to blaming the victim. 

Think back to the beginning of lockdown– or before that, even. As COVID-19 rushed toward our doorstep, Former President Trump ignored the warning signs that began surfacing as early as December of 2019. His administration then proceeded to fall flat on their face over and over again, dodging decisive actions at all costs– it took Trump an entire month from the first reported US case to even admit that COVID-19 might be an issue, despite the fact the US case total had risen to about 200 people by that point. 

By the time March 6th rolled around, Trump admitted that he would rather trap hundreds of people on a cruise ship to let the coronavirus work itself out there, simply to avoid having to report mounting case numbers. And by March 20th, he blamed the overwhelming of the healthcare system on immigrants entering the US through the US-Mexico border

Nowhere in the COVID-19 timeline does there exist accountability on part of the US Government for a failure to respond to the pandemic appropriately. Surely we each have a responsibility to do what we can to stop the spread of the coronavirus, but the lack of preemptive measures and a quick and structured response to the pandemic certainly has played a much larger role in the events of the past year than any one individual’s responsibilities. So why do we all keep blaming ourselves?

In a 2020 study done by YouGov, over 50% said they think the public is most responsible for the rise in coronavirus cases, with a disappointingly small 30% who think it’s the government’s responsibility to do more. In situations like these, a balance between government involvement and individual responsibility is important.   

In blaming a community that we often forget we are a part of, we are left pointing fingers at essential workers, our neighbors, and healthcare workers who are just trying to do the best they can with the limited resources they’ve been given. 

Sure, imposing harsh restrictions on the people you’ve sworn to protect isn’t an easy decision, but as unprecedented numbers of Americans continue to die from this pandemic, accountability must be taken somewhere– and, spoiler alert, not just among the American people. 

But maybe the connections between the US’s disgustingly high coronavirus stats compared to that of other countries, combined with the previous administration’s gross incompetence when it comes to a timely and effective pandemic response, is too abstract. 

One of the shiniest of all the shining examples of victim blaming comes in neatly wrapped– then torn apart viciously by a cat with razor0-sharp claws trying to open a box of catnip– package called the climate crisis.

It’s an issue surrounding all of us, all the time, that continues to get worse, and the proposed solutions? Veganism, glass bottles, shorter showers, and composting — not decisive action taken on a national, or even global, scale, and certainly not decisive action based in scientific fact. 

But when we think about these solutions, we often are led back to this idea that somehow we, as individuals, are responsible for a global issue spanning decades upon decades. We often think about this idea of our “carbon footprint”, which isn’t a bad thing necessarily. Being conscious of your personal environmental impact is great, in fact, but the origins of the term diminish its profound retrospective qualities. 

With large corporations like BP and Coca Cola putting on fronts of activism and hope for the future while they keep plotting to pollute and devastate the climate behind corporate doors, it’s hard not to see the double standard. ”

The infamous UK based oil company British Petroleum (BP) is actually the one responsible for coining this term about environmental impact, which seems wildly inappropriate considering the environmental effects of profiting exclusively off of the consumption of fossil fuels. The company released its Carbon Footprint Calculator in 2004, which has now been adopted by key environmental agencies, including the EPA. 

The issue with the idea of a “carbon footprint” lies within its implications. As I mentioned, knowing how you contribute to climate stability– or lack thereof– is great if you want to know how to reduce your impact, but we often forget that, as individuals, our contributions to the environment go about as far as trying to throw a boulder with one arm. We might make some small impact, but it’ll never be enough to get that boulder to where we want it to be. But with large corporations like BP and Coca Cola putting on fronts of activism and hope for the future while they keep plotting to pollute and devastate the climate behind corporate doors, it’s hard not to see the double standard. 

And it’s not just mega-corporations doing the damage. Our own military is one of the worst polluters in the world. If our military was its own country, it would still be in the top fifty worst polluters on a global scale. While there are hundreds of organizations working nationwide to combat climate change, the US military just about undoes all of their progress. 

Suffice it to say, we can’t solely blame ourselves for the rapidly decaying environment we all share, nor can we do that with many of the other large scale issues we often feel burdened by. Whether it’s on a state, national, or global level, as individuals we can’t take full responsibility for the current state of our communities. 

It’s important to remember that while there are actions we can take to better our communities and service ourselves and others, we’re hardly to blame for the severity of the issue. The next time a crisis pops up or an ongoing one is chalked up to what you and your family can do at home, just know that oftentimes, the person, corporation, or governmental figureheads that try to place that blame on you are often the ones that need to be held accountable.