It’s been 38 years since Ronald Reagan in one of his first acts of president abolished the Mental Health System Act that Congress passed and Jimmy Carter signed on his way out of office.
Thirteen years earlier in 1967 during his first term of governor Reagan accelerated the deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill in state hospitals. To make it clear this isn’t a political issue per se, as the process was started in the late 1950s by Democrats of whom many were concerned about the rights of the mentally ill being compromised. The courts concurred and the Republicans joined the dance for whatever reason whether it was to reduce government costs or protect the rights of the homeless.
Fast forward to the present and listen to the mental illness debate as it pertains to the homeless. Not a day goes by that someone doesn’t blame Reagan for the homeless problem.
Think about it for a second. Either 38 or 51years have passed depending upon your measuring stick and people are still blaming Reagan for the problem. Here’s a novel idea: Instead of spending so much time blaming why don’t we try to come up with a workable solution? Since Reagan we’ve had two Democrats and three Republicans in the White House and control of Congress has flipped back and forth as well as being split. Yet the best they can do is try to assign blame for the mental health morass instead of working to address real issues that are manifesting themselves in school shootings, chronic homelessness, and a host of other societal issues.
After a certain point basking in laying blame for problems instead of stepping up and trying to solve them becomes the moral equivalent of whining.
You see it everywhere. Young men who say they can’t do something, blaming the fact they did not have a father to show them. A murderer or rapist blaming what they did on abusive parents. Someone blaming their lot in life on the fact no one gave them money to go to college.
Society encourages the whinny blame game. After every mass shooting we become obsessed with not simply finding out why it happened but what is to blame.
The Las Vegas shooter supposedly had money problems. If that is what was to blame for a pure act of evil then two thirds of the United States population should have been wiped out during the housing collapse. The same is true of those striving to blame peer rejection for school shootings. If that were the case life expectancy for the species would be reduced to 12 years for males and 16 years for females.
We spend incredible amounts of energy assigning blame whether it involves homeless issues and school shootings and then using whatever we determine the “cause” was to get in the face of others. We rarely have much energy left over to work on solutions let alone have enough chips remaining that we can engage in the necessary give and take required to get effective and lasting solutions in place.
Assigning blame has become the Great American Cop Out.
Too often it is used to give oneself a feeling of superiority, to ignore that pure evil exists in the world and must be dealt with as such, or to simply satisfy a need to do something.
That is when blaming becomes whining.
We know there are mentally ill among the homeless.
By constantly blaming it on whatever you wish, in this case Reagan, and not working toward a solution you become a whiner.
There has got to be better ways to run state asylums or address mental issues without pumping people up with drugs. At the same time the political issues — addressing the constitutionality of involuntary temporary holds to the point there’s a better litmus test that can pass legal challenges — need to be tackled.
We’ve also have to be willing to endure a rise in our “un-comfort level” to find a workable solution that might include an element or two we’re less than thrilled about.
It’s not going to be easy. It’s not going to happen overnight. But given the fix we’re in today is essentially a modern-day invention it is clear there is a way out of the cave we’ve gotten lost in.
We need to keep searching for the way out instead of sitting down and doing what Dr. Smith of Lost in Space fame did. Dr. Smith was an expert at assigning blame, whining, and then wallowing in self-pity before actively trying to undermine any effort to change the situation.
Being addicted to blame is no better than being addicted to meth.
We use it as a crutch to take the easy way out and do nothing or to justify not healthily engaging the rest of society.
I’d like to think that Reagan’s actions on the homeless and the consequential results imagined or otherwise is not the final word on how America deals with mental illness.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.