Post-accountability. That’s the word I predicted would be 2017’s “word of the year.” It seemed a reasonable follow-up to last year’s winners.
“On a logical continuum from surreal to post-truth,” I wrote in December, “next year’s likely winner will be post-accountability. That is, personal responsibility will no longer matter once reality becomes unreal and facts are obsolete.”
Admittedly, post-accountability is not a word you’ll find in the dictionary; I fashioned it out of the prefix post (“after”) and the noun accountability (“the willingness to accept responsibility”). It seemed fitting to me now that fewer and fewer people are willing to be held accountable.
Based on recent events — locally and nationally — I think post-accountability is a serious contender for word of the year (even if it’s not in the dictionary). Let’s look at the evidence:
1. In Connecticut, few in the state capital have shown much accountability regarding the state’s budget. Ironically, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy — still languishing in the doldrums of public opinion — is one of the few politicians to demonstrate at least some leadership.
The Connecticut General Assembly is another story. House Democrats, in particular, have failed to step up.
“As a scheduled special session [on June 29] approached with no new budget to vote on,” wrote my colleague Susan Bigelow, “House Democrats had two options: they could either agree to a ‘mini-budget’ proposed by the Malloy administration, or they could let the governor set very, very limited spending by executive order until they got their act together.”
“They decided to take the easy way out and let the governor do it.”
Talk about a lack of accountability.
2. At the national level, of course, there’s Donald Trump. The man, quite simply, is the champion of passing the buck. Limited space prohibits me from listing the endless examples of the president’s epic flip-flopping. But consider his reaction earlier this week to the Senate’s inability to either repeal or replace the Affordable Care Act, as Trump promised repeatedly on the campaign trail:
“I think we’re probably in that position where we’ll just let Obamacare fail. We’re not gonna own it. I’m not gonna own it.”
Not exactly a Trumanesque, “buck-stops-here” moment.
But there’s more, of course. When news broke a week ago regarding a meeting last summer between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer (among others) who promised to deliver dirt on Hillary Clinton, Trump Sr. did not bat an eyelash.
“Most politicians would have gone to a meeting like the one Don jr [sic] attended in order to get info on an opponent,” Trump tweeted. “That’s politics!”
Countered Newsweek: “Of course, Trump associates long denied contact with Russia and any sort of influence campaign on their behalf by that country — all of which seemingly proved to be untrue by Trump Jr.‘s emails.”
But in an era of post-accountability, what’s the big deal?
3. The most distressing aspect of this lack of accountability comes on the personal level. We should look no further than ourselves — individual citizens — when complaining about the current shortage of personal integrity. Take this news item from The Hill:
“Nearly a third of Americans who voted for President Trump said they don’t believe that Trump’s eldest son met with a Russian lawyer last year, according to a new poll released Tuesday. That’s despite the fact that Donald Trump Jr. has admitted that the meeting took place.”
Say what? These people actually refuse to believe a story already confirmed by their ally because, presumably, they did not like the news. It doesn’t get any more accountability-free than that. But it’s not just these Trumpsters living in denial.
We all now exist in “filter bubbles” where digital media is catered to our personal interests. This phenomenon was glaringly evident during the presidential campaign when a BuzzFeed study of “six large hyperpartisan Facebook pages selected from the right and from the left found that the least accurate pages generated … far more shares and comments than three large mainstream political news pages.”
Many pundits called for Facebook and Google to tag such “hyperpartisan” material as “fake news” to alert consumers. But as we’ve already seen, people will steadfastly believe what they want to believe anyway, regardless of the facts.
“This is no secret in the publishing world: partisanship is an amazing driver of engagement,” writes Tobias Rose-Stockwell in a fascinating article about the power of personal algorithms. “People prefer to click, comment, and share the things that make them feel good — and stories that confirm beliefs feel good.
So why should we be accountable to facts when we can just “feel good” in our own, personal realities?
Alas, it seems we now live in a world where the buck stops nowhere, cementing post-accountability as an early leader in the race for word of the year.
Barth Keck is an English teacher and assistant football coach who teaches courses in journalism, media literacy, and AP English Language & Composition at Haddam-Killingworth High School.
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