There are a lot of words to describe Kwame Kilpatrick. Corrupt and infuriating are two that come to mind. Then there are a few words that can’t be placed in a newspaper. Still, as disdainful as the man and his actions may be, it seems to me he may have been made into a scapegoat.
In a March 12 column for AnnArbor.com, Tom Watkins summed it up best when he compared Kilpatrick’s rise and fall to a classic Greek Tragedy, which he defined as, “A play in which the protagonist, usually a man of importance and outstanding personal qualities, falls to disaster through the combination of a personal failing and circumstances with which he cannot deal.”
Politics can be a dirty business. I doubt a single city on the planet can claim to have never had a corrupt leader at some point. It’s practically a job requirement in Chicago. But Kilpatrick’s corruption and subsequent downfall have captured the press and the spotlight more so than the
average corrupt politician typically does.
Perhaps the media is just desperate to distract us from our crumbling infrastructure and Mad Max-style urban landscapes, where the strong survive through force of arms and good drug connections. Or, they blame him for the fall of the city of Detroit and its continued decline into a ruin of the old American Empire.
Scapegoats are a part of politics. Someone or something people can point to and blame for their problems. Despite the complexity of life, humans, seemingly by nature, like to classify and organize things into neat little packages. They also like to not think, because thinking would reveal how much life can stink and how we are woefully unprepared for the alien invasion foretold in the “Book of Revelation,” or the Illuminati plot to take over Cleveland.
By having a scapegoat to blame for our problems, we can avoid the difficult task of thinking about what went wrong and how we can fix it. We can delude ourselves into thinking that with the scapegoat scapegoated, everything will magically go back to sunshine, happiness and unicorns.
This is not to say that Kilpatrick isn’t a corrupt and conniving so-and-so who is a bad man and should feel guilty about what he did and the opportunity he arrogantly wasted. All of those things are true, but he is also emblematic of a larger system infected with larger problems. Incompetence, ignorance and stubbornness are a lot harder to pinpoint and fix than simple criminal misconduct, however.
Whether Kilpatrick has been made into a scapegoat, a great deal of focus has been placed on him and his crimes. Though doing so highlights Detroit and the state’s need for justice, it detracts from the greater problems facing the city, and by extension, the state.
Too much focus on a single individual and his path of corruption does not help us keep citizens of Detroit safe and out of poverty. Balance must be maintained. Only then can the true problems plaguing Detroit be discovered, acknowledged and dealt with. Scapegoating may be easy, but that’s all the more reason to avoid it.