A lot of hullabaloo has been made about the crowds at the Republican presidential debates in the past few weeks. In the debate two weeks ago, the Iowa crowd cheered when Governor Rick Perry said that he had absolutely no regrets about the number of executions in Texas during his tenure.
And most recently, on Thursday night, the Florida crowd audibly booed an openly gay soldier when he asked a question about the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
This was incredibly disrespectful, especially coming from a group of people that would probably say, under normal circumstances, that they support the troops no matter what.
Now, both crowds were obviously conservative, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are so anti-gay that they refuse to respect the troops who happen to be so. I think it is much more likely that they got caught up in the moment.
We all know that crowds can generally do things that individuals wouldn’t. Crowd psychology is a very, very dangerous thing, and when people group together in anger, the chance of something embarrassing or unfortunate happening is much greater.
It is something that all people have experience with. When we are taught about the dangers of alcohol and drugs, we are told that in a group of people, the chances of something bad happening increases and bad choices are made.
There isn’t a consistent theory in the field of psychology about why people might act differently when in a large group of people than alone, especially when those actions are something they would be ashamed of.
And that isn’t to say that crowds can’t serve a good purpose. A rally atmosphere can be a very good thing, after, say, a national tragedy or during a sports game. If you have ever been to an NFL game or a political rally, it can be fun to be caught up in an atmosphere where everyone is cheering.
I attended a Tea Party rally last year in order to write a critical piece about the movement, but despite myself, the crowd managed to get to me, and I found myself clapping and cheering on occasion.
When you are in a crowd, you don’t think and you don’t want to. It is a time when you, as a human being, can turn off your brain for a while and just be excited about something.
I bring this up because over the next year of aggressive political campaigning, there are going to be a lot of rallies and a lot of events for political candidates in St. Louis—Missouri is a swing state after all. If Wash. U. gets a vice presidential debate again, it will probably be surrounded by some of the most bitter, partisan political rhetoric most of us have experienced in our young lives.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t attend these events, and I’m not saying you shouldn’t campaign for what you believe in. Even if I’m abroad next year, I will still be doing absolutely everything I can to try and get President Obama and Sen. McCaskill reelected. That is just what I do.
But over the next year, whenever you are in a crowd, keep your head about you. Recognize when that crowd hits a tipping point and when the group you are in starts to turn nasty. Try and make sure that you don’t do anything that you wouldn’t normally do as an individual. Just because you are in a crowd, doesn’t mean that you won’t have to answer to your conscience afterward.
Don’t make the same mistake that the crowds at the Republican debates did. We, as a nation, are better than that. I know we are, and it is up to every one of us to prove it.