In my American history survey course that covers roughly 1877 till the present, I recently discussed Social Darwinism. That was the deliberate misreading of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution to apply to human societies, particularly to public policy. Darwin never intended for his scientific observations and in turn sophisticated theories to be applied to 19th-century England or any other society. Yet persons in England, in America, and elsewhere who wanted scientific justification for doing nothing to help the most vulnerable members of their societies–the poor, the unemployed, the starving, the homeless, the mentally and physically challenged—constructed the fiction that became Social Darwinism.
These folks justified letting their otherwise heartless and cruel arguments and policies by claiming that allowing disadvantaged people to survive, much less to have children, would harm the overall health of societies’ more worthy citizens. Best to let “nature take its course” and know that, in the long run, this was the right thing to do.
It finally dawned on me that Gov. LePage holds identical views. This may explain his seemingly erratic decisions rather than having been a victim of bullying in his youth or having a problem with alcohol. His implicit embrace of Social Darwinism goes beyond his obvious dislike of people “from away”—and especially people of color “from away”–and his passion to make the richest Mainers ever richer and the poorest Mainers ever poorer.
No, Gov. LePage goes out of his way to veto bipartisan bills that would help other Mainers without much if any cost to the state; rejects federal aid for countless causes that also would likewise not cost the state much if anything; and dismisses as sour grapes the pleas of those persons and of humanitarian agencies that want to help them survive…
Just in recent days the Governor has without explanation returned a $3 million annual federal grant that had been used effectively for its first two years and that was helping teenagers and young adults at risk for serious mental illness. That was followed by the possible loss of jobs by 51 state workers if the state contracts instead with a private agency. for job training for welfare recipients. The Governor dismissed the pleas not to terminate those 51 experienced workers with the same contempt he shows others who might be harmed by his policies and vetoes.
The nineteenth-century Social Darwinians didn’t lose any sleep over what they did. Far from it. They believed that they would be judged as heroes, not villains. I strongly suspect that Paul LePage has the same excessive self-esteem.