An investigation led by a former U.S. Attorney has revealed that General Motors knew about a safety defect in its ignition switches for a full decade but did nothing to fix the problem. Thirteen people died in accidents related to the defect. This is the same General Motors that American taxpayers lost over $11 billion from the 2009 federal bailout. An issue of ethics or negligence? Or both?
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has come under intense scrutiny after reports uncovered the deaths of dozens of veterans who died waiting for care. The VA has allegedly been manipulating data to meet performance goals, and the resultant payment of hundreds of thousands in bonuses reflects a systemic deterioration in the culture and performance of the organization charged with caring for the nation’s veterans.
News from Atlanta revealed that 35 teachers, principals, and other education leaders of Atlanta Public Schools have been charged with being part of a cheating ring where test sheets were altered or fabricated and test scores were inflated. It is one of the largest cheating scandals in U.S. history.
Lance Armstrong admits he cheated, lied, denied, and bullied during his career as a cyclist in which he was the winner of seven Tour de France titles. He has since been stripped of those titles.
The Internal Revenue Service has selected conservative political groups applying for tax-exempt status for additional scrutiny in what appears to be a partisan political use of the IRS. There is considerably more than a scintilla of evidence to make Americans rightfully uncomfortable with this dangerous abuse of power.
A search of the internet finds that there is no shortage of lists of the Most Corrupt, to include states, governors, congressman, cities, and companies. Americans are fast losing confidence in such long-standing institutions as federal and state governments, the press, the church, and business.
Are these ethical lapses a reflection of a corrupted and value-diminished culture? Only to a limited degree, in my opinion. Our capitalist system with its large sums of money has, and always will, attract criminals and rogues. Our nation is divided politically, and a win-at-all-costs mentality seems to exist. These issues are not unique to these times, however.
Have Americans become too cowardly or disinterested or disenfranchised to smoke out those of low ethics? I don’t believe so, as evidenced by the whistleblowers in the VA and other scandals.
Are the ethics problems seemingly so widespread in the public and private sectors that a feeling of powerlessness among ethical, law-abiding Americans has come to prevail? Perhaps, but Americans also know they have the power of the ballot box or the power of the consumer dollar.
So, are the ethical lapses in America the new normal, or is it just an aberration?
It’s an aberration, in my judgment. I suggest that the heart of the problem is an abject failure of American leadership. Our elected officials are viewed negatively in near-record levels. Our current president is on a pathway to being viewed as the most incompetent in the nation’s history. His credibility as a truthful, skillful executive barely registers any signs of life whatsoever. The person at the top in any government, business, or military organization sets the example. And it’s a better example this nation very badly needs, across the board.
Leadership may not solve all of America’s ethical problems, but an absence of leadership will certainly compound them.