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What Happened To Integrity In America?

I

n the past in America, it was deemed unseemly and a matter not only of poor manners, but of poor personal character to attempt to take advantage of high-level personal relationships, for the low purpose of making money. It was seen as akin to selling one’s soul merely to gain filthy lucre. It was understood to be dishonorable and something that people of character simply did not do.


For example, after leaving the White House, President Ulysses S. Grant was destitute and dying. To support himself and his family financially, he wrote “Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant.” He died of cancer of the throat shortly after finishing the manuscript. President Harry Truman retired from the Presidency to return to his very modest home in Missouri. He had no government pension and lived on modest savings and donations from friends. Neither he nor any of his relatives took money in exchange for political lobbying efforts.


Fast forward to today, in a recent headline, “China’s Huawei Hires Democratic Lobbyist Tony Podesta.” By itself that may not mean much to the vast majority of readers. So let me explain. Tony Podesta is the brother of John Podesta. John is a long-time Washington political veteran of the Democratic Party.


John Podesta served as Chief of Staff for President Bill Clinton, has been a prodigious fundraiser for the Democratic Party, and founded the extremely liberal "Center for American Progress“ think tank in Washington. He is a constant adviser to President Biden with more or less instant entrée to the Oval Office any time he wishes.


To the extent that each of us strives to practice integrity, to which our communities and world benefit as a whole—and everyone is capable of doing—politics is another matter. Case and point, the Clintons, the Obamas, and to a certain extent, the Bushes, but they were already wealthy when 43 was elected. The Clintons and the Obamas on the other hand, are a textbook example of how only in modern American politics—as this is not possible anywhere in the world except China—can someone enter office modestly well-off, and emerge worth hundreds of millions of dollars or capable of buying multiple multimillion dollar states in both D.C. And Martha’s Vineyard. And that after years on a government employee‘s salary!


In any case, in politics, the premium on winning is so high that it overrides a person’s inner sense of what’s right and wrong. You get so swept up in seeking power, and the associated rewards of wealth, that you allow to dismiss your inequities under the justification of "this is how things are done.“ There are also other threats to our integrity that come in the form of vanity and arrogance.


Question is how do you fix this? It's a rhetorical question. In the end, the challenges and the threats that come along may change. But to stay absolutely anchored in what we know is right and good—in one’s highest sense of integrity—is a perennial demand.

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