By Frank Vogl
August 23, 2017.
With vindictive and divisive language the President of the United States further damaged the worldwide reputation of the United States in a speech he delivered last night in Phoenix, Arizona.
The United States of America, a nation that has increasingly handed to special interests many of the levers of political power, that sees rising corruption, that fails to adequately deal with racial injustice, and that elects a man who preaches “America First” (and sees the slogan embracing the notion of white, non-Jewish Americans first), now risks losing its moral compass.
This is a rare moment in American politics when all of us who daily dive into the details of major national and international public policy issues have been distracted by a fundamental issue of values. A storm has been unleashed by the statements by President Donald Trump following the horrible events in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a brave woman who opposed a rally of neo-Nazis was murdered and where 19 others were injured.
Anti-Semitism on Display
New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd summed up the core issue: “When Trump buoyed the Ku Klux Klan and the neo-Nazis who had marched in Charlottesville with Tiki torches, Confederate flags, Nazi slogans, swastikas and banners reading “Jews will not replace us” — even as one of their leaders told a Vice News reporter how disgusting it was that Trump’s “beautiful” blond daughter was married to a Jewish man — the president made it clear which category he is in.”
There is now a blunt challenge to business leaders, national politicians and members of the White House team as to whether they risk their personal integrity by sticking with the President. A friend of mine noted the other day that, “Nobody with a scintilla of integrity should stay in the Trump Administration.”
Jews in this Administration are challenged
The sharpest challenge is being faced by two Jews who hold key positions. Both chief economic advisor Gary Cohn and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin were standing next to the President at the Trump Tower press conference where he refused to place total blame for the Charlottesville events on forces of white supremacy and anti-Semitism, but lashed out against those who opposed the fascists. Both of them were encouraged to resign by many of their Wall Street friends.
Neither man has explained why he is staying - maybe it is the enjoyment of great political power and personal ambition – and both are diminished as a result.
I would like these men, as well as Trump, to come and see the new film that I have helped to make about my cousin Zuzana Ruzickova. In the award-winning documentary, Zuzana: Music Is Life, we learn of the consequences of anti-Semitism unleashed under the Nazis and the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia: and, we learn of the courage of one individual to never lose her dignity, despite all the evil she confronted in over 50 years.
One Businessman Takes the Lead
As the events unfolded in Charlottesville so the President responded with a weak statement that was widely criticized in the U.S. media. Then, Kenneth Frazier, chairman of Merck, the giant pharmaceutical company and one of the few black Americans to head a major U.S. firm, resigned from the President’s Manufacturing Council.
I had the privilege quite a few years ago to sit alongside Mr. Frazier on the board of the not-for-profit Ethics Resource Center (ERC), which promoted corporate ethics. Frazier was unequivocal in the view that the ‘tone at the top’ of corporations is crucial to business success and that the tone had to be grounded in core values of decency and integrity. When the future of the ERC was in doubt because of funding problems, Frazier took charge and ensured that the organization was placed on a solid footing and today the renamed Ethics & Compliance Initiative is the most influential organization of its kind in America.
It was a sad moment in the annals of corporate America that so few other business leaders followed swiftly upon Frazier's example. They saw the President use Twitter to hurl abuse on Frazier and so most of them stayed silent. As Trump's anger with Merck's chief and other critics rose, so he revealed his true self with his Trump Tower statements and that was just too much for many fence-sitting U.S. corporate leaders.
They made a business calculation: they reckoned the point had been reached where the costs of antagonizing many of their stakeholders by remaining silent were greater than the consequences of offending the nation’s political leader. Their sluggish responses, in contrast to the swift and bold statement by Ken Frazier, reflects badly on perceptions of the values of many of the most powerful U.S. corporate titans who served on the Manufacturing Council from such enterprises as JP Morgan Chase, Johnson & Johnson and General Electric. In each case the leaders were reported to have been privately angry with Trump, but they failed to share their views publicly until they had no choice.
Military Values & Silent Republicans
Their timidity contrasts with the swift and unequivocal statements made by America’s military leaders who condemned the white supremacists in straightforward language. They reminded America’s soldiers that respect for diversity in all its forms is a core value for the nation and its armed forces.
By contrast, most of the national leaders of the Republican Party have been silent. Not a single one of them, for example, accepted invitations to talk about the issue on weekly nationally televised “Meet The Press” show. Neither the Republican leader of the U.S. Senate, Mich McConnell, or his counterpart in the House of Representatives, Paul Ryan, would mention the name of the President in their general press statements opposing bigotry. The Republican National Committee’s (RNC) response has been bizarre.
RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel confined her response to declaring, "The hate and bigotry on display in Charlottesville is dangerous and cowardly." While the RNC’s website home page prominently displays a has a picture of Trump with a slogan, “Join the #Big League Truth Team.”
The Republicans are scared. They worry about the 2018 Congressional elections if the party looks disunited. They worry about the damage to prospects for major legislation, from healthcare and tax reforms, to trade deals and infrastructure finance, if they have to fight both the President and the Democrats. These worries have resulted in too many Republican leaders evading core issues of values that are fundamental essential to this democracy.
The lack of forceful criticism by leading Republicans only encouraged President Trump in Phoenix last evening to attack Arizona's two Republican senators and blast everyone who disagrees with his views. He distorted his own words of last week to suggest in Phoenix that the press had misquoted him!
Moral authority lacking
The President has been blasted by the mainstream U.S. media in recent days on the left and on the right as having demonstrated that he has no sense of moral authority. Too many others in leadership positions have also been been found wanting.
Not since the dark days of Watergate in 1974 has it been so urgent that leaders emerge in this country to embrace integrity and declare, as Kenneth Frazier did in his message to President Trump: "America's leaders must honor our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry and group supremacy."