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Opinion: Our leaders must be held responsible for America’s hatred, division and tragedies

We’re all smart businesspeople. We have to be in order to have achieved what we have achieved. And now, we must use our powers of perception and intelligence to address a complex situation that begins to be unraveled by asking a rather simple question: Are we living in a country which is being manipulated to replicate Germany of the 1930s where hatred and anti-Semitism were the norm? Where political leaders used a philosophy of “divide and conquer” as they bullied their way to power? Where acts of violence and destruction of public and private property became tools to ensure dictatorial control over the masses? Where the press was attacked and replaced by propaganda and lies packaged as a dictator’s vision of reality? Where children were turned against parents and neighbors against neighbors and formerly civilized individuals thought nothing of committing murder in the name of a nationalist philosophy built on hate?

No — the U.S. in 2018 may not now have reached equivalency with Germany of the 1930s, but many of the elements are already starting to appear here and recent events should serve as a warning of where our experiment in democracy could wind up and how quickly we as a society could descend into the depths of depravity.

The Oct. 27 massacre in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh cannot be viewed as an isolated incident. Mass murders have taken place across the U.S. in schools, theaters, nightclubs, factories, offices. And, as if to amplify the aberrant effect, the Pittsburgh shooting took place within days of 14 packages containing pipe bombs being mailed in failed attempts to assassinate key political leaders, including past presidents, all of whom had been the subjects of criticism and ridicule by our current president, Donald Trump. Did Mr. Trump empower the fringe elements at work here? Evidence on the pipe bombing suspect’s van and websites clearly suggests that the answer is “yes.” Yet many Trump supporters just as emphatically say “no.” Yet others, even powerful elected officials, stay stunningly silent. As a society, though, we need to ask whether empowerment of hatred and violence is acceptable and should be allowed to stand.

While the Pittsburgh atrocity was clearly an act based on the shooter’s hatred of Jewish people as evidenced by his online postings and the invective he shouted as he was firing, his bigotry was unique because it was out in the open.

Hatred and bigotry can be found virtually everywhere you care to look for it in America today, from the workplace to places of recreation, and it is becoming more overt. The Anti-Defamation League reported a 57 percent increase in the number of serious anti-Semitic incidents reported in 2017 over the number reported in 2016. People desecrated Jewish cemeteries, spray-painted Nazi swastikas on buildings or other property and committed or threatened acts of violence 1,986 times in the U.S. last year, according to the ADL. Why the increase? Many are convinced that it begins at the top, with President Trump, who drew a moral equivalency between white nationalist Nazis marching in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the peaceful protesters who tried to demonstrate that their form of hatred and violence has no place in our society. They also point out that Mr. Trump was reluctant to disavow the political support he had gotten from Ku Klux Klan Wizard David Duke. They also point to Mr. Trump’s inability to express empathy with victims of violence and hatred and sexual assault. Yes: there is truth to the proverb, “The fish rots from the head down.”

As businesspeople, we know that we must promote civility within our workforce. Doesn’t that make it even more outrageous for us to witness a president who rallies crowds by using invective directed at specific individuals and promotes chanting such as “Lock her up” and “CNN sucks?” And repeatedly attacks such stalwarts of truth and honest journalism as The New York Times and The Washington Post?

As businesspeople we know that we must protect our staff and our customers from random acts of aggression and violence. Does that mean that we are sinking to a level where armed guards must be every place in order to keep people safe? It truly is about time for politicians to stand up and begin a serious dialogue seeking reasonable solutions to the menace caused by living in a society where there are an estimated 393 million guns with military-style assault weapons available pretty much for the asking.

Bold leadership isn’t measured by the noise level of the bullying and demagoguery. It is measured by principled action designed to promote safety and security for all of us. As businesspeople, isn’t it time for us to come out from under the balance sheets and take stands on issues which might help keep our democracy one of the people, by the people and for the people?

As businesspeople, we know that there is a need for honesty, integrity and factualness when communicating with our employees and customers. Why then, is it acceptable for the leader of the free world to deal in what are euphemistically called “alternative facts.” And, doesn’t a pattern of lies lead to sending a message that you as an individual can live in whatever reality you devise, even one in which violence and physical domination are more important than intellect.

Clearly, what we are seeing unfold, albeit with some things happening subtly and in slow motion, is not what the founding fathers intended. Checks and balances within the government are slowly being undermined and the rule of law seems no longer sacrosanct.

Continue the way we’re going and division, hatred and violence will become the dominant elements in the way we live our individual lives, interact with one another and forge the moral compass we pass along to our children. More than being dismissed as despicable tragedies, which are soon forgotten as have been others, the violence we have recently witnessed needs to be treated as a wake-up call we have no choice but to heed in order to save our society while we still have the chance.

Politicians need to care less about winning elections and more about doing what’s necessary to restore our nation to civility. Where has the courage of our founding fathers gone?


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