In America today we have lost faith and trust in nearly every political institution, which at one time used to bind us together for the common good. This includes the two major parties that are viewed unfavorably by a majority of Americans, along with the federal government, the Congress, the president and, increasingly, our institutions of justice and law enforcement.
Our republic depends on such institutions and norms of behavior without which we can’t function as a democracy.
We appear to have very little integrity in Washington, D.C., today, which allows people who have none to thrive and not be held accountable as they would have in years past. This is one of the major reasons President Trump has been able to survive through all the controversies and surfacing scandals.
When folks see little to no integrity in D.C., and they watch most politicians operate from an “ends justify the means” mentality, it is no wonder some will accept leaders with little to no moral compass who in their minds accomplish some desired political end. Think of it this way. In a community that is run by gangs, one way to go is to just find oneself the biggest, baddest gang leader, and try to protect one’s own interests. It becomes an “everybody does it” mentality, so I might as well get mine while I can, or protect my tribe by any means available, even if it is corrupt or illegal. It seems this is where we are today in our politics.
The other direction one might go in this environment, which desperately needs integrity, is to support leaders regardless of political persuasion or experience who exhibit a level of honesty or integrity as an antidote to the rampant corruption.
I would argue that is what most Americans want. They doubt these leaders exist, but they are hungry for politicians with a moral compass. Absent that, many will just pick the strongest gang leader who fights for their tribal interests.
In order to bring integrity back to our politics and government (and I would argue business institutions) we need to concentrate on small steps we can all take. This won’t happen overnight, but it is incumbent upon each of us to begin the way forward bit by bit.
Correcting our politics and bringing integrity back as a North Star might begin with lessons learned in the “broken windows” theory written about by Malcolm Gladwell in his bestselling book “The Tipping Point.”
The theory is that if we start with small steps like repairing broken windows in a neighborhood or cleaning up trash in a community, it begins to raise the expectation that we should take care of things better. And by doing these small steps that people can see, it inspires broader change in the behavior of citizens in that community.
We need to begin to repair “broken windows” in our politics so we raise the expectation again that integrity is possible and then required.
What are some of these manageable steps we each can take? We can be honest in what we say and do in our lives, and then require that as an important value we want in our leaders. We can put party aside and our political policy ends secondary, and operate using the moral compass of our shared values.
We can hold ourselves accountable when we deviate from a path of integrity, and we can also help support people who speak the truth but who are under assault by the tribal gangs trying to preserve the status quo.
We can search for information that doesn’t merely confirm our political biases, but brings us closer to the truth even though it might make us feel uncomfortable. We can surround ourselves with a diverse group of friends and a community that is much more heterogeneous than the ones most of us find ourselves in, and realize that this diversity will help educate us and allow integrity to foster.
Yes, I want our national leaders to be people of integrity with a moral compass, and I want the world to be a much better place, but sometimes the big changes like these feel out of reach or impossible. I sincerely believe it is possible, but only if we begin with steps in our individual lives, and then expecting this from our leaders at all levels.
There is a great scene in the adventure thriller movie “The Core” when they are talking about saving the world. Serge turns to Josh (who is feeling overwhelmed about the Earth’s possibly ending) and says: “I came here to save my wife and my two children and ... six billion lives ... it's too much. I just hope I'm, I'm smart enough and brave enough to save three.” I hope each of us is smart enough and brave enough to just begin repairing the “broken windows” of integrity in the circles of our lives as we engage with our communities and as we vote. Until we do that, and if we just assume all politics is corrupt, then leaders with no moral compass will thrive regardless of which political ideology they represent.
I am not searching for someone who is perfect. I want leaders in the manner I judge myself. I stumble, I fall, I make mistakes, but I am willing to be open about those and seek redemption by reforming my behavior and holding myself responsible, and trying to do better each day for myself and for my community.