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  • Jay Kaufman

On Culture and Leadership

January 14, 2022

Under the headline “Dueling Crises in the U.K.,” today’s New York Times relates two stories about the misadventures of Prince Andrew and Prime Minister Boris Johnson. The former stands accused and will stand trial for sex with an under-age women/girl. The latter attended a 10 Downing Street party that violated the government’s own protocols of Covid safety. Long before a trial and possible conviction, the Queen stripped Andrew of his royal titles, indeed of his royalty, and he is now a civilian. Boris Johnson, for his partying and associated mistruths and failure to take responsibility for his actions, is facing calls for his resignation and will, in all probability, resign.

Join me in crossing the Atlantic and taking note of the state of justice and accountability on these shores. How do you spell a study in contrast? We have a former President arguably guilty of treason, not to mention crimes against humanity for his administration’s treatment of children and families at our southern border. He is unquestionably guilty of abusing his power and violating his oath of office. Yet, the only prospective charges against him are for tax evasion and fraudulent business practices that predate his presidency. His response to calls for accountability is to lie about the way we count votes and to launch a rehabilitation and re-election campaign.

But this isn’t about Andrew, Boris or Donald. It’s about the cultures within which they are embedded. In one, a sense of decency matters. In the other it apparently doesn’t. In one, there is shared accountability and responsibility. In the other, not so much. In fact a strong case can be made that Trump’s ability to evade the consequences of his actions is less about him and more about his enablers, those who stand with him and those who fail to stand up to him. Our former President’s failures are compounded by the failures of the men and women, of both parties, in whom we have entrusted the awesome responsibility of steering the ship of state.

Our dueling crises are at the intersection of bad leadership and failure to lead. And in our democracy, the failure is ours. The question is what will we the people do at this delicate crossroads in our experiment with self-governance? If today’s Times is to be trusted, we still have a lot to learn from our mother country.

Two days later, January 16, 2022

Another study in contrast. Today’s Times reports that the University of Michigan’s trustees fired the university president for having an affair with one of his subordinates. I have no informed judgment on the subject, but have concerns based on the article. For one, the trustees’ letter of dismissal cited “an anonymous complainant.” Second, the released email exchange seems to confirm the affair but makes it clear that is involved two consenting adults. Each of these considerations is worthy of further development.

But that’s not today’s point. Our former President is guilty of far worse. That he had multiple affairs is clear. That he holds women in disrespect is beyond doubt and we have his own voice and actions in evidence. And instead of being fired, he was elected President and is, to this day, revered, at least by some, even many. No one has - or is - holding Donald Trump accountable for behavior “inconsistent with the dignity and reputation,” to use the Michigan trustees’ language, in this case not of the campus community, but of the nation, the Presidency, and the male of the species.

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