Think of this as Volume 11, Number 22 of A-Clue.com, the online newsletter I've written since 1997. Enjoy.
Misplaced loyalty sees this word as a two-way street. I'm loyal to you, you're loyal to me.
In fact it's a circle. Loyalty always flows upward. When you're on the top of the tower, that means it flows to what's really most important to everyone else, the customers and owners in the case of a corporation, the voters and the system in the case of a politician. That loyalty then showers down like rain and blesses everyone below, watering the roots, raising everyone up.
In a corporate loyalty chain the result is higher profit, higher sales, and goodwill. Think Warren Buffett (left). His loyalty is to his shareholders, and he teaches that their loyalty is to customers. As a result his annual meetings are a joy, a Buffettstock. Like IBM meetings in the 1920s, Coca-Cola meetings in the 1950s, or Microsoft meetings in the 1990s. When companies are run right this is what all their meetings should be -- celebrations.
In the case of political loyalty the result is much the same -- peace, prosperity, power, and the respect of other nations. All the good feelings one has when one thinks of the word patriotism.
In both politics and corporate life we are supposed to have figures who keep an eye on the powerful and make sure the proper loyalty is maintained, that loyalty to people does not replace loyalty to the system. Prosecutors and courts owe their loyalty to the law, nothing else. They have no loyalty to the people at the top, even when those people are in high office. And when those in the chain of command are questioned by such people, their loyalty too must flow to the system, not to their bosses. Otherwise what's the difference between a political or corporate hierarchy and a Mafia crime family? None.
The words of our national anthem, unfortunately, don't teach this lesson. They're taught better by songs like Norah Jones' American Anthem:
Let them say of me
I was one who believed in
sharing the blessings I received.
Let me know in my heart when my days are through,
America I gave my best to you.
It is in short-circuiting this system that this generation of politicians and corporate leaders have led the United States onto the rocks. They have destroyed our nation's credibility, they have destroyed the credibility of our markets, they have destroyed the credibility of our dollar. That won't be returned to us, automatically, by the results of any election. In a sense we're all like James Frey, whose A Million Little Pieces was shown to be fiction although it was billed as autobiography. (Also see Miller, Judy and Blair, Jayson.)
Lies have been told in our name, and believed. People have been murdered. We have betrayed the trust the world gave to us. Our collective credibility is zero.
The only way to rebuild is from the ground up, brick by brick.
The process starts like any 12-step program. We admit our faults, get it out into the open, and only then work to change our behavior.
That's because the President of the United States violated his oath of office from the moment he took it. He built an Administration, and a government, based on personal loyalty, and party loyalty. His oath said he would defend the Constitution, but instead he defended only his own policies, insisting everyone below him do the same, firing those questioned of not doing so, and enforcing a form of omerta on the rest.
So when Republicans, starting in January, tell us to "get over it," as Antonin Scalia (left) has scowled regarding the 2000 slaughter of democracy he personally engineered, that's advice we must reject. We don't have to concentrate all our energies on it, just as all the energies of Germans were not devoted to Nuremberg in the late 1940s and all the energies of South Africans weren't devoted to their Truth & Reconciliation Commission in the 1990s. But if we don't go through this process, in some way, then they will have gotten away with it. The precedent will be set, and our children will be facing the same shame we're facing now, or worse.
By that I mean, we will have gotten away with it. Without investigations, without trials, without some process which identifies the misplaced loyalty of this era, this decade will become precedent, a permanent stain on our nation, one our great-grandchildren will be unable to wash out.
We don't have to execute George W. Bush. We don't have to throw Phil Gramm in jail. But we must have the truth, all of it, on the record. We need an accounting, a reckoning, a shaming. Something must exist to tell our grandchildren, don't mistake loyalty to the President for loyalty to the Constitution. Don't mistake loyalty to your employer for loyalty to the law. That way lies madness. (The picture is from an Edinburgh production of Truth in Translation, based on transcripts of the South African Truth & Reconciliation Commission.)
Once a process is underway, we can begin redressing our collective wrongs. This means going more humbly before the world. It means listening to its grievances, acknowledging what's real, and making amends. It means walking behind sometimes, shouldering more of our load than is warranted, and expecting less in return.
This will be as hard as the first part of the process, because if you want to go back in time you can find an infinite number of crimes for Americans to feel guilty about. The process of humbling ourselves will also be anathema to those on the right who supported these crimes, even if they weren't directly involved. And the process could easily be used to justify even-greater crimes, as Hitler used the Weimar era.
Blaming America first is not what I'm talking about. Accepting blame for what we've done, or had done in our name, over the last decade is what I'm talking about. The sergeants did not commit the crimes of Abu Ghraib in a vacuum. The tortures of Guantanamo happened. We need a public record. Then we can move on.
Only when this is well underway can Americans start the process of rebuilding our credibility, by defining loyalty properly and making certain that concept is properly policed. These have been evil days, presided over by a host of banal, evil men (and some women), yet they were Americans, just like us. Human, just like us. They were not inhuman monsters, any more than the Nazis were inhuman. It's when we separate evil-doers from our shared humanity that we first descend into madness, that we become evil-doers ourselves. We should have recognized that the first day Bush stood on that rockpile, megaphone in hand, and shouted for vengeance.
This is going to be hard work. For my generation, it's the only work that matters for the rest of our lives. We can't wash the blood from our hands, but like the Germans of the World War II era, we can make damn sure it never happens again. (To the left Herbert Blankenhorn, Nazi and grandfather of the European Union.)
We owe this to our children, and our grandchildren. Right now we are the worst generation of Americans in this nation's history.
But from today's ashes something new may perhaps grow.