Why We Don’t Speak Up — And What It Costs Us
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” — George Santayana
During these chaotic times, rife with political controversy, extreme tribalism, violence and social unrest, the question of when and how people should speak up against injustice, discrimination, and criminal activity. This question is particularly important in democratic societies.
This question has become increasingly important as well for academics and professional organizations. For example, the American Psychological Association has the Goldwater rule, (Section 7.3 of the American Psychiatric Association’s ethical code (2013), prohibiting the mental diagnosis of public figures without a personal examination.
This brought into focus the important issue of speaking up in relation to former President Donald Trump.
Jeremy Kroll, writing in The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, wrote “To many psychiatrists, President Trump’s statements and behaviors were patently symptomatic of one or several mental disorders. The facts of the case and the serious risks of erosion of our constitutional democracy and possible nuclear annihilation of the world demanded that psychiatrists warn the public. The analogy to the silence of Germany’s educated and professional classes during Hitler’s ascendancy to power was too obvious to ignore; but roughly 40 percent of the country does not agree that the president is evil or dangerous.” Kroll cites the book The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President: “Bandy Lee’s edited book, a compilation stemming from the presentations at a similarly themed conference that took place in New Haven, CT, in April 2017, is a sincere act of conscience. The authors of the 28 chapters (including Prologue, Introduction, and Epilogue) are not in full agreement as to the details of what they believe ails President Trump, but all concur that he is mentally ill or dangerous (by virtue of being president) or both.”
My perspective and that of many others is that academics and professionals are also citizens in a democracy and have the right and obligation to speak out when they become aware of amoral, immoral or unethical behavior by leaders in institutions and business. This also applies to leaders who are sociopaths, psychopaths or malignant narcissists who engage in behavior that damages other people, our society or this planet.
It has nothing to do with which political party you may favor. History has shown that when citizens don’t speak out during the early stages of fascism or dictatorial power, it helps these destructive movements to advance more easily.
“First they came …” is the poetic form of a post-war confessional prose by the German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller. It is about the cowardice of German intellectuals and certain clergy — including, by his own admission, Niemöller himself — following the Nazis’ rise to power and subsequent incremental purging of their chosen targets, group after group. Here it is:
“First they came for the socialists, and
I did not speak out —
Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did
not speak out — Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me — and there was
no one left to speak for me.”
Our Lessons from History
In December 1936, exiled German novelist Thomas Mann responded to notice of the revocation of his Honorary Doctor of Letters degree from Bonn University to the administration at Bonn University, expressing his “irrepressible disgust” for the Nazi regime and then accused German universities of “a heavy responsibility for the present sufferings which they called down upon their heads.” He added, “This responsibility of theirs long ago destroyed my pleasure in my academic honor.”
Wilhelm Röpke, professor of economics at the University of Marburg, one of Germany’s oldest, until his dismissal in the spring of 1933, agreed with Mann’s accusation. He wrote that “it was precisely the university professors that failed when the need came for courageous defense of the ultimate values of our civilization.” Their inaction was fatal because “it resulted in the crippling of the conscience of the German nation.”
In the last years of the Weimar Republic under the leadership of the aging General Hindenberg, as the Nazis continued to gain electoral strength, some academics and professionals were uneasy with Hitler and the Nazis, but they thought that exerting political influence would damage the integrity of their profession (sound like the APA?)
What did they do? Most of them did not speak up raising their concerns or opposition to the Nazis. Two striking exceptions were Gerhard Rittera nationalist-conservative German historian,(Eventually, his conflict with the Nazi regime got him arrested by it in 1944) and Friedrich Meinecke, a German historian, whom actively urged Germans to vote for General Hindenburg against Hitler. What’s important to note is that both men were considered conservatives and not liberals.
Perhaps the most common problem of perception was the inability to take Hitler seriously. Most educated men thought that Hitler, the uncultivated street ruffian, often called a “buffoon” could scarcely govern a complex, industrialized country. Many thought that he would never last more than six months in office.
Yet, Nazism appealed to the strong nationalism of many professionals and promised to be a defense against Communism and found support for blaming the Jews for Germany’s social and economic problems. While few academics themselves were Nazis, they, like many people in the general public, were willing to remain passive and not speak up.
In December 1933, German university professors had to take a new oath of loyalty to the Fatherland. By August 1934, civil servants had to swear loyalty to Adolf Hitler. In contrast, in Italy, many academics refused to take a similar oath of allegiance to Mussolini, but in Germany this kind of resistance rarely occurred.
Many professionals under Hitler appointed themselves guardians of the purity of scholarship but refused to accept the responsibility of being, as Mannheim urged, “night watchmen” for civilized values. Perhaps their example is the most forceful sanction possible for the role of the intellectual as adversary and critic. When German intellectuals abdicated that role, Hitler’s Germany became, as Mannheim feared, a “pitch-black night.”
Why Do People Not Speak Up in the Face of Amoral, Immoral or Unethical Behavior?
Here are some reasons that people in general do not speak up:
- They are unclear what is acceptable and what isn’t. So much of who we are stems from what we learned in childhood, and many people were taught lessons that harmed them about what is acceptable and what isn’t. If you had emotionally manipulative or narcissistic parents, for instance, or were abused in any way, you most likely weren’t able to develop sufficient and appropriate boundaries that allow you to say “NO!” to behavior that is violating, manipulative and suppressing. And that makes you more susceptible as an adult to tolerating behavior that should not be allowed. But even if you weren’t mistreated or neglected as a child, were you taught that it was okay to stand up for yourself and speak up to authority figures and others when something felt wrong? Were you able to trust your own instincts and act on them? Did you get to know yourself deeply, to learn how to discern what feels wrong?
- They don’t feel they have the internal power to stand up for themselves. Many people understand that the behavior they’re experiencing is wrong and shouldn’t be tolerated, but they just can’t muster the strength to say or do anything about it. This too has to change.
- They’ve been punished in life and are afraid of what will happen if they do speak up and stand up. Others have been strong in the past and spoken up for themselves, but have been punished in doing so, and don’t want that behavior repeated. Women and racial and ethnic minorities have been retaliated against for being forceful, assertive and strong. Stories of the harm or revenge visited upon whistleblowers can cause us to refrain from speaking up.
- Deep in their hearts, they don’t realize how important, deserving, and valuable they are. So many people don’t understand (and haven’t been taught) that they are extremely important, valuable and needed in this world. They possess great talents and skills that others need, and their perspectives and experiences are tremendously helpful to others. Once you tap into the process of recognizing and honoring your talents and capabilities and learn how to apply those talents to outcomes that are meaningful to you, you’ll begin to experience more personal power, and become more comfortable exercising it for what you believe in and care about.
- They think the current situation is temporary, or the forces of “good” will prevail. People place undue faith in the strength of institutions in a democracy “holding” in the face of a destructive onslaught, or that “this too shall pass” and we’ll return to normal. History has shown this is naive. The term bystander effect refers to the phenomenon in which the greater the number of people present; the less likely people are to help a person in distress. When an emergency situation occurs, observers are more likely to take action if there are few or no other witnesses. Being part of a large crowd makes it so no single person has to take responsibility for an action (or inaction). In a series of classic studies, researchers Bibb Latané and John Darley found that the amount of time it takes the participant to take action and seek help varies depending on how many other observers are in the room. They found that 70% of people would help a woman in distress when they were the only witness. But only about 40% offered assistance when other people were also present.
Explanations for the Bystander Effect
The bystander effect, or bystander apathy, is a social psychological theory that states that individuals are less likely to offer help to a victim when there are other people present. First proposed in 1964, much research, mostly in the lab, has focused on increasingly varied factors, such as the number of bystanders, ambiguity, group cohesiveness, and diffusion of responsibility that reinforces mutual denial. The theory was prompted by the murder of Kitty Genovese about which it was wrongly reported that 38 bystanders watched passively. Recent research has focused on “real world” events captured on security cameras, and the coherency and robustness of the effect has come under question. More recent studies also show that this effect can generalize to workplace settings, where subordinates often refrain from informing managers regarding ideas, concerns, and opinions.
There are two major factors that contribute to the bystander effect. First, the presence of other people creates a diffusion of responsibility. Because there are other observers, individuals do not feel as much pressure to take action. The responsibility to act is thought to be shared among all of those present.
The second reason is the need to behave in correct and socially acceptable ways. When other observers fail to react, individuals often take this as a signal that a response is not needed or not appropriate. A crisis is often chaotic and the situation is not always crystal clear. Onlookers might wonder exactly what is happening. During such moments, people often look to others in the group to determine what is appropriate. When they see that no one else is reacting, it sends a signal that perhaps no action is needed.
Preventing the Bystander Effect
What can you do to overcome the bystander effect? Some psychologists suggest that simply being aware of this tendency is perhaps the greatest way to break the cycle. When faced with a situation that requires action, understand how the bystander effect might be holding you back and consciously take steps to overcome it. Don’t make the assumption that someone will do something about the situation.
Speaking Up in the Workplace
Studies consistently show that employees are reluctant to speak up, and are even hardwired to remain silent, with 50 per cent of employees keeping quiet at work. Why is this the case, and how can we help people voice their opinions at work more effectively?
Employee voice — speaking up with ideas, concerns, opinions or information — is vital for organizational performance and innovation. On the flip side, silence is at the root of many well-known organizational disasters.
Employee voice is the antidote to this culture of silence, but it’s not easy to encourage. Employees withhold voice because they think it will not be heard or fear it may backfire by embarrassing their managers or damaging their own reputations. These reservations are reasonable.
Employees’ proactive personalities and managers’ demonstrated openness are both relevant to overcoming these reservations. Although we can’t change someone’s personality, leaders can create more welcoming environments that support and encourage voice.
For example, employees are more likely to speak up when they believe their leader encourages and solicits their opinions. By contrast, when leaders punish employees who dare to speak up with concerns or ideas, such as by publicly reprimanding them, voice dwindles quickly.
Amy Edmondson is the Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at the Harvard Business School and author of The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth. She describes how courage at work shows up when someone speaks up, challenges an idea, shares a different perspective, or reveals a mistake. Every one of these behaviors takes courage because, as Edmondson says, people default to “avoiding failure” — the loss of status, being labeled, or being viewed with disfavor that can result from speaking up. Until you build a Courageous Culture, “people at work are vulnerable to a kind of implicit logic in which safe is simply better than sorry.”
Research has shown that not speaking up can also be defined as “organizational silence” in the workplace. Organizational silence is a phenomenon which occurs when employees possess useful or valuable information about their organization but don’t speak up. This information could be proactive ideas or suggestions that could help the organization or leaders, or concerns about organizational activities or individuals’ behavior, that may be destructive or unethical. Organizational silence can often have a negative impact on the health and well-being of the employees, as well as impact things such as employee motivation, morale and productivity.
Some observers have suggested that the #MeToo movement, and recent TV and movies such as The Loudest Voice, a 7-part series and Bombshell, a film about Roger Ailes, the founder of Fox News, focused on the sexual harassment accusations that brought his career to an end have both brought into clear focus the importance of speaking up.
The Me Too (or #MeToo) movement, with variations of related local or international names, is a social movement against sexual abuse and sexual harassment where people publicize allegations of sex crimes. The phrase “Me Too” was initially used in this context on social media in 2006, on Myspace, by sexual assault survivor and activist Tarana Burke. Harvard University published a case study on Burke, called “Leading with Empathy: Tarana Burke and the Making of the Me Too Movement.”
The Current Political Situation in United States
Anne Applebaum, a staff writer for The Atlantic, a Pulitzer-prize winning historian, and also a Senior Fellow at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and the Agora Institute, where she co-directs Arena, a program on disinformation and 21st century propaganda. Applebaum is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and is on the boards of the National Endowment for Democracy and Renew Democracy Initiative. She is author of Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism. She writes about collaborators with the Nazi regime in France during World War II, the Vichy regime, when a lot of people accommodated the occupying German army and the Nazis. In her article she compares Republicans to those who collaborated with Nazis or fascists.
She argues the Trump’s presidency “brought a very different ideology to the White House, a completely different set of values, which bore no relation to anything that we’ve known in American history for the last hundred years. He was seeking to use the presidency for his own personal and political gain, for his own psychological gain. He was seeking to game the system. He was seeking to go around bureaucracies, to have a secret police, to deploy people throughout the system, you know, in order to undermine it.”
Applebaum says Trump was not interested in running the American government in any recognizable way. That meant that senior figures in his administration had to make a decision at some point how they were going to cope with this new ideology. It was radically different from what they believed in. It was different from anything they’ve grown up with or ever known. So how would they accommodate themselves to it?
And in that sense, Applebaum argues, they were acting very much like people behave in an occupied country like occupied East Germany, like occupied France. They began to make excuses. They began to explain themselves. They began to accommodate themselves to Trump.
Social scientists who have studied the erosion of values and the growth of corruption inside companies have found, for example, that “people are more likely to accept the unethical behavior of others if the behavior develops gradually (along a slippery slope) rather than occurring abruptly,” according to a 2009 article by Francesco Gino and Max Bazerman in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. This happens, in part, because most people have a built-in vision of themselves as moral and honest, and that self-image is resistant to change. Once certain behaviors become “normal,” then people stop seeing them as wrong, the authors state.
What seems to be normal in politics now in America is the embrace of conspiracy theories, and threats and attacks on politicians and public officials down to the grass root level like teachers, school board officials and election workers.
Applebaum argues in her article and in her book, that fear is a powerful force that can explain why people don’t speak up: “Fear, of course, is the most important reason any inhabitant of an authoritarian or totalitarian society does not protest or resign, even when the leader commits crimes, violates his official ideology, or forces people to do things that they know to be wrong. In extreme dictatorships like Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Russia, people fear for their lives. In softer dictatorships, like East Germany after 1950 and Putin’s Russia today, people fear losing their jobs or their apartments. Fear works as a motivation even when violence is a memory rather than a reality.”
In the United States, Applebaum contends, it’s not so much the fear of being imprisoned or meeting with violence,(although that has become a more recent reality) it’s the fear of being attacked by Trump or his most loyal supporters on social media. “They are scared he will make up a nickname for them. They are scared that they will be mocked, or embarrassed, like Mitt Romney has been. They are scared of losing their social circles, of being disinvited to parties. They are scared that their friends and supporters, and especially their donors, will desert them,” she says.
They are scared, Applebaum says, and yet they don’t seem to know that this fear has precedents, or that it could have consequences. They don’t know that similar waves of fear have helped transform other democracies into dictatorships. They don’t seem to realize that the American Senate really could become the Russian Duma, or the Hungarian Parliament, a group of exalted men and women who sit in an elegant building, with no influence and no power. Indeed, we are already much closer to that reality than many could ever have imagined.
Let me be clear here. I am not proposing that people who don’t speak up are automatically collaborators with unethical, corrupt or amoral leaders. But I would argue that the absence of a significant number of people who don’t speak up, and don’t hold these dangerous leaders (or followers) accountable for their actions gives them permission to continue their behavior and even escalating it. An example of this problem is currently the January 6 insurrection.
Americans Are Not Fully Committed to the Democratic System
A major study on how democracies decline and fall by Harvard professors Steven Levitsky and Danilel Ziblatt, How Democracies Die, argue “But there is another way to break a democracy. It is less dra- matic but equally destructive. Democracies may die at the hands not of generals but of elected leaders — presidents or prime ministers who subvert the very process that brought them to power. Some of these leaders dismantle democracy quickly, as Hitler did in the wake of the 1933 Reichstag fire in Germany. Often, though, democracies erode slowly, in barely visible steps.” They go on to provide a warning: “ Many Americans are justifiably frightened by what is happening to our country. But protecting our democracy requires more than just fright or outrage. We must be humble and bold. We must learn from other countries to see the warning signs — and recognize the false alarms. We must be aware of the fateful missteps that have wrecked other democracies. And we must see how citizens have risen to meet the great democratic crises of the past, overcoming their own deep-seated divisions to avert breakdown. We must speak up.”
Here are some others signs of America’s declining democracy and need to speak up.
- Research conducted by Bright Line Watch, the group that organized the Yale conference on democracy, shows that Americans are not as committed to these norms as you might expect. Yascha Mounk, at Harvard University, summed it up: “If current trends continue for another 20 or 30 years, democracy will be toast.” In 1995, for example, one in 16 Americans supported Army rule; in 2014, that number increased to one in six. According to another survey cited at the Yale conference, 18 percent of Americans think a military-led government is a “fairly good” idea.
- Another startling finding reported in the New York Times, is that many Americans are open to “alternatives” to democracy. In 1995, writes Amanda Taub in the Times article, for example, “one in 16 Americans supported Army rule; in 2014, that number increased to one in six. According to another survey cited at the conference, 18 percent of Americans think a military-led government is a ‘fairly good’ idea.”
- A study by the Center for Information and Research on Civil Learning & Engagement at Tufts University has found that most states do not emphasize civic education, which includes learning about citizenship, government, law, current events and related topics.
- In their book, Remaking Partisan Politics through Authoritarian Sorting, by the political scientists Christopher Federico, Stanley Feldman and Christopher Weber found that in 1992, 62 percent of white voters who ranked highest on the authoritarian scale supported George H.W. Bush. In 2016, 86 percent of the most authoritarian white voters backed Trump, an increase of 24 percentage points, the authors report.
- Christopher Federico, writing with Christopher Johnston of Duke and Howard G. Lavine of the University of Minnesota, published Open versus Closed: Personality, Identity, and the Politics of Redistribution,which also explores the concept of authoritarian voting. They argue: “Over the last few decades, party allegiances have become increasingly tied to a core dimension of personality we call ‘openness.’ Citizens high in openness value independence, self-direction, and novelty, while those low in openness value social cohesion, certainty, and security. Individual differences in openness seem to underpin many social and cultural disputes, including debates over the value of racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity, law and order, and traditional values and social norms.”
- According to Freedom in the World 2021, the annual country-by-country assessment of political rights and civil liberties released by Freedom House, a non-profit organization providing research and policy resources for democracy, the United States experienced further democratic decline during the final year of the Trump presidency. The US score in Freedom in the World has dropped by 11 points over the past decade, and fell by three points in 2020 alone. The changes have moved the country out of a cohort that included other leading democracies, such as France and Germany, and brought it into the company of states with weaker democratic institutions, such as Romania and Panama.
- A study by Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page titled “Testing Theories of American Politics.”the academic journal Perspectives on Politics, finds that the U.S. is no longer a democracy, but instead an oligarchy: “Despite the seemingly strong empirical support in previous studies for theories of majoritarian democracy, our analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts.” They go on to say, “America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened” by the findings in this, the first-ever comprehensive scientific study of the subject, which shows that there is instead “the nearly total failure of ‘median voter’ and other Majoritarian Electoral Democracy theories [of America]. When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.”
- The U.S. ranking as a democracy is declining. The Democracy Index 2016, released in January 2017, lists the United States as a flawed democracy. The basis for the decline was not the 2016 presidential election. Instead, the report argues that Donald Trump benefited from a lack of popular trust in American government. In 2020 the U.S. was ranked 37th among nations as a democratic country.
- Big money lobbies exert undue influence on Congress. In her book Corruption in America, the legal scholar Zephyr Teachout notes that “the institutions of the United States were explicitly designed to counter the myriad ways in which people might seek to sway political decisions for their own personal gain. Many forms of lobbying were banned throughout the 19th century. In Georgia, the state constitution at one time read that lobbying is declared to be a crime. In California, it was a felony. Over the course of the 20th century, lobbying gradually became acceptable. But even once the activity became normalized, businesses remained reluctant to exert their influence.”
- The book Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, by journalist Jane Mayer, also clearly describes how the U.S. political system is dominated by wealthy corporations’ and individuals’ money, which implies that even the most modest attempts to tackle climate change, gun control, or other important social and economic issues, fail. The vast majority in the U.S. — 84% — believe money has too much influence in political campaigns, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll . The feeling cuts across party lines, with 80% of Republicans, 90% of Democrats and 84% of independents believing campaign cash plays too big a role.
- The American Electoral System Electing the President Favors Minority Rule. The U.S. Constitution was originally designed to have a decentralized small-state bias, but the effects have become more pronounced as the population discrepancy between the smallest states and the largest states has grown. “Given contemporary demography, a little bit less than 50 percent of the country lives in 40 of the 50 states,” Sanford Levinson, a constitutional law scholar at the University of Texas,” says, “roughly half the country gets 80 percent of the votes in the Senate, and the other half of the country gets 20 percent.” And the U.S. Senate has slipped further out of alignment with the American population over time, where for example a state like Wyoming with a population of 578,000 has the same number of Senators as the state of California, with a population of 39,000,000.
- The House of Representatives retains a rural bias. Republican voters are more efficiently distributed across the country than Democrats, who are concentrated in cities. That means that even when Democrats win 50 percent of voters nationwide, they invariably hold fewer than 50 percent of House seats, regardless of partisan gerrymandering.
- Research has also found that a significant rural bias in resources persists. You can see it in Homeland Security funding that gave Wyoming, for example, seven times as much money per capita as New York after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. You can see it in Alaska’s proposed “bridge to nowhere.”
- In an op-ed in the New York Times former President Jimmy Carter wrote that the United States violates at least 10 articles of the 30 articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Carter believes that the American democracy has been transformed to an oligarchy. He criticized the Supreme Court’s vote in favor of Citizens United that has allowed unlimited funds to be spent in elections, and said: “It violates the essence of what made America a great country in its political system. Now it’s just an oligarchy with unlimited political bribery being the essence of getting the nominations for president or being elected president. And the same thing applies to governors, and U.S. Senators and congress members. So, now we’ve just seen a subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors, who want and expect, and sometimes get, favors for themselves after the election is over. … At the present time the incumbents, Democrats and Republicans, look upon this unlimited money as a great benefit to themselves. Somebody that is already in Congress has a great deal more to sell.”
- University of Kentucky history department chair Ronald Formisamo’s latest book is titled: American Oligarchy: The Permanence of the Political Class. By Formisamo’s detailed account, U.S. politics and policy are under the control of a “permanent political class” — a ‘networked layer of high-income people’ — including Congressional representatives (half of whom are millionaires), elected officials, campaign funders, lobbyists, consultants, appointed bureaucrats, pollsters, television celebrity journalists, university presidents, and executives at well-funded non-profit institutions.” This “permanent political class,” Formisamo warns, is taking the nation “beyond [mere] plutocracy” to “the hegemony of an aristocracy of inherited wealth.” It “drives economic and political inequality not only with the policies it has constructed over the past four decades, such as federal and state tax systems rigged to favor corporations and the wealthy; it also increases inequality by its self-dealing, acquisitive behavior as it enables, emulates, and enmeshes itself with the wealthiest One Percent and engages in the direct creation of inequality by channeling the flow of income and wealth to elites [while]… its self-aggrandizement creates a culture of corruption that infects the entire society and that induces many to abuse positions of power to emulate or rise into the One Percent …[and as it] contributes to continuing high levels of poverty and disadvantage for millions that exceed almost all advanced nations.”
- According a major bipartisan poll that commissioned by the George W. Bush Institute, the University of Pennsylvania’s Biden Center and Freedom House, which tracks the vitality of democracies around the world. The three groups have partnered to create the Democracy Project, with the goal of monitoring the health of the American system, 50% of Americans think the United States is in “real danger of becoming a non- democratic, authoritarian country.” A majority, 55 percent, see democracy as “weak” — and 68 percent believe it is “getting weaker.” Eighty per cent of Americans say they are either “very” or “somewhat” concerned about the condition of democracy.
- According to Rebecca Henderson, a professor at Harvard University, in her article in the Harvard Business Review, “One of the first indications that a nation is becoming less democratic is that it becomes more polarized. We see this happening in the United States. Owing in large part to gerrymandering, upwards of 90% of U.S. representatives are reelected. The only real threat they face is from within their own party, a dynamic that drives them to take increasingly extreme positions. Few lawmakers have any incentive to compromise.”
- District Court Judge Lynn Adelman criticized the five conservative justices on the U.S. Supreme Court in an article published in the Harvard Law & Policy Review: “By now, it is a truism that Chief Justice John Roberts’ statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee that a Supreme Court justice’s role is the passive one of a neutral baseball ‘umpire who [merely] calls the balls and strikes’ was a masterpiece of disingenuousness. … Rather, the Court’s hard right majority is actively participating in undermining American democracy. Indeed, the Roberts Court has contributed to insuring that the political system in the United States pays little attention to ordinary Americans and responds only to the wishes of a relatively small number of powerful corporations and individuals. We are thus in a new and arguably dangerous phase in American history. Democracy is inherently fragile, and it is even more so when government eschews policies that benefit all classes of Americans. We desperately need public officials who will work to revitalize our democratic republic. Unfortunately, the conservative Justices on the Roberts Court are not among them.
Democracies can very easily slide into becoming autocratic regimes. Corporations can very easily engage in business practices that harm people and our environment. And the people can readily choose leaders who are sociopaths or malignant narcissists to lead. These dangers require the people to speak out when they see wrong and stand up for what’s right.
Speaking up should be considered a fundamental part of being a good citizen, and also applies to the workplace.
You can read my book, Toxic Bosses: Practical Wisdom for Developing Wise, Ethical and Moral Leaders, which examines in detail the issues related to corrupt and toxic leaders and what we can do about it.