It was James Comey, ex FBI director, who labeled Donald Trump, President of the United States of America, as “…morally unfit to be president”. He said much more.
He did not question Trump’s mental capacity; it was his morality. “This president is unethical, and untethered to truth and institutional values…” Comparing him with a mafia don, Comey writes in his book A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership: “The boss is in complete control. The loyalty oaths…the lying about all things, large and small, in service to some code of loyalty that put the organization above morality and above the truth.”
I need not elaborate; you will likely have read about Comey’s book. If you’ve missed it, you can read about it here:
Writing in The Washington Post, R Marie Griffith challenges us with these words: ”…to judge moral fitness, shouldn’t we first agree on what moral behaviour is? Philosophers, theologians and ethicists have argued about it for thousands of years, and the rest of us grapple with the question, too: We’re talking about basic right and wrong, what we consider to be good and bad. And we differ widely on the answer.”
Whichever criterion of morality we choose: personal behaviour, honesty, ethical disposition, sexual conduct, exercise of male supremacy, insistence on unquestioning loyalty, attitude to violence, or cold-hearted disregard for institutional values, social justice, gender equality, racial parity, or civil rights, Trump is an obscene example of moral unfitness. We are appalled by his conduct. Somehow, in the Western World we expect better of anyone who occupies the position of US President, the ostensible Leader of the Free World.
But we don’t have to look far to see many more morally unfit leaders.
Perhaps the one most recently burned into our memory is Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, a man who, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, has overseen the death of over half a million of his people since the civil war began in March 2011, has destroyed many beautiful Syrian cities, and most recently has attacked his people in Douma with chlorine gas and possibly the nerve gas Sarin. Compounding this obscenity is the ongoing denial, and the obstruction of international inspectors sent to examine the devastation. Assad is morally unfit to govern.
No less culpable is Russian president Vladimir Putin, Assad’s ally in his destructive assaults on his people. Putin knows full well what Assad is doing, but supports him with troops, weapons and air power.
Putin has other atrocities to explain: his recent attempt to assassinate Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury with the deadly nerve agent Novichok. Putin’s robust denials convinced nobody. Now Salisbury has the massive task of cleansing that city of this deadly and persistent poison, which is believed to have spread widely. It affected not only the Skripals, but policeman Nick Bailey. All recovered slowly.
Only a morally unfit leader could perpetrate such iniquity.
Of course there are many other heinous crimes that stain Putin’s reputation. His intervention in Ukraine, the shooting down of Malaysian Airways flight 17 over that country that killed 283 passengers and 15 members of crew in July 2014, and the annexation of Crimea, come quickly to mind. But there are many more. His suppression of dissent; his imprisonment of dissidents; his rigging of elections, his re-election as president being the most recent; his agents’ hacking of routers of foreign firms and government agencies in global cyber attacks; his likely involvement in Trump’s election; and his ruthlessness in dealing with any who disagree with him, have all led to him being described as a ‘thug and a murderer’.
By any reasonable standard, Putin is ‘morally unfit to be president’ of Russia.
Where else do we see moral unfitness?
Take the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. No matter on whose side you are, there can be no denying the immorality of that decades-long conflict which has brought misery, deprivation, homelessness, poverty and hopelessness to countless residents in that troubled area of the Middle East. Is Benjamin Netanyahu morally fit to govern Israel? Is Mahmoud Abbas morally fit to lead the Palestinians? You be the judge.
Close by is Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan who has ruthlessly suppressed dissidents, imprisoned thousands, purged the judiciary, and murdered innumerable Kurds who are seeking independence. Is he morally fit to govern?
What about the Saudis and their assault on Yemen? Where is the moral leadership in that part of the world? Countless thousands of Yemeni have been slaughtered. There seems to be no end to this conflict, especially as other players seek to take advantage of the situation.
Let’s go west to the Korean peninsular where Kim Jong-un has ruthlessly suppressed the people of North Korea, as did his predecessors, starving them while he built up his vast Army and a world-threatening nuclear capability. He lied repeatedly about his intentions, threatened his neighbours and nations far afield with nuclear obliteration, thereby earning the appellation of leader of a ‘rouge nation’. Recently he authorised the assassination of his half-brother, Kim Jung-nam at Kuala Lumpur Airport. Is he morally fit to lead a nuclearized nation?
Maybe even he is asking himself that question as he now declares his intention to denuclearize North Korea and trade nuclear weapons for economic gain. Has he had a ‘Road to Damascus’ moment? Or are we witnessing just another play in his game of intrigue and uncertainty? The meeting last Friday of Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Panmunjom in the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea, where they shook and held hands prior to their discussions, was a promising sign. Time will tell.
Closer to home think about Myanmar where the ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Rohingya Muslims continues unabated - their villages burned, thousands killed and women and girls raped, hundreds of thousands displaced to Bangladesh where they live in misery in appalling conditions as the Monsoon season overwhelms them. Are the leaders of Myanmar morally fit to lead? How much sway do military leaders still have? Where does Aung San Suu Kyi stand?
Still closer, think about the president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, who authorizes the cold-blooded murder of drug traffickers, and the rulers of Aceh and other homophobes in Malaysia who publically flog those caught in a homosexual relationship. Are they morally fit to rule in our contemporary world?
There are many more that fit the tag: ‘morally unfit’. You know them.
Indeed, it’s difficult to think of nations that do exhibit moral leadership, who have leaders that are seen as morally fit to govern. The leaders of Canada, New Zealand, Germany, France, Netherlands, and the Scandinavian countries spring to mind as being morally fit, but several central European countries now find themselves under the influence of far-right political players that are nationalistic and anti-immigration, whose behaviour moves closer and closer to Fascism or even Nazism, with all the ugly civil disruption that characterizes these movements. Are the leaders who allow this morally fit?
We would not place our own governing bodies in the dark category of those mentioned above. They avoid the label ‘morally unfit’ most of the time, but none-the-less the questionable behaviour of many politicians does cast a shadow over our own politics. We skate close to corruption; the call for a national anti-corruption body is heard almost every day. Leaders accuse each other of ‘dodgy deals’ again and again. Referring to our political system in his 18 April National Press Club address: Our politics is a dreadful black comedy, Richard Flanagan, had this to say:“… it’s not just those in immediate power but a whole system that is beginning to lose its moral legitimacy.”
Recent events at the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and the Financial Services Industry though make our politicians look like relative cleanskins in comparison to bank executives.
I’m sure you don’t want to read again here the details of the appalling dishonesty, misconduct and straight out fraud that has been exposed by this inquiry. Even the most imaginative mind could not have dreamed up the extravagant extent of the corruption that has been uncovered. Most reasonable people would have anticipated that administrative errors, computer glitches, or simply misunderstandings would have explained many of the distressing stories that emerged. But who has not been flabbergasted by what we have heard?
Are the executives of these financial institutions morally fit for their positions?
If you happen to have missed some of this truly shocking story, read Charlie Lewis’ The top five worst scandals revealed by the royal commission (so far) in Crikey.
The catalogue of gross dishonesty, deception, cheating and criminal fraud that has been exposed has astonished and alarmed even the insiders in the financial industry. Only the whistleblowers are not surprised. Although few, they have been telling us what’s been going on for a long while. But who wanted to listen? Not the Coalition!
The Coalition did everything it could to avoid a Royal Commission, insisting that there had already been too many inquiries into banking, that the so-called regulatory bodies overseeing the finance industry had them under control and had all the power needed to counter any malfeasance. We know now that this was nonsense, and as Labor describes it, the Coalition was simply running ‘a protection racket for the banks’. ASIC and APRA are culpable in this sorry tale of corruption because they have been ineffectual ‘toothless tigers’; they refused to bite! Last week, the Royal Commission began the process of uncovering the ineptitude of these regulators. There is more to come!
The Coalition must wear much of the ignominy of this disaster. It is now running scared of the fallout, promising heavy penalties for offenders, but steadfastly deflecting any culpability for delaying an inquiry that was obviously necessary long ago. Its inability, indeed its unwillingness to admit it was wrong, manifestly wrong, is a further black mark on its already tawdry reputation. Only after Barnaby Joyce admitted his role in delaying the inquiry have other Coalition members begun to concede that the delay was wrong. Matt Canavan has joined him, as has the usually-immovable Mathias Cormann; others will follow as the political fallout escalates.
But not Kelly O’Dwyer, Minister for Revenue and Financial Services, who on the ABC’s Insiders on 22 April, repeatedly refused to concede the validity of Barrie Cassidy’s assertions that the Coalition was wrong on several counts. She looked foolish. Her garrulous performance was appalling. Her stupid, poorly planned strategy of denial brought into question her qualification to be a Federal Minister at all. She did more than that. Her obfuscation, her mendaciousness, and her sheer effrontery in avoiding every confronting question brought into doubt whether she is morally fit for high office. How can anyone who performs like that be regarded as a fit and proper person to hold a senior ministerial position?
If you think I’m being to hard on her, and haven’t seen her performance on Insiders, take a look at this video and make up your own mind. Even she herself has now recognised how bad it was, has apologised, and has admitted the Coalition's delay was wrong.
Of course our silver-tongued PM, realizing the damage being done, has attempted to deflect criticism by ‘admitting’ it was a ‘political mistake’ being too slow to set up the Commission, but that it was necessary to take the process along carefully, arguing that it would have been harder to make immediate regulatory changes to the sector if a Royal Commission was underway. He has not apologised, and likely never will – that would be a bridge too far for an ego as big as Turnbull’s. Do denials so redolent with pathetic excuses cast doubt on his moral fitness? Especially as he still
wants to give his proposed business tax cuts to the big four banks, $7 billion in all!
To give you an idea of how out of touch he is on this issue, only 6% of respondents
to the 24 April Essential Report
were in favour of business tax cuts at all!
I could go on and on cataloguing the moral turpitude, the depravity, the iniquity of nations and institutions the world over, and in our own country. It’s depressing, disheartening, demoralizing. What can we, the ordinary citizens do? The most powerful artillery we have is our voices and our votes. It is up to us to speak up, to call out immoral behaviour by whatever means we have, to abandon institutions that conduct themselves immorally, and to vote out of power those who behave immorally.
Money and power are so cherished by those who control our lives that depriving them of this is our most potent weapon.
In the wake of Anzac Day, it is fitting that I finish with the concluding words of RAAF orthopaedic and trauma surgeon Group Captain Annette Holian, taken from her speech at the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne
“…I ask you to be brave, to stand up for what you believe in, to speak up for others, to be kind and support each other…”