Members of LeaderEthics-Wisconsin receive a monthly copy of The Ethics Report. Each edition will include summaries of research as well as articles about ethical leadership in practice...frequently awarding a "green light" or "red flag" rating. Each month, we include a featured article from the most recent edition of The Ethics Report.

Featured Article

 Two Trains on the Same Track

June 2022

The American democracy is entering a critical period. There are growing dynamic forces moving in opposite directions. 

Much has been written about the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol, formed on July 1, 2021. Through a very deliberate process, the committee has been working in parallel with the Justice Department in gathering evidence surrounding the attack. The Justice Department has been actively gathering evidence and tracking down participants that entered the capital building. A significant part of the Select Committee’s work involves identifying January 6th participants, soliciting their testimony, and then using the testimony to gather additional evidence against other individuals. More than 1000 witnesses have been called to testify in the last year. The Select Committee is now entering the next phase of their work…public broadcast hearings. This phase includes public testimony of individuals who were closely involved with the Trump Administration. The live broadcast phase is designed to raise public awareness and ramp up the stakes for those providing testimony. Attorney General, Merrill Garland has stated that the Department of Justice is closely observing the hearings. The stage is set for criminal prosecution for key players (including the former President) in the events leading up to the January 6th assault on the Capitol.

The Republican party has, for the most part, publicly dismissed the integrity of the committee because it is dominated by members of the Democratic party (with two exceptions, Republicans Adam Kinzinger and Liz Cheney). Nonetheless, the public testimony of Trump Administration representatives as well as elected Republican officials cannot be easily dismissed. Here are just a few of the questions coming forward. Were two groups (the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers) specifically assuming the role of inciting other protestors, thus creating a riotous environment? Did members of the White House (specifically the former President) coordinate the role of these two groups and other events leading up to January 6th? How far were the participants planning to go, if the conditions at the Capitol were unchecked? Were elected members of Congress involved in the plan to overturn the election? Will the Justice Department file criminal charges against Donald Trump? The answers to these questions are expected to be known within the next few months. The full report of the Select Committee’s findings will certainly be released prior to the November 2022 elections. Meanwhile, the Department of Justice may be making their determinations regarding criminal prosecution along the same timeline. With a head of steam, this train is headed in one direction down the track.

At the same time there is another significant effort underway. Immediately following the January 6th events, the former President was publicly disgraced in many circles, including with representatives of both political parties. But the former president still maintained significant public support. Within a few months, many Republican Party leaders went on record as softening their criticism and lending their support for the former President. It became clear that public criticism of Donald Trump could erode support from a sizable portion of the Republican base. One additional key variable in this process involved the amount of funds raised by the Trump Political Action Committee (Trump PAC). As noted by Sarah Isgor of the conservative publication, The Dispatch, by spring of 2022, 22% of all Republican campaign funds raised went through the Trump PAC. Given the high cost of campaigning, these funds are a very influential force. These dynamics are playing out in Wisconsin. The Trump endorsement (now received by Gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels), is viewed as important because it will help to garner votes from supporters of Donald Trump (and an infusion of campaign funds) in a high-cost Republican primary election. All four Republican candidates have publicly criticized the Wisconsin Election Commission (WEC), alleging election interference in 2020. Each has a plan for dismantling the WEC, if they are elected Governor. This train is also speeding down the track in the oncoming, opposite direction. 

It is understandable that both political parties view the fall 2022 election as important. At the national level, mid-term elections tend to (but not always) swing away from the incumbent party. And national voting patterns tend to influence voting patterns at the state level. It is also understandable that supporters of both parties wish to keep the focus on policy changes that are determined by the election outcomes. At the same time, there is an underlying, swirling current…the debate on election integrity. The American democracy has served as a model for other nations because of a core concept…the ability to peacefully transfer power after elections. The further apart we are as a nation, the harder it is to stay true to this core concept. The elections in 2022 and 2024 represent a serious test. Will the political parties and candidates be able to “campaign hard” yet accept the outcomes of the elections? Will citizens who are political loyalists embrace the election results, regardless of outcome? What will citizens, candidates and elected leaders do as the two trains head toward each other on the same track? The integrity of the American democracy is at stake as these questions are answered.

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