By Jim Norman
As I open the newspaper and read the news of the day every morning, I find myself more and more ethically challenged to make sense of it all, and even more to the point, what to do about it. I am certain I am not alone in my feelings of frustration and even helplessness.
There are many examples that have me tearing at what little hair I have left, but I’d like to focus on two matters, just for the sake of brevity and organization. One is Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine, and the other is the continuing war against democracy in the United States being waged by Donald Trump and his fellow travelers.
Concerning Putin’s war against Ukraine, as a human, I confess to harboring inclinations that probably would land me in prison if I were to act on them. As a humanist, however, I remind myself that there are better ways than murderous violence to solve problems, even problems that come with lethal or democracy-destroying consequences.
The problem is, I can’t immediately see what those solutions might be, and that is frustrating.
I learned a long time ago, as a contract negotiator for an American Newspaper Guild union local, that there’s no chance of coming up with an equitable agreement if you think you can make up for the unwillingness of the other side to participate by negotiating for both sides yourself.
So, how do we expect a national leader to react to a man like Putin, who is threatening to use any “defensive” weapons at his disposal if Ukrainian forces try to take back formerly Ukrainian areas now “annexed” and declared part of Russia?
Appeasement will not work
We know from history that appeasement in hopes that a power-mad invader will refrain from further expansion simply will not work, so there’s a natural inclination to use force to stop the expansion in its tracks. But what if the expansionist has nuclear weapons in his armory and has indicated he will not hesitate to use them?
We’ve already seen that Putin’s desperate, back-against-the-wall effort to draft hundreds of thousands of new conscripts to serve as cannon fodder in his Ukraine war has begun to backfire, with hundreds of thousands of draft-age Russian men choosing to flee the country rather than submit to their president’s madness.
For us in the United States, I think the wisest, most ethical course is to continue to support President Biden’s efforts to persuade Putin that he must not escalate his war, through diplomacy, assistance to the Ukrainians, and the pressure of increasing sanctions.
Absurd lies and enablers
Which brings me to our former president, who seems to think it’s a good idea to mouth his lies about the election he lost. And even more astonishing, considering his undeniable status as Putin’s favorite lapdog, his lies that if he were president now, Putin would not have dared to invade Ukraine in the first place.
Even more troubling than Trump’s absurd lies is the willingness of almost every elected representative of the party he has managed to capture through lies, cons, and promises of support to fall into lockstep behind him.
What’s the ethical thing to do about that?
Maybe I’m oversimplifying here, but I believe we have the power to put a stop to it. We have been fortunate in our Ethical Culture Society to have been shown the path, through the actions of one of our own members, Lisa Schwartz, in promoting postcard campaigns to get out the vote in key swing states.
Motivating others to vote
While the current campaign is nonpartisan in nature, it is undeniable that the more people vote, the more the results bend toward what Martin Luther King Jr. called the arc of justice. That’s why we see Trump and his acolytes doing all they can to suppress the vote, and why we must do all we can to motivate as many people as possible to vote.
So, at the very least, do the ethical thing and make sure you vote every chance you get. And if you want to exercise your innate ethical superpower, do all you can to get others to vote, as well. We need to vote as if our lives and our children’s and grandchildren’s lives depend on it—because they do!
Jim Norman is president of the Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County.