Commentary: The problem isn’t the Republicans or Democrats; it’s ‘ethical fading,’ and it’s widespread

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I am a Muslim immigrant to America. Growing up in Pakistan, I saw the United States as the moral and ethical high ground where human dignity and national interests were held above partisan politics. However, I am wondering if that may be changing.

We must ask ourselves: Am I honest? Have I ever told a lie? The answer is likely yes, if we are honest to ourselves. We have all told small lies at some point in our lives, while not even recognizing that these are lies. This is a result of ethical fading.

I did not know much about the term “ethical fading” until recently. It was first described by Ann E. Tenbrunsel in 2004. As I started to read more about it, I kept thinking: It makes sense. It certainly explains a lot of what is happening today in our communities across the country.

Ethical fading is the phenomenon where unethical decisions are made, believing they are well within one’s own ethical framework. But someone looking from the outside could simply see the unethical reality of such decisions. Some of us may remember what happened at Wells Fargo when thousands of employees opened hundreds of thousands of fake bank accounts. They believed in their own minds that it was acceptable since everyone else was doing it, but we can clearly recognize it as an unethical practice.

I believe ethical fading is almost the same thing as lying, and it is pervasive in our society.

Ethical fading, fueled by corporate greed, has brought us to this political and social divide. We see our own perspective as the only possible solution to our social, economic and political problems. I can see both sides of the political spectrum are trying to do the same thing by adopting a very different approach. Democrats are trying to “Build Back Better” and Republicans are trying to “Make America Great Again.” It sounds pretty much the same to me, so why are we fighting?

My assumption is that certain American corporations are making unethical business decisions, and we are somehow made to falsely believe that moral principles are maintained. This practice is self-deception and is defined as being unaware of the processes that lead us to form our opinions and judgments. It is unfortunately common and widespread in our lives.

Corporations use language euphemisms. They tell us fables to justify their unethical actions. These stories are an edited version of the “real” story, devoid of all ethical implications. The term “right sizing” falls into this category of language euphemism. It is the favored term for layoffs, which focuses attention toward the economic benefits and away from the human costs of putting people out of work. In doing so, an alleged unethical behavior becomes justifiable through a process of deception, in which we transform morally wrong behavior into socially acceptable actions.

Republicans and Democrats at least acknowledge that something is broken in our system that needs a fix. I believe they are both prohibited by corporate interests to offer practical solutions. I am fully supportive of free market enterprise capitalism, but the fundamental principles of capitalism, consumer choice and market competition are lost in today’s corporate monopolies, duopolies and oligopolies.

This is an election year, and Americans are more contentious than ever amid a global pandemic. We may be either Republicans or Democrats, but we have overlooked that we are Americans first. We must realize that while we may disagree on policies and procedures, we must be able to compromise for the common good.

What I experience will always be different from what is experienced by others. Even when I try to put myself in the place of others, the best I can do is try to imagine what the others would experience from my own perspective. I am hoping, we, as a society, are mindful of this.

Ethics, justice and respect are all in line with each other. We do not have to be Republican or Democrat to agree on these principles. These are our human responsibilities. These are not religious or political values. These are American values. We must restore American values.

America is the greatest nation on Earth, not because of its corporate self-deception but because of its exceptional citizens. It is time that we acknowledge and fix our ethical fading. Presidential politics is not only to be blamed — congressional politics are worse, and corporate greed is far worse. We must demand that our corporate leaders start making ethical business decisions and require our politicians to hold them accountable by legislating just rules and regulations.

I urge every American to start paying attention to our civic duty. We must stop blaming someone else for everything and help rebuild an America where everyone’s life, liberty and pursuit of happiness is cherished.



Dr. Khuram Ghumman is the 227th president of Hartford County Medical Association, an associate professor at Frank H Netter MD School of Medicine, Quinnipiac University, and a family physician in East Granby, Connecticut.


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