On Recent Events in Washington, D.C.

From our first round table in 1986, the Caux Round Table for Moral Capitalism (CRT) has sought to transcend all parochialism, sectarianism, ethnocentricity and partisanship through dialogue and having what its founders called “honest conversations.” Such conversations demanding of participants hearing others and having empathy are not easy. In a way, they are a search for truth and many times, truth, about ourselves, is not what we want to hear.

In these conversations and perhaps whenever truth is present, there is judgment, the application of some outside standard to our actions and aspirations. Honest conversations are hard on narcissism and selfishness, on unkind ambition and resentments. But without judgment, what is the use of ethics, morality, law or values?

We can, of course, use our ethics, morality, values and the laws we want to enforce for our own ends to puff ourselves up or push others down. But what justifies such self-magnification, useful though it might seem?

In Washington, D.C. this past Wednesday, there was an assault on established institutions doing their duty in accepting the results of an election – a ransacking of the Capitol – unprecedented in the history of the U.S. Angry citizens, some prepared for violence, encouraged by an outgoing president, forced their way into the houses of Congress, climbing up walls, smashing windows and demolishing locked doors.

While the CRT is usually reticent in getting entangled in the internal travails of countries, though members of the network may have strong personal opinions for and against such actions or policies, it seems appropriate to bring to a wider awareness relevant standards with which to assess and judge events of significance for our times. Having a care for the common good carries a responsibility to engage in honest conversations.

The CRT, through our round table process, has proposed certain ethical principles for government and politics. The lawless and vengeful protest in Washington on Wednesday cannot be reconciled with such principles. Any use of force and violence to impose one’s will contradicts principles of right order.

The CRT Principles for Government are set forth below.

I direct your attention to the fundamental principle that public office is a public trust. Fiduciary duties of loyalty to the nation, the people and the laws are first and foremost. Political power is not for personal exploitation; it is not personal property to be used arbitrarily for selfish advantage. Secondly, fiduciary duties of due care as a trustee of power requires serving the best interests of others, even people we don’t like. In such service, we are to act after reasonable consideration of alternatives in a manner which uses the prudence and foresight which others would bring to the decision.

Next, in holding a position of public trust, we are to use discourse, not force, in making decisions as to the use of our powers. If we are upset, angry or feel the boot of injustice, we should respond with honest conversations until others leave us no option but intolerant confrontation on behalf of what is right.

To me, the standard of discourse was well expressed by President Abraham Lincoln when he said on the occasion of his second inauguration:

“With malice toward none with charity for all with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right let … do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”