Why Is It Hard To Believe That There Are Bad Guys?

Why Is It So Hard To Believe That There Are Bad Guys?


Leonard Zwelling


Maureen Dowd always calls them as she sees them. She’s been one of my favorite columnists for years and her piece in The New York Times on Sunday, July 18 demonstrates why her work is of such importance.

She’s been busy reading books. These are books about the waning days of the Trump Administration (“I Alone Can Fix It” by Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig, “Frankly, We Did Win This Election” by Michael Bender, and “Betrayal” by William Barr) and the current days of Facebook (“An Ugly Truth: Inside Facebook’s Battle for Domination” by Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia Kang). These books have one thing in common. They describe poisonous cultures with autocrats at the top and sycophants enabling the bad behavior by being bad themselves. What’s more, these capo regimes try to sell themselves as moderators of the bad behavior of the leader when they have done nothing of the sort. They’re bad, too.

At Facebook, according to Dowd, the great enabler is Sheryl Sandberg. Apparently CEO Mark Zuckerberg wants to blame Sandberg for all of Facebook’s many problems from “Cambridge Analytica, foreign interference with the 2016 election, disinformation in the 2020 election, misinformation about Covid-19 and the vaccines.” But everyone knows Zuckerberg calls the shots. He can’t duck the fact that he has run an irresponsible company based on his libertarian beliefs about free speech (and those of his California handlers) while being protected from libel suits. But make no mistake, there would be no Facebook without Sheryl Sandberg and Zuckerberg cannot throw her under the bus as a way to separate himself from the bad things they both have done.

The same is true of the people around Donald Trump. As Dowd points out Mike Pence, Mike Pompeo and surely Ivanka Trump enabled Mr. Trump to do what he did on and surrounding the January 6 insurrection. The Mikes and Ivanka are every bit as guilty as The Donald at creating the mess that was the period between January 20, 2017 and January 20, 2021. You can throw Bill Barr in there as well.

One of the many lessons I learned while an administrator was how subcultures within departments enabled people to do bad things. Sometimes the subcultures permeated the entire institution as was the case surrounding conflict of interest at MD Anderson in the early days of the current century. Leaders establish cultures and their followers will not step up and stop them when they are going awry. But all the blame cannot be pinned on the leader. I should know because when I tried to change a direction I saw the institution drifting with regard to the performance of clinical research and conflict of interest, I was tagged as a troublemaker. Eventually, it contributed to my demise. In fact, I was even more outspoken at my next job and was fired even faster. Corrupt leadership doesn’t want to hear the truth and the same was undoubtedly the case in the Trump White House and at Facebook.

Too bad. No one gets off easy. The leaders are to blame and so are the enablers. No one gets to “slide away.”

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