Leonard Zwelling

In April of 1961, the United States under President John F. Kennedy supported a sea-based land invasion of Cuba in an effort to overthrow the nascent Castro communist government. For a host of reasons, mostly poor planning and execution, it failed. President Kennedy took responsibility for the failure. He was held accountable. He did much better the next year during the Cuban Missile Crisis as the book and film Thirteen Days demonstrate.

Somehow, it seems, our leaders no longer want to take responsibility for their errors. No one was ever held accountable for the folly of Vietnam beyond Lyndon Johnson choosing not to run for re-election in 1968. The price was paid by the 58,000 dead whose names are etched in the black granite of the Wall on the National Mall, but who was held accountable? How did we get into Vietnam anyway? Who owns that? Had someone owned the error, perhaps we would have never gone to Iraq.

Richard Nixon was brought down by Watergate, a series of crimes for which he was never held accountable, nor did he spend any time in jail even as many of his underlings did. It is imperative in human affairs when mistakes are made, the origin of the mistakes be unearthed and those who made them be held accountable. The penalties the guilty pay can be negotiated. Their accountability for misdeeds cannot.

Let’s see who was not held accountable.

Let’s start with Clarence Thomas. Does anyone really think that Anita Hill was making it all up? Especially now as we learn more about Justice Thomas’ view of the law and his choice in life partner. And Mrs. Thomas’ choices in who to support politically, not to mention their non-disclosure of lavish, gifted vacations.

What about Brett Kavanaugh? Surely, he paid no price nor was held accountable for any of the things he was purported to have done while young. Again, the accuser sounded credible to me even as the Senate Judiciary Committee disagreed.

And, of course, exhibit one in the line of people getting away with things is Donald Trump who is neither a business nor political genius, yet is still viable as a Republican candidate in a party with the best and the brightest sitting on the sidelines in governors’ mansions all over the country unwilling to run against him. Maybe if one of these grand juries votes to indict (the one in New York did) and he gets convicted, he can be held accountable although his relationship with Stormy Daniels is the least of my concerns.

Recently, I have been involved with another matter in which wrong-doing was swept under the rug and for which there was no accountability. It’s not a first. I worked for a president who was guilty of conflict of interest and profiting off of it and another guilty of self-dealing to enrich himself. While they were replaced, there was no public accounting of what they did wrong suggesting it can all happen again. And, it did. DePinho just took Mendelsohn’s conflicts to a new level.

In our national public life, we have countless examples of leaders profiting from their positions with no accountability for their wrong-doing. Who will really pay for the failure of Silicon Valley Bank? You can bet we all will on April 15.

The time has long since passed when errors by leadership are confessed in public and punishment appropriately meted out by the system. George Santos is still a member of Congress. How can the Republicans do that and still have any credibility with the voters?

Who is accountable for the gun violence that is uniquely American? The Congress for not banning assault weapons and mandating universal background checks. But who is paying the price of the Congress not being accountable? We all are.

When I was being raised, I was expected to be held accountable for what I did and what I said. It was surely true as a Duke undergraduate and as a medical student. As a house officer, my every action was being evaluated and I was held accountable for my decisions and my conduct. Where is that ethic today? Certainly not on Wall Street, Capitol Hill, or the White House, let alone the Supreme Court.

Is it any wonder why the public does not trust our institutions? They are not trustworthy because they are not accountable. I am fine with human leniency in punishment. First, admit you screwed up, then we can negotiate the consequences. I expect that of my kids. Why would I not expect it of my presidents?


Dr. Zwelling’s new novel, Conflict of Interest: Money Drives Medicine and People Die is available at:,

on amazon if you search using the title and subtitle, and

directly from the publisher Dorrance at:

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