“No Guardrails”

“No Guardrails”


Leonard Zwelling


This commentary in The Wall Street Journal on October 4 by Matthew Hennessey, deputy editorial features editor, refers back to an editorial from 1993 in the WSJ by David Henninger. The 1993 piece was called “No Guardrails.” Henninger was referring to the unwinding of normal civilized comportment that he felt was plaguing America in 1993 and which he traced back to the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago. That was the one where there were bloody riots in the streets between the young, anti-Vietnam War demonstrators and Mayor Daley’s police force. Hennessey believes the older essay more relevant than ever.

Donald Trump wants to execute the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. That same general calls Trump a “wannabe dictator’” Hmmm. That’s mature. A member of the House, Jamaal Bowman, a former school principal, pulls a fire alarm on Capitol Hill to slow a vote on the Speaker’s fitness to serve and increase the likelihood of a government shutdown. Presumably this was because Democrat Bowman felt a shutdown would be blamed on Republicans. And we have the former Speaker of the House elbowing a colleague and a US Senator challenging a witness to a fist fight. And then there’s George Santos about whom you couldn’t make up the story.

In so many ways, today’s society seems governed by no rules and this did not start with Donald Trump albeit he is the master at disruption. Social media’s immediate broadcasting of misbehavior as the norm doesn’t help. Cities have become even more unlivable as crime, particularly organized theft, is rampant and largely unpunished. Homelessness is out of hand. Gun violence is increasing and Congress cannot pass even an assault weapons ban.

The onset of America’s undoing in this regard may have been 1968 or the JFK assassination or 9/11 or Watergate. As Hennessey points out, the Clarence Thomas hearing, Bush v. Gore, the Clinton impeachment, and the two Trump impeachments all are connected to each other and to the failure of societal norms. Mr. Trump embodies the suspension of American civilization as we know it. See January 6.

This is not a phenomenon limited to politics at all, although the Kevin McCarthy’s unplanned vaca-tion suggests that it is most obvious there.

The norms of medicine have been suspended as well.

Do doctors still do physical exams or is it straight into the CT scanner?

Can a faculty member voice concerns about a colleague’s performance or a nurse’s treatment intent without being subjected to an accusation of “unprofessional behavior?” Not really under Tsar Peter and his legal and HR cohorts.

Can anyone trust the results published in scientific journals as the number of cases of research misconduct seems to be accelerating?

Finally, where is the dynamic leadership the society, our political institutions, and our medical institutions need to be ready to serve the people of the country and compete in the wider, globalized world?

That leadership would most likely emanate from a society that embodies values, believes in civil comportment, and understands that certain principles like honesty trump others like diversity. Surely the cult of narcissism that surrounds leaders like Trump and Biden needs to be put in our rearview mirror once and for all. Only narcissism can explain the plans of either man to seek the presidency in 2024. It’s madness.

No guardrails indeed—in Congress, in business, in academic medicine. Slippery slopes are, very dangerous without guardrails.

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