Why don’t ‘re­spectable’ elites call out non­sense?

Cape Breton Post - - Cape Breton - Tom Ur­ba­niak Po­lit­i­cal In­sights

So-called re­spectable “elites”’ have colum­nist Tom Ur­ba­niak see­ing red. Find out more.

You and I know them. They’re the let­ter­head peo­ple, re­spectable cit­i­zens who like to be in­sid­ers. They serve on pres­ti­gious boards or in pres­ti­gious of­fices, re­cruited for their names or con­nec­tions. They like to be at­tached to ven­er­a­ble in­sti­tu­tions or en­dowed or­ga­ni­za­tions. They preach ser­vice to oth­ers and stand for all that is vir­tu­ous and good.

But when faced with a mo­ment of truth, they pick si­lence and quiet ac­qui­es­cence. They won’t call out non­sense.

I have been re­flect­ing on the let­ter­head peo­ple at home and abroad. What hap­pens when they have their mo­ment to do what is right?

Last month, af­ter-the-fact pub­lic-ac­counts doc­u­ments re­vealed that Aca­dia Univer­sity got $10.5-mil­lion in se­cre­tive bailouts from the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment last year, on top of ex­tra mil­lions the pre­vi­ous years. This was a quiet ar­range­ment not be­stowed on Cape Breton Univer­sity, which had to make ma­jor cuts and whose ap­peals for help were turned back, cit­ing a for­mula.

How did politi­cians, pro­vin­cial pub­lic ser­vants, Aca­dia ad­min­is­tra­tors and board mem­bers keep the bailout un­der wraps? Why did no one in the know – and there would have been many peo­ple in the know – pub­licly ques­tion the pro­ce­dure here?

The pub­lic, the op­po­si­tion and gov­ern­ment back­benchers in the House of Assem­bly de­served di­rect in­for­ma­tion and an ex­pla­na­tion for such ma­jor, un­bud­geted ex­pen­di­tures.

I sup­pose dis­sent or a pointed ques­tion in a meet­ing would not have been “re­spectable.” That is con­cern­ing.

Un­for­tu­nately, even lead­ers whose out­ward be­hav­iour is very un­re­spectable ben­e­fit from the du­plic­ity of those who like to con­sider them­selves re­spectable elites.

On July 24, United States Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump gave a crudely par­ti­san, ram­bling tirade to 40,000 teenagers at the jam­boree of the Boy Scouts of Amer­ica. He sav­aged op­po­nents and preached spite and self­ish in­di­vid­u­al­ism.

The Boy Scouts were now put to the test. The sight and sound of their teens cheer­ing a vi­cious, dem­a­gogic speech could set the or­ga­ni­za­tion back decades. In one swoop, it could can­cel any in­roads the Boy Scouts had made in mi­nor­ity com­mu­ni­ties, es­pe­cially among peo­ple who are feel­ing very vul­ner­a­ble right now.

But the pres­i­dent (vol­un­teer board chair) of the or­ga­ni­za­tion, Ran­dall Stephen­son, ducked. He beat around the bush about whether such be­hav­iour from the com­man­der-in-chief was ac­cept­able. Stephen­son said that he would in­vite Trump back, adding that rein­ing in the pres­i­dent of the United States would be “be­yond our pay grade.”

Stephen­son was re­cruited to the board of the Boy Scouts at least partly be­cause of his money and con­nec­tions. A 2016 Scouts press re­lease touted his role in help­ing AT&T, of which Stephen­son is the CEO, at­tain $147-bil­lion in rev­enues in 2015.

For Stephen­son, in turn, the Boy Scouts are a golden op­por­tu­nity to ap­pear benev­o­lent. It’s a great let­ter­head on which to be listed. And while the go­ing was good, preach­ing the Scout law had no down­side.

Mean­while, AT&T is look­ing to the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion to ap­prove some big com­mer­cial trans­ac­tions. Call­ing out the pres­i­dent of the United States, even if it would mean be­ing true to the Scout pledge, might not be re­spectable within Stephen­son’s cir­cles when so much profit is at stake.

But mo­tives for du­plic­ity may be more com­plex than profit. In June, a cer­tain Thomas Paprocki burst into the head­lines south of the bor­der. He’s the Ro­man Catholic bishop of Spring­field, Illi­nois.

Paprocki is­sued a writ­ten de­cree threat­en­ing to pun­ish any pri­est who does a fu­neral for a per­son in a same-sex mar­riage un­less that per­son had re­nounced his or her spouse be­fore death.

Af­ter this, vir­tu­ally no one in church lead­er­ship would take me­dia in­ter­views on the mat­ter. They ran for cover. For them, it was more im­por­tant not to ac­knowl­edge that a bishop could be wrong than it was to stand up for the most ba­sic hu­man dig­nity for LGBT Catholics. It seems that within the closed world of the church hi­er­ar­chy, pub­lic dis­sent is not re­spectable, no mat­ter what pain is caused to peo­ple.

Again, the in­sti­tu­tional dig­ni­taries would not call out the non­sense.

I have used the word “elites.” But the re­spectable cit­i­zens could well be us in a given sit­u­a­tion. Will we in­sist on fair­ness and trans­parency? Will we stand up to the bul­lies? Will we speak for peo­ple tar­geted by out­ra­geous de­ci­sions?

Those are ques­tions in our work and in our com­mu­ni­ties. And they are ques­tions of our times.

“How did politi­cians, pro­vin­cial pub­lic ser­vants, Aca­dia ad­min­is­tra­tors and board mem­bers keep the bailout un­der wraps?”

Tom Ur­ba­niak is a po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist at Cape Breton Univer­sity. He wel­comes the ex­change of ideas and can be reached at tom_ur­ba­niak@cbu.ca .


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