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View from around the state: Question: Do leaders reflect who we are?

— From the Beloit Daily News

If America wants to be great, America and its leaders must be good.

As the year draws to a close, let’s consider three stories from the past week and give some thought to how we, as Americans, may want to conduct our lives.

1. From Fox News: “Facebook gave tech companies ‘intrusive’ access to users’ private messages and personal data, internal documents reveal.”

2. From The Washington Post: Former national security adviser Michael Flynn presumably had satisfied prosecutors by pleading guilty to felony lying to the FBI and cooperating with ongoing investigations. But U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan blew a gasket at the sentencing hearing, where Flynn expected to get no jail time.

Sullivan told Flynn: “All along you were an unregistered agent of a foreign country, while serving as the national security adviser to the president of the United States. Arguably, that undermines everything this flag over here stands for. Arguably, you sold your country out.”

3. From The New York Times: “Trump Foundation will dissolve, accused of ‘shocking pattern of illegality’.” Attorney General Barbara Underwood said the charity functioned “as little more than a checkbook to serve Mr. Trump’s business and political interests,” and New York’s investigation of the foundation will continue. Evidence presented by the state suggests the foundation was used to pay for personal and campaign costs.

The common thread in all this — and more examples could be cited, from any side of the political spectrum — is that old standard, the almighty dollar.

Facebook has been linked to one scandal after another over the past several months, essentially showing the company used exposure of users’ personal data as the currency to pile up money. These days, perhaps, personal privacy is less an expectation than it was for earlier generations of Americans. But the assumption by commercial interests that just because they can sweep up personal data, they should sweep it up and feel free to use it for their own financial gain ought to spark interest among the people’s representatives in Congress to protect their constituents.

Likewise, we applaud Judge Sullivan for reminding not only General Flynn but all Americans that high office should be accompanied by high expectations of exemplary behavior. Whatever sentence Flynn eventually receives, he and others may long remember the hide he lost as he stood in the dock before the judge.

And as for the evidence New York authorities turned up of a “shocking pattern of illegality” in how a supposed charitable organization spent its funds, that’s just stunning. New York authorities continue to pursue actions related to abuse of the charity, as it should.

Memorable quotes, supposedly from history, frequently appear even though the actual sourcing may be suspect. The following quote has been attributed to Alexis de Tocqueville, but there’s no proof he ever said or wrote it. The words were, however, used by President Eisenhower in a speech, so we’ll let it go at that:

“I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers, and it was not there … in her fertile fields and boundless forests, and it was not there … in her rich mines and her vast world commerce, and it was not there … in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution, and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.”

Wise words, whatever the source.

Those who would lead us — in politics, in commerce — should be held accountable to the highest standards of rectitude, to behave in ways that serve America’s interest, not just personal or financial interest. Actions that abuse trust deserve an appropriate response.

So, during these holidays for reflection, think about this question: Do our leaders reflect the “us” we want to be — or the “us” we are?

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