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Why Good People Do Bad Things

Debunking American Exceptionalism III: Incompetency

Social Media Sensibility Motivates Uncaring Behavior that has led to a Decline in American Exceptionalism

This is the third in a weekly series of blogs on the decline of American Exceptionalism. Two weeks ago I dealt with the epidemic of violence in our schools, workplaces, and public venues. Last week I discussed the deplorable fraud, waste and abuse in government that has cost us billions of dollars. Today I look at the growing incompetence in our society.

Any discussion of incompetent behavior must begin with the rollout of Obamacare. To say it has been a disaster is an understatement. The systems do not work properly and the fix is taking what seems like forever. To fully understand the incompetence, just think about this: It took just under 3 years and 7 months for the U.S. to enter World War II and defeat Germany and Japan. It took just over 3 years and 7 months from the time Obamacare (The Affordable Health Care Act) was passed and signed into law until the new heath care system “went live” on October 1, 2013. It’s scandalous that the system wasn’t 100% ready to go on October 1. What’s worse is the explanation given by Kathleen Sebelius, the head of Department of Health & Human Services, that the reason for the failed rollout was the lack of sufficient time to test the system…Seriously?

Government incompetence on the critical issue of what to do about the millions of illegal immigrants in our country has persisted since 1986 when former president Ronald Regan signed a sweeping immigration reform bill into law. The bill made any immigrant who had entered the country before 1982 eligible for amnesty. To garner enough support for passage in Congress, the bill was sold as a crackdown: There would be tighter security at the Mexican border, and employers would face strict penalties for hiring undocumented workers.

How has that worked out for us, America? Twenty-seven years later we are still dealing with the same issues on illegal immigration. I call that incompetence in the extreme.

The most stunning example of incompetence is the bizarre case of three missing women – Amanda Berry, Gina DeJusus, and Michele Knight, who were held captive in a Cleveland home for a decade. At least five babies were born at the house, while one of the victims suffered as many as three miscarriages because she was so malnourished.

Obviously, the kidnappers, including Ariel Castro and his two brothers, are to blame. However, there were many signs that something was wrong in that house which were ignored by the authorities. First, Castro's son penned an article for the Cleveland Plain Press about the disappearance of DeJesus back in 2004. Then, the Child Protective Services had been sent to the home in 2004, but left without speaking to the homeowner, Ariel Castro, after there was no answer. The agency could have put a halt to the nightmare of three girls 8 years sooner. Finally, in September 2006, police acting on a tip tore up the concrete floor of the garage and used a cadaver dog to search unsuccessfully for DeJesus' body.

I attribute this disgraceful affair to a lack of competence. I have observed that all too many government agencies and even the police act in a way that is highly unethical because they fail to exercise due care and the pursuit of excellence in everything they do. Due care and excellence is a virtue in Aristotelian ethics while carelessness is a vice.

Two weeks ago I read about a patient found dead in a stairwell 17 days after she disappeared from her room at S.F. General Hospital. The reason given for not finding her sooner included confusion about her race, inadequate searches, and a malfunctioning technology. This women’s life would have been spared, most likely, if those who conducted the search did so in a competent matter.

There are many other instances of incompetence. The fact that $60 billion in fraud in the Medicare program exists after so many years is indicative of our inability to put systems into place to protect society from fraud. From ineligible people receiving “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (politically correct term for ‘Food Stamps’) to paying money to dead people for social security benefits, our government and its systems do not operate in a way that protects the public’s resources.

Why have we become such an incompetent country? I believe it is because we have become lazy and apathetic. The mantra in the U.S. has become use the system for one’s own aggrandizement. We have a pursuit of self-interests mentality that leads to acting in a way that fails to consider the consequences of our actions. What’s worse, almost no one admits to a mistake (i.e., inappropriate behavior, cheating, or fraud) until they are caught and then that person often blames the offended party.

As a country we no longer have pride in what we do. We do it for the money, the glory, the power, or the prestige – and in all too many cases to make a You Tube video that goes viral. We have what I call a “Social Media Sensibility” in our country that has deadened the caring and empathy cells in our brains and our hearts so we no longer truly care about each other’s well-being. Instead of the Golden Rule we live in a country whose mantra is “He who has the Gold, Rules.” This is the reason so much incompetence exists today and why another characteristic of American Exceptionalism has disappeared.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on November 18, 2013