When a nation’s highest government leader is repeatedly reported to behave badly, unethically, immorally and illegally, his conduct is likely to inspire his country’s men and women to follow the principal’s examples with duplicitous accuracy. Such is the case right here at home as more and more Americans in all walks of life, whether in private or public roles, choose to copy their leader and end up practicing unlawful conduct, diminishing integrity and trust.

There is no better example than the college admissions bribery scandal. It happens nowadays that all of us are daily barraged by stories of corruption, greed and amoral behavior. These revelations have led to thousands, perhaps millions, of Americans, figuratively throwing their hands skyward and committing themselves to new set of anything-goes rules.

Yes, outside of the latest crookery to gain elite college admission, the citizens of our country have not always been free of circumventing laws and ethical standards, swindling customers and pocketing elicit gains. However, more of it is happening by way of constant high-profile scandals involving bankers, drug companies, sports organizations and government officials. Bottom line appears to be a dark place where the U.S. has fallen into inappropriate opportunities and benefits, whereby a former society of social and professional restraints are no longer viable.

The buy-your-college-of-choice scandal has been identified as the biggest such scam ever prosecuted in U.S. Justice Department history. Fifty Americans to date have been charged in the scheme with many more suspected. A scheme where those already arrested and charged paid more than $25 million in bribes to coaches and other college-associated people to gain entry of offspring into elite schools of higher education.

Possibly no one who is familiar with elite universities and their admission practices has found this matter a surprise. The milieu with the children of wealthy families is that they notoriously have had things arranged to their advantage. What’s argued as new is that those considerable advantages are not enough for some who now buy elite-university entry. Worse yet, it’s alleged that many esteemed institutions in the U.S. are participants in this extraordinary shamefulness.

Hence, public cynicism abounds. It can be seen here and there by the annual Gallup poll on Values and Morals showing a record 49 percent of Americans view values and morals as poor with a mere 14 percent rating them excellent or good. It is believed that the fewer viewing the U.S. as moral has been contributed to by President Donald J. Trump’s and his administration’s departure from longstanding ethical norms and specifics like failure to reveal tax returns, refusal to divest business holdings or place them in a blind trust. Citizen conclusion: hiding skullduggery.

We the people should be demanding of Congress that our representatives tighten ethical standards for the executive branch and themselves by strengthening reforms brought after the Watergate era. Then, too, colleges and universities should act immediately to reform admissions in their own bailiwicks, using audits and use of independent accreditation agencies. 

All of us who want a constitutional democracy to survive have a responsibility to yell “foul” and demand “correction” when we witness improprieties. When we allow everything formerly valued to be now measured solely by their worth in dollar bills, then crime, corruption and ill-begotten gains can ultimately take all that we hold dear and trash them, ultimately to place America into history’s sink hole of once-great civilizations.

(Gene H. McIntyre shares his opinion regularly in the Keizertimes.)