Ethical Empathy: A National Leadership Crisis

Ethical Empathy: A National Leadership Crisis

Following the American Psychological Association’s Guidelines

Jonathan B. Graves, MSA

Norwich University


This paper analyzes the role of ethical empathy regarding the national security crisis of America’s moral degradation which is politically motivated by partisan fervor. Not only has partisanship striped America’s ethical altruism bare, but partisan politics has seeped into the American psyche whereby enmity for others is based purely on party allegiance. Now, more than ever, America needs ethical leadership in government to promote “obligation and respect in our society and emphasizes that it is crucial to our democracy that government officials protect citizens’ interests” while encouraging dialogue and progress (Bowman, 1990). Ethical depravity created the modern phenomenon of fake news whereby vicious political attacks of rape, a plethora of isms like racism, sexism, isolationism, and protectionism, and homophobic, xenophobic, and Islamophobic rebukes are now social norms. Empathy ethics is necessary for the moral enlightenment of America’s national identity where divisiveness is not a label such as Democrat or Republican but where cooperation and dialogue are the bearers of progress and social cohesion. This paper argues that the classless nature of politics today debases the entirety of American society and ruins America’s reputation for equality based on mutual understanding and the democratic process; democracy includes fair elections, cooperation, dialogue, and a government for the people, by the people, and of the people. America needs a moral enlightenment to take back their government and reinstall the ethical and moral acuity that saw American leadership create the Constitution and win two world wars.

Keywords: empathy ethics, partisan fervor, fake news, attitude of superiority


Ethical Empathy: A National Leadership Crisis

American values, rights, morals, and ethics are at the precipice of imploding due to the lack of integrity in those who lead the U.S.; void of empathetic and emotional intelligence, the constant corruption in the news is a glaring red flag to the destruction of American leadership at home and abroad. While there will always be isolated incidents of leadership breaking social ethical boundaries, what destroys morale “is the systematic corner-cutting, the rule-bending, the self-dealing[1]” and the debasement of others for political gain (Packer, 2013). The lack of ethical leadership in America is deeply concerning and driving a wedge between Americans strictly for political gain; Confucius once observed, “the indirect effects of a statesman’s actions were far more important than his direct decisions” (Lovelady, 1992).  Simply put, corrupt leaders seduce others towards dishonesty whereas honest leaders promote good; “thus the character of the community would be shaped in part by the quality of the men [and women] who occupied the leading positions of public honor and trust” (Lovelady, 1992). Partisan politics lacking ethical and moral boundaries of what is and is not acceptable[2] have sunk to new levels as seen with the most recent presidential election. Trump and Hillary Clinton brought political fighting to a new level while pandering for party support which was a stain on democracy. America needs more capable, more ethical, and more empathetic leaders to restore America’s underlying values that were forever engrained in the U.S. Constitution being ratified June 21, 1788.

Ethical Integrity

“Ethical Leadership is critical to every segment of American society” which must be expressed at every level of government (Bove, 2017). While America’s history is riddled with the bullets of repugnant moral behavior, recent political events have swollen like a dead beached whale just waiting to explode. Moral and ethical degradation is not a partisan issue because both Democrats and Republicans are often embroiled in scandal. What is more concerning than the lack of integrity in politics, is how few politicians are prosecuted for deviant behavior other than ingesting a stain on their reputations. Self-aggrandizement should never take precedence over empathy ethics and a moral reawakening of America’s consciousness is critical for a united America where cohesiveness will be needed to face outside threats like the rise of China and cyberspace attacks. Leaders serve those they lead, those who vote for them, and most of all, their country; America’s leaders need an enlightenment for affecting social reforms based on the needs of America and not partisan politics. The attitude of superiority[3] that politicians hold rebukes the Constitution whereby “all deemed inferior will easily be ostracized, and understood as insignificant and inconvenient” (Bove, 2017). “According to the FBI, public corruption is its top criminal investigative priority since it poses a fundamental threat to our national security and way of life” but ethical impropriety is equally as destructive[4] to the fabrics of society (Bove, 2017).

Partisan Fervor

In Barrack Obama’s farewell address, he warned of uncontrolled partisanship beliefs as a central threat to American democracy; he said our country becomes weakened “when we allow our political dialogue to become so corrosive that people of good character are turned off from public service, so coarse with rancor that Americans with whom we disagree are not just misguided, but somehow malevolent” (Taub, 2017). Partisan politics used to be just that, partisan politics; in today’s world, partisanship operates “more like racism or sexism, fueling negative or positive judgments on people themselves, based on nothing more than their party identification” (Taub, 2017). Fake news, fueled by partisan politics, is a central factor in how Americans view themselves on par with ideological factors such as race, sex, and religion. When people use judgement based on artificial labels, such as party affiliation, they risk their empathy ethics[5] and moral inclinations and destroy society by disseminating false beliefs that divide people. The term fake news is analogous to a lack of empathy and understanding in politics or a low emotional IQ that accepts fellow Americans as dumb, racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic, or Islamophobic; empathy ethics can guide the moral enlightenment of America and it must! Simply put, much of the news that is available to the public is incomplete, inaccurate, or pandering to partisan bias; Americans need to use empathy to delve into the political debate while maintaining their integrity and respect for differences. America can no longer afford to be divided by the political process and must demand absolutely, that journalists and government politicians are held accountable for their work just as a CPA or Lawyer can lose their license for breaking ethical codes of conduct, so to should a journalist or politician.


Political crimes Since 1980 have been a shameful stain on America’s moral reputation; “crimes in this shameful category of corrupt Congressional leaders include racketeering, tax evasion, accepting illegal gifts, mail and wire fraud, child pornography, aggravated criminal sexual abuse of a child, conspiracy, money laundering, misuse of public funds, and embezzlement” (Bove, 2017). American governance can only be efficacious with a modern ethical enlightenment that places substance in front of personal gain and where leaders are the keepers of society as opposed to the benefactors of the entitled super elite. This responsibility alone is not uniquely specific to politicians because fake news fuels the flames of political infidelity with America’s moral and ethical codes of conduct. By demanding professional ethics be codified for both politicians and journalists as is the case with other professions like accounting, America’s leadership can regain the trust and moral aptitude they’ve lost[6]. Only then, can the moral degradation of America become enlightened to serve the people of the United States. American must shore up trust in government to unite Americans and end the era of divisiveness, partisan fervor, and fake news. America needs real life leaders who inspire moral integrity and protect ethics from the vicissitudes of social pressure; America needs a revival, an enlightenment, a common ideological purpose, and leaders who lead with empathy are the answer.


Bove, J. (January 5, 2017). American government requires ethical leadership. Retrieved

Bowman, James S. “Ethics in Government: A National Survey of Public Administrators.” Public Administration Review, vol. 50, no. 3, 1990, pp. 345–353. JSTOR, JSTOR,

Easley, C. (April 28, 2017). Political media earns poor marks from americans. Retrieved

Holan, A. (September 11, 2016). In context: Hillary Clinton and the basket of deplorables. Retrieved

Griffiths, B. (September 24, 2017). Poll: Majority of americans see Trump as divisive. Retrieved

Lovelady, B. (1992). Ethics for national security decisionmakers: It’s not always easy to do well and right. Retrieved from

Northouse, P. G. (2013). Leadership Theory and Practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Packer, G. (June 19, 2013). Decline and fall: How American society unraveled. Retrieved from

Schallhorn, K. (December 25, 2017). The 7 biggest political scandals of 2017. Retrieved

Taub, A. (January 11, 2017). The real story about fake news is partisanship. Retrieved



Figure 1: The above graphic represents how torn the American public is with regard to America’s reputation for trust regarding the media and Donald Trumps White House. More specifically, the graphic illustrates that Republicans trust the White House while Democrats trust the National Political Media. Partisan politics is alive and well in America and that is a sobering thought requiring ethical enlightenment and the need for leadership that can unite the country.

[1] One such example of a lack of moral and ethical integrity is when “Al Gore made $100m (£64m) in a single month by selling Current TV to Al-Jazeera for $70m and cashing in his shares of Apple stock for $30m” (Parker, 2013). Al-Jazeera, owned and operated by Qatar, exports oil and oppresses the views of woman which makes “a mockery of the ideas that Gore propounds in a book or film every other year” (Parker, 2013).

[2] Hillary Clinton stated at the LGBT for Hillary Gala in New York City on Sept. 9, 2016, that Trump’s supporters were “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic – you name it” which highlights moral impropriety and the “true contempt for everyday Americans” that political elites regard as true (Holan, 2016).

[3] The attitude of superiority was epitomized when Hillary Clinton stated Trump supporters are a basket of deplorables. Nancy Pelosi stated the increase in everyday Americans paychecks was equivalent to bread crumbs which shows her out of touch views. In a new poll, “roughly half (51 percent) of Americans said the national political media is out of touch with everyday Americans” (Easley, 2017). See appendix, figure 1 for a graphic representation of America’s partisan divide.

[4] President Donald Trump has failed to unite Americans and, “is instead viewed by most Americans as doing more to divide the country than either of his two most recent predecessors” (Griffiths, 2017). While this quote is sourced from an opinion, perspective and reputation mean a lot in politics and Trump is viewed negatively by many.

[5] Empathy ethics was created by philosophers who believe empathy is a key ingredient to all work in ethics. Without empathy, people will harm others for lack of understanding and compassion for life’s circumstances. Iris Murdoch and Simone Weil are two prominent empathy ethics supporters who emphasize the necessity of developing one’s capacity for attention as basic to developing ethical empathy.

[6] Unethical Politicians: GOP candidate Roy Moore was accused of sexual misconduct. Democrat Al Franken was caught by photograph debasing a woman who was asleep. Democrat John Conyers resigned due to pressure from sexual misconduct and so did Republican Trent Franks of Arizona. Lastly, Anthony Weiner rose to fame for texting a minor with explicit content (Schallhorn, 2017).

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