The Divide: Deflecting responsibility

The Divide: Deflecting responsibility


This past week has seen Trump, Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway Ltd (MM&A), Michigan State University, the United States Olympic Committee, and even Pope Francis refuse to take responsibility for actions, or the lack thereof, that have led to a federal government shutdown, deaths, and hundreds of lives ruined due to child sexual abuse. The divide between owning up to one’s actions, rather than deflecting responsibility to the victims and the innocent, must end if we are to move forward and become a more humane society.

The “Trump shutdown.” Trump is blaming the Democrats, the Dems are blaming Trump and the Republicans, and the federal government is entering its fifth month without a budget, despite Republicans controlling both houses of Congress and the White House. No one wants to take responsibility for the gridlock, but Trump needs to heed his own words from 2013, when the GOP was threatening to shut down the government, and actually did shut it down for sixteen days. In a televised interview in October 2013, Trump stated: “I really believe the pressure is on the president…You have to be a leader…The president would be blamed [if there is a shutdown]…A tremendously negative mark on the president…” Well, Trump old boy, stop deflecting blame to everyone but yourself, and take responsibility for the lack of a budget and for the shutdown. After all, it is your failure to lead and your constant flip-flopping on issues that has led to the current dysfunction in Washington.

The federal government shutdown was not the only 2013 event that has been resurrected in 2018. On July 6, 2013, a train carrying crude oil derailed in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, Canada, killing 47 people and destroying the core of downtown Lac-Megantic. Two years later, the Canadian government laid charges against employees of the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway. Three of the employees, the train’s driver, the locomotive engineer, and the operations manager faced criminal charges. The trial started in September 2017 and lasted four months. The jury, following nine days of deliberations acquitted the three MM&A employees of all criminal charges.

The employees that were found not guilty were the scapegoats for both the Crown (Canadian government) and MM&A. The Crown wanted to blame the workers rather than take responsibility for changes made to regulations that allowed “single employee train crews.” MM&A sought to place all of the blame for the accident on their employees so as to avoid taking responsibility for its lack of concern for safety so as to maximize profits. During the trial, evidence provided by government, and company witnesses, instead of proving criminal negligence on the part of the employees, showed the recklessness and irresponsibility of MM&A.

The Railroad Workers United (RWU) statement on the acquittal of the workers highlighted a few of MM&A’s failures: lack of training for the single person crews; lack of funding for safety and emergency training; the train involved in the derailment was tons over limit; the train was left unattended, per company policy; the train’s lead locomotive was known to be defective; and, the company policy was to leave the train’s automatic brake in the “release” position, despite generally accepted practice that unattended trains have the automatic brake in the “full-service” position.

MM&A’s lack of financial investment in safety measures may have played a role in the derailment that led to the deaths of so many Lac-Megantic residents. As the RWU statement said, “…the railroad company…was oblivious to safety concerns…more interested in making money…”  MM&A and the Crown both refused to take responsibility for their inactions that possibly led to a tragedy that didn’t have to happen. Instead, they tried to deflect attention from themselves and place the blame on the employees who were just doing their jobs per company policy.  Thankfully, the jury was not fooled in this case. However, we must be watchful for the next time a corporation denies culpability and points the finger at innocent employees.

Corporate greed is not the only reason for irresponsible behavior and inaction. The victim impact statement phase of Dr. Lawrence Nassar’s sexual abuse trial (he’s the former doctor for U.S.A. Gymnastics and Michigan State University’s sports physician), has opened our eyes to “winning is everything” in the U.S. Olympic arena, even if it means turning a blind eye to complaints of abuse. One by one, Nassar’s victims have come forward in a courtroom in Michigan and faced their tormentor. By the end of the victims’ statement phase, as many as 120 women and girls will have given statements relating the abuse they suffered at the hands of Nassar. The stories being told in court are heart-wrenching. The women and girls who were abused, and their families, will have to struggle the rest of their lives with the physical, mental, and emotional impacts caused by the abuse. How did U.S.A. Gymnastics, the U.S. Olympic Committee and MSU allow this activity to continue after receiving complaints of Dr. Nassar’s inappropriate criminal behavior over many decades?

U.S. Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman asks of U.S.A. gymnastics: “Where is the honesty?” “Why have I and the others here not heard anything from the leadership of the USOC?” Raisman pointed out that, “At the 2016 Olympic Games, the president of the USOC said that the USOC. would not conduct an investigation.” MSU also failed to take any action regarding Nassar despite more than 100 complaints against him received by university police over a twenty year period. The trustees of MSU put in a letter that “no MSU official believed that Nassar committed sexual abuse…” This begs the question: If not the USOC and MSU, then who is responsible for allowing Nassar to continue to administer to young female athletes despite hundreds of complaints?

And, not to be outdone by presidents, corporations, and U.S. athletics, we have Pope Francis, while visiting Chile, accusing the victims of a pedophile priest of slandering the bishop who covered up the abuse. This is the ultimate act of deflecting responsibility – blame the victim.

If elected officials, corporate CEO’s, university presidents and boards of trustees, and even the Pope refuse to take responsibility for their actions, or in some cases, inactions, how are we as a society ever going to correct our mistakes and fix the damage inflicted on others?    

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