An Open Letter to Congress and Corporate CEOs

Dear Congress Members and Corporate Executives,

Perhaps you don’t know it, but we Americans don’t trust you. Congress’s confidence ratings are in single digits, and CEOs—yours is only 18%. Now that you know it, I wonder if you care.

Congress, do you even know what your purpose is anymore? You act as if your goal is sheer power, devoid of any greater social purpose.  It’s a competition to you—as though it’s absolutely paramount to your sense of self and place in the pecking order that you win. When you say your single-minded goal is to defeat a sitting president, rather than work with him, that’s obstruction. You are not getting the people’s work done. You jigger the rules so you can gain single-party control. Do you realize we Americans want to keep our democracy? We expect you to do the difficult work of negotiating, compromising, listening to and considering other points of view and potential solutions. We expect you to have the maturity to accept that you don’t always get everything you want and that it’s not about you.

You disdain human needs. You don’t even question billions of dollars for bombs to destroy people and countries, under the guise of national security, yet you cringe at the thought that Americans might need affordable food, housing, or healthcare in a society you’ve helped become glaringly unequal. Americans want jobs—good jobs that allow us to achieve the American Dream. But you still won’t admit that channeling money to the richest few doesn’t create those jobs, and you ignore the government’s own role in job creation.

So Speaker Ryan, when you say—after Republicans playing baseball are fired upon with the weapons you keep legal—that we Americans are united by our humanity, I believe we are. But coming from you, these words ring hollow. They even sicken, since your actions in Congress are anything but humane.

CEOs, you may believe it’s not your purpose to care. Your purpose is to make the most money for yourself and shareholders, as quickly as possible. This utilitarian definition of your role shirks responsibility to a society that provides the infrastructure, such as highways and the internet, that makes your business possible. Originally, American corporations, though allowed to make profits, were chartered for public benefit and companies accepted that responsibility.

But today, because there’s not enough money in it for you, you won’t develop life-saving drugs. Yet at the same time, you don’t want the government to do it. In fact, you call out lobbyists and attorneys to stop it if the government tries. Because you want to pay as little as you can to support government, you keep billions of dollars off-shore, tax-free, and lobby for corporate tax breaks to subsidize your business ventures, while you label as entitled people who need government assistance to survive. Some need this assistance because you pay them too little to live.

You get contracts from the government but you jack up the costs—ripping off American taxpayers through your overcharging. And then you blame government, claiming it is wasteful. You get tax breaks and other incentives and are welcomed to communities where we are glad for the jobs, but when you’ve exploited us to the point where it’s no longer worth it to you, you walk away leaving polluted water, deteriorating buildings, and a broken economy. You complain about regulation, claiming you don’t need it because you’ll act responsibly, yet you’ve shown over and over again that our lives don’t matter to you. You even come to us when your greedy overreach causes financial meltdown and your company verges on collapse, wanting a handout, because in your hubris, you claim you’re too big to fail. You incessantly make trivial changes to technology products, creating unnecessary and wasteful obsolescence, solely to extract money—rather than turning talent toward true innovation and transformation to solve collective problems. And now, because you’ve gained so excessively from all you’ve been given—you believe it’s well within your rights to buy politicians, that your money equals speech and so your voice means more than ours.

Public-private partnerships should be a thing of the past, viewed as an experiment that didn’t work out.  And you should be fined for holding funds overseas and required to pay taxes on it at the full rate. Your claim of risk as the rationale for profits is bankrupt; you’ve used your power to buy protection from risk.

What has all this created? A dehumanized culture, a culture that solely values money and power. In this culture we get decisions like the rush in Arkansas to execute prisoners before the drugs expire. We get principals and teachers shaming kids who need a free lunch. We get an airline tackling a passenger and throwing him off the plane because efficiency is paramount. We get a Congressman who says no one dies from lack of healthcare, despite common sense and ample evidence to the contrary, in an attempt to justify inhumane action. And when a U.S. President cries over yet another mass murder or a late night TV host pours out his anguished story of his child’s surgery, it brings chiding, and charges of emotional blackmail. In this culture compassion, altruism, and a sense of shared responsibility are viewed as personal weakness and soft-headedness, and people who express it risk ridicule and shame. Even our entertainment is rife with comedies that play on brutality and humiliation, and violence pervades nearly every TV show and movie. Just as our bodies react to the kinds of food we eat, so do our minds, emotions and spirit react to the information we take in. We become callous and combative.

How do we break this destructive cycle, this system that seems to lock everyone in? Members of Congress and CEOs, you play an outsized role in the shape of our world. To those of you who do see and who do care, we need you! As individuals, you may feel dwarfed by this gargantuan sewage system that washes over us all, but pull on the threads that are within your grasp. When each of you do so, it will begin to unwind. Join with each other, to help us change course.

If ever there was a time when we need humane, unselfish solutions and a communal take on the world, it’s now. We must learn how to live together, respectfully and civilly. We must learn to stand up for the truth, but speak it without malice. And we must learn to listen—instead of looking at the surface and reacting. This is how we can truly be united by our humanity.

We Americans with a social conscience are pulling on the threads within our grasp. Our protests are an SOS. Can you hear us? Are you willing?