What Price Loyalty?

With the recent shakeups in the presidential cabinet, it has frequently been observed that the quality most treasured in the present administration is that of loyalty.

Is that such an admirable quality?

We prize the loyalty of our friends who protect our good name when we are not present. We respect the loyalty of committed couples who stay true to each other no matter the outside temptations. We recognize the loyalty of employees who stand by their ethics and keep competitors and enemies at bay. We treasure the loyalty of a soldier to his commander, if necessary to the death. We revere the loyalty of believers in their god and their unswerving commitment to their tenets of faith. We equate disloyalty with treason, dishonor, betrayal. We use names like Quisling, Benedict Arnold, Burgess and Hiss as epithets to express our loathing and disgust.

But loyalty has a darker side. In crime families, loyalty means embracing death or imprisonment rather than exposing crime, violence, and murder. In prison, the most despised inmate is the "snitch" who fails to stay silent about his knowledge of criminal acts, plots, and planned violence. Within adolescent groups and street gangs, the rule of silence and total loyalty is an absolute requirement for continued membership.

The old courts of kings and emperors were rife with sycophants: whatever the leader wanted to hear, they offered. Disagreements and alternative plans for the direction of governance were considered intrigue - dangerous differences of opinion to be rooted out and permanently excised from the body politic.

Where does the White House fit in? For all the positive connotations that loyalty may engender, we must look to the extent it is used and continually monitor it for abuse. No one would suggest that a President surround himself with staff who constantly criticize his ideas or regularly publicly disagree with his programs and proposals. However, the negative aspect of over-loyalty - zealousness - must be confronted if the goal is to weave plans for the common good through compromise in the face of diverse opinion.

The United States was born out of public political and ideological debate. While the framers of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution has fundamental beliefs in common, they did not hesitate to publicly disagree and argue in an effort to reach the most workable goals. For more than two centuries, American political discourse has embraced differences more often than celebrating similarities. Commonly, the friction and arguments of elections become translated into legislation and leadership that seeks to bridge the gaps and bring all into the common fold.

What seems to have changed is the willingness to let disparate views and opinions coexist. We have moved from a mentality that celebrates diversity and multiplicity to a narrow conception of what is right, absolutely right. Other opinions are not valued for the richness their views add to the national fabric but are considered wrong, without value, discounted, dangerously unpatriotic. The second term White House has purified its dogma, filtering our nuances and opposing ideas until everything is distilled into the single voice of one man. The moat around the faithful has been filled, the crocs loosed, and the land lies fallow beneath the keen eye of the true believers.

Arrogance and disdain, disguised as "political capital," has the potential to morph into a level of power and intolerance that can only encourage eventual, inevitable, corruption.

Virginia Bola is a licensed clinical psychologist with deep interests in Social Psychology and politics. She has performed therapeutic services for more than 20 years and has studied the results of cultural forces and employment on the individual. The author of an interactive workbook, The Wolf at the Door: An Unemployment Survival Manual, and a monthly ezine, The Worker's Edge, she can be reached at http://www.virginiabola.com

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