... and they are gone from American public life.

Principles used to matter in public life. They were applied to make decisions and often valued at least as highly as wealth gain. We have lost this. The gospel of greed has replaced them.

In another article (Has the age of the autonomous individual reached its peak?) I wrote about the weakening of social institutions and the resulting weakening of peer pressure on leaders to live up to shared principles. This is an important part of why principles no longer carry much weight in American leader's decision process. This is widely true in politics, business, finance, religion, and social groups.

Principles were very powerful. Maybe an example will illustrate just how powerful:

When the RMS Titanic sank, on-board was millionaire John Jacob Astor IV. He was exceedingly wealthy. He was the richest passenger aboard the Titanic and was thought to be among the richest people in the world at that time, with a net worth of roughly $87 million (equivalent to $2.75 billion in 2023).

However, faced with likely death, he chose what he deemed morally right and gave up his spot in a lifeboat to save two frightened children.

Millionaire Isidor Straus, co-owner of the largest American chain of department stores, "Macy's," who was also on the Titanic, said:

“I will never enter a lifeboat before other men.”

His wife, Ida Straus, also refused to board the lifeboat, giving her spot to her newly appointed maid, Ellen Bird. She decided to spend her last moments of life with her husband.

Both these wealthy individuals preferred to part with their lives, rather than compromise their moral principles. Their choice in favor of moral values ​​highlighted the brilliance of human civilization, human nature, and the power of socially accepted principles of decision-making. And, I would add, the power of peer pressure. We had structures that would have "punished" these people if they survived and were found to have not upheld commonly accepted principles of the day. Specifically, women and children first into the life boats.

In the Bible, we find:

Luke 12:48: But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.

This has been paraphrased in Uncle Ben’s words of wisdom to Peter Parker in Spider-man as:

“With great power comes great responsibility.”

Would that it were so today. Certainly most corporate CEOs and wealthy investors are in the camp of having "great power" and "much is given" describes them well. We should expect their "great responsibility" to include taking care of others and "much required" should include the willingness to trade some wealth gain for betterment of their fellow citizens.