The Long Way Home 8.19.22

When you proclaim that America is having a “crisis of character,” almost everyone agrees with you. You’ll see a knowing nod of the head and hear example after example of the character flaws in politicians, business leaders, celebrities, and even members of the clergy.

Those of us on the North Shore just witnessed a community dealing with a crisis of character with a mayor well into his second term. On August 9th the voters in the City of Two Harbors voted to recall Mayor Chris Swanson, by an eight to one margin. In the words of a former character playing a business executive on a television “reality show,” the voters told Mayor Swanson, “You’re FIRED.”

Swanson became widely known for proposing the construction of a high-end, underwater hotel in Burlington Bay, working in conjunction with an anonymous billionaire of dubious repute. He proclaimed the hotel as the “Eighth Wonder on Lake Superior.” While he claimed not to have a personal financial interest in the project, he was listed as the organizer on the articles of organization for the LLC formed to do the project. This obvious boondoggle, crazy though it is, was not the main reason voters recalled him.

In essence, it was a “crisis of character” over a number of issues that energized citizens to organize and gather signatures to get a recall on the ballot.

Swanson demonstrated a pattern of behavior, worsening over the six years he served as mayor, that showed the interests of citizens and taxpayers of Two Harbors were secondary to his own business and financial interests. A serial entrepreneur, Swanson often used his elected position to facilitate business deals for family and friends, often without proper disclosures.

Whether bad judgment, ignorance, or hubris, Swanson was definitively a crisis of character.

Wikipedia defines a crisis as, “either any event or period that will lead to an unstable and dangerous situation affecting an individual, group, or all of society.”

Swanson wasn’t the first elected official to demonstrate a shaky character, and he’s not going to be the last. For as long as we humans have been socialized, there have been self-serving politicians and bureaucrats.

It is perfectly legal and widely practiced for members of Congress to buy and sell stocks of companies in the industries they oversee. Those members and their staff have advance knowledge of new laws, regulations, and other actions that will impact those companies. If you or I trade like that, it is considered insider trading.

It is not unheard of for local and state officials to put a thumb on the scale of the various agencies they control to benefit friends or family.

By the time politicians rise to power in local, state, or federal government they will have, in one way or other, taken action to favor friends or family and enrich themselves. From Swanson’s moves to support businesses for his family members to a recent president's choice to hire his children as official White House staff, a crisis of character is evident.

Jim Rohn, a successful entrepreneur, author, and motivational speaker named six essential traits of good character: Integrity, Honesty, Loyalty, Self-Sacrifice, Accountability, and Self-Control. Every candidate for a position of power, elected or hired, should be required to demonstrate each of those traits.

I have no idea how to make sure they do.


  1. You could begin by asking candidates to define the six essentials of good character and to cite examples of occasions when he or she demonstrated each.


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