By Tom Ehrich

Societies lose their way.

They forget their better natures. Like British nobility living large while Welsh coal miners were dying underground, they become a caricature of what they value.

Like Spanish Inquisitors and Puritan witch-hunters, they relish brutality and the rush of terrorizing people, and claim to be serving God. Like slave traders, sex traffickers and sweatshop owners, they savor owning people, and claim they are just filling a need in the marketplace.

Societies losing their way succumb to wealth and corruption. They stop tending to the needs of people. They stop making difficult decisions.

Societies losing their way start lying to themselves. Like Pharisees pretending to be pious, they reward hypocrisy. They pretend to be superior while engaging in depravity. They claim to be driven by results, but loathe accountability and honest reporting.

When a society loses its way, it tends to go all in. It's difficult for a society to be corrupt in one arena and honest in others. It's difficult to value education and opportunity, while denying benefits to large segments of society.

The internal dishonesty spills over into all arenas. Trying to balance justice for some and cruelty for others becomes insupportable. Trying to claim holiness while shouting hatred becomes merely absurd.

And those who see reality and are troubled by it become objects of scorn, not because they are wrong, but because they are being "disloyal."

The United States is losing its way. What else can we say when police forces routinely target people of color and are excused? When women face levels of sexual and domestic violence that should outrage normal men? When political benefits go to the highest bidder? When higher education becomes a party place selling door-opening credentials? When the best minds of a generation are creating trivial products that do nothing to improve the human condition?

The just-released report on the CIA's use of torture is the latest example. Its harshest revelation: a decade-long campaign of lying, disinformation, accountability avoidance, and hounding truth-tellers.

A nation founded on openness, trust in the people, and values worthy of great religions saw its leaders turn to secrecy, disregard for humanity, and sordid standards worthy of history's monsters.

We have sought to be a leader of nations. Now we have nothing to say.

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