Opinion

Wineke: Our institutions are failing us

So much bad news fills the news these days that it is difficult to isolate any individual moment of outrage.

But, to me, the paradigm of what is going wrong in our society is an Oklahoma ruling last week finding a Johnson and Johnson subsidiary guilty of promoting opioid painkillers, even though it knew the drugs are addictive and fining the company $572 million.

One result is the company's stock price increased. Investors feared the judgment would be much higher.

I am not shocked that a major corporation would hawk dangerous, but lucrative, products. Tobacco companies knew that smoking cigarettes caused lung cancer long before the public became convinced. Oil companies funded research showing the dangers of global warming even as they proclaimed publicly that the idea was a hoax.

I doubt that many of us truly believed smoking was good for us or that oil was clean before the truth was exposed.

But when I think of Johnson and Johnson, I don't think of cancer or pollution. When I think of Johnson and Johnson, I think of baby powder. I think of purity. And even though I know the corporation is one of the largest and most successful in the world, I lose a little of what is left of my innocence when I learn it is just like everyone else. 

It's the same sort of feeling I get when I read that the Boy Scouts of America systematically concealed evidence of scoutmasters around the country who molested young boys.

It's the same sort of feeling I used to get when I learned the Catholic Church transferred abusive priests from one parish to another and threatened victims of sexual abuse with the fires of hell.

We don't read much about abusive priests anymore. Now, we read about abusive bishops and archbishops. It never stops.

Was there something about the church, something about mandatory celibacy or a rigid hierarchy that led to the problem? Maybe – except we recently learned that Southern Baptists have the same problem. My guess is that we don't hear much about abusive pastors in other denominations is simply because they are, numerically, much smaller.

And we've pretty much forgotten that the National Rifle Association was once associated with hunting and conservation.

All this has a corrosive effect on public trust, namely that we don't know who we can trust anymore.

I'm pretty sure I can't trust me. I strongly suspect the mutual fund that holds my retirement savings invests in Johnson and Johnson stock. So, I actually benefited when the company was fined "only" a half-billion dollars.

It doesn't totally surprise me, then, that voters in 2016 tried to "drain the swamp."

That didn't work out so well, but I understand the cry for help.
 

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