(Repeat of a LinkedIn Posting of August 14: Nixon Resignation @ 40: Lessons for the Risk Officer on Deception, Caveat Emptor and Politics)

(By Daven Morrison, MD)Richard Nixon resigned as President 40 years ago. His presidency, his personality and his actions mark a low point in Americans’ trust of leadership. Only a few years before, his signature had been planted on the moon with three astronauts and the American flag.

An incredible fall from grace.

How was he able to deceive so many about his illegal actions and what does it say about a Democracy? The implications matter for those who are concerned about those in power and how they impact putting an organization at risk. What happened with Nixon?

Without a doubt, deception played a role.

As my co-author and friend, Joe Koletar adeptly points out, we are all engaging in deception: men and women adjust their attire to deceive: to look taller, thinner, younger – more attractive. As a former senior executive in the FBI and an experienced fraud investigator for major accounting firms, Dr. Koletar knows it is easy to stand outside the question of deception and reassure ourselves that we don’t do it. But we all do . . .

We all use deception to gain advantage but also for protection as sometimes being too direct and “open” can get one hurt. Less commonly than how we dress, we deceive to avoid answering the direct question from a spouse or superior. Perhaps the most ethical was when a disguised Athanasius was being pursued and was discovered by those seeking to harm him. When asked where Athanasius was, Athanasius himself replied: “he is not far from here”. This can cause problems for the leaders of an organization as they may be quite close to a danger or threat, and yet the employees may be too fearful to sound an alarm.

In the marketplace we can be victims of deception. Thousands of people are deceived by “anti-aging” or virility products to the tune of billions of dollars. Deception also happens in the marketplace of jobs in interviews and on resumes. It likely happens on LinkedIn. And when there is enough money we are even duped into not seeing significant financial and even physical harm. The profession of medicine has known cigarettes cause cancer for almost a century now, yet we still sell them to people. Caveat emptor – or buyer beware is the classic precaution that excuses this behavior in the marketplace. This leaves employees who work in slippery organizations or industries also too fearful to alert leadership of problems.

What is perhaps most intriguing is: what is happening when the people (the greek “demos”) are deceived by elected officials? When we are deceived – even conned – much of the responsibility is on them. Yet some of it also lies on us as members of the democracy: the demos.

The course, Public Finance for Public Administration, offered at Northwestern had me present ideas on fraud. In their course, the professor, Bob Kiely City Manager of Lake Forest Illinois, wondered with his students about fraud. They asked: Beyond those who seek to commit financial fraud, where else does it exist? And how much of what politicians promise moves beyond deception into outright fraud? They felt there was a thin line that was often crossed.

In the case of Nixon, it was sufficient for the demos to say: “Enough!”

And Nixon was gone.

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