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  • Reverend James Squire

Slippery Slope

Photo by Ivars Krutainis


I don’t know where to start addressing the ethical issues in front of us today. A short listing would include what Harvard and MIT will do with their leaders’ interview that went south, a woman in Texas who needs an abortion is held up by a criminal who is their Attorney General, Trump’s escapades, follow the money to unethical behavior, or a host of additional issues that should be covered. Where to start? Why not with the ethical issue that ties them all together. It is the slippery slope argument. If you want to impress your friends, call it the teleological suspension of the ethical. It simply means action A has ramifications for actions B,C,D etc. Nothing happens in an ethical vacuum.


President Magill has resigned. I think that there was a two-fold reason for that. One, Penn was not consistent with their speech/debate rules. Second, the people who were hired to prep the three University Presidents had to be lawyers as they were given bad counsel regarding how to handle the interviews with the politicians. It was a moral issue, not a legal one. They should have indicated right from the start that calling genocide against Jews is wrong. Magill was already tackling the issue. Then move on to the context speech and debate issue which is in the Constitution about interpreting free speech. Nothing has been done yet to the Presidents of MIT and Harvard. Why not the trifecta? Follow the money. When alumni of these universities influence by money and politics, chaos will occur quickly. Smart boards of trustees know this. The slippery slope.


Universities are frightened now to say anything that may offend. Professors don’t feel protected and boards of trustees don’t either. This is true as well for students. Harvard’s professors and staff came to the aid of Harvard’s President. The Penn board and new interim chair, Julie Platt, threw Magill under the bus. So much for that leader to be. Not much courage shown at Penn. The current plight of the Palestinians has been lost in the shuffle. Maybe people are afraid to bring it up for fear that it will be conflated with antisemitism. The Jewish and Palestinian students’ fears will not go away. The New interim president, Julie Platt, is Board Chair of the Jewish Federation of North America. Are non-Jewish students in general and Palestinians specifically going to feel that she will be an advocate for all students. Flip it! If the next interim president was Board Chair of the Palestinian Federation of North America, would the Jewish students feel safe? Neutrality is what is needed more than ever or is this an appeal to get the folks who were withholding their money back on board? Follow the money!


The slippery slope is seen in reactions in higher education with universities fearing that they are next. It is similar to the right-wing attacks by DeSantis on Florida’s universities. Where will it stop? A precedent has been set. This is a victory for the Republicans. How did Stefanik state it, “One down and two to go?” They have to treat all universities the same. It’s the McCarthy Era all over again. “It’s one down and how many hundreds to go.” If you saw a recent 60 Minutes, you know that Columbia’s situation is much worse than the universities of the Presidents of the three interviewed. Same with Swarthmore and Haverford Colleges.


The slippery slope argument could be seen in the recent deliberations of the Attorney General of Texas whose crimes were overlooked by the Republican legislature. He said that a woman’s in utero baby who will die shortly after birth and the mother’s life is in danger, indicated, “Tough! No abortion! Bad precedent!” That was the fear of all women in our country. Men shouldn’t be dictating what a woman does with her body as that is her primary property which is vintage John Locke whose emphasis on property rights and equality helped shape our laws. The other slippery slope is that I hope that women remember this case when they go to vote. The supreme offender was the Supreme Court who did not see where their change to Roe V. Wade would have horrific ramifications. They should be called, “When We Feel Like It Court. Got any money for my trips?" This is another slippery slope. Remember they said, “No change of precedent if I am appointed to the Supreme Court! Let’s say it loud and clear, “They lied!” Where will the Texas ruling stop as we now see the extreme.


Look at where precedent has been set and where it could lead. I just finished watching a movie that Barack and Michelle Obama produced called Rustin. It has an introduction by President Obama. Bayard Rustin is a gay man who organized the March on Washington where 250,000 gathered on the mall to protest for equal rights for everyone. All the recent polls have indicated that Trump has a significant lead over the candidates in his own party and over President Biden as well. Trump is no friend to equality and democracy.


Greek literature addressed the slippery slope in one of its stories. It is the Myth of Sisyphus. The myth is about Sisyphus who is condemned to hell. His hell is to roll a huge boulder up a hill. When he reaches the top and is just inches from fulfilling his task, the boulder falls back down to the bottom and he must repeat the task with the boulder over and over again to the end of time. Our boulder is not inflation.” Forget the comment, “It’s the economy, stupid! Replace it with “It’s our boulder of democracy, stupid.” Our boulder will be the overthrow of our democracy and a failure to treat people equally. That is a hell that we can’t afford to visit. It will be tough getting it back if we lose it. It will be the land of no return.

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