When SFR broke the news on Nov. 24 that generally beloved Santa Fe County Sheriff Greg Solano had resigned in light of a state police investigation into property embezzlement, it hit county residents like a shrapnel shower from a hidden roadside bomb.

Solano had been war-profiteering on a personal level by selling old protective body armor—officially considered unsafe for use and meant to be destroyed—to be used by US soldiers as additional protection for navigating the dangerous wars initiated by George W Bush. Solano’s actions—admitted by him in a statement—were wrong in so many ways as to be genuinely stunning. But it shouldn’t come as a surprise.

As a nation, our moral compass is so wildly uncalibrated and our ethical standards so arbitrary, it’s no wonder we’re all behaving like contestants on a Lord of the Flies reality-TV show. From politicians at the top of the global heap down to local, elected officials, a good example is the last thing being set.

On the one hand, Solano chose to do something wrong and is solely accountable for it. On the other hand—whether consciously or not—he was emulating the example we’re all being given. Former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff’s transparent profiteering and abuse of his position to secure government contracts for company client Rapiscan—maker of the controversial airport full-body scanners—is only the latest in a long parade of cronyism and cash at the highest levels of government. Whether one considers no-bid contracts passed off to Halliburton and its subsidiaries, or big money bankers ripping off trillions of dollars and making record profits while the populace suffers, the lesson is that it’s every man for himself and playing fair will never deliver the American dream.

The myth that honesty and hard work build wealth and stability has given way to the reality that substantial riches only come at the expense of others. If you’re not part of the cabal at the top, you’re nobody.

Amazingly, rather than recoil in horror at this more-naked-than-ever truth, Americans have simply internalized it and reset our tolerance levels to believe that this kind of shocking behavior is benign, possibly even righteous. Witness the tea party and the popular support for politicians who blatantly support increasing the comfort of the wealthiest and swelling the military industrial complex while abolishing support and education for the poor and disenfranchised.

According to a recent report by the International Council on Security and Development, 92 percent of Afghans have zero knowledge of 9.11 and essentially no understanding of why American troops are frantically blowing their country apart. This should wake us to the fantastic illegitimacy of the wars we have been waging. It won’t. The notion of American moral high ground is so thoroughly entrenched in us—children who need to believe in our parents despite the evidence—that changing course seems decidedly inconceivable.

With such moral and ethical hypocrisy grafted to our actions, it’s natural that the trickle-down effect is similarly contorted: We are taught to use an egotistical righteousness to hide our most shameful acts. That Solano will face prosecution for his failings hardly fixes the problem nor bulwarks the criminal justice system as a protection from unethical and illegal behavior. Rather, Solano’s prosecution will reinforce that you have to be a big fish to escape the law. The double standard is practically codified at this point.

The problem is confounded because the US is not alone in this parent-child relationship between its government and financial structure, and its citizenry. Poor ethics, profiteering and double standards are the norm in global trade. Nations invited to play at the top of the heap have learned to use the same rules. Nations that push for more equitable systems are dismissed with the same anti-socialist rhetoric the American right uses against progressive politics. The final nail in the coffin is a corporate-owned media structure that effectively filters content to Orwellian degrees in the service of maximized profits.

Solano’s desperate crimes—perpetrated to avoid a debt spiral pushed on him by the same finance monster that concentrates wealth among a few—are a sad, local symptom of a global problem. Until we “children” are able to face the failings of our metaphorical parents, we will all continue to be punished.

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