Character on a slippery slope

Kenneth Frazier faced a choice over the weekend. The chief executive of Merck could keep his position on President Trump’s American Manufacturing Council or he could conclude that neither he nor his company should associate with a president who hesitates to condemn neo-Nazis and white supremacists. Frazier chose the latter in a bracing expression of leadership.

He wasn’t alone. Kevin Plank, the chief executive of Under Amour, also exited. So did Brian Krzanich of Intel, citing “the serious harm our divided political climate is causing to critical issues.”

The president then confirmed the wisdom of their decisions, soon five in all leaving. One day after belatedly criticizing the racists and hate groups involved in the deadly clashes in Charlottesville, Va., the president retweeted the post of Jack Posobiec, a leading alt-right activist, who jabbed the media for overplaying Charlottesville when Chicago has been hit with a wave of homicides.

The president then returned to the “blame on both sides” view.

Recall that Posobiec spread the conspiracy theory that Hillary Clinton operated a child sex abuse ring. He also lately won the support of Josh Mandel, the Ohio treasurer, who chose to “stand” with Posobiec and another alt-right activist, Mike Cernovich, when the Anti-Defamation League included the two on a list of white supremacists and nationalists.

Mandel took offense, describing the ADL effort as “a partisan witch hunt … targeting people for their political beliefs.” He warned about a “slippery slope.”

Actually, Mandel long ago started to slide, lately suggesting much about public character in the era of Trump. If Kenneth Frazier, Kevin Plank and Brian Krzanich have made a break, Mandel has warmed to the dark themes of the White House, no doubt seeing the president’s win in Ohio as a path to prevailing in a rematch with U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown in 2018.

The Anti-Defamation League has a long and admirable record of fighting anti-Semitism and other injustices. That Mandel would dress his opportunism as a principled stand smacks of uncommon gall, even for him.

There was a time after losing to Brown in 2012 when the door opened to the more respectable: Do well as treasurer, gain knowledge and experience, dial back the expediency. Unfortunately, Mandel can’t seem to help himself.

Recall the publicly funded television ad touting investment accounts for the disabled. The nearly $2 million spot worked as a political feat for Mandel, lawmakers then erecting a barrier to such maneuvers. Even when he tries to do something public-minded, say, saving taxpayer dollars on travel as treasurer, it winds up as self-serving. His travel record is rich in detail about his ever running for office with far less about the public work he conducted.

All of it says much about Josh Mandel and his priority: Whatever it takes to win, no matter standing with those who hate and divide.

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By the Akron Beacon Journal

Published: August 15