While 2022 had no shortage of chaotic events, ethics columnist Lisa Schor Babin shares her hopes for 2023 — and beyond.
2022 was quite a year, with a continuous news stream of bad behavior, human tragedy and natural disaster, and 2023 is unlikely to be any quieter. Yet, amidst this backdrop of chaos and calamity, we’d be remiss not to recognize the fight of so many to protect our democracy; to lift their voices to defend principles of respect, integrity, dignity and fairness; and to hold the detractors to account. In fact, the refusal to remain silent of regular citizens as voters, jurists, employees, investors, elected officials and community activists throughout 2022 should give us reason to hope for better days.
While I could not possibly include all of the devastating and disturbing events of 2022, I bring attention to some of the past year’s events that were particularly notable for how the world reacted to them. In the U.S., Roe v Wade was overturned; there were more mass shootings than days; white supremacy and antisemitism were on full display; and our democracy was threatened. Around the globe, Russia invaded Ukraine; a woman died suspiciously in the custody of the morality police in Iran; people perished in a building fire under zero-tolerance Covid lockdowns in China; and DEI challenges appeared at the World Cup in Qatar.
The American landscape in 2022
Overturning of Roe v Wade
In June, in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Supreme Court overturned the landmark ruling protecting abortion rights that were set in 1973 in Roe v. Wade, meaning that the medical procedure is no longer a constitutional right. Every week since then, we have seen horror stories of people denied medical care due to abortion bans enacted in their states in the wake of Dobbs.
No doubt this Supreme Court decision activated Democratic voters in the 2022 midterm elections. But the political fallout from Dobbs is just getting started, and forces fighting against this decision are expected to continue to alter the American political landscape.
Gun violence is truly one of the biggest public health crises in the United States. The massacre of 19 children and two teachers in the Uvalde, Texas school shooting in May was the deadliest in a year with almost 650 mass shootings. Maya Rossin-Slater, associate professor of health policy at Stanford University, said in The New York Times, “In addition to each life lost, there are whole communities, whole families, whole neighborhoods, whole schools where people experience these lasting adverse impacts on so many measures of their well-being.”
Characters like conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who shamelessly capitalized on the vulnerability of victims and their families, divert our attention momentarily from finding practical and meaningful solutions. Thankfully, the persistence of jurists like those in the Sandy Hook case held him to account, at least in small part, for his role in this national tragedy.
Antisemitism and white supremacy
Former President Donald Trump dined in November at his home in Mar-a-Lago with rapper Kanye West, a public supporter of antisemitism, and Nick Fuentes, a bigot and Holocaust denier. Ye, the artist’s stage name, later told the world, in an appearance on Alex Jones’ show, that he sees good things about Hitler. The notion that their antisemitic and white supremacist views are given any airtime should frighten us all.
Still, there has been backlash. Twitter suspended Ye’s account after he posted an image of a swastika depicted inside a star of David. Regarding Trump’s meal with Ye and Fuentes, Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, tweeded that Trump cannot say he opposes hate when he “breaks bread” with haters.
Threats to democracy
Trump’s supporters violently stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in a bid to halt the peaceful transition of power. Classified documents with troves of national secrets from his presidency were found in his home at Mar-a-Lago. On Dec. 3, Trump called to set aside the Constitution, posting on social media that “a Massive Fraud of this type and magnitude allows for the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution.”
Incoming House Democratic leader, Hakeem Jeffries, has described Trump’s call as “strange and extreme,” and said Republicans will have to make a choice whether to continue embracing Trump’s anti-democratic views. Liz Cheney, a Republican congresswoman who lost her re-election bid last year, said she will campaign for Democrats to ensure that Republican candidates who promote election lies do not get elected. And the Jan. 6 committee made four criminal referrals to the Department of Justice related to Trump’s plan to defraud Americans of their right to have their vote count. Regardless of whether he’s indicted, these charges should — at the very least — hold him to account for his threats on our democracy.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. This time last year, we summarized the top 10 ESG stories of 2021, and those three letters continued to dominate our coverage this year.
The geopolitical landscape in 2022
War in Ukraine
On Dec. 21, 2022, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed Congress, insisting that military assistance for Ukraine is an investment in global security and democracy and implying that the war is about the future of the international community.
“When one nation invades a neighbor and commits murder, pillage and rape, when it traffics in thousands of children, when it pulverizes the electrical grid to make civilians freeze in winter — in such a blizzard of likely war crimes, neutrality is not the high ground. The world could use a spinal transplant from brave Ukrainians,” wrote Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times.
David Brooks went further in his December New York Times column, “Zelensky and his fellow Ukrainians have reminded Americans of the values and causes we used to admire in ourselves — the ardent hunger for freedom, the deep-rooted respect for equality and human dignity, the willingness to fight against brutal authoritarians. It is as if Ukraine and Zelensky have rekindled a forgotten song, and suddenly everybody has remembered how to sing it.”
Human rights in Iran
Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian woman, died in custody Sept. 16 after being detained by morality police on suspicion of breaking the country’s strict rules around head coverings.
Dozens of cities across Iran became embroiled in protests after her death. An Iranian professional soccer player was sentenced to death by hanging after he publicly protested Amini’s death. “The reason the younger generation is taking this kind of risk is because they feel they have nothing to lose, they have no hope for the future,” said Ali Vaez, Iran director for the International Crisis Group, noting that protests were now a regular feature in Iran.
DEI at the World Cup in Qatar
Soccer fans wearing the rainbow, a symbol of LGBTQ pride, were allegedly refused entry into World Cup stadiums in Qatar and confronted by members of the public, despite assurances from FIFA as well as Qatari officials that visitors would be allowed to express their identities during the tournament. Grant Wahl, an American sports journalist, author and soccer analyst, who died from an undiagnosed medical condition during the tournament, said in the early days of the event that he was stopped by a security guard for wearing a shirt with a rainbow.
“It’s always concerning from my perspective when we see any restrictions on freedom of expression; it’s especially so when the expression is for diversity and for inclusion,” U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said in a news conference in Qatar. Blinken also criticized the decision to punish World Cup soccer players with yellow cards if they wear rainbow-themed armbands. The 2022 World Cup was a closely scrutinized and highly culturally contested World Cup ever, which, by all accounts, was a good thing.
Covid restrictions in China
Well after vaccinations were widely available, China’s Covid policy committee recommitted to a zero-Covid policy. Strict measures were imposed, including lockdowns, mass testing, closed borders and vast electronic tracking of residents, all to keep the virus at near-zero.
After a fire broke out in November in a building in Urumqi, a city that had been under a zero-Covid lockdown for months, and with the mounting frustration over the ongoing burden of China’s Covid controls, mass protests broke out across dozens of China’s biggest cities. Despite a heavy police presence in Beijing, demonstrators demanded democratic reforms and an end to the country’s coronavirus controls.
The corporate landscape in 2022
FTX and Sam Bankman-Fried
Cryptocurrency billionaire and FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried went from industry leader to industry villain, lost most of his fortune after the public no longer bought his story, saw his $32 billion company plunge into bankruptcy and became the target of investigations by the SEC and the DOJ.
While Bankman-Fried’s fall from grace stunned the crypto world, warning signs had been there all along, including that his ambitions exceeded his grasp, his intentions were less than pure and that there was little oversight of FTX despite the inordinate amounts of money given to him by the smartest minds in venture capital. Two former top executives already pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges and are cooperating in his prosecution, and there is every expectation that others will be implicated in the fraud.
Theranos was supposed to revolutionize healthcare with a product that made blood testing faster and less painful. The company was, at one point, valued at $9 billion. In 2015, a young employee, who had attempted to raise his concerns internally, was one of the whistleblowers who exposed Theranos and its false claims to the world. Shortly thereafter, Theranos collapsed.
In 2022, the company’s founder, Elizabeth Holmes, and a former executive, Ramesh Balwani, were found guilty of defrauding investors and patients, and sentenced to 11 and 13 years in prison, respectively.
Twitter and Elon Musk
Elon Musk wasted no time after taking over Twitter in making sweeping decisions and shocking changes, including firing more than half of Twitter’s staff.
After weeks of turmoil, Musk surveyed Twitter employees in a Twitter poll about whether he should stay on as CEO, claiming that he would abide by the result. More than 17 million votes were cast, with about 58% saying he should quit. Musk has since stated that he will step down as CEO when a replacement is found. It is widely believed that Musk’s resignation from Twitter would be a major step forward.
Hope for our future
The editors of the Collins English dictionary chose “permacrisis,” defined as an extended period of instability and insecurity, as the word to best describe 2022. But Economist editor Zanny Minton Beddoes suggested that there are still signs of hope for 2023 around the globe, including that some emerging economies will prosper; the global recession and the energy shock will boost an accelerated shift to renewables; and Ukraine’s fight for its right to exist will give other would-be aggressors pause.
The voices around the world that refused to be silenced in 2022 are also an inspiration, especially to those whose life’s work is to build and support cultures predicated on ethical leadership, conduct of integrity and the principles of respect, dignity and fairness. They also encourage us to continue working hard to hold to account the wrongdoers and to protect, support and applaud those who hold them to account, including whistleblowers, upstanding employees, boards, customers, investors and the community.
In 2022, the child of my child was born, and I began to give serious thought to the world I would leave him and the life lessons I would share. The events of 2022 have overwhelmed us, but they have also shown us that it is worth fighting for what’s good and right, using our voices to speak up; our courage to be the change that we want to see; our integrity to be true to ourselves; and our hearts to support, strengthen and lift the people and the principles that we most care about in this world. I hold out hope that, even as we battle the challenges in the years ahead, good always prevails and the future is bright for all of our children.