The US’s Existential Ethics Dilemma

take-it-or-leave-it1No, I don’t mean how to hold on to our core values while taking responsible measures to prevent a fatal cultural infestation by radical Islam, though that’s a tough one too.

The U’S.’s existential dilemma is how to prevent a 2016 Presidential election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Such a race would represent a holistic failure of the assumptions of American democracy, including the belief that ordinary Americans can be trusted with responsible self-governance.

I just forced myself to watch an entire Donald Trump campaign appearance in Iowa. Unbelievable. Just unbelievable.

He is a pathological narcissism case study. He’s having a ball, just being in front of a beaming crowd. Not a word of genuine substance came out of his mouth. Mostly, he talked about himself—how popular he is (He’s ahead in the polls! He’s ahead in the polls!), how nice he is, how he gets along with everybody, how he’s always right. Good God. Get the hook. If a high school candidate gave that kind of preening, hubris-gagging, “I’m the greatest thing since string cheese” speech running for student body president, he’d be jumped by the football team after the assembly. People who act like Trump are not well: this is about him being desperate for affection, not leading the country. Why do so many people fail to see that?

Well…

  • Projected confidence and ego are often confused for strength of character and leadership ability by people who are weak and gullible.
  • Boorish, ignorant, selfish people tend to gravitate to figures who validate their aspirations. To them, rich equals good and successful.
  • Narcissists are often charismatic, but I have to say, Trump’s narcissism stretches that rule. I thought Clinton and Obama were pushing on the far edges; was I ever wrong. If narcissism were sweetness, this guy would be cotton candy with honey and powered sugar on top, nailed to a Twinkie, with sprinkles. Yechhh.
  • Morons, I’m afraid. Have you listened to Trump’s supporters in interviews? Heck, have you listened to his spokespersons? The Achilles heel of Democracy has always been morons and ignorant non-morons. For 250 years, they have been either apathetic or disorganized, but the statistical threat has always been there. The ignorant have been increasing, and the parties have been increasingly encouraging ignorance—all the better to elect  politicians like Obama and Bernie Sanders. Our education system doesn’t teach civics; the younger voters think Jon Stewart is a journalist, and the alleged journalists see their job as chasing ratings rather than enlightening the public. (CNN’s wall-to-wall coverage of Trump makes me wonder if he’s a Malaysian airliner.) It doesn’t help that progressive critics of Trump are frequently also morons, or act like them, as when they mock the very idea that Islamic terrorism is anything to worry about.

So how do you change the minds of Trump supporters, who are, by definition, ignorant, dumb, or both? (Yes, yes, they are angry and scared and disillusioned, and all of that. But the solution of looking to someone like the guy I listened to today with my mouth gaping open in a rictus of horror is not one that angry, scared, disillusioned people with any knowledge of government, leadership and democracy and two healthy neurons to run together would applaud.) We have, as a society and a nation, an ethical obligation to send Trump back to hotels, casino, bimbos and reality TV. This is in the category of democratic competence. Do we have it, or not?

I hate saying I told you so, but way back when this train wreck was just pulling out of the station, I argued here that the GOP should publicly announce that Trump wasn’t a Republican and wasn’t welcome in the race, as he did not hold values the party could accept. I was right; they were stupid. (Commenters here said that the party couldn’t do that. They were wrong too. Like this scenario better, do you?) Now the leadership is talking about doing essentially the same thing at the convention, which would be a blood bath. All right, that  option is gone. what else?

The key characteristic of stupid and ignorant people is that you cannot use reason to change their minds, and calling them stupid and ignorant just causes them to dig in. It would help if one of the other Republican candidates who do not raise the specter of the end of civilization as we know it found a way to appeal to morons without alienating those with functioning brains. This appears to be the long game of Ted Cruz, himself a demagogue with either a real or a phony belief in theocracy, but still preferable to Trump by any rational standard. I hope that’s not the only escape route.

I continue to harbor hopes, fading though they are, that someone will powerfully expose Trump on live television, finding the exact point of vulnerability where pushing it hard causes him to fall apart in chunks, like so many mechanical monsters have done in science fiction movies. History still argues that toxic egomaniacs like Trump keep stretching the boundaries of their outrageousness until they self-destruct, but waiting for that is a risky, too risky, plan. Let’s not depend on odds when the future of the country is at stake.

The most important thing the Republicans can and must do to stop Trump is to settle on one or at the most two responsible candidates to oppose him. (The Democrats have already flunked their obligation to do this with Hillary, and they deserve to be punished for that.) The GOP may be the “stupid party,” but most Republicans still will not support Donald Trump until Hillary Clinton is the alternative. Jeb Bush, a pathetic, soft, inept candidate,  is what is keeping the rational Republicans from coalescing around a real alternative to Trump: if Jeb cares about the country and his party, he should get out immediately.

Carson is another magnet for the dumb voters, apparently those who can’t stomach Trump. He shouldn’t be running, but he’s a candidate that doesn’t help Trump, so never mind him. Paul, Fiorina, Huckabee, Kasich…they have all shown themselves to be unelectable, unqualified or fatally flawed in one way of another.

Pick one or two out of Christie, Rubio, or Cruz.

Look, I’m not crazy about any of these candidates, but they are within the range of history’s flawed men who have, in some cases, proven better Presidents than voters had reason to believe. There is some chance, as there is not with Clinton of Trump, that the nation might be better off after four years of one of them than it is now.

__________________________

Graphic: David Rohlfing

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts, and seek written permission when appropriate. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work or property was used in any way without proper attribution, credit or permission, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at jamproethics@verizon.net.

37 thoughts on “The US’s Existential Ethics Dilemma

  1. My first choice would be Ted Cruz. I think that he is the smartest of the lot despite the fact he comes out looking like a fanatic on some issues. He is also 10 points ahead of Trump in the Iowa caucus poll. Rubio probably would appeal to more voters than Cruz (especially women) but I can’t swallow his flip flopping on immigration. As far as Christie, I think I could live with him as a VP.

    • he comes out looking like a fanatic on some issues.

      >
      Have you considered the possibility that he is a Fanatic – at least on some issues? Someone who genuinely believes he’s God’s anointed, as his father has always told him he is?

      • What is really disturbing about Cruz is that he may be a make Hillary, someone with few core principles who is manipulating everyone and everything. He has taken official positions that we know can’t be sincere. As with Obama, normal people often find his intellect and speaking skills dazzling. His handling of Trump is wildly cynical: pretending to respect irresponsible positions to set himself up as the rational alternative to The Donald when he crashes. He’s scary.

        Feeling he’s anointed: that was my honors thesis topic. Presidents who have felt like they were destined to do big things have been the rule, not the exception. That doesn’t bother me. That sense is linked to the leadership personality.

        • The thing I like about Cruz is that he has not been reluctant to stand up for unpopular positions and alienate the RINOs like Boehner and Mitch McConnell. Whether he thinks he is God’s annointed one I find no evidence for. Yes, he is ambitious but that is the rule in the last 100 years rather than the exception for politicians that decide to attempt to become president.

  2. I hate to say this, but we all have to tread very carefully now. The Trump followers as we have seen are not interested in what other people would call facts, or engaging in any dialogue about political choices. Their ideas are driven by their perceptions about what the world is like now. They think they have been crowded out of the workplace by (fill in the blanks), that all politicians–particularly (fill in the blanks)– but one have been lying to them, and that it’s the government’s fault that they haven’t gotten ahead because the government favors (fill in the blanks) over them. Economists tell us that male middle-aged workers without college education have less real income now than they did 20 years ago. Guess where Trump has the most support.
    This is all the more reason the Republicans need a Trump alternative, very quickly. Trump has opened the tiger cages and now we have to watch out for the tigers.
    Visualize what would happen if Trump denounces American mosques as breeding grounds for terrorists and says they should be shut down. Or if he starts talking about civilian militias to make America strong again.

    • I try to stay away from assigning the blame for Trump, first because it would take a book, and second because it leads me into more “I told you so’s.” In 2012 I wrote that experience tells us Romney would win because Americans hate weak leadership, and that it was so obvious Obama was a weak leader. Well, I thought it was obvious that he is weak, but he managed to keep the Obamacare disaster, the truth about Benghazi, the VA, the Secret Service, the Bergdahl fiasco, the failure of the Putin policy, the snivelling Iran deal, and the Middle East mewling under wraps until he had another term. Inattentive voters mistook rhetoric for leadership—now, they have learned. For them, this is “fool me once” stuff—Trump is boor and a fool and many other things, but its a good bet that he’s not faking it, like Obama was. He wouldn’t be a good leader, but he’d be a strong one….for a while. Like Henri Christoff.

    • Al Veerhoff writes:

      “Their ideas are driven by their perceptions about what the world is like now. They think they have been crowded out of the workplace by (fill in the blanks), that all politicians–particularly (fill in the blanks)– but one have been lying to them, and that it’s the government’s fault that they haven’t gotten ahead because the government favors (fill in the blanks) over them. Economists tell us that male middle-aged workers without college education have less real income now than they did 20 years ago. Guess where Trump has the most support. This is all the more reason the Republicans need a Trump alternative, very quickly. Trump has opened the tiger cages and now we have to watch out for the tigers.”
      ____________________

      Thus they are all of them caught up in a total illusion since none of that is happening to them. Nothing is happening to them in fact. Nothing is happening!

      This view does not at all satisfy me. It is terribly cynical (though I often have similar cynical notions) and implies that a person’s perception of ‘things going on in the world that are not set up to be advantageous to the one concerned’, are false.

      You seem to indicate that there is NO BASIS AT ALL for a critical position. You sweep that possibility away from ‘them’.

  3. Maybe somebody *should* start talking about civilian militias to make America strong again. I can visualize that being a very good thing — you know, well-regulated militias and all that.

  4. The U’S.’s existential dilemma is how to prevent a 2016 Presidential election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Such a race would represent a holistic failure of the assumptions of American democracy, including the belief that ordinary Americans can be trusted with responsible self-governance.

    Are readers familiar with the late Douglas Adams’s lizard theory of democracy? (Or here, or here, or here, or…) Then consider the following from Woody Allen:-

    More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.

    So how do you change the minds of Trump supporters, who are, by definition, ignorant, dumb, or both?

    As Mao Tse Tung is reputed to have remarked, take away the water, the fish die. But that’s a generational project.

    • The Lizard theory is appropo, but Mike Taylor’s application of it is idiotic. The “fairer” system where every GOP voter has favorite to vote for is what gets lizards like Trump elected. So does the Democrat’s despicable arrangement at present where non-ignorant, non-corrupt Democrats have no choice at all.You have to winnow the selection down to two, or risk a minority candidate and the least of the group achieve power. That’s how Bill Clinton and Woodrow Wilson were elected.

      Also Abe Lincoln, to be fair. Sometimes, you get lucky.

  5. I’d be interested in reading – at the very least an outline – of the book you say could be written to explain Trump.

    It seems to me that Trump arises in a crisis of fractured American identity. I also have the impression that this cannot be repaired. There are too many ‘identities’ struggling.

    Any indicator as to what you think are the main reasons would be helpful.

  6. _____________________

    “Originally, the media created Trump as a celebrity and a phenomenon. They made him big. A very big and wild and weird cartoon. Now they’re trying to destroy him. But they can’t make him small and inconsequential because, again, they made him big and wild and weird, and the audience accepted him on that basis, in that image. The audience already took him in, already accepted and digested him. Media creations are hard to reverse when they’re cartoons. People love cartoons. Can anybody make Mickey Mouse vanish? Can anybody make the Simpsons forgettable?”
    ______________________

    John Rappaport is NOT a man who has faith in the average man. This fits in with the same sort of view that the NYTs holds: that it is all being powered by (essentially) white trailer-trash.

    If one follows the logic of this view, all is really and truly lost.

  7. Assuming he’s still in the primaries by the time my State rolls around, I’m voting for Kasich. If he’s out by then, I’m voting for Christie.

    And, for the record, I prefer Trump to Cruz. In a heartbeat — not that anybody wins in that contest. Cruz may be brilliant, but he is a fanatic, wants a theocracy, and believes in nullification. You can’t let someone who believes in nullification lead the government or nominate Supreme Court judges. If you want that, you might as well vote for Paul.

    And I do think it’s going to be Cruz although I hope I’m wrong. Rubio is perceived to be too young right now. I can see Rubio getting the VP nod if Cruz is not the nominee. (Not that I’m crazy about Rubio either, but he’s certainly preferable to Cruz.)

    As an aside, I have a visceral negative reaction to Cruz. The kind where I wouldn’t have a drink alone with him in a bar, or leave him in a room alone with my children, I feel like evil radiates off of him — the same way “cheater” radiated off of Bill Clinton. Every time he opens his mouth, some insincere rubbish tumbles out. He just screams “sociopath.” I know others who have this response to Cruz as well — I hope it’s enough to stop him getting on the ticket.

    • I’d be interested to see some information indicating that what you say is true, in the way that you say it. I’d imagine that his religiosity, which I have read a small bit about, and his notion of a godly republic, is far closer to that of the original Americans than the views held by many on the atheistic side of the debate.

      ‘Evil radiates off of him’ is a curious view. I wonder if what you mean is a certain slickness, like he is too polished, too practiced?

      It does seem to be true – though I have no knowledge of these things – that politics attracts sociopaths. I hope that history offers some exceptions! If not we are in deep trouble.

      • Well…

        1. Cruz repeatedly nicks the establishment clause. He wants a Christian government (he says—I don’t think he’s sincere), and the Founders, while they used God as seasoning in the founding documents, clearly didn’t want a Church of the United States.
        2. His support for the silly clerk who wouldn’t sign the same sex marriage certificates was, I believe, calculated—Beth’s belief notwithstanding, I’m very sure that Cruz, a former SCOTUS law clerk, knows damn well that nullification is crap. He’s playing for the moron vote.
        3. Evil is a bit strong, but he’s Machiavellian, willing to crush opposition, hell, willing to shut down the government to advance his ambition. He’s been aiming at the Presidency from the start.
        4. I don’t think Cruz is much different in this respect from Presidents like Jackson, Wilson, FDR, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Clinton, and both Bushes. A lot of good and bad in THAT group–two impeachments, or nearly; three Presidents who have been rated as great from time to time; four of the most popular leaders while they were alive, and tons of historic accomplishments.

        • Jack wrote:

          “…and the Founders, while they used God as seasoning in the founding documents, clearly didn’t want a Church of the United States.”
          ______________________

          I suppose perspectives vary. I have read that the Founders, deeply religious people, would not have wanted a specific ‘National Church’ and so wanted a plurality of churches. but I also read that they would have been appalled and scandalized in the face of a non-religious, ‘immoral’, and non-church-going population.

          So, is it true that they did not want a Church of the United States but that they did want many churches in the united states?

    • Yes, I’d take Christie, Rubio or Kasich over Cruz. Kasich is hopeless, though: he’s disorganized and horrible on TV,and going down soon….and it’s his own fault: he could learn how to speak in about two hours (with me or someone else), and he’s too lazy or dense to do it. I think any of the remaining three could beat Hillary, who I know is beatable. All have problems, and like you, I really don’t want it to be Cruz. He is unattractive, as you say, and gives off creepy vibes. He’s smart as hell, which is both comforting and scary. I think you are wrong to think a smart ideological demagogue is more dangerous than a dumb narcissistic demagogue: I believe that Cruz, at least, is a patriot who would put the country before himself, and Trump cares only about himself, but we are arguing over whether its safer to spend time with a rattlesnake or Jack the Ripper.

      • Well, by your analysis then, you should vote for Paul. He’s a patriot and he holds the same beliefs as Cruz except: 1) he’s not as creepy; and 2) he doesn’t want a theocracy. They both would make awful Presidents though.

        • No, Paul is an isolationist and his crazy father would be an advisor. And he’s dumb as a brick. Cruz doesn’t believe that the public accommodations anti-discrimination law is unconstitutional, and if he did, he’d be smart enough not to say so in public. Paul plagiarizes; Cruz loves writing and speaking, and would never think anyone else’s words could match his.

          Paul is only behind Carson, Trump, Santorum, and Huckabee on my “VOTE FOR THE LAWNCHAIR” list.

          • I wonder if anybody has read Ted Cruz’s book. He details how RINOs like Mitch McConnell made secret deals with Democrats to raise the debt ceiling by changing the rules by “unanimous consent” to lower the threshold from 60 to 50 votes therefore giving Obama the go ahead for his massive spending increase. If anybody is to be called evil or duplicitous. It should be the House and Senate leadership at this time.

  8. I hope everyone has seen the video Cruz posted about how to cook bacon with an automatic rifle, a weapon designed for killing people, not game, wildfowl or animal predators..
    Assume that Ted Cruz is elected President. Would he have a firing range installed in the White House so he could feed bacon to visiting heads of state? Should he do it?
    More to the point, WTF was he thinking when he made that video?

    • I assumed it was a finger in the eye of anti-gun fanatics, and a play for the gun nut vote as well as the anti-Michelle Obama food police vote. Black humor? I dunno: it wouldn’t win my vote. Message: it’s legal, I can buy it, and once I do, I’ll do whatever the hell I want to within the law, so bite me.

  9. Say what you want. Trump is a business success. He’s a proven negotiator, surrounds himself with knowledgeable advisers and consultants, beholden to no one, loves his country and doesn’t need the money. Not too bad for someone who you find boring as sin, and whose followers are uneducated trailer park trash. Our current leader (I say that loosely) is a fantastic orator (when he’s surrounded by teleprompters) who has chosen to surround himself with “yes-men” and is followed and exulted by the elite educated cream-of-the-crop in our country. The one adviser who has his ear appears to be Valerie Jarrett who stated publicly she wants America to be a more “Islamic” country. Personally, after seven years with these two, my bet’s on Trump.

    • Let’s see:


      Say what you want.

      Translation: “My mind’s made up, don’t confuse me with facts.”

      Trump is a business success.

      Millions of Americans are business successes. Also, many successful Presidents were not especially successful at business. Success in one field is not a reliable indicator if success in others.

      He’s a proven negotiator,

      OK, that’s a single, relevant skill. Agreed.

      …surrounds himself with knowledgeable advisers and consultants,

      Prove it. I know of know respectable advisisors. I do know that his media surrogates are uniformly idiotic and an embarrassment.

      beholden to no one,

      If you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you…

      loves his country

      He’s also an Earthling. No Presidential candidate doesn’t love his country.

      and doesn’t need the money.

      You’re digging for qualifications already. Name he a President who ever ran because he needed the money.

      Not too bad for someone who you find boring as sin

      So we know you can’t read, and argue with straw men. I never said Trump was boring, nor do I think he’s boring. Similarly, I find listening to Hillary a horror show, but not because she’s boring.

      and whose followers are uneducated trailer park trash.

      Never said that, either. I said that Trump supporters are stupid. Education and stupidity are not mutually exclusive. And they are undeniably stupid.

      Our current leader (I say that loosely) is a fantastic orator

      No, he’s really not.

      (when he’s surrounded by teleprompters) who has chosen to surround himself with “yes-men” and is followed and exulted by the elite educated cream-of-the-crop in our country. The one adviser who has his ear appears to be Valerie Jarrett who stated publicly she wants America to be a more “Islamic” country.

      Obama’s deficits do not make anyone else better. Including Trump. You are doing what Obama defenders do when the start talking about George Bush. Do you even realize this?

      Personally, after seven years with these two, my bet’s on Trump.

      What does that even mean?

      Wow. Thanks for illustrating my points about Trump supporters, and thanks for dropping by. Please continue.

      • Obama is a great speaker. I have been trying (unsuccessfully I might add) to adopt his greatest trick — he pauses when he searches for a word to say. Most people say “um” or have some other verbal tic, but Obama pauses. It makes him appear smarter than he is.

      • Wow! Am I entitled to an opinion? Name one other person who isn’t your typical run-of-the-mill candidate. There isn’t one. Not that there aren’t some genuinely nice guys in the race, but they’re all part of the same old, same old. I find it amazing that I’m the only one who responded in support of Trump, even though he has a huge following nationwide. Too bad. I really like your blog, but this posting really steamed me.

        • Veronica, if it makes you feel better, I, card carrying moron of the group, was high in praise of everything Trump, until he advocated a return to torture.

          • Which you should have seen coming, not necessarily in his other positions but in the way he arrived at them, defended them and expressed them. Let us all learn from that. When someone like Trump agrees with a position we hold dear, it’s time to critically examine the position.

        • You still haven’t articulated a barely valid reason to support him…indeed, not to loathe him. Of course you are entitled to an opinion. You also have an obligation to be able to support it with something logical and real. This is more of the same. Name one other person who isn’t your typical run-of-the-mill candidate. There isn’t one. OK, and so what? What kind of a qualification is THAT? I can name hundreds of theoretical candidates—most of whom I would trust before Trump, by the way—who aren’t typical. Heck—Bernie isn’t typical, he’s old and a proto-Communist. Lincoln Chafee wasn’t typical. Jim Webb is as bold as Trump, twice as smart and a war hero and lawyer. Typical? It’s Trump who’s typical: he’s a typical blowhard demogogue, Now, Charles Barkley, Khloe Kardashian,Jack Black, Kirk Douglas, Camille Paglia, Dan Savage, Lassie, Miko the Octopus Boy, THEY would be atypical. I explained, and continue to, what’s wrong with Trump and the clues to how wrong he is. You haven’t spit out a single substantive argument. You still have. “He’s different” isn’t an argument.

    • Beholden to no one is only important if he’s a quality person at the outset. He does not talk of the constitution and the rights of the citizenry with any amount of respect or knowledge.

  10. Jack Marshall said, “I just forced myself to watch an entire Donald Trump campaign appearance in Iowa. Unbelievable. Just unbelievable.”

    Here is my opinion about Trump

    I don’t know of any other way to explain this; it’s as if Trump is a caricature of what the Liberals think Conservative ideology is all about not what true Conservative ideology is all about. Trump is playing the only part in a well written and well directed Broadway stage show and the world is the audience. When the foot lights go down what we should know is that it’s all been a modern-day Shakespeare farce stripped of all humor.

    I’m concerned that Trump might actually accomplish his goal, the problem is, I’m not sure what the hell that goal is.

  11. It’ll come down to Trump v Clinton and we’ll be voting based on the VP candidates, hoping against hope that the winner will be impeached and thrown out of office. Is it too early to start calling for Hillary’s impeachment?

  12. Like I said, a heads up match between Trump and Clinton will look alot like the Roman Republic in the days prior to the heads up match between Julius Caesar and Gnaeus Pompey Magnus. If not a direct correlation, it is certainly the opening steps to just that kind of crisis.

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