Presenting Rationalization #36 C. “Donald’s Dodge,” And The Complete Up-To-Date List Of Rationalizations

But no, I guess you never did exactly say you were perfect...

But no, I guess you never did exactly say you were perfect

It is fitting, the night after Donald Trump demonstrated what  “making America great” would be under a President Trump by reducing the Presidential debates to the level of The Jerry Springer Show just by running for the office, to install an entry on the Ethics Alarms Rationalizations list named for him.

36 C.  Donald’s Dodge, or “I never said I was perfect!” was inspired by Trump, as he employed it among the deflections, excuses and rationalizations in his epicly awful “apology” for his virtuoso display of vulgarity and misogyny preserved in an old video, and leaked to the Washington Post. It is a really vile rationalization, one of the worst on the list. It posits the theory that as long as someone never says or suggests that he is above a particular kind of misconduct, he shouldn’t be judged harshly for engaging in it. This logic requires a certain genius in unethical reasoning.

First, it argues that the application of integrity, an ethical value, to wrongdoing cleanses the wrongdoing. As long as one always beats one’s wife and never pretends to be above such brutality, it is less of an abuse of decency, and that as long as one’s misconduct doesn’t prove previous dishonesty, then the conduct is lass objectionable. In this Donald’ delusion has kinship with Rationalization #22, The Comparative Virtue Excuse, or “There are worse things.” Yes, I suppose showing oneself to be a boor and a misogynist is technically worse when you have represented to the world that you weren’t one, but pointing to that as a mitigating factor is an insult.

Second, it repeats the disingenuous assertion inherent in #19. The Perfection Diversion: “Nobody’s Perfect!”

A man doesn’t have to be “perfect” to avoid engaging in ugly rhetoric that shows utter disrespect for approximately half of humanity, and extols sexual assault. That’s a loooong way from “perfect.” The fact that Trump thinks that not talking like he did requires perfection of character shows how warped he is. It requires simple decency. There are illiterate, ignorant paupers who can achieve this level of “perfection” without any effort at all. Trump defiled the word “perfect” by his use of it.

This is also a dodge. We all know that it is impossible to be perfect, so Trump’s use of this rationalization cleverly turns a very  easy form of ethical conduct—in this case, basic manners and civility—into a challenge that no one should be expected to meet.  Donald’s Dodge is a versatile rationalization, however; you have to admit it. Get caught cheating on your spouse? “I never said I was perfect!” Betray a long-held trust? “I never said I was perfect!” Spread vile rumors about a friend? “I never said I was perfect!”

It is slimy enough to lower expectations as preparation for unethical conduct, but it requires real gall to try to lower the bar after the misconduct.

The ironic aspect of this is that Trump is also lying. As a card-carrying narcissist, he believes he is perfect. In truth, he sees nothing wrong with what he said. Count on it.

I originally wrote that the new rationalization belonged as sub-rationalization to  #19. The Perfection Diversion. It also has common elements with #41 A. Popeye’s Excuse, or “I am what I am,” but is still materially different. The wielder of Donald’s Dodge isn’t arguing that this is just who he is.  He’s arguing that it is mitigating that he never said that he was any better. Thus I decided that Donald’s Dodge belonged among the sub-rationalizations under #36, Victim Blindness, or “They/He/She/ You should have seen it coming, along with  36 A. The Extortionist’s Absolution (“You were warned!”) and  36 B, The Patsy’s Rebuke, or “It’s not my fault that you’re stupid!”

This seems like a good time to publish the full table of contents of the Ethics Alarms Rationalizations List, which is finally up-to-date. The current number of rationalizations and sub-rationalizations stand at 78. I will be working on a re-numbering and grouping of these over the next few months, and advice and suggestions are welcome.


(as of 10/10/16)

1. The Golden Rationalization, or “Everybody does it”
1A. Ethics Surrender, or “We can’t stop it.”
2. Ethics Estoppel, or “They’re Just as Bad”
2 A. Sicilian Ethics, or “They had it coming”
3. Consequentialism, or “It worked out for the best”
4. Marion Barry’s Misdirection, or “If it isn’t illegal, it’s ethical.”
5. The Compliance Dodge.
6. The Biblical Rationalizations
“Judge not, lest ye not be judged,”
“Let him who is without sin cast the first stone
7. The “Tit for Tat” Excuse
8. The Trivial Trap (“No harm no foul!”)
8A. The Dead Horse-Beater’s Dodge, or “This can’t make things any worse”
9. The Reverse Slippery Slope
10. The Unethical Tree in the Forest, or “What they don’t know won’t hurt them.”
11. The King’s Pass, The Star Syndrome, or “What will we do without him/her?”
11.(a) “I deserve this!” or “Just this once!”
12. The Dissonance Drag
13. The Saint’s Excuse: “It’s for a good cause”
14. Self-validating Virtue
15. The Futility Illusion: “If I don’t do it, somebody else will.”
16. The Consistency Obsession
17. Ethical Vigilantism
18. Hamm’s Excuse: “It wasn’t my fault.”
19. The Perfection Diversion: “Nobody’s Perfect!” or “Everybody makes mistakes!”
19A The Insidious Confession, or “It wasn’t the best choice.”
20. The “Just one mistake!”Fantasy
21. Ethics Accounting (“I’ve earned this”/ “I made up for that”)
22. The Comparative Virtue Excuse: “There are worse things.”
23. Woody’s Excuse: “The heart wants what the heart wants”
24. Juror 3’s Stand (“It’s My Right!”)
24. A. Free Speech Confusion
25. The Coercion Myth: “I have no choice!”
26. “The Favorite Child” Excuse
27. The Victim’s Distortion
28. The Revolutionary’s Excuse: “These are not ordinary times.”
29. The Altruistic Switcheroo: “It’s for his own good”
29A. The Gruber Variation, or “They are too stupid to know what’s good for them”
30. The Prospective Repeal: “It’s a bad law/stupid rule”
31. The Troublesome Luxury: “Ethics is a luxury we can’t afford right now”
32. The Unethical Role Model: “He/She would have done the same thing”
33. The Management Shrug: “Don’t sweat the small stuff!”
34. Success Immunity, or “They must be doing something right!”
35. The Tortoise’s Pass: “Better late than never”
36. Victim Blindness, or “They/He/She/ You should have seen it coming.”
36 A. The Extortionist’s Absolution (“You were warned!”)
36 B. The Patsy’s Rebuke, or “It’s not my fault that you’re stupid!”
36 C. Donald’s Delusion, or “I never said I was perfect!”
37. The Maladroit’s Diversion, or “Nobody said it would be easy!”
38. The Miscreant’s Mulligan or “Give him/her/them/me a break!
38 A.“Mercy For Miscreants.”
39. The Pioneer’s Lament, or “Why should I be the first?”
40. The Desperation Dodge or “I’ll do anything!”
41. The Evasive Tautology, or “It is what it is.”
41 A. Popeye’s Excuse, or “I am what I am.”
42. The Hillary Inoculation, or “If he/she doesn’t care, why should anyone else?”
43. Vin’s Punchline, or “We’ve never had a problem with it!”
44. The Unethical Precedent, or “It’s not the first time”
45. The Abuser’s License: “It’s Complicated”
46. Zola’s Rejection, or “Don’t point fingers!”
47. Contrived Consent, or “The Rapist’s Defense.”
48. Ethics Jiu Jitsu, or “Haters Gonna Hate!
49. “Convenient Futility,” or “It wouldn’t have mattered if I had done the right thing.
50. TheApathy Defense, or “Nobody Cares.”
50A. Narcissist Ethics , or “I don’t care”
51 . The Underwood Maneuver, or “That’s in the past.”
52. The Hippie’s License, or “If it feels good, do it!” (“It’s natural”)
53. Tessio’s Excuse, or “It’s just business”
54. The Joke Excuse, or “I was only kidding!”
55. The Scooby Doo Deflection, or “I should have gotten away with it!”
56. “The Idealist’s Delusion,” or “We’re/ You’re Better Than This.”
57. The Universal Trump, or “Think of the children!”
58. The Golden Rule Mutation, or “I’m all right with it!”
59. The Ironic Rationalization, or “It’s The Right Thing To Do”
60 A, B, and C. The Cheater’s Rationalizations
60. A. Barry Bonds’ Pass: “He didn’t need to cheat.”
60 B. The Vendetta Excuse: “It’s not the cheating, it’s the cheater”
60 C. O.J.’s Facade: “You can’t prove it!”
61. The Paranoid’s Blindness, or “It’s not me, it’s you.”
62. The Doomsday License


26 thoughts on “Presenting Rationalization #36 C. “Donald’s Dodge,” And The Complete Up-To-Date List Of Rationalizations

    • Reminds me of Jeff Goldblum’s line in “The Big Chill”:

      Michael: I don’t know anyone who could get through the day without two or three juicy rationalizations. They’re more important than sex.

      Sam Weber: Ah, come on. Nothing’s more important than sex.

      Michael: Oh yeah? Ever gone a week without a rationalization?

  1. At 50, when you added 51, the Underwood Maneuver and then bumped all follow on Rationalizations up by 1, in the descriptions of each you didn’t update there numbers there, causing a great deal of incorrect cross referencing.

  2. As I scanned through the list of rationalizations & misconceptions I had a hunch I could distill each down to some form that could be defined in terms of the “Miscreant”, the “Misconduct”, the “Victim”, the “Ethical Standard”, the “Accuser”, and the “Effects of the Conduct”, and to a degree the “Context”, the “Community”, and the “Legal Standard”. Attempting to fit everything into that formula became cumbersome as one could group and regroup the list in a variety of ways depending on which of the terms one may want use as a the control. So I tried anyway. Having come up with a variety of results and my head swimming I gave up but I still will use those terms in many of the definitions to follow. I do still think that I COULD get into the nitty gritty of classifying based on how each excuse touches on the terms listed, but until I wrap my head around the inevitable matrix that will produce, I’ve had to settle on a simple, though inadequate, outline method.

    I noticed that a lot of the items on the list ultimately had one of four characteristics. However, I do not group them around the characteristics; these qualities DO aid in the subsequent organization.

    I noticed that some excuses are really DIVERSIONS – that is the miscreant admits that the conduct is wrong, but it should be ignored or unpunished because of any set of reasons. Such as “Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged”, which clearly demands the Accuser to account for his own misconduct before seeking to punish the Miscreant.

    I noticed that some of the excuses are accurately labeled as RATIONALIZATIONS – that is the miscreant claims the conduct should not be considered wrong because of any set of reasons why. An example of this is “Nobody Cares”, which clearly implies that Ethical conclusions OUGHT to be democratic and not be based on reasoned evaluations.

    I noticed that some of the listed excuses are really IMPULSES or INCLINATIONS in the nature of mankind to ultimately lead to rationalizing, such as “Dissonance Drag”. And the final quality demonstrated in some items on the list is that they are archetypal or “ancestral” of other items on the list. Among these are “Ethics Accounting” or “Tit for Tat” under which one can reasonably file a half dozen or more other excuses.

    So, the first group of excuses I will attempt to organize I consider to be generally in the “Diversion” phylum, though not all are perfect diversions and some, with a little rewording can find themselves in the “Rationalization” phylum. I will try to note those “switch-hitters”. I dorked out and decided to use the taxonomic terms of “Phylum”, “Class”, and “Order” while outlining, so bear with me.

    So, the following set of excuses tend to follow the pattern of a Miscreant either admitting openly or through implication that his conduct is, indeed, Unethical but that application of punishment would be UNFAIR or that the motivation behind the accuser is UNFAIR. I emphasize the term “unfair” because I am wrestling with how this Class of excuses may relate to “the Compliance Obsession” which I consider to be one of the Impulses or Inclinations I described earlier, though it could very well be an Archetype, under which the following Diversions and even Marion Barry’s excuse may distantly relate.

    Diversion towards other misbehavers
    The First Class within the “Look over there” Phylum consists of the “But no one else is being punished” excuses. Within it we have three Orders of excuses. First, we get a less aggressive “the Miscreant shouldn’t be punished because the Community engages in unethical behavior also and goes unpunished”. Here we find the Golden Rationalization “Everybody does it” as a Diversion. Note if we merely reword this excuse to one implying that the Ethical Standard is derived incorrectly we get a Rationalization not found in this Family, of the form Ethics Surrender “We can’t stop it so we ought to allow it”). I am reasonably certain that The Unethical Precedent “It’s not the first time” and The Pioneer’s Lament “Why should I be the first?” are all just clever rewordings of “Everybody Does It” as they both ultimately Divert to the Community’s similar but unpunished Misconduct.

    Second, we get a slightly more aggressive, “the Miscreant shouldn’t be punished because the Victim engages in unethical behavior also, and go unpunished”. Here we find Ethics Estoppel “They’re Just as Bad”. Note, similar to the exception in the first group, if we merely reword this excuse as one implying that Conduct IS ethical if taken specifically to punish the Victim’s previous misconduct as though the Miscreant in question assumes the role of a constituted authority, we get the RATIONALIZATION form of this excuse, Sicilian Ethics “They Had It Coming” which is found in a different Family. If Ethical Vigilantism could be reworded into a Diversion, it would be found here.

    Third, we get the even more aggressive, “the Miscreant shouldn’t be punished because the Accuser engages in unethical behavior also and go unpunished”. Here we find the Biblical Rationalizations “Judge not…” and “Who is Without Sin…” I have a hard time classifying “The Favorite Child” excuse, and have therefore placed it in this family because it is essentially a proxy version of the excuse, though sharing characteristics of the “Everyone Does It” diversion.

    Diversion towards other’s motives
    Also found within the “Look over there” Phylum is a Class of excuses aimed at diverting attention at the actual or presumed motives, intentions or duties of others, a sort of “They aren’t acting in good faith” excuse. Within this we find a handful of Orders. The first of which are a type of accusation aimed at the Accuser’s motives. We find here the Victim’s Distortion, Ethics Jiu Jistu “Haters Gonna Hate”, The Vendetta Excuse “It’s not the cheating, it’s the cheater”, and the Paranoid’s Blindness “It’s not me, it’s you”. In each of these, somehow the accuser’s honor or intention is impugned, in one case it’s because the accuser is part of an “oppressive” majority in another you see a “jealous” competitor just trying to bring down someone successful.

    Second, we find an Order that diverts attention to the role or duties of the Victim, a sort of “the Victim should’ve done more”; though I’m trying to find a better label. Within this group we find Victim Blindness “They should have seen it coming” – the implication being that the Victim should’ve had the foresight to stop the Miscreant’s behavior and therefore, somehow, “consented”. Similarly related Contrived Consent “The Rapist’s Defense” is essentially the same, though attributing an open invitation to harm from the Victim. Note Contrived Consent is only subtle shades away from being a Rationalization and not just a Diversion. But for now, I’ll keep it classified here as a Diversion and a slightly different explained version when we discuss Rationalizations, though I may pull it out completely and place it in the Phylum that includes Ethics Accounting under a group that considers Effects of Misconduct as a determiner – that is to say, a Victim “consenting” to harm implies the effects are not seen as harmful to the victim and therefore not actually harmful. We also find the Extortionist’s Absolution “You were warned” and Patsy’s Rebuke “It’s not my fault that you’re stupid”. This entire order has a nearly analogous order in the Ethics Accounting Phylum which centers around the Miscreant inappropriately weighing the value of the Victim or the Victim’s abilities to make their own choices when deciding that doing something “For” or to the victim is actually a “good” thing – such as Gruber’s Defense

    Diversion “just because”
    Within this “Look over there” phylum of Diversions I have a handful of excuses that I can’t fully describe the group of or easily classify it, so they’ll only be tentatively found here for now. Among them are Zola’s Rejection “Don’t point fingers” and the Underwood Maneuver “That’s in the past”. Both have the flavor of diversions, but not quite analogous to the classes and orders listed above. Both have an implication involving the accusers needing to just “Move On” because the community has moved on or needs to move on.


    “Look over There”
    I. “But no one else gets punished”
    …..a. “The Community also engages in Unethical Conduct”
    ……….i. (1) Golden Rationalization “Everyone Does It”
    ……….ii. (41) The Evasive Tautology “It Is What It Is”
    ……….iii. (44) The Unethical Precedent “It’s Not the First Time”
    ……….iv. (39) The Pioneer’s Lament “Why Should I be the First”
    …..b. “The Victim also engages in Unethical Conduct”
    ……….i. (2) Ethics Estoppel “They’re just as bad”
    ……….ii. (2a) Sicilian Ethics “They had it coming”
    ……….iii. (17) Ethical Vigilantism
    …..c. “The Accuser also engages in Unethical Conduct”
    ……….i. (6) The Biblical Rationalizations “Judge not…” & “Who is without sin…”
    ……….ii. (26) The Favorite Child Excuse “Well YOUR guy is just as bad as MY guy”
    II. “They aren’t acting in good faith”
    …..a. “The Accuser has wrongful motives” or “They’re just out to get me”
    ……….i. (27) The Victim’s Distortion
    ……….ii. (48) Ethics Jiu Jitsu “Haters gonna hate”
    ……….iii. (60b) The Vendetta Excuse “It’s not the cheating, it’s the cheater”
    ……….iv. (61) Paranoid’s Blindess “It’s not me, it’s you”
    …..b. “The Victim should’ve done more”
    ……….i. (36) Victim Blindness “They should’ve seen it coming”
    ……….ii. (47) Contrived Consent “The Rapist’s defense”
    ……….iii. (36a) Extortionist’s Absolution “You were warned”
    ……….iv. (36b) Patsy’s Rebuke “It’s not my fault you’re stupid”
    III. Hard to classify
    …..a. “The Community has moved on”
    ……….i. (46) Zola’s Rejection “Don’t point fingers”
    ……….ii. (51) The Underwood Maneuver “It’s in the past”

    That covers about a quarter of the whole list. I’m still working on about 3-5 other “Phylum” sized groups, but at least that gives you an idea of where I feel the rationalization list COULD go. Comparing some of the sibling excuses or even “cousin” excuses side by side has lead me to believe that the whole list MIGHT be simplified in-so-far as some of the excuses seem to be just subtle re-wordings of the same theme and ought be consolidated into a single “Rationalization”.

    What do you think so far?

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