Debate Ethics: Trump’s “Breathtaking Repudiation Of American Democracy”


Substance, of course, is officially irrelevant to the 2016 Presidential election. This is a bitter “be careful what you wish for” realization for Ethics Alarms and its author, as I have long argued that leaders’ values and character are more important and should be given more weight in any choice of candidates than their political affiliations or official policy positions. I did not foresee  a race in which both candidates have definitively proven that they are unfit for office and corrupt beyond repair or redemption, and one of those candidates is so unfit that even the epic dishonesty and democracy-corroding conduct of his opponent cannot begin to justify a vote for him by anyone with the sense of a bivalve mollusk.

Thus, once again as in the first two debates, the leading story coming out of last night’s snark-fest relates to character, not substance. In this case, it doesn’t even relate to practical reality. Donald Trump was asked by debate moderator Chris Wallace,

Your running mate Governor Pence pledged on Sunday that he and you, his words, will absolutely accept the result of this election. Today your daughter Ivanka said the same thing. I want to ask you here on the stage tonight, do you make the same commitment that you’ll absolutely accept the result of the election?

..and after talking around the question interminable, as usual, Trump finally answered,

What I’m saying is that I will tell you at the time. I’ll keep you in suspense, okay?

Hillary Clinton immediately pronounced the answer “horrifying,” and her assessment is currently being echoed on editorial pages and by pundits and analysts as if Trump announced that he was raising an army of NRA members to take the White House by force. Gasped the Washington Post this morning, in an editorial titled, “Trump’s Breathtaking Repudiation of American Democracy,” “Respecting the will of the voters has since the end of the Civil War allowed for a peaceful transition of power that has made this country the envy of the world….[Clinton’s flaws] fade to the status of trivia in the face of an opponent who will not accept the basic rules of American democracy.”The New York Times, in its editorial titled “Donald Trump’s Contempt for Democracy,” pontificated,

Mr. Trump’s meltdown in the closing weeks could be dismissed as a sore loser’s bizarre attempt at rationalizing his likely defeat. But his trashing of the democratic process, in service of his own ego, risks lasting damage to the country, and politicians of both parties should recoil from him and his cynical example.

It in no way excuses Donald Trump to take notice of the “breathtaking” dishonesty here.

The news media, and the Washington Post and the New York Times particularly, have shown their contempt for democracy, leading the way for the rest of  the unethical U.S. news media to abdicate its duty to examine, expose and report on the extensive corruption in the Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign, aided and abetted by the Obama Administration and a journalism establishment that increasingly openly acts as a partisan government organ of propaganda, rather than fulfilling its vital duty to inform public opinion, not manipulate it. The New York Times literally called for a moratorium on fair and objective reporting because Donald Trump created an “exception” mandating a suspension of ethics. Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager called on debate moderators to act as Trump adversaries during debates because “Trump’s special,” laying the groundwork for a precedent in which any opposition to President Hillary Clinton is similarly deemed sufficiently “special.”

It should be obvious that the alliance of the press with one party and the government, based on an agreement that certain Americans are “special” and that basic principles of justice and equity can and should be suspended where their lives and rights are concerned is a far greater threat to democracy than any blather issuing from Donald Trump’s inadequately-formed brain though his constantly open mouth. Why isn’t it obvious? Slavery was justified because black people were declared “special.” Women were subjugated because they were “special.” Hitler explained that Jews were special, and damned right I’m going there. The Hillary Clinton campaign and the absolute “the ends justifies the means” operating philosophy it embodies stinks of nascent totalitarianism. Where are the editorials warning voters about that?

They aren’t being written, because the news media is part of the stench. In the parlance of a current TV ad, they’ve gone “nose blind” to the rotting of democracy.

Trump’s answer last night was not disqualifying because it posed some imaginary threat to the union. Like most of his gaffes during the campaign, it revealed what a stupid, foolish, inarticulate boob he really is.

As I guessed she would, Ann Althouse applied her non-partisan, legal and professorial skills to the exchange, and without directly making a value judgment about Trump’s rhetoric (the professor’s shtick is to analyze, pick at and hint, pointing to conclusions but seldom stating them), clarifies what he was trying to say, or would have if he were not (this is me, not Ann), a blathering idiot.

I endorse Althouse’s version of what Trump should have said:

“It depends on what the meaning of ‘result’ is. If by ‘result,’ you mean that we have had a chance to look at exactly what happened in all of the states and we can see that the margin of victory is beyond all remaining allegations of fraud, then I will absolutely accept the result. But if you mean that in a close election, where there is suspicion of fraud or mishandling of the ballots, and the other side is calling that the ‘result,’ and that I should accept that ‘result,’ no I will not.”

Exactly. That is the standard that Democrats have used to challenge, as in “refuse to accept,” results in other state and national elections (Republican too), and the Post and Times didn’t call their decisions breathtaking or contempt for democracy. I suspect that this is what Trump may have meant, to the extent that it’s ever possible to tell what he means, being undisciplined of mind, irresponsible of language and limited in vocabulary.

Americans should not want their leaders to ignore evidence of voter fraud and election manipulation, and Democrats have never been shy about challenging results when such evidence existed and didn’t exist. Wallace’s question was phrased in absolute terms, and a flat “yes” would have been as disingenuous as Trump’s earlier agreement to accept and endorse whoever the Republican Party nominated, and his opposition’s pledges to endorse Trump. The right answer is “it depends.”

Arguing against the theory that Trump only meant that he would challenge the results of an election where it appeared there was fraud or chicanery was his statement  about media bias:

“I’m not looking at anything now, I’ll look at it at the time. What I’ve seen, what I’ve seen, is so bad. First of all, the media is so dishonest and so corrupt and the pile on is so amazing. “The New York Times” actually wrote an article about it, but they don’t even care. It is so dishonest, and they have poisoned the minds of the voters….”

Taken literally, this suggests that the election is already invalid, because of dishonest reporting, and votes based on misrepresentations from a partisan media are not valid votes. Althouse:

“Notice that Trump isn’t talking about fraud and miscounting of ballots there. He’s complaining that the voters made the wrong decision. We can’t be rejecting the outcome of an election on the ground that the voters thought about it the wrong way! Trump has many good complaints about the media, but if distorted media invalidate elections, we can’t have a democracy anymore.”

Correct, although eventually distorted media makes a sham of democracy, which is where this campaign shows we are headed. This is all too sophisticated for Trump, though. If he has concluded that the voters have already been “poisoned,” then what is he waiting for?

Then Trump moved on to voter fraud, alluding to recent reports of dead people being on the rolls and non-citizens voting, in his usual, vague, stream of semi-consciousness manner. Althouse writes,

This is the good point, and he needed to extend it and explain why irregularities in voting require him to withhold his acceptance of the purported results until we can see what happened. But he does not say that. He just drops the idea that there are a lot of names on the voting rolls that shouldn’t be there, and stumbles forward…

In other words, as I said, he’s an inarticulate boob. We cannot have boobs as President, and we cannot have inarticulate people in the job either, as communication is a core skill. Of course, there is much more, and much worse, wrong with Donald Trump, but these alone disqualify him from being a responsible choice to be  President.

Trump “stumbled forward” to make the ridiculous, especially from him, argument that Clinton “shouldn’t be allowed to run”:

“She’s guilty of a very, very serious crime. She should not be allowed to run, and just in that respect I say it’s rigged because …she should never have been allowed to run for the presidency based on what she did with e-mails and so many other things.”

Well, Trump shouldn’t have been allowed to run either, and if both parties weren’t run by Machiavellians, cronies, fools, cowards and liars, we wouldn’t be in this mess. If Trump is using this logic to decide if he’ll accept the results, then he’s saying that the only result he’ll treat as legitimate is if he wins. There is no other way to describe this part of his answer than infantile, ignorant, and pathetic.

No matter how many reasons we can muster to argue that Hillary Clinton has engaged in or been party to criminal conduct, and no matter how we may feel that she has used power to corrupt a system that would have prosecuted lesser figures under the same set of facts, she remains innocent in the eyes of the law. Saying that she should be prevented ( “not allowed”) from exercising her rights as a citizen because a lot of people think she’s guilty of crimes is like saying that George Zimmerman shouldn’t be allowed to hold a job because he’s a racist murderer.  Hillary being on the ballot is no more “rigging” an election than having Nixon on the ballot in 1972, or Bill Clinton on the ballot in 1996. All Trump is really saying is that she’s not fit to be President.

Yes, Donald, we knew that. She’s terrible.

You’re worse.


27 thoughts on “Debate Ethics: Trump’s “Breathtaking Repudiation Of American Democracy”

  1. A ridiculous man, for a ridiculous nation, reading a ridiculous press, governed by ridiculous laws, enforced by a ridiculous political class.

    • Schmendrick said, “A ridiculous man, for a ridiculous nation, reading a ridiculous press, governed by ridiculous laws, enforced by a ridiculous political class.”

      The only thing you said that I’d consider truth was “A ridiculous man” and that’s only if you’re talking about Donald Trump.

      Overall, that was a ridiculous comment. Are you trolling for arguments?

  2. Last night did nothing more to convince me either way. The fact is we have a choice between a blustering bully with no honor and a lying, corrupt grifter with no honor, one seeking power to gratify his own ego, the other seeking power for its own sake. However, today’s overreactions to Trump’s comment convince me more than ever of the seven basic truths about people: that they are biased, partisan, arrogant, lazy, immature, hateful and hypocritical.

    Yes, Trump should not have played coy about accepting the results of the election, or, if he wanted to leave himself an out, he should have said something along the lines of he would do so absent extraordinary circumstances. It was a colossal unforced error which showed further evidence of his utter disregard for rules and standards and further cemented him as a bully and a loose cannon.

    However, the other side is NOT justified in a second round of ridiculous pearl-clutching, anymore than it was justified in the first round after his well known porcine behavior was brought up – many years after the fact and one month before an election.

    In the law there is a doctrine called estoppel, which is a fancy way of saying that, having relied on one argument, you don’t get to turn around and rely on its polar opposite. The underlying concept is to discourage saying up when it benefits you and down when that benefits you. It’s already been established that the left said character didn’t matter when it was Bill Clinton getting hummers in the oval office or creepy Joe Biden feeling up a good looking staffer or three. Now it suddenly matters. The left should be estopped from changing their minds now, but they won’t. Hypocrites.

    More to the recent point, it was just under sixteen years ago, although that might as well have been in the days of the Civil war as far as the man bun and Instagram crowd are concerned, that a DEMOCRAT who had narrowly lost the decisive state of Florida decided not to accept that he had fallen short and dragged this nation to the brink of a constitutional crisis by trying to litigate his way into the White House. Hanging chads, anyone? Even when SCOTUS smacked him down he conceded he was out of options, but never truly accepted it, as the nation had to hear for four years how it was a 5-4 decision, he won but couldn’t serve, etc. The left is estopped from saying Trump made some kind of impermissible sin when they themselves took the next step.

    • You have seen me use “ethics estoppel” exactly this way many times. Search for it.

      As you know, the previous post about Trump and Obama made the case that I don’t want to hear from them about claiming elections are stolen.

      • Amen. I posted this on fb today. Cue all the “but that’s different because..” posts from my dyed-in-the-wool blue and under 26 friends.

    • ” It was a colossal unforced error which showed further evidence of his utter disregard for rules and standards and further cemented him as a bully and a loose cannon.”

      I disagree.

      The question was a trap, you see. I challenge you to find a single instance of Donald publicly speculating on a negative outcome for himself. “What happens if you lose this primary?” “What happens if you lose this court case?” He doesn’t answer those questions, period. He always deflects, and perhaps so long as he wasn’t so squarely in the spotlight and under so much scrutiny, the attitude might work for him, but after everything else he’s said and done it just comes off as snivelling and dishonest.

  3. I’m slightly annoyed that this remark is stealing all the coverage.

    Jack, will there be an article on your full thoughts on the debate? Did you feel moderation was done well?

    • Nah. There was nothing new. Trump is inept and incoherent; Hillary lies outrageously. Here’s an article on some of the most obvious—it’s amazing that she gets away with this junk. Trump, meanwhile, since he has no facts, whiffed at flagging them.

      As for Wallace, he was fine and fair. His question to Trump about accepting the election results was a bad one, but mandated by Trump’s comments earlier in the week, and a smarter candidate could have answered it properly.

  4. Hmm, with the wiki leaks outing Hillary making secret deals with Wall Street I think Trump’s comment may not be so horrible as it is spun to be. If fraud is discovered in the election which Hillary is capable of enabling I don’t think automatically accepting “the will of the people” is something that Trump should do.

  5. This election is one for the record books. Never have two people employed or caused to be employed so many unethical rationalizations by so many people.
    They’re both unfit to be president. I’m going to vote for someone who is fit whether they have a chance of winning or not. At least that way I won’t have voted for the lesser of two evils. The lesser is still evil, and I can’t decide who is lesser anyway.
    To quote one of my favorite commenters, sadly no longer commenting, “We’re doomed.”

  6. I don’t agree he’s worse. He’d be worse if like her, he smiled and said what everyone wanted to hear “Of course I would” and knew he would not. That would make him worse morally than her.

    I was truly shocked watching her last night in her delivery and well rehearsed answers.

    I may not be well versed on things like all your readers or you, but for me it’s easy to see when someone is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. To me she is. He… not sure my take quite yet. BUT not dishonest, or why didn’t he lie on EASY lies he could have told to get himself to look better? That seems to make him more honest to me than he’s being accused of.

    Thanks for what you write, Jack. It helps me a lot.

  7. Wallace’s first question was as you said, but the question to which he actually replied “I’ll keep you in suspense” was a follow up:

    “WALLACE: But, sir, there is a tradition in this country — in fact, one of the prides of this country — is the peaceful transition of power and that no matter how hard-fought a campaign is, that at the end of the campaign that the loser concedes to the winner. Not saying that you’re necessarily going to be the loser or the winner, but that the loser concedes to the winner and that the country comes together in part for the good of the country. Are you saying you’re not prepared now to commit to that principle?”

    It’s almost like Gore v. Bush never happened. Gore conceded to his opponent, sure… Until he saw how close Florida was, then he reversed his concession the next day and sued in a process that took SCOTUS two months to figure out, and then left leaning partisans continued to say that Bush stole the election and that the election was rigged even decades later.

    Can we at least all agree that this wasn’t exactly the kind of concession that “comes together for the good of the country”?

    And NOW, NOW that someone on the other side is bitching petulantly about an election being rigged: “Oh, it’s dangerous to suggest that elections could be rigged” “Elections can’t possibly be stolen.” “How DARE you suggest that!?! I am SHOCKED, SHOCKED I tell you! Shocked and appalled!”

    I wonder sometimes if people are so completely biased that they’ve created enough artificial differences in their head between similar situations between left and right leaning politicians that they feel justified in saying this garbage, or if they’ve just been regurgitating partisan bullshit for so long they’ve completely lost track of the positions they’ve previously taken… Dozens of media outlets have embarrassed themselves with pure partisan hypocrisy on this issue, and I’m sure I’ll find more that will in the coming weeks.

    • That’s what I wrote about in the earlier post, about Obama’s nonsense. Re-counts aren’t challenging the legitimacy of the election. Florida royally screwed up in a dozen ways—a candidate has a duty to also ensure the integrity of the system. That’s not what Wallace is talking about.

      As I wrote in the Obama piece, what the Democrats did after Bush v. Gore is the opposite of what Wallace described. Democrats STILL claim that the 2000 election was stolen, against all facts to the contrary.

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