Welcome, if that’s the word, to the 8th Annual Ethics Alarms Awards.
Last year, in a burst of self-pity as I began this annual task, I wrote,
“It is depressing and discouraging: 2015 was much worse than 2014, which was considerably worse than 2013. What am I doing here? What is the point of spending all of this uncompensated time—it is more profitable bagging groceries!—trying to nurture a more ethical culture and a more ethically competent public when all evidence points to utter futility as the result? Well, that way madness lies, I guess. I’m just going to grit my teeth and do my duty. Last year I began by saying that 2014 was the year of the Ethics Train Wreck. There were far more of them in 2015, and they were more serious and damaging. That should give you sufficient warning of the horrors to come…”
Then came 20i6.
To paraphrase Margo Channing, “Fasten your seatbelts: It’s going to a bumpy post…”
Ethics Train Wreck of the Year
The Hillary Clinton E-Mail Scandal Ethics Train Wreck
I thought last year was the Year of the Train Wreck. Wrong. In 2016, we had the 2016 Post Election Ethics Train Wreck, the Campus Sexual Assault Witch Hunt Ethics Train Wreck, the Freddie Gray Ethics Train Wreck, the old stand-by Obama Administration Ethics Train Wreck, the still active Ferguson Ethics Train Wreck, and the Ethics Train Wrecks of both Presidential candidates campaigns. Hillary’s e-mails and their related lies in the long trail of cars called the Hillary Clinton E-Mail Scandal Ethics Train Wreck, was a clear winner though.
Passengers included President Obama, Bernie Sanders, Anthony Weiner, the F.B.I., Loretta Lynch, Bill Clinton, James Comey and more. And, of course, it played a significant and perhaps decisive role in bringing us President Trump.
Runner-Up: 2016 Post Election Ethics Train Wreck. It had less than a month to get up steam, but it caused lots of ethics carnage, and is still going strong.
Fraud of the Year
The Trump Foundation, which revealed itself to be a near total sham. RUNNER-UP: Fake lawyer Kimberly Kitchen, who worked as an estate planning lawyer at BMZ Law in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania, and served as president of the county bar, though she never went to law school, and never took the bar exam, but forged documents to fool everyone that she had.
Most Unethical Act By A Major Church
The Catholic Church, which, incredibly, restored a convicted rapist to the priesthood. Father Joseph Jeyapaul, a Catholic priest from India, while serving in the Crookston, Minnesota diocese from 2004 to 2005 raped at least two adolescent girls. After being charged with the crimes, including rape and forcing at least one of his victims to perform fellatio on him, Father Joseph escaped to India, where an Interpol warrant got him extradited back to Minnesota. There he confessed, and as part of a plea bargain, received an outrageously light sentence of a year and a day for pleading guilty to one count of molestation. Jeyapaul was suspended from the priesthood and served his time in Minnesota. The U.S. deported him back to India, while the Minnesota diocese had to pay millions in a civil lawsuit, during which we learned that the rapist priest had told one of his victims in the confessional that she was at fault, and had made Jeyapaul “impure” by letting him abuse her. In February, the Vatican lifted Jeyapaul‘s suspension and restored him to the priesthood. It then assigned him to a new parish in India, where he is now the diocesan head of its commission for education.
Tell me again why that fake news story that the Pope endorsed Trump was supposed to help The Donald.
Incompetent Elected Official of the Year
Kathleen G. Kane (D), Pennsylvania’s ex-Attorney General. In October, a judge sentenced her to 10 to 23 months in prison for her conviction on charges of perjury and abuse of her office. You can’t be more incompetent, I’d say, than an elected attorney general who can’t stay out of jail herself. I regret not writing about the Kane saga last year, but her ethical void was fairly apparent back in 2013, the only time I did write about her, after she leaked grand jury testimony, which is illegal. I wrote at the time (I must have been in a bad mood)…
“Leaking grand jury testimony is both illegal and spectacularly unethical for a lawyer, yet Pennsylvania’s Attorney General, Kathleen Kane, appears to have done it for the slimiest of reasons, and is offering the most cynical of defenses in the most offensive of ways. (Incidentally, I don’t understand how this could happen. After all, Kane is a woman, the first Democrat and the first woman to be elected to the post, and since having a vagina alone is supposed to imbue a candidate with trustworthiness, surpassing competence and virtue, this makes no sense at all.)”
Unethical Elected Official of the Year
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R). As if his responsibility for the bridge-closing scandal wasn’t enough—he managed to duck accountability for the acts of his subordinates who clearly, and almost certainly correctly, believed that they were doing what he wanted them to do—Christie rated a rare Ethics Villain designation by Ethics Alarms in February after he dropped out of the Republican field for President and endorsed Donald Trump. Ethics Alarms:
“Christie now establishes himself as one of the true villains of American political history, willing to place his nation in the hands of an unstable, unmanned, babbling autocrat without principles, wisdom or integrity for personal gain. It is nothing less than a betrayal of the country and its citizens.”
And that was when I was 100% certain that Trump would never become President….
Sexual Predator Of The Year
Roger Ailes, founder and ex-head of Fox News, who apparently regarded his female talent as a private harem. He was brought down by one of his victims finally filing suit.
FIRST RUNNER-UP: Well, this is awkward. It has to be Donald Trump. Usually we don’t find out Presidents are sexual predators until after they have been elected President, whereupon they become Democratic icons, like John F. Kennedy or Bill Clinton. Trump, of course, won himself this title with his locker-room boasting, caught on tape, behind the scenes while chatting with Billy Bush. SECOND RUNNER-UP: for the second year in a row in this category, Bill Clinton. No, Bill didn’t shag any new prey (as far as we know), but his past quarry, especially Kathleen Willey and Juanita Broaderick,were vocal and much in evidence. Not only that, but a new accuser stepped forward to remind voters that the man Democrats used as their star convention speaker four years ago was embarrassing evidence of Hillary Clinton’s hypocrisy when she presented her self as a champion for victims of sexual assault.
Unethical Website of the Year
Snopes, of course. It may not have been the most unethical website, but it was the most visible and corrupting of the breed by far. The site revealed itself to be not only sloppy but partisan, and hung itself with an inexcusable attempt to spin Hillary Clinton out of the truth of her much-maligned representation decades ago of a child rapist. As I pointed out in the most read and shared Ethics Alarms post of the year (and of all time), this was both dishonest and unnecessary. More importantly, however, Snopes proved that it would distort and misstate facts to advance its own agenda, in this case, electing Hillary Clinton. It is troubling that, now, of all times, Snopes is being endorsed by the mainstream media and popular culture as an authority, I suppose because with its left-leaning bias it has proved itself worthy in their eyes, when in fact Snopes has disqualified itself as a trustworthy fact-checker.
CLOSE RUNNER UP: Above The Law. The legal profession gossip and news website is dominated by Elie Mystal, and lets him run amuck without supervision. In 2016, Elie, a lawyer and an African American, outed himself as a virulent anti-white, anti-police, anti-law bigot, and should have been fired so fast his hair singed. Here is Elie, in December, calling for black jurors to sabotage the criminal justice system:
“Black people lucky enough to get on a jury could use that power to acquit any person charged with a crime against white men and white male institutions. It’s not about the race of the defendant, but if the alleged victim is a white guy, or his bank, or his position, or his authority: we could acquit. Assault? Acquit. Burglary? Acquit. Insider trading? Acquit.Murder? … what the hell do you think is happening to black people out here? What the hell do you think we’re complaining about when your cops shoot us or choke us? Acquit. Don’t throw “murder” at me like it’s some kind of moral fault line where the risk of letting one go is too great. Black people ARE BEING MURDERED, and the system isn’t doing a damn thing to hold their killers accountable. Sorry I’m not sorry if this protest idea would put the shoe on the other foot for a change.”
Yes, poor Elie has jumped the ethics shark, lost his marbles, and allowed frustration to reduce his analytical powers to a primal scream. An ethical website would provide him with psychiatric help, not a daily forum.
Ethics Corrupter of the Year
(Awarded to the unethical public figure whose prominence, popularity and success most corrupts the public’s ethical values)
Hillary Clinton. This is her second win in a row in this category, and the effects of her corrupting influence are still being felt, hard, in the deranged reactions and statements of her followers and fans following her shocking loss to Donald Trump. The Clintons are the Ethics Corruptor King and Queen, though I expect Donald Trump to quickly dethrone them. Before she leaves, however, Hillary is determined to complete her years-long seminar in avoiding accountability, blaming everyone but herself and her incompetent staff for her loss (John Podesta’s computer password was “password;” Huma Abedin was married to Anthony Weiner; campaign manager Robbie Mook told the media that they should treat Trump differently than Hillary…), and leading her Party to disgrace itself with an attempted disruption of the election results. On election night, Hillary didn’t have the fortitude or guts to concede publicly, or commiserate with the devastated throng at her “victory party,” when what an ethical leader worthy of breaking the “glass-ceiling” should have done was to emulate Robert E. Lee, meeting his defeated army as they trudged back to him, and saying, “It is all my fault.”
Most Unethical Political Party
The Republican Party. Not only did the party nominate Donald Trump, when it had a duty to block him (just as the party should not have let him compete for the nomination in the first place, and kicked him out of it when he defiled the debates after that), the GOP majority in the Senate, led by Mitch McConnell, violated tradition and fairness by refusing to consider President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to fill the seat vacated by Justice Scalia’s death. That the party got lucky and the despicable strategy worked does not ennoble it.
RUNNER-UP: The ridiculous Libertarian Party and its ridiculous ticket of Gary Johnson and William Weld. Handed the golden opportunity to grow the party, make a dent in the ossified two-party system and take advantage of the awful choices thrown to the American public by the Republicans and Democrats, what did Libertarians do? They held a convention in which one of their speakers, a hairy fat guy, performed a strip-tease. Then they nominated a charisma-challenged goof for President, who only made news when he not only proclaimed his ignorance of foreign affairs, but argued that ignorance was good for a President. (If ignorance is good, Donald Trump was the right choice.) His running mate, meanwhile, made it clear that 1) he wasn’t a Libertarian and 2) he would be voting for Clinton.
Good job, Libertarians!
The Harry Reid Political Fick of the Year Award
(Awarded to the political figure shows contempt for ethical values by being proven to have engaged in unethical conduct and expresses pride in it)
National: Donna Brazile. This is a new category, named after former Senator Harry Reid, who when asked if he regretted publicly lying about Mitt Romny in 2012, responded smugly, “Romney lost, didn’t he?” A moment of silence in gratitude that this awful man has finally crawled away from Washington D.C.
There. As for Brazile, she gets the award for abusing her relationship with CNN, using inside information to pass questions to Hillary Clinton in advance of a town meeting and a debate, getting caught and exposed by one of the hacked e-mails, and after lying about it, refusing to apologize. In fact, she said,
“My conscience — as an activist, a strategist — is very clear…if I had to do it all over again, I would know a hell of a lot more about cybersecurity.”
(For the record, that statement—not the e-mail, but Brazile’s defiant pride in cheating for Hillary—lost Clinton my vote.)
State: Carl Palladino.
Jerk of the Year
(Small business Division)
Michael Turner, owner of the only propane supplier in freezing Skowhegan, Maine, who announced to his customers that if they had voted for Donald Trump, they should find some other way to heat their homes.
Jerk of the Year
Hope Solo. Solo capped a career of jerkdom by embarrassing her team mates and nation with this unsportsmanlike quote after the U.S. Women’s Soccer team lost to Sweden in the Olympics, with some help from Solo, whose best goalie days are behind her:
“I thought that we played a courageous game. I thought that we had many opportunities on goal. I think we showed a lot of heart. We came back from a goal down; I’m very proud of this team. I also think we played a bunch of cowards. But, you know, the best team did not win today; I strongly, firmly believe that. I think you saw America’s heart. You saw us give everything that we had today. Unfortunately the better team didn’t win.”
Jerks of the Year
(Show Business Division)
The Cast of “Hamilton”…and, I have to add, all the hypocritical actors and theater professionals who defended the cast’s unprecedented breach of professional ethics under what we might call “The New York Times Rule,” which is that Donald Trump justifies the abandonment of professional ethics. (It is also Rationalization #31. The Troublesome Luxury: “Ethics is a luxury we can’t afford right now.” I wrote about this fiasco extensively, and, frankly, it makes me angry just thinking back on it…not only the transgression itself, to harass an audience member from the stage, but the astonishing smugness and dishonesty with which the cast and the show’s creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, tried to justify the indefensible.
Jerk of the Year
(Political Figure Division)
Newt Gingrich. Always a likely contender in this category, and an eventual Lifetime Achievement Award winner, Newt outdid himself by deciding that the anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack was a great time to renew his status as an obnoxious know-it-all and salute the Japanese for “their brilliance and technological power” in executing a sneak attack and killing nearly 3000 Americans.
Jerk of the Year
Daniel Goldstein, who harassed First Daughter-Elect Ivanka Trump on a Jet Blue Flight, after his law professor husband tweeted that he was going to do it. She was with her children.
Asshole of the Year
Trump won last year, too, and has won in previous years. I’d like to avoid giving this award to the President-Elect, but there’s no way out of it. He earned it fair and square. Heck, he had it wrapped up before he has the nomination wrapped up.
Now, remember, we’ve had assholes as Presidents before, and many have been very effective, great, even. Remember this story from last year?
One afternoon in the fall of 1937, behind the closed doors of the Oval Office, President Franklin Roosevelt asked his friend, the businessman, stock trader, and movie mogul Joseph Kennedy, “would you mind taking your pants down?” The request was met with a blank stare. “We couldn’t believe our ears,” recalled the president’s son, James, who had arranged the meeting. “Did you just say what I think you said?” asked Kennedy. The president replied, “yes, indeed.”
James Roosevelt recalled that “Joe Kennedy undid his suspenders and dropped his pants and stood there in his shorts, looking silly and embarrassed.” The president told Kennedy, “Someone who saw you in a bathing suit once told me something I now know to be true. Joe, just look at your legs. You are just about the most bow-legged man I have ever seen.” According to the president, bandy legs were a deal breaker in Kennedy’s bid to become America’s top envoy in London. “Don’t you know that the ambassador to the Court of St James’s has to go through an induction ceremony in which he wears knee britches and silk stockings?” asked the president. “When photos of our new ambassador appear all over the world, we’ll be a laughing stock.”
Kennedy dearly wanted to become the first Irish-American ambassador to London and was not sure whether the president was kidding. After a moment’s thought, he said he could ask the Brits whether tails and striped pants would be acceptable to Buckingham Palace instead of the traditional fancy dress…“You know how the British are about tradition,” he said. “There’s no way you are going to get permission, and I must name a new ambassador soon.” If the Brits were prepared to bend protocol, and Kennedy could get a response within two weeks, the president suggested that perhaps Kennedy could after all go to the ball.
The historian describes this as “a typical FDR prank to let Kennedy believe he was an intimate, one of his inner circle. But it was also a humiliating ritual that showed who was boss.”
The fact that we’ve had other assholes succeed in the White House doesn’t make the conduct of Trump any more acceptable. All it means is that being an asshole and being an effective leader are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
PART 2 will be along soon…