Ethics Alarms is intended to be a pan-ethics colloquy on our efforts to set ethical standards in our society, using, for the most part, current events and controversies to apply ethics analysis to dilemmas, conflicts and gray areas as they arise. Silly me: I really thought that once the election was over, I could shove political ethics back into the pack, and get back to more balanced and diverse commentary. I did not expect the Left—is there a better word for progressives, Democrats, Hollywood, academia, artists and the mainstream media?—to behave so abominably and irresponsibly for such an extended period.
Because I believe with all my heart that this mob-tantrum is doing far more damage to the nation and society than unethical IKEA ads, incompetent judges and even sexual predator 6th grade teachers, I have to chronicle this awful national ethics phenomenon at the expense of other topics. I am thoroughly sick of it. I feel like Keith Olbermann, who quit his first non-sports news commentary job because couldn’t stand reporting on the Monica Lewinsky scandal every night. And believe me, I don’t like feeling like Keith Olbermann.
This is the major ethics story of the month, the year, and maybe the decade. A coalition of ideologically inflexible groups are deliberately seeking to undermine a duly elected President of the United States, and to destabilize the United States government, because their candidate—and a terrible, corrupt, incompetent candidate she was—somehow managed to lose. They are doing this in full knowledge that their actions directly contradict their leaders’ statements before the election. You know, like this one…
They are doing it despite the fact that they are violating the established norms of politics and democracy that have kept the United States peaceful, prosperous and strong (except when we had a civil war, killing more Americans than in any foreign conflict and inflicting cultural scars that have still not healed completely), because…
Rationalization #31. The Troublesome Luxury: “Ethics is a luxury we can’t afford right now.”
Of course, if you care about ethics, and most of these reckless partisans don’t, you know that is wrong…
…Ethics is never “a luxury.” It is slyly effective to describe it as such, however, and those who do so usually believe it—which means you should sleep with one eye open when they are around, watch your wallet, and never turn your back. Saying ethics is a luxury simply means that the speaker believes that one should be good and fair when it is easy and benefits him or her, but when problems loom and crises have to be faced, ethics are optional. This attitude is another calling card of Oliver Wendell Holmes’ “Bad Man,” the law-abiding citizen who will cut your throat for his own benefit if he finds a legal loophole. In a true crisis, ethical values are often the only thing standing between us and catastrophic misconduct in the throes of desperation and panic; they aren’t luxuries, they are life-lines. When you hear yourself saying, “I’ll do anything to fix this! Anything!” it is a warning, and the ethics alarm needs to start ringing hard. Grab those ethical values, and hold on to them. They are the last thing you can afford to be without at such times.
I have no illusions. This is a small blog, and ethics is an unpopular topic. I know Ethics Alarms isn’t likely to have any real impact, or even pull my increasingly deranged Facebook friends back from the brink of madness if I link to the blog there, which I usually don’t. I could just fill the blog with posts on legal ethics, and the ethics of driverless cars, and whether art should prevail over rules in student painting contests, and the impact on the culture would be no different.
The problem is that I care about the nation, its government, democracy and especially the U.S. Presidency much more than I care about those issues. I’m also philosophically in agreement with William Saroyan, who said that if one human being sings your song, you have not lived in vain. If a single reader here is given assistance in confronting their misguided friends, kids, fellow workers and neighbors who are applauding the effort to divide the nation and undermine its elected government, and convincing them that they are choosing emotion and chaos over rationality and responsible citizenship, then I’m satisfied. You never know. If there is one thing the Ethics Alarms experience has taught me, it is that moral luck will sometimes transform this tiny trumpet into a clarion call, and that it can have impact.
What would be my wish? My wish would be that a single, influential, responsible leadership figure on the Left would call for this all to stop. Somebody. Carter. Either Clinton. Sanders. Warren. Obama, of course. Instead we are getting this, from a former Democratic governor and a candidate for the nomination:
Yesterday, a blind opera singer withdrew from performing at the Trump Inauguration because he received death threats. Death threats. Death threats for daring to participate in a ceremony and tradition that is as old as the nation, and that symbolizes our democracy. These vicious, totalitarian bullies are your responsibility, Democrats. If and when there is violence on January 20, it is your hypocrisy, hate, fear-mongering and irresponsible rhetoric that will have created it.
Yesterday also, numerous Democratic House members revealed that they would not endorse this ritual, and would boycott the event to show disrespect for the elected President. There will be more. Here is the current list, with some smoking-gun quotes:
Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (Ill.) (“I cannot go to [the] inauguration of a man who’s going to appoint people to the Supreme Court and turn back the clock on women and turn back the clock on immigrants and the safety and freedom that we fought for them.” This is ignorant and dishonest, and essentially a statement that he does not regard any non-Democratic leader as worthy of support. These are the seeds of totalitarianism.; Rep. John Conyers (Mich.); Rep. Katherine Clark (Mass.) (“I had hoped the President-elect would use the transition period and his appointments to change course and fulfill his promise to be a President for all Americans; however, this has not been the case. After discussions with hundreds of my constituents, I do not feel that I can contribute to the normalization of the President-elect’s divisive rhetoric by participating in the Inauguration.” But any lawful policy or decisions by the President are by definition “normal.” Only hard ideologues otherize lawful acts that they disagree with as “abnormal.” She will combat divisive rhetoric by her divisive actions. Brilliant.); Rep. Jared Huffman (Calif.) (“However, there is nothing ordinary about this inauguration or the man that will be sworn-in as our next President. I do accept the election results and support the peaceful transfer of power, but it is abundantly clear to me that with Donald Trump as our President, the United States is entering a dark and very dangerous political chapter.” See Rationalization #31, above.) Rep. Barbara Lee (Calif.) “Donald Trump has proven that his administration will normalize the most extreme fringes of the Republican Party. On Inauguration Day, I will not be celebrating. I will be organizing and preparing for resistance.” Res ipsa loquitur, for one of the worst race-baiting Democrats alive.)
Rep. Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.) “My absence is not motivated by disrespect for the office or motivated by disrespect for the government that we have in this great democracy. But as an individual act, yes, of defiance, at the disrespect shown to millions and millions of Americans by this incoming administration and by the actions we are taking in this Congress.” Translation: ‘I am not doing what I am doing.’); Rep. John Lewis (Ga.) (“You cannot be at home with something that you feel that is wrong, is not right.” Lewis is an embarrassment, and has been for a long, long time.); Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (Calif.) (DeSaulnier has said that Trump will be in violation of the Constitution due to conflicts of interest, proving that he is an ignorant hack.); Rep. Lacy Clay (Mo.); Rep. Earl Blumenauer (Ore.); Rep. Kurt Schrader (Ore.) (“I’m just not a big Trump fan. I’ve met the guy and never been impressed with him. I’ll do my best to work with him when I think he’s doing the right thing for the country. But he hasn’t proved himself to me at all yet, so I respectfully decline to freeze my ass out there in the cold for this particular ceremony.” Funny, no GOP House members boycotted Clinton’s second inauguration because they weren’t “fans.” Has anyone explained to Kurt that Inauguration Day isn’t a Fan Club meeting, unless it’s “fans of the United States”? Or that the forecast is that it will be 60 degrees outside?) Rep. José E. Serrano (N.Y.) “[I] cannot celebrate the inauguration of a man who has no regard for my constituents.” Interesting. All of his constituents are illegal aliens?)…
Rep. Nydia Velázquez (N.Y.); Rep. Mark Takano (Calif.) (“I stand with @repjohnlewis and I will not be attending the inauguration,” he tweeted, including a photo of Lewis with Martin Luther King Jr. Because participation in a righteous movement 50 years ago provides a lifelong pass to be a hyper-partisan, divisive demagogue…); Rep. Ted Lieu (Calif.) (“Do I stand with Donald Trump, or do I stand with John Lewis? I am standing with John Lewis.” Translation: ‘I deem divisive party politics, more important than unity and respect for the. United States of America.’); Rep. Yvette Clarke (N.Y.); Rep. Judy Chu (Calif.). “After much thought, I have decided to #StandWithJohnLewis and not attend the inauguration.” More of the same: the priority is to support a divisive and misbehaving colleague rather than to respect the office of the President and the nation she was elected to serve. Got it.
It is two months since the election, and the 2016 Post Election Ethics Train Wreck has not slowed as predicted. It is accelerating. It is doing so because progressives, Democrats and the news media are stoking the engine. There are only three possible results of this that I can see, all of them bad.
The first is that the Democrats will so infuriate conservatives and moderates that it will marginalize itself, and become weaker, more frustrated, more irresponsible and more violent. The second is that this primal partisan scream will successfully create a dysfunctional Presidency, at a time when there are critical, festering problems that cannot wait another four years.
The third is that the nation will literally be torn apart.
So again, I’m sorry. This is wrong, however, and dangerous. Professionally and personally, I have to cover it, and keep explaining why.