Is it fair to grade President Trump on his ethics after less than a month? Of course. If he wanted to pay attention to this area, the President would certainly seek an objective progress report. There has been enough activity in three weeks to give some preliminary grades. Ethics Alarms began this adventure with low expectations; after all, I have never read or heard a single statement from the President, ever, that suggests that he thinks about or cares about ethics at all. His behavior and opinions appear to be entirely governed by rationalizations, emotions, and impulse. However, we do have hope, and three weeks of a presidency is not sufficient to extinguish it. There is plenty of time for President Trump to address his ethical shortcomings
Let’s use the Josephson Institute for Ethics’ Six Pillars of Character for this exercise. All graded categories should be regarded as incomplete, and the offered grades as provisional only. Remember, these are ethics grades only.
I. TRUSTWORTHINESS, including Honesty in communication, Candor, Truthtelling, Reliability, Sincerity, Honesty in Conduct, Integrity, Loyalty
The President and his agents, like Spicer and Conway, have been especially loose with facts and assertions, some of which can be excused a bit as carelessness, but the sheer volume of misinformation is daunting. I suppose one could argue that Trump is reliably unpredictably, but that’s not what the value of reliability is all about. The President’s astounding verbal sloppiness makes it impossible to gauge sincerity (is he really out to ban Muslims, or just determined to keep out Muslim terrorists?) I score Trump relatively high on integrity, as shown by his Inaugural speech. Whatever he thinks he means, he really means it. (The contrast is Hillary Clinton.) Trump is loyal. Loyalty is a troublesome value that can be abused as often as not: he was loyal to appoint Ben Carson to the cabinet, but it’s still an unethical act, since Carson is unqualified beyond belief. But loyalty also covers conflicts of interest, and the appearance of impropriety. The President’s conflict of interest problems have not been seriously addressed, and won’t be.
He hasn’t been trustworthy, so his grade here is..
II. RESPECT, including Civility, Courtesy, Decency, Dignity, Tolerance, Acceptance, Autonomy
Well, this is the worst of Trump’s values, and his tweets alone breach civility, courtesy, decency and dignity daily. If there was a lower grade than F, he would get it, but the grade has to be..
III.RESPONSIBILITY, including Diligence, Pursuit of Excellence, Competence, Accountability, Perseverance, Self-restraint, Prudence
Hmmmm. Maybe THIS is the worst of Trump’s values. No, that’s unfair. Trump is a hard worker, harder, it seems, than his predecessor. Yes, he pursues excellence, by his standards. So far, his competence has been questionable, but then this is a very hard job, and even the best of out Presidents have taken longer than this to become competent. Accountability? Hmmmm. He let his Secretary of Homeland Security take responsibility for the botched roll-out of the Executive Order on refugees. Nobody can say Trump doesn’t persevere. Self-restraint? Prudence? Uh, no. A mixed bag here: Diligence: A Pursuit of Excellence: C; Competence: D; Accountability: C; Perseverance: A; Self-restraint: F; Prudence: F. It all adds up to a…
IV. FAIRNESS, including Openness, Process, Impartiality, Proportionality, Consistency, Equity.
This President has been more transparent than the last one, which is faint praise. That’s about the only positive in this category. The grade is
V. CARING, which includes Charity, Benevolence, Consideration, Empathy, Generosity
Okay, this is the worst of Trump’s values, obviously. It’s not the most vital set of values in a leader, but it is still frightening when anyone in power lacks the components of caring to the extent that the President does, at least according to what he has shown us so far. No other grade is possible, other than…
Any citizen who commits to accepting the incredible, killing responsibility of being President of the United States for four years, and all the ceaseless attacks on his motives and character that doing the job entails, making a major sacrifice for the nation, is an exemplary citizen for doing so.
Yes, even Donald Trump.