20 Ethics Observations On The President’s Charge That Obama Tapped His Phones

In the first week of March, in the midst of the over-blown flap regarding Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ two meetings with the Russian ambassador, President Trump issued arguably his most explosive  tweet yet:

“How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!.

Later, he  tweeted,

“I’d bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election!”

It has been more than a week, and we know only a little more about what prompted this extraordinary accusation than we did then. However, there are some relevant ethics point to be made. Here we go…

1.  It is irresponsible and unpresidential to issue tweets like this. It is also unfair. If the Trump administration wants to make a formal complaint, charge or indictment, or announce an investigation, it should be made through proper channels, not social media. That stipulated, he will not stop doing this, and at some point we will have to accept it. Is this how Presidents communicate? It is now.

2. Thus the tweet is unethical even if it is true. However, the fact that it is unethical, or that Trump the Liar sent it, doesn’t mean it is untrue. An astounding number of pundits and journalists have made exactly that assumption, proving their bias against the President and their knee-jerk defensiveness regarding former President Obama.

3. The tweet cannot be called a “lie,” and anyone who does call it a lie based on what is known is revealing their confirmation bias.

4. One more point about the tweet itself: the fact that it has a typo and the level of articulation of the average 9th grader is itself an ethics breach. The President should not sanctify carelessness, or seem to embrace it. He is a role model.  Nor should a significant charge be written in haste, as this obviously was.

5. There seems to be a significant possibility that the President was trolling. Having had enough of the months long, absolutely evidence-free news media and Democrat innuendos that his campaign was coordinating election tampering with the Russians, he may have decided to make a sensational, unsubstantiated charge of his own to get the Russian hacking speculation off the front pages. If it was trolling, it was excellent trolling. The McCarthyism purveyors  deserved it; the accusation was a deft tit-for-tat,  one of the President’s favorite rationalizations.

6. As an example of what Trump has been and is being subjected to, we have Rep. Keith Ellison, vice-chair of the DNC.  He told Alisyn Camerota on CNN’s “New Day last week,”

“This is stunning when you think about it. Far worse than Watergate, when you believe a hostile foreign power engaged in an attempt, and with the collusion of the sitting administration to manipulate an election.”

By sheerest moral luck, Camerota that day was feeling ethical, so she actually corrected a Trump-basher from her own party, said, “Well you don’t know that,” and pointed out that there is no evidence of collusion.

“I’m not saying there was collusion, I’m saying those meetings indicate that there could be, and I think that needs to be investigated,” Ellison then said, immediately after saying there was collusion.

These are awful, vicious, conscience- free people who subcribe to total political war and the ends justify the means. They are trying to bring down an elected government without winning an election. Even that does not justify treating them unethically, BUT…

7. To someone who thinks like Trump, and many of his staff, advisors and supporters, employing an unproven accusation to smear the previous President and news media darling after Obama’s surrogates and journalists been smearing him might seem like a good tactic. It is still an unethical tactic. Doing that would be a direct and intentional lie, misleading the public, undermining the President’s credibility (further), and seeming to declare war on his predecessor …unless…

8. …the President believes that Obama has declared war on him.

There is  evidence to support that conclusion. As Ethics Alarms has written before, the President’s administration and presidency have been subjected to unprecedented attack from all reaches of the Democratic/progressive/news media complex. The duly-elected President has an obligation to protect the Constitution, our institutions and the integrity of elections. He cannot ethically sit back passively while forces try to undermine his office and authority in an effort to overthrow him.  Because what Democrats, seemingly under the leadership of Obama’s allies or the former President personally, are attempting to do is un-American, dangerous and extraordinary, Trump can be allowed, ethically, to take extraordinary measures to counter the threat to the Republic.

I would argue that even if Trump’s enemies employ lies and false accusations, as President he must limit himself to more honorable tactics. I am also certain that he would not agree. I am reasonably certain that few politicians, and few Presidents, would agree either.

9. While the accusations that Donald Trump and his staff colluded with the Russians to “hack the election” is completely unsupported by fact or logic, that is not the case with Trump’s accusation.

10. Remember what prompted Trump’s tweet, other than his pique at Sessions having to recuse himself from the Russian hacks investigation.  Right before the President’s tweet, conservative talk-show host Mark Levin, a lawyer, writer, Constitutional scholar and former Reagan administration attorney,  told his audience,

“There’s a much bigger scandal here: We have a prior administration. Barack Obama and his surrogates, who are supporting Hillary Clinton and her party, the Democratic Party. Who were using the… intelligence activities to surveil members of the Trump campaign, and to put that information out in the public. Those are police state tactics. Nothing Flynn or Sessions has done is even in the same category as that. The question is: Was Obama surveilling top Trump campaign officials during the election?  We absolutely know this is true, the FBI did a preliminary criminal investigation based on a potential connection between a server in Trump Tower and a couple of Russian banks. That turned out to be a dry hole, but one of the most outrageous things I’ve ever seen… totally uncovered by the media. Instead of closing the investigation, the Obama administration tried to turn it into a FISA court investigation in June [2016]. Apparently the first application they submitted named Trump.  Even the FISA court said no. There wasn’t enough evidence to make out probable cause involving Donald Trump. In the middle of the campaign the administration was actively having Trump investigated.”

Do not underestimate Mark Levin. He is far from a Trump acolyte, he is a serious, if  ideologically-driven, commentator, and as a lawyer and public figure, he would not knowingly make accusations that he could not back up. What he claimed is not exactly what Trump wrote (although I wouldn’t bet money that it wassn’t what Trump meant), but it is disturbing, and he is right: if true, these are police state tactics, and worse than anything Russia is alleged to have done.

11. I suppose I should elaborate a bit on this here, though it deserves its own post. No former President ever, in our history, has actively sought to undermine the ability of his successor to govern—until Barack Obama. He has remained in Washington. He has, it is reported, kept Valerie Jarrett on payroll, which sure looks like an attempt to maintain a shadow White House. (Snopes is dubious, which is one more reason to believe it’s true.) The New York Post, yes, a conservative paper, and the Daily Mail, have written extensively about the Obamas planning on actively participating in “the resistance” and “toppling Trump.”

Is all of it true? I doubt it. I do not doubt that some of it is, and do you know what? None of it should be. Barack Obama should have  decency and the respect for tradition to give Donald Trump the same professional courtesy and deference, respect and restraint that George W. Bush gave him. “I owe him my silence,” Bush said. Exactly. Obama also owes Trump his silence, in no small part because that’s how the previous GOP President treated his Presidency. Obama’s conduct defies the Golden Rule, as well as precedent, and professional courtesy.

Trump threatens Obama’s legacy? Tough. Live with it: if Obama had done a better job, Trump wouldn’t be in the White House. Probably the least supportive former President before Obama was Jimmy Carter, but he was beaten, and not popular enough to  do much damage. What Obama is doing to Trump is wildly irresponsible, though hardly surprising given the man’s  arrogance. It carries on the devisiveness that was the primary legacy of his terms in office, and it actively threatens the stability of the United States.

12. Unfair, you say? Fine: Obama can eliminate all doubts by issuing a single, unequivocal statement that he will, like George Bush, stay away from any form of interference with President Trump, leaving the opposition to his party and its elected officials. Obama could do it tomorrow. He should have done it already. That he hasn’t, and won’t, is damning…damning, and despicable.

13. Obama or his surrogates could also unequivocally deny Trump’s accusation. Oddly, ominously, they have not. The Obama camp has only said that the President didn’t “order” surveillance of Trump.  Obama spokesman Kevin Lewis said that  “Neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any U.S. citizen. Any suggestion otherwise is simply false.”

This is Clintonian deceit, as well as a straw man. Trump’s tweet didn’t say that Obama “ordered” anything. Ann Althouse wrote,

I’m tired of reading things like “President Trump’s astonishing and reckless accusation that he was wiretapped on orders from President Barack Obama should finally be the tipping point in how the country views him and his presidency.” (That’s E.J. Dionne in The Washington Post.) From what I’ve read, “ordered” is the weasel word that allows anti-Trumpsters to make flat statements portraying Trump as out of his mind. But the notorious Trump tweets do not say that Obama “ordered” a wiretapping. They ask if it is “legal for a sitting President to be ‘wire tapping’ a race for president prior to an election?” and refer to what a court had done. Though Trump didn’t precisely say this, any “order” came from the court. He then said “President Obama was tapping my phones,” which isn’t to say that he “ordered” it. I think the story Trump is relying on is that the FISA court granted a warrant (after some funny business to get around a previous denial), not that Obama just “ordered” it. Then, Trump tweeted that Obama had gone “low… to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process.” Trump portrays Obama as doing something, not “ordering” it.

Unless the anti-Trumpsters can speak clearly avoid the safety of that word, I will not trust what they say. 

14.  Nixon didn’t order the Watergate burglary, nor any of the various dirty tricks Donald Segretti used to sabotage Tricky Dick’s  potential Democratic rivals in 1972. Henry II didn’t order his knights to kill Thomas Becket, when he shouted out in their presence, “Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?” Yet Becket was murdered, and the king held responsible and accountable. It is reasonable to believe that any number of Obama subordinates, knowing his wishes, may have persuaded the IRS to undermine conservative groups during the 2012 campaign.

15. Former prosecutor Andrew McCarthy delved further into  the Obama camp’s claim that the president didn’t “order” surveillance of Trump, writing in The National Review:

First, as Obama officials well know, under the FISA process, it is technically the FISA court that ‘orders’ surveillance. And by statute, it is the Justice department, not the White House, that represents the government in proceedings before the FISA court. So, the issue is not whether Obama or some member of his White House staff “ordered” surveillance of Trump and his associates. The issues are (a) whether the Obama Justice Department sought such surveillance authorization from the FISA court, and (b) whether, if the Justice Department did that, the White House was aware of or complicit in the decision to do so. Personally, given the explosive and controversial nature of the surveillance request we are talking about — an application to wiretap the presidential candidate of the opposition party, and some of his associates, during the heat of the presidential campaign, based on the allegation that the candidate and his associates were acting as Russian agents — it seems to me that there is less than zero chance that could have happened without consultation between the Justice Department and the White House.

16.  Again: Why no unequivocal denial? Why no clear, unambiguous statement, such as.

‘Neither I, nor anyone who reports to me, nor anyone in my administration, nor any agency in the executive branch,  engaged in surveillance of any kind upon President Trump, his family, his properties, his staff or his associates, or their communications, electronic or otherwise.’

That wasn’t hard: I just came up with it in 15 seconds, one draft. Yet when Obama’s paid liar, Josh Earnest, was  asked last week if he could “categorically deny” that there was any wiretapping of President Donald Trump’s campaign by  Obama’s Justice Department, he told ABC’s Martha Raddatz, “I don’t know.” The day before,  Jon Favreau, Obama’s former director of speechwriting tweeted, “I’d be careful about reporting that Obama said there was no wiretapping. Statement just said that neither he nor the WH ordered it.”

Hmmmm.

17.  In January, the New York Times  published a story that seemed to say that the investigation into Trump’s campaign involved wiretapping. This , Mark Levin has said, was a primary source of his conclusions.

From the story:

The F.B.I. is leading the investigations, aided by the National Security Agency, the C.I.A. and the Treasury Department’s financial crimes unit. The investigators have accelerated their efforts in recent weeks but have found no conclusive evidence of wrongdoing, the officials said. One official said intelligence reports based on some of the wiretapped communications had been provided to the White House.

Then, when Trump issued his tweet, Michael S. Schmidt, the same Times reporter who wrote that article, by-lined  a front page article  claiming President Trump had no evidence.

18.  For what it is worth, and I have no idea, NSA whistleblower Bill Binney told Fox Business this week, that  the President was “absolutely right,”  that  he was wiretapped and monitored. “His phone calls, everything he did electronically, was being monitored,”  Binney said.

19. Law professor and conservative blogger Glenn Reynolds wrote in USA Today:

Obama wouldn’t be the first president to engage in illegal surveillance of opposition candidates, and his administration has been noted for its great enthusiasm for domestic spying. In an effort to plug embarrassing leaks, the Obama administration spied on Associated Press reporters and seized the phone records not only of a Fox News reporter but also of his parents. Obama’s political allies even alleged that his CIA spied on Congress.Nor is it unbelievable that under the Obama administration, supposedly non-partisan civil servants would go after political opponents. After all, the notorious IRS scandal was about exactly that.

… Maybe, upon investigation, it will turn out that nothing improper happened — that this is a lot of smoke, but that there’s no fire. But we can’t know without an investigation, and if there really were political abuses of the Justice Department and the intelligence surveillance process, those guilty should not simply be exposed but go to jail. Such abuse strikes at democracy itself.

20.  Finally, regarding the tweet itself: Especially if some of the suspicions expressed by McCarthy, Reynold and others turn out to be true, the news media will still insist that Trump’s tweet be interpreted literally, even though we all know that he speaks in clouds and generalities. The tweet accused the Obama administration of spying on his campaign, during the campaign. Just as he did not suggest that Obama was personally listening in on phone calls, Trump’s personal phones did not have to be tapped to make his charge accurate. It is enough that  his campaign was being tapped…if indeed it was.

 

49 Comments

Filed under Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, language, Law & Law Enforcement, Leadership, Social Media

49 responses to “20 Ethics Observations On The President’s Charge That Obama Tapped His Phones

  1. “18. For what it is worth, and I have no idea, NSA whistleblower Bill Binney told Fox Business this week, that the President was “absolutely right,” that he was wiretapped and monitored. “His phone calls, everything he did electronically, was being monitored,” Binney said.”

    Could this just be metadata gathering?

    Which is different from gathering actual content.

    Though, even if it were just metadata gathering, it strikes me as unethical to focus monitoring of metadata on a single citizen without a reason to do so. It’s a reversal of the process, which should be: review ALL the metadata across ALL the citizens, if there is a statistical spike in questionable metadata (like communications to a person in a enemy country), then focus on that spike and if an particular individual citizen consistently comes up in that spike, then MAYBE focus on that citizen.

    It’s a reversal of the process to pick an individual citizen and then monitor the metadata their interactions generate and decide if that is worthy of suspicion.

    Of course, this all ignores the possibility that metadata gathering is unethical. (And speaking as a libertarian who ought to knee-jerk default to opposition of this, I am not convinced it is unethical).

    • fattymoon

      Does this matter? (This was published today at The Intercept… https://theintercept.com/2017/03/13/rand-paul-is-right-nsa-routinely-monitors-americans-communications-without-warrants/)

      “ON SUNDAY’S Face the Nation, Sen. Rand Paul was asked about President Trump’s accusation that President Obama ordered the NSA to wiretap his calls. The Kentucky senator expressed skepticism about the mechanics of Trump’s specific charge, saying: “I doubt that Trump was a target directly of any kind of eavesdropping.” But he then made a broader and more crucial point about how the U.S. government spies on Americans’ communications — a point that is deliberately obscured and concealed by U.S. government defenders.

      “Paul explained how the NSA routinely and deliberately spies on Americans’ communications — listens to their calls and reads their emails — without a judicial warrant of any kind:

      “The way it works is, the FISA court, through Section 702, wiretaps foreigners and then [NSA] listens to Americans. It is a backdoor search of Americans. And because they have so much data, they can tap — type Donald Trump into their vast resources of people they are tapping overseas, and they get all of his phone calls.

      “And so they did this to President Obama. They — 1,227 times eavesdrops on President Obama’s phone calls. Then they mask him. But here is the problem. And General Hayden said this the other day. He said even low-level employees can unmask the caller. That is probably what happened to Flynn.

      “They are not targeting Americans. They are targeting foreigners. But they are doing it purposefully to get to Americans.

      “Paul’s explanation is absolutely correct. That the NSA is empowered to spy on Americans’ communications without a warrant — in direct contravention of the core Fourth Amendment guarantee that “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause” — is the dirty little secret of the U.S. Surveillance State.

      • Well I already oppose the *warrantless* surveillance and intrusion on the *private* contents of citizens interactions, correspondences, communications, accounts etc. Which lines up with Rand Paul’s complaint.

        I am not convinced however that the gathering *metadata* is a constitutional violation of privacy.

    • Never diss a war hero. This is all bitter pay-back from McCain, and he’s not fooling anybody. It looks vindictive, because it is. Trump’s comment about POWs was gratuitously nasty (and dumb), but statesmen are supposed to be above grudges. Not John!

      • Steve-O-in-NJ

        John McCain is also 80 and politically untouchable because he was just reelected and may not make it to the end of this term. Statesmen are not supposed to hold grudges publicly, but they’ve never been completely above them.

      • Chris

        What was wrong about McCain’s request? If it is equally likely that it could be motivated by principle or payback, isn’t it a bit cynical to assume it’s payback?

        • No, because since the election, McCain has been out to get Trump. Since the Democrats are focused on hid destruction beyond any partisan effort in history, McCain should try to provide space to govern for his party. He and Sen. Graham have a vendetta. It seems pretty obvious to me.

          • Chris

            They definitely have a vendetta, but their vendetta could be justified, and motivated by principle.

            • Other Bill

              Hah. Right. “Trump!” Or just pure jealousy and spite.McCain has always loved the attention he gets from the press. He tosses off a lot of Democratic lines for no apparent reason other than to be adored by the press who think, “Gee, for a Republican, he’s kind of cool.” Jack’s right. His act is getting a little too obvious these day.

            • Chris wrote, “They definitely have a vendetta, but their vendetta could be justified, and motivated by principle.”

              Seriously Chris; you’re using A. Sicilian Ethics, or “They had it coming” on this website?

              You’re not using your head.

              • Chris

                No, that posits that unethical conduct can sometimes be justified. I don’t see McCain’s conduct as unethical, and his critiques are entirely true. Vendettas are not inherently unethical.

            • Jeff

              McCain doesn’t appear to have been motivated by principle in quite some time. I suppose it’s possible that he suddenly decided to rediscover his ethics and principles, just coincidentally around the time that Trump made nasty remarks about him, but Occam’s Razor suggests another conclusion.

              • Chris

                He’s always struck me as principled on certain issues. He’s been a vocal opponent of torture, for instance, since the Bush years.

                • Well, yes, if a torture victim can’t be relied on to oppose torture, who can?

                  McCain lost me when he defended the Confederate flag in North Carolina during the 2000 primary, and then, after he lost, announced that he had changed his mind. And, of course, his 2008 campaign was embarrassing. I like the guy: he’s got a great sense of humor, and he knows the military well, but he’ not all that principled about most things. He flipped completely on illegal immigration, for example. I respect him for refusing to go low in 2008, but then again, he decided that making Obama own up to Rev.Wright was going low, and it was not. He also should have called the news media on their obscene bias in the campaign coverage, AND, talk about vetting, he gave us Sarah Palin.

  2. Joe Gagliardi

    Wow is this a great post! Thanks, Jack. It seems to me that we in the era of the ethics void in politics. Nearly every unethical behavior can be rationalized by the person doing it, and they have no problem convincing their supporters that those rationalization are acceptable. Truth, justice, and the American way? Gone, crushed under the mighty jaws of the propaganda machines of the medias (mainstream, social, and extremist). I wonder if ethics will ever recover.

    I’m glad we have this blog to help keep things in perspective.

  3. Steve-O-in-NJ

    I never thought we’d see this day. Some of this sounds a little bit conspiratorial, but we’re in some very unique historical circumstances. The fact is that the Democratic Party that now finds itself the opposition had 8 years to put its own people in place and to build relations with the media. Its appointees can’t now be uprooted en masse without major disruption, and it has ready access to a national bullhorn to make every mistake, every questionable decision, and every grievance known. What is more, that party is composed partially of true believers and partially of folks who just see it as their path to money and power, but almost entirely of ruthless people who are willing to do whatever it takes to get what they want done.

    The Democratic Party lost badly last year, but they didn’t lose enough to put them in the same position the GOP was in eight years ago. Like it or not, they are in a position to significantly slow down Trump from putting his own people in place and make much political hay while doing it, witness Elizabeth Warren’s rant about Trump’s sacking of 46 US Attorneys in one day and how the Senate was going to fight his choices tooth and nail. In the meantime, career bureaucrats, often sympathetic to the Democratic party, slow-walk the President’s directive, or even, as in the case of Sally Yates, outright refuse to execute them, leaving him with no realistic choice but to fire her, costing him some political capital and providing the media with fodder to cast him as a tyrant and bully.

    The Democratic party also has something no opposition party has had in a while: a leader. Obama is reasonably healthy (unlike Reagan when he left office) and still only 55. He has a good 15 years to go before he is going to start slowing down. He also didn’t get thrown out in disgrace like Bush the Elder, Carter,, or Ford, and he didn’t leave office with mud sticking to him like Bush the Younger or Clinton. Even though tradition would seem to dictate that he needs to go back to Chicago and buy himself a nice penthouse on Lakeshore Drive, accept a position on the board of trustees at Northwestern or the University of Chicago, make a million a pop on the lecture circuit, and generally retire from politics, tradition isn’t the law. He is within his rights to play concerned citizen and claim to stand up against a presidency he sees as dangerous. Yes, we’re in problematic waters, but not entirely uncharted ones. Carter had no problem drawing attention to this or that nation he wanted to draw attention to, and he had no issue going to the UN when he thought Bush the Elder was leading the nation the wrong way into Gulf War I. Obama can do all that and then some. Don’t be surprised if Trump decides he needs to use military force to defend US interests, and Obama is at the UN, making sure the US has to go it alone. Don’t be surprised if Trump pushes harder on immigration enforcement, and Obama is there side by side with Central American leaders, making him look like a xenophobe. Don’t be surprised if Trump decides to enforce Federal law a bit more strictly at home, and Obama leads a delegation of big-city mayors and community leaders right to the White House to make him look like a racist tyrant.

    Compared to that, tapping phones is small potatoes. Fasten your seatbelt, the next four years are going to be a rough ride.

  4. Next up;

    Trump offers up an “official” pardon via Twitter to President Obama for the wiretapping of Trump’s offices at Trump Tower.

  5. Rick M.

    Trump’s associates were tapped so the natural assumption would be that the Big Fish was also in the net, but that does not answer the core question for me – did Obama authorize it? So far there is no proof. Is there a recording? An email trace? Internal documents? A “Deep Throat?” Anything other than an accusation that has not been substantiated by Trump. I would certainly love it to be true, but the reality is nothing yet and until something is offered it is a lie.

    • E2 (nee Elizabeth I)

      The snake rots from the head down. As Chief Executive Obama was absolutely responsible for the actions of his subordinates and the agencies which report to him. Do you really think the IRS went after conservative groups for the fun of it, or because the culture of the then current Administration made it seem like a good idea? Any new ideas why American voters spit in the eye of Hillary, the heir apparent?

      • Rick M.

        As I said in the post I hope his allegations against Obama are true. The Obama years? Thanks for bring the bile up in my throat.

  6. Other Bill

    Thanks for number 20. It drives me crazy that because Trump said they wire tapped “me,” all the media and Dems say, “Tut tut. Trump’s phone wasn’t tapped, it was just [pick one] his employees’ phones or his company’s phones or some associates or the campaign’s phones. He’s lying!” Clearly, a guy like Trump considers his organization himself. I suspect most all his entities are wholly owned by him or his family. Plus, an attack on any of his entities is arguably an attack upon him. This pedantic literalism in construing his tweets is moronic, transparent and hopelessly ineffective. Trump talks like a guy in a hurry. Big deal. In a perfect world, he’d be more measured and calculated in his speech. But he’s not.

  7. Chris Marschner

    So many great comments to a great post. I will take exception to point one such that irrespective of what DJT tweets we do not and should not accept them. Nor should we accept reportage that too is unsubstantiated. We cannot allow this to become the new normal.

    We should also hold the media equally accountable for unsubstantiated claims. If we are to accept the literal meaning of the headline shown above as truth then we must accept the equally unsubstantiated presidential tweets as truth because the New York Times has been established as reporting the truth. How else can it be reconciled except to call into question the truth telling of the NYT. Good investigative reporting will require accessing information from unidentified sources but that is also the Achilles heel for journalists who truly seek accuracy. When such reporters make claims in one story and then refute the claim in another as did Michael Schmidt it stands to reason that the journalist’s credibility should be questioned. They cannot have it both ways. For me, I accept neither as truth. For me, the truth lies somewhere in between. Biased journalists unfairly tarnish the reputations of quality journalists.

    Far too many believe that which they want to believe and dismiss that which undermines their positions. That is what will cause more harm to our society than the real truth.

    • Re #1. It’s the Julie Principle: in terms of style, Trump gets to dictate the new normal. At some point it’s like complaining the women don’t wear dresses any more and say “fuck.” Yes, this is what I wrote was going to be disastrous about Trump. Constantly complaining about what isn’t going to change, however, undermines more useful and important criticism. Once the tweets are not such a big deal, they have little power.

      • Warren

        It’s the Julie Principle: in terms of style, Trump gets to dictate the new normal. At some point it’s like complaining the women don’t wear dresses any more and say “fuck.”

        I have to say, I think this is a huge blind spot endemic in Ethics Alarms since the election. It’s not just Trump’s Tweets. His carelessness with language, his tone, and yes, the content of what he is saying goes beyond mere manners. Women wearing slacks and swearing has little to do with their ability to do a job competently. Trump’s Tweets and speech directly indict his handling of the presidency. They are evidence of his lack of self-control; a limited ability to think linearly; a pettiness which threatens associates, colleagues, and diplomacy. I continue to be amazed that you shrug off this aspect of Trump’s conduct.

        • Warren, I’ve never shrugged it off. I’ve been criticizing it for over a year, but this is a feature, not a bug. The question is whether the President’s other skills and conduct will overcome the disadvantage of these problems. FDR was crippled. The news media didn’t spend 13 years complaining about how much of a problem it was.

          • Warren

            Right, but there’s no moral or ethical component to having polio. It’s not volitional. He didn’t choose it. Trump’s decision to comport himself this way is a decision and it’s meaningful and has consequences.

            • My point is that it isn’t a decision. He lacks self-control. He’s a clinical narcissist.

              • John Billingsley

                I’m not so sure that it isn’t a decision when he makes such statements. His style of communication is related to his personality but having that personality doesn’t mean he can’t make decisions about how and when he displays it. I believe he often brings up issues in a “look what a buffoon I am” fashion as a way of sand bagging. It appears that pretty much all the Democrats were taken in resulting in shell-shock that continues four months after the election as they cannot accept that a “maroon”, to quote Bugs, beat them. I suspect there are many business executives that have had the same experience. An added benefit for “The Don” is chumming the media with the inevitable blood feeding frenzy in which he delights. I agree that these tweets are unethical, true or not, and pretty much none of his tweets display presidential qualities.

                The tweets represent one side of Trump’s communication but there is another. Did you see the article on Independent Journal Review quoting Dr. Mohib the Afghani Ambassador regarding phone calls President Ghani had with Trump? I don’t want to quote out of context but the full statement is fairly long. A few quotes,
                “Before the calls, we were advised to keep conversations short because, we were told, Trump will not be interested in the details of the call and does not have a long attention span, so it would be pointless to have a long call.”;
                “However, we were pleasantly surprised at how much time President Trump spent asking very informed questions.”;
                “Asking these types of questions for our country is something the Obama administration never did. The Obama administration was the most academic administration we have ever had to deal with but the Trump administration has been the most thoughtful and intelligent.”

                I am always suspicious of information I find on the net (other than here) but this appears to be legit and if so “thoughtful and intelligent” present facets of Trump that most seem to believe he totally lacks.

                • crella

                  There was a lot of panic in Japan when Trump was elected. He’s said some uninformed things about the military bases…Japan pays over 70% of the cost for the bases themselves. They also pay the salaries of any Japanese nationals working on them, facility maintenance costs, and the utility bills (an American expenditure under the agreement, but Japan started to pay it in the 70s) to the tune of 190 billion yen for just those things. Then along comes Trump saying Japan’s getting a free ride, and that they’ll have to pay their fair share. Cue panic….the news reports about his weirder Tweets got over here too. People interviewed on the street were almost unanimous in saying they found Trump scary (kowai).

                  The Prime Minister called Trump and talked to him. When he informed the legislature about the call, he said that Trump was ‘Calm ( he used the English word) and matomo ‘. Given the shadings of Japanese language, the use of ‘matomo’ was startling. My head snapped up from the book I was reading…’matomo’ can mean ‘normal’ ‘centered’ ‘ decent’ among other things. I’ve never heard it used as a description of a foreign leader. He may as well have said ‘I’m relieved to say he wasn’t a total nutcase’. He wasn’t knocking Trump, so much as commenting on how different he was, how sincere and polite he was on the phone as opposed to how he’s portrayed in the media. So people are fearing the worst, and are being surprised once they actually talk to him personally. I’d like to see that side on Twitter!

  8. Warren

    Obama announced he would live in D.C. in March 2016, nine months before Trump was elected, in order to allow his daughter to graduate with her class. Since the inauguration, he has made, as far as I can tell, one statement through a spokesman criticizing the travel ban. He also issued the very carefully worded statement, cited in this post, responding to Trump’s wiretapping accusation. According to the Daily Mail, the New York Post, and World Net Daily(!), the Obamas are setting up a shadow White House in Kalorama in order to topple his successor. Does this seem even remotely likely? One of your links leads to World Net Daily, a cesspool of right-wing paranoia founded by Joseph Farah, who continues *to this day* to maintain that Obama was not born in the United States. If you’re more inclined to believe World Net Daily than Snopes, I don’t know what to tell you.

    • The WND post was all links from other sources, and I checked every one of them. Obama still should get out of town. It’s his duty.
      You know, when the mainstream media can’t be trusted to cover certain areas (and certain individuals) fairly, the only choice is other sources that one would rather avoid.

      • deery

        Obama still should get out of town. It’s his duty.

        I try to avoid commenting on the Trump-focused threads at this point, because I feel it is a waste of time, but this definitely caught my attention.
        When people were haranguing Melania for staying in NYC, so that her son could continue to go to the same school, you thought that was the ethical decision, as her son’s welfare was paramount, even over safety concerns, the millions of dollars in extra security, and the breach in historical protocol.

        Obama announced, a full nine months before the election, when everyone thought that Hillary would probably win, that he was staying in DC for his daughter’s sake, so she could finish out her high school years with the same friends. He is also now a private citizen who is valuing his child’s welfare. But he is unethical for staying in town?

        Plus, I’m not even sure in this case what being in or out of DC would mean for the “shadow government” of Obama. We still have technology. I’m not sure what he would, in the fevered fantasy of the right-wingers, be accomplishing in DC that he could not do somewhere else with a phone call, email, or text. Do they think he is furtively passing notes to people in the park? The whole critique on the grounds that, *gasp*, he is choosing to live in DC is just bizarre.

        • Melania’s presence or absence has no effect on the functioniung of the government. We can only have one Presidents, and Obama knows or should know that his presence is disruptive. He has an obligation to act appropriately. Simple.

          • Warren

            You’re really out on a limb with this one. He’s barely said a thing since the election and he’s staying in D.C. so his youngest daughter doesn’t have to change schools. It’s a decision he made in March of last year. His physical presence in Washington, D.C. is unethical?

  9. I thought we knew already what prompted the tweet? His tweets are just summaries of what he reads on Breitbart or watches on FoxNews. That’s where it came from and the impetus behind the tweet.

    Now, is he “wrong”? Probably, but there’s a slim chance that he’s accidentally correct. But his claim isn’t based on any information he had special privilege to, just the rumors of a conspiracy theorist.

  10. Right – I’m with you on that. But the origination seems to be 100% Mark Levin at Breitbart, no?

  11. Chris

    Thanks for posting this, Jack, and sorry for haranguing you about it last week.

    I continue to disagree that there is “no evidence or logic” supporting the Russia allegations. I think there is a lot more “smoke” there than there is for Trump’s allegation. I also think most of the media (not all) have been responsible enough to never state the Russia allegations as fact, while Trump presented his allegation as fact without providing any evidence.

  12. Michael Ejercito

    If the tweet turned out to be 100% true, it would still be an example of moral luck.

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