President Trump’s First Year: The Ethics Alarms Ethics Audit


I planned to do this on November 8, but other matters intervened. Properly I should wait until January, I suppose. Yet I don’t see the grades changing significantly in a month or two.

For the most part, this ethics audit doesn’t consider policy matters. Calling policies unethical is usually a cheap shot and an expression of partisan priorities. I believe that the DACA is unethical; many believe that killing it would be unethical. I could not make a useful analysis using these kinds of controversies.

To keep this simple, I’m going to use the relevant ethical values listed in the Josephson Institute’s Six Pillars of Character, and add some extra categories at the end. As a preface, I have to say that there aren’t many surprises here. I had already concluded long ago that the concept of ethics is meaningless to Donald Trump. In Three Circles terms, he has only one circle, his own, and a Core circle unmoored to either a formal code of ethics or public standards of conduct will only be ethical by accident. I was hopeful that, like other Presidents of dubious character and troubling pasts when they reached office, Trump might make a concerted effort to adopt more traditional Presidential ways. This was always a long-shot, and so far, I see no signs of it happening.

Here are President Trump’s ethics grades through November of his first term, with comments and explanations where needed:

Trustworthiness: F. It’s impossible to trust the President, because he lacks core values and is intentionally unpredictable.

Honesty in communication/Truthtelling: F. As we have discussed, it is not that he lies, it is that he has such a bizarre concept of truth and fact.

Candor: F.

Reliability: F. Is being reliably unreliable being reliable? I vote not.

Sincerity: F. If the President is sincere, it is impossible to tell when.

Honesty in Conduct: C. Sorry, Resistance, there have been no high crimes and misdemeanors.

Integrity: B More than most politicians, Trump doesn’t pretend to be something he’s not.

Loyalty: D. His treatment of his allies like Jeff Sessions and Rex Tillerson had been miserable by management and human relations standards.

Respect: F.

Civility: F. This is one area where Trump has improved from his standards as a candidate. It’s still an F. And the effect I predicted here has come to pass. Discourse in the U.S. has coarsened. Trumps political foes have become even less civil than he is. A President has a duty to be a national role model, and in this category (and others), he is a terrible one.

Courtesy: F

Decency: F

Dignity: F  Easily the most undignified POTUS in history, by many laps. Yesterday’s set of anti-Muslim tweets would lower his grade if it wasn’t rock bottom already. Yes, I suppose he could run naked through Congress spraying everyone with a squirt gun.

Tolerance: F.

Acceptance: F.

Autonomy: n/a. Autonomy is not necessarily an ethical value for a national leader,

Responsibility: F. Trump is routinely irresponsible. This doesn’t mean that he can’t act responsibly, or hasn’t. But in his job particularly, acting responsibly should be the rule, not a pleasant surprise.

Diligence: B+. I can’t fault him for not working hard.

Pursuit of Excellence: F. Trump could improve his abilities, style, tools and performance in too many ways to count. I see no evidence that he sees the need.

Competence: C-/F

Hear me out. Trump has some leadership skills, and he has accomplished more than his critics will admit. The  economic growth rate ahs more than doubled, and some of that is due to his policies, like reducing regulations.  He has reduced illegal immigration by about 80 per cent, withdrawn from the deceitful Paris Climate accord, helped add trillions to U.S. stock market values, created nearly two million new jobs, overseen the diminishment of ISIS, over-hauled the judiciary, ended the horrible “Dear Colleague’ letter-sparked persecution of men on college campuses,  and stopped capitulating to North Korean blackmail. That’s the substantive part of the job. He gets an F for the symbolic, Head of State side., and that undermines his effectiveness elsewhere.

Accountability: F. Trump never accepts the blame.

Perseverance: A+

Self-restraint: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! F.

Prudence: See Self Restraint.

Fairness: F. As Trump perceives, often correctly, that his critics are unfair to him, he sees no reason to be fair to them.

Openness: F

Process: F

Impartiality: F. Bias and favoritism everywhere. His appointments are the tell. Loyalty to him overwhelms all other considerations.

Proportionality: F. It would be F- if I was using that grade. Trump obsesses over trivia.

Consistency: F.  See reliability.

Equity: D

I’m giving Trump credit for not following the antidemocratic Left and condemning legal, Constitutional speech and assembly by unpopular groups, as in refusing to condemn the demonstration by the white nationalists in Charlotte because of who they are.

Caring: F. This value is over-rated in Presidents; Bill Clinton used it as a con. It doesn’t matter if a President really cares, but a President who appears not to care undermines the public trust.

Civic Literacy: F. The President isn’t much worse than a lot of elected officials regarding history, law and the Constitution, and probably knows more than most Americans—that in itself is disturbing. He has a duty to be informed and knowledgeable, and obviously isn’t.

Patriotism: A.

Conflicts of Interest: F. All Presidents are conflicted; Trump is the most conflicted in history. He could and should at least make a good faith effort to mitigate his conflicts, which undermine the public trust. He just refuses to do it.

Promise Keeping: B. For a President, and especially recent Presidents, Trump is above average.

Protecting the Office of the President: F.

Avoiding the Appearance of Impropriety: F

The Ethics Audit Tally:

One A+

One A

One B+

One B

One C

One C-

Two Ds

 29 Fails.



Filed under Character, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, Leadership

62 responses to “President Trump’s First Year: The Ethics Alarms Ethics Audit

  1. charlesgreen

    Interesting to see this laid out against a reasonable and thoughtful set of principles.
    I give you an A+ for a responsible analysis.

  2. Mike

    Sorry sport but you are grading based on the tranzi prog ethos NOT true universal Ethics. Your opinions count for nothing in the real America.

  3. Rob Palmer

    This is a fair report.

    I would have thought you would get called an alt right nazi first for not being hard enough on Trump.

  4. Other Bill

    Interesting grade and comment on Competency. Maybe it really is the economy, stupid. (Right James? Where have you gone, anyway?) Maybe Trump was attractive to voters because he appeared even marginally competent compared to his immediate predecessor and the other candidates?

  5. Jack Houghton

    Just for fun, in the parallel universe where Hillary Clinton is still the 45th president, Commander in Chief and leader of the free world, how might you score her first year in this historic first U.S. woman presidency?

    • Impossible to do with fairness, so I’ll pass. Nobody knows.

      • Jack Houghton

        Yes, of course you are right; there is no possible answer to this hypothetical. And yet, notwithstanding Trump’s maddeningly un-presidential behavior, I suspect there are more than just a few Americans out there who are quietly breathing a sigh of relief that they do not have to face four more years or eight more years of Bill and Hillary in the White House and the kinds of ethical issues that they would almost certainly raise. Then consider: there are the policy directions that they would likely take…

        Maybe acting presidential is over-rated.

        • No, it’s critical to effective leadership. I don’t regret not having Clinton as President, because she is deeply corrupt, and her party is rapidly leaving the orbit of democratic values. I believe the Democrats, as they are evolving as an anti-free speech, anti-dissent, anti-second amendment, anti-due process, anti-equal protection, anti-male, white, straight, Christian, tribal preferences, crypto-totalitarian cult, present a far greater long term peril to the US and its survival than one bizarre, boorish, meat-axe President. He’s going to do some good, a lot of harm, and who knows what will be next…

    • Why, comrade, you know full well that First Citizen and Comrade Sister Hillary rates A+ in all categories. The fact that you would even pose such a question as though it were not so leads me to question your good loyalty and good thoughts.

  6. JRH

    “I was hopeful that, like other Presidents of dubious character and troubling pasts when they reached office, Trump might make a concerted effort to adopt more traditional Presidential ways. This was always a long-shot, and so far, I see no signs of it happening.” – Being a Deplorable, but not a Trump fan, I do think you’ve graded him against “traditional ways”, which are exactly the kind of things we wanted to replace. His predecessors, going the “traditional ways” have gotten us into this trouble, which will likely hasten the fall of the Republic. My opinion is that Deplorable Voters were looking for someone blunt, to the point and who would discard the good old boy Network in favor of getting things done. Unfortunately the other two Branches are going to have to undergo the same “cleansing” to change course & get the US a smaller, cheaper and more effective Government.

    • Other Bill

      I agree. If presidential involves apology tours, who needs it?

      • —–Start of deflection—–

        Speaking of apology tours…

        Show: The Orville
        Episode: Majority Rule (Season 1, Episode 7)

        Operative word in the episode is “correction” due to a failed apology tour.

        —–End of deflection—–

        • Dwayne N. Zechman

          You know, I started watching The Orville thinking it would be a funny satire of SF TV shows. Instead, it turned out to be something much better: Seth MacFarlane’s love letter to Star Trek: The Next Generation, with a generous dash of humor mixed in (because it’s what he does) but otherwise played straight.

          That episode is a particular stand-out.


  7. RWE

    Stonewall Jackson said:”Always mystify, mislead and surprise the enemy…”.
    Great generals don’t win wars by being honest and straight forward with the enemy. They win by cunning, guile, diversion, deception and surprise. Under this set of circumstances these behaviours are ethical, they aim to protect the innocent.
    Your analysis pinpoints that Donald Trump merely acts like a general at war.
    1. His ridiculous tweets have the effect of keeping the press busy, they hate him anyway. This adds to the fog and the narrative that the press can’t be trusted.
    2. His public shaming of top staff is a tactic that should put fear in the North Korean leadership. They have to wonder “If President Trump would publically shame his closest aide, where does that leave us, his avowed enemy?”
    3. His absolute insistence on loyalty is a requirement for that s kind of leader (even from the people publicly shamed). Otherwise without loyalty, his tactics could be revealed, this rendering them useless.
    4. His patriotism and loyalty to America can’t be questioned.
    I can’t say whether any thought went into his actions, or they are a natural way of being. Nonetheless his tactics seem to mirror those of successful generals of the past.

  8. Using 1960’s thru 1970’s basic standards of education south of the Mason-Dixon line, those grades would get him advanced to the next grade.

  9. Comment from the most incurable of my “resistance” friends.: ..”how he could give DJT an “A” in Patriotism is beyond me and any reason. The Russians, Jack, the Russians.”

    • “how he could give DJT an “A” in Patriotism is beyond me and any reason. The Russians, Jack, the Russians.”

      You really can’t fix that level of biased stupidity.

      • Other Bill

        The Russians to whom Hillary gave a reset button and a bunch of yellow cake? The Russians who provoked a phone call from the ’80s wanting their foreign policy back? Those Russians?

    • Chris

      Well. I think your audit was remarkably fair, and that comes from someone who was dreading reading it.

      But. The Russians.

      Hear me out. Even if no collusion happened, which I still consider a possibility…can publicly ridiculing the conclusion of one’s own intelligence agencies while saying he believes Vladimir Putin’s denials about cyber-attacking our country really be called “patriotic?” To me, it looks a lot like internal sabotage. He is siding with Russia over the CIA and the FBI. That’s not patriotic!

      I had other issues with some of your higher grades, but this is the one that really stood out to me.

      But as I said, this was mostly a good audit.

      • Ah, but then he said he DID believe his intelligence sources! See: Consistency/ Responsibility. Also, Trump has some good reasons to believe that the intelligence agencies cannot be trusted. So do we all.

  10. luckyesteeyoreman

    I always thought of the U.S. presidency as subject to a pass-fail system…
    Grading is so…B.S., for its inherent cultural appropriation.

    (I don’t have time to do expository teaching on cultural appropriation and how grading systems fit into that moral and ethical morass – just like I don’t have time to grade my own Authentic Frontier Gibberish here. So I’ll have to leave it up to…Chris.)

    I’ll just give Trump a “pass” so far: He’s still there (in office, that is), still “large and in charge,” and still vaguely acting consistent with an “America First” attitude or strategy or doctrine or principle or dogma or bumper sticker slogan or something. Nationalism – WHAT A HORROR!

    At least he isn’t a fucking proto-Islamic jihadist or tool thereof.

    • Chris

      (I don’t have time to do expository teaching on cultural appropriation and how grading systems fit into that moral and ethical morass – just like I don’t have time to grade my own Authentic Frontier Gibberish here. So I’ll have to leave it up to…Chris.)

      I’m at a loss.

      At least he isn’t a fucking proto-Islamic jihadist or tool thereof.

      You can just come out and say President Harding, you know. Zing!

  11. luckyesteeyoreman

    Wait – Jack, you gave Trump an F in Candor?!
    Isn’t candor precisely what Trump’s tweets are?

  12. RomanBW

    Jack, even though total agreement with you on such a polarized issue would be nearly impossible (as shown by the various comments), nonetheless, feel your assessment was quite fair. Thanks for sharing it.

  13. Orin T Larson

    I wish you would have been able to give him an F in perseverance instead of the A+.

    • Chris

      I didn’t think he’d last this long without quitting. It’s the one category I would have given him an A in, too.

      I’m mystified by the idea that he’s hardworking.

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