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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: