Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 1/10/2018: All Poll Edition [Updated and Corrected]

Good Morning, everybody.

1 The ancient Greeks in my family were pleased. Yesterday could be used in public schools to teach the concept of hubris. I doubt that public schools teach concepts like hubris, unfortunately. (I doubt that most public school teachers could explain hubris.) For in a single day..

  • We saw Steve Bannon dismissed from his kingdom, right-wing propaganda organ Breitbart.
  • We learned that Joe Arpaaio, who is only not facing prison time because of a generous pardon frm President Trump, and who lost his latest election for sheriff, and who is 85-years-old, announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate in Arizona.
  • NJ Governor Chris Christie gave his farewell address, celebrating himself. Earlier this week he said that he would be President today if not for Donald Trump.

2. “What’s done is done.” Yesterday, a Democratic mouthpiece who sounded like Kristin Chenoweth on speed (looked like her too) was confronted with videotapes of the last two Democratic Presidents swearing that they were committed to strengthening the borders and enforcing immigration laws. “We are a nation of immigrants,” intoned Bill Clinton. “We are also a nation of laws.”

“What’s done is done,” blathered ‘Kristin.’

This is the unethical rationalization known on the Ethics Alarms list as #51 . The Underwood Maneuver, or “That’s in the past”:

This rationalization has the honor of being named for a President, though a fictional and sinister one: Frank Underwood, the devious, psychopathic, lying and murdering Chief Executive, played by Kevin Spacey, who leads the den of thieves and blackguards who populate the fictional Washington, D.C. in the Netflix drama, “House of Cards.”

The Underwood Maneuver is versatile. Frank’s favorite use of it is when he is seeking assistance from one of the many elected officials, appointees and others whom he has lied to or metaphorically stabbed in the back. “Why should I trust you now, when you betrayed me?” these poor souls are always asking. “Oh, but that was in the past!” says Frank, in his gentle South Carolina accent. “This is now. We need each other now. What’s done is done. Let’s move forward.”

What makes the Underwood Maneuver so devilishly effective is that, like many other rationalizations, there is a nugget of common sense in it that makes it seem reasonable. Why let an incident that cannot be undone limit our options today? Why be hampered by bitterness, anger, and hurt, when a new slate looms, and all can be made right? Like #50,The Apathy Defense, #51 also hints that dwelling on past wrongs is pointless, graceless and irrational. Everybody has forgotten about that, so why can’t you? Why can’t you move on?

The Underwood Maneuver falsely holds that time erases accountability. Like Frank, real life unethical politicians know that if responsibility for a scandal, lie or crime  can be denied, delayed, ducked, distorted and ignored long enough, the news media and the public will become fatigued and frustrated, and ultimately give up on holding the wrongdoers accountable. Outside of political life, we have a sack full of nostrums and wise saying that urge us to move on from bad experiences. Let bygones be bygones. Forgive and forget. Let the past stay in the past.

This of course, is wonderfully useful to the habitually unethical, because “moving on” gives them the benefit of undeserved forgiveness and trust, and an opportunity to repeat their unethical and harmful conduct, or worse. The Underwood Maneuver doesn’t just urge its victims to give up crippling grudges, which would indeed be positive advice. It also manipulates the victim of wrongful conduct into forgiving and forgetting without the essential contributions a truly reformed wrongdoer must make to the equation: admission of harm , acceptance of responsibility, remorse and regret, amends and compensation, and good reason to believe that the unethical conduct won’t be repeated. Frank Underwood never provides any of that, because “That’s in the past”  is designed to put gullible victims at ease so they will let down the guard that experience would otherwise  provide to them. By emphasizing that wrongdoing was in the past, this rationalization all but assures that it is also lurking in the near future.

3. Whither Plan E? After the embarrassing news media effort to bolster “the resistance’s” Plan E last week, the President holding a live broadcast one-hour meeting with Congressional leaders during which he appeared to be the same Donald Trump we have known, loved and loathed for years was, or should have been, a decisive rebuttal. Amazingly, he did not appear disoriented or confused. He was not at a loss for words. He did not repeat himself, stare blankly into space, sing “A Bicycle Built For Two” (“Daisy, Daisy..”), have a duck sitting on his head or do a strip tease. Public figures with dementia don’t usually allow such long-term unfiltered scrutiny of their behavior—that would be crazy. Wait–that’s it!!!

Update and Correction: I deleted item #4. I misunderstood a news report that was ambiguously stated, then didn’t check sufficiently myself. The main reason, I fear,  was my long-standing distrust and dislike of the lawyer involved, Michael Cohen, one of President Donald Trump’s personal attorneys and, in my professional opinion, but it’s just my opinion Michael and not a statement of fact, so don’t sue me, you shameless hack, as unethical a lawyer as there is in high places. This was a case of bias making me stupid.

He did NOT, as I wrote in the original version of this post, file the two defamation suits on his client’s behalf, but his own. Good luck to him. The rest of the post, and the poll, can’t be salvaged despite the interesting issues they raise. So in the words of Emily Litella, “Never mind.”

I apologize for the error and my carelessness.


Special thanks to Chris Marschner for the correction.

45 thoughts on “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 1/10/2018: All Poll Edition [Updated and Corrected]

  1. “After the embarrassing news media effort to bolster “the resistance’s” Plan E last week, the President holding a live broadcast one-hour meeting with Congressional leaders during which he appeared to be the same Donald Trump we have known, loved and loathed for years was, or should have been, a decisive rebuttal.”

    I feel like there’s a verb missing somewhere that makes the term “decisive rebuttal” make sense in the sentence. That or the “or” and the commas after “been” need to go away.

    I get what you are saying, but I want to be sure.

    • Here’s how to make it make sense – strip it down to the basics:
      “a live broadcast one-hour meeting … was … a decisive rebuttal.”

  2. I voted Bannon… No one on Earth should have known the ramifications of what he’d been doing better than the person who had orchestrated similar scenes over the past two years. The idea that his personal… something… could overcome the angry pro-Trump, bury dissenters culture that he had built was pure hubris.

  3. Gotta tell you Jack, I look forward to your occasional musical accompaniment as much as the post content.

    That Young Rascals tune came out 50 years ago in March, shortly after the Otis Redding (whose plane crashed 12/10/1967 in Madison’s Lake Monona) posthumously released “Sittin’ On The Dock Of The Bay.”

    I remember listening to it on a little transistor radio strapped to my bike handlebars while delivering the Milwaukee Journal.

    1968 was a MONSTER for music!

    Guess I said that about 1967 too.

    • Had to laugh at your using their real name, Paul. Jack’s identifying them as “The Rascals” made me wonder when, during the last, oh, fifty years, that modifier had been dropped. Hah.

      • Seeing we’re near the same age, OB, did you click on that 1968 Billboard link? Like a walk (or ride) down memory lane, am I right?

        Sheesh! I can hum nearly all those tunes and remember most of the lyrics.

        Some are making a comeback in commercials catering to our…um…demographic.

        Howse about Sérgio Mendes’ “The Look Of Love” (Viagra) McDonald’s McRib (Ohio Express “Yummy, Yummy, Yummy”), or “Those Were The Days” for the Clinton Foundation…?

        • Definitely takes me back. I was an enlisted man in the period 67 to 71 and was overseas in Okinawa, Japan, Vietnam or Korea from late 68. These songs were constantly on the transistor radios or stereos in the barracks, usually very loud, and constantly playing in the downtown bars. Hearing War, American Woman, Born to Be Wild and some of the others takes me back to sitting in the Club Stereo in Osan drinking OB beer.

          • Not just the music, but the state-of-the-art Stones Age sound systems that were cranking them out?

            Has the book “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place,” authored by two U.W. Madison (GO BADGERS!!) instructors Craig Werner and Doug Bradley, crossed your desk?


            “sitting in the Club Stereo in Osan drinking *OB* beer.”

            Other Bill has his own barely pop…?

            • Oriental Brewery. It was not really all that great but the other Korean beer available at the time, can’t remember the brand, was even worse. Japanese beer on the other hand was very good. Thanks for the reference to the book. The music does bring back intense memories of a place. And everybody did have reel-to-reel tape decks, usually Teac.

          • Funny that I saw this yesterday while driving our fair little town:

            10 year old pick up truck, Buck deer symbol on right rear window, ‘Vietnam Vet’ sticker in high center… and some writing on the right healined by the word ‘Vietnam.’

            I got closer and read the following:

            “Vietnam: We were winning when I left”

            This struck me as laugh out loud funny at the time…

  4. On Number 1, Only Chris Christie achieved any main stream success, only to have his career halted like traffic on the GW due to mostly his own actions. The other too are known fringe cases; their behavior is grotesque, but so are the underlying individuals. Christie is known to be capable of doing better, but acts like a jerk anyways.

    On Number 2, Journalists should be prepared to follow through and ask what has changed to justify a new response today to immigration. A rationalization is only a such when it is not supportable by independent evidence, and revealing the underlying evidence, if any, should be the goal of the journalist.

    On Number 3: Plan K appears to be “He Never Wanted to be President Anyways”

    Conveniently, no one will point out that Trump could not have colluded with the Russians to lose the election.

    On Number 4, I abstained, because I am not sure an objective standard can be applied to disciplining cases that do not meet the criteria for frivolous. The other two options are certainly not desirable.

    • “Conveniently, no one will point out that Trump could not have colluded with the Russians to lose the election.”

      It’s a truism of conspiracy theorists that they’re equally inclined to believe multiple contradictory theories, some of which are mutually exclusive, often at the same time, as long as they’re Disbelieving the “official story.” The Trump-addled seem to be following a similar path, where he’s simultaneously a dupe, a Nazi mastermind, a Russian collaborator, and a publicity stunt gone awry.

  5. Jack

    If I am to believe the latest reports Cohen filed the suits on his own behalf because he is named as having close ties to Russia in the dossier.

    I have no access to the filings so my interpretation is based on the reported rationale offered by Cohen in which he categorically denies assertions made about him (Cohen) in the documents.

    So far, I have seen nothing that claims the suit is on behalf of the POTUS. If this is the case are his lawyers also considered public figures?

    • “This isn’t a typo, this isn’t a mistake, these are ideas that were thought of, discussed, agreed upon by adults and kids alike, printed on uniforms…and no one thought this was a bad idea or inappropriate?”

      Sheesh! What were they thinkin’?

      Reminds me of a kinder, gentler time (50 years ago) when me & some irreverent Junior High pals had a weekend rec league BB team called ”BJ’s Bombers.”

      “BJ” was one of the guy’s Mother’s name (Betty Jane) and the team acquired a cult following. So much so that there are guys who (they’ll be cc’d) to this day claim to have been on the team in order to vicariously bask in our rakishly iconoclastic memory.

      We had a perfect record (no wins) and sucked canal water, but that was our intent; to swim against the tide of convention and see how bad we could really be.

      We didn’t disappoint, turns out we were pretty awful; rarely did we finish a game with 5 on the floor, too many had fouled out.

      The names we chose were…um… creative: BJ’s son was “Re Re,” to emulate a pig sound, but he didn’t want to pay for the extra two “e’s”

      I was #33 “Cream Jabber,” a bastardization of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, which in today’s day and age would probably have been stricken down as both a suggestively prurient/sexist micro-aggression and islamophobic.

    • What is this, a test? I saw this one, and it falls into the category of too obvious to warrant commentary. Gee, is a team putting “Knee-Grow” and “coon” on its uniforms unethical? Hmmm… let me think.

      The apology is of course a slam dunk #9. “Deceitful apologies, in which the wording of the apology is crafted to appear apologetic when it is not (“if my words offended, I am sorry”).

  6. I don’t agree with your critics, Jack, but after reading Trump pieces here day after day, it’s hard not to think of this as a political blog. I understand that you’re addressing the ethical side of politics, and that’s important, but it seems like all you cover now.

    If we really are turning into a “nation of assholes,” then the symptoms have spread far beyond politics and the media. Medical ethics ( Teacher ethics ( Bribery at low levels ( Childcare ethics ( The list goes on.

    • You get the assignment of actually counting the issues in, say, the last month. I don’t have time. I did a cursory check of the posts since the New Year, and found 16 issues covered that had nothing to do with politics, including lotteries, legal ethics, baseball, football, advertising, popular culture, and technology. That’s not counting Comments of the Day. Moreover, posts that use political examples to flag broader ethical issues, like today’s discussion of “The past is past,” are not political posts. The post I put up right before seeing this (repeat) complaint of yours is not related to politics, and the one I’m finishing now isn’t.

      Most blogs don’t put up 16 posts in 10 days, period. It’s bum rap, in short.

      • Jack,

        I guess my complaint is mostly his dominance the warm-ups. You initially said these were to be short pieces which didn’t warrant a whole article, but they seem to always deal with variants of the same theme “Everything Trump does is misinterpreted and misrepresented.” Couldn’t you such stories just be flagged with an asterisk indicating a previous post (or ten) on the subject?

        After all, I turn on NPR in the morning and the top 4 stories involve Trump, Then, I listen to BBC on the way to work, and get a foreign perspective on the same 4 stories, Next, I log on Google news, same stories there. I check Fox, and they’re rebutting the same 4 stories. Finally, I log on here and find — THE SAME FOUR STORIES.

        Why do I (and anyone else who enjoys keeping current) have to be subjected to his ugly face, whatever awkward misstep he made (that’s blown out of proportion), and the media bias against it at EVERY SINGLE TURN?

        I’ll get to counting this evening when I have more time and get back to you. Best of luck in the New Year!

    • The problem is that the way Trump is being dealt with in the press and on social media is so off the wall that it can’t be ignored. As one small example, yesterday there was a CNN (CNN! They used to be reliable!) headline ‘Trump to attend swish Davos forum despite it typically being shunned by US Presidents’. Now we all know what ‘shunned’ means.The headline makes it sound like no one would be caught dead attending. But it’s ‘swish’ so of course shallow Trump will attend. However, if we move past the headline, to the second paragraph in-

      “Ronald Reagan spoke to the forum via satellite as president, but Bill Clinton was the first to attend the summit in person who he traveled to Switzerland in 2000. Presidents George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and Barack Obama never attended the meeting.
      Vice Presidents Dick Cheney and Joe Biden both attended the forum during their tenures.”

      So, not ‘shunned’ but often attended by Vice Presidents, and Presidents have addressed it. This is tabloid journalism. They are counting on social media programmed people reading the headline and scrolling on. Almost each and every headline on CNN (and elsewhere) lately is written to give you a bad taste in your mouth about the Administration, regardless of article content. Jack mentioned how well Trump’s live meeting went yesterday, but all I can see on Facebook today about Trump is an avalanche of posts about how he supposedly flubbed the words to the national anthem.

      The fish food flap in Japan was another example…news reports almost exclusively showed the 10 seconds where Trump dumped his fish food, and the castigation started, ‘What an oaf!’ ‘A shame for the nation’ etc, when the full video footage shows both Abe and Trump feeding the fish, an aide calling out to Abe, and the men continuing to spoon food to the fish. Then an aide runs up to Abe and says presumably ‘We’re out of time’ or ‘We have to go’. Abe nods, and dumps all his fish food in, urging Trump to do the same. Trump keeps spooning, Abe speaks to him again, and he dumps his fish food in, but the last 5-10 seconds is all that is broadcast. A big ‘so what’ for a lot of people, but….the news outlets are purposely editing news footage to present the exact opposite of what really happened . They are comfortable doing this, which is my concern.

      The outlook that I see most often is that it’s OK because it’s Trump and ‘he deserves it’ (which is a childish, immature playground bully mentality), but people are not thinking about the lines they are crossing to ‘get’ Trump. Would they really be happy with a press that sometimes reports the opposite of what actually occurred (insignificant in scale when we’re talking about fish food, but were it about aggression of a foreign power….), new standards for impeachment based on simple dislike of a President, and removal at will of an elected President or other official using the 25th Amendment, based on Twitter usage? I’d really like people to more careful of what they wish for.

      Neil, as long as this continues, the craven lack of ethics and naked meanness being displayed so broadly in both politics and the press can’t be ignored. It may mean Trump-heavy content for a while, but I think that as long as it continues the issues have to be addressed. I don’t like Trump, I never thought he had the temperament for the office, but I really dislike the constant hate-fest, and the tactics that are being advocated to thwart him.

  7. “That’s in the past” can also morph into arguments against capital punishment, military action, or indeed any kind of retaliatory use of force.

    How many times have you heard arguments made to spare a condemned prisoner from execution because “it won’t bring back the victim?” Of course it won’t and no one ever expected it would. The point is this guy committed an act so wrong he forfeited his right to continue to live.

    Hard to believe 9/11 is now going on 17 years ago – a kid born then would be looking at getting his driver’s license this year – but I was an adult and a practicing attorney then. I remember many, many internet posts and at least two sermons stressing that the US should not take any retaliatory action because it would not change what had happened and would just bring more conflict into the world. Of course the war on terror wasn’t expected to turn back time, it was to punish those who had committed those evil acts and show the rest of the world that the US wasn’t helpless.

    While we’re on the topic, how many of the same liberal types who tell us that 9/11 and the Cold War and (sometimes) Pearl Harbor are all the past and we should move on are the ones telling us that slavery and segregation and Hiroshima are still VERY relevant today and trying to give us a permanent guilt complex over Columbus?

    Everything that’s ever happened except the moment is in the past, that doesn’t mean any of it is insignificant. A great deal of it is objectively significant. Unfortunately, most of it is treated as though it is as significant or insignificant as the pointer wants it to be.

    • I’m so sick of Brooks that it was a chore, but I read it yesterday, and in my opinion, it was about 8 months late.

      Ann Althouse’s take was close to mine:

      Anyway, the monotonous daily hysteria of anti-Trumpers is worse than “silly.” I write about it all the time, not — as you might think — because I’m pro-Trump, but because the haters hate too much and it’s making them weird and crazy. In my view, Trump was too weird and crazy to be President, but in the real world, he is President, and it’s weird and crazy not to live in the real world.


    • All the while, Brooks is oh-so-smarter than those he writes about, and smug about it.

      Please. His ilk lowered these standards, not Trump: Trump simply used it against the Democrats, unlike the panty waisted GOPe. Alt-right? Sure. The left has played this way for decades and just doesn’t like that it works against THEM too, because, you know, conservative used to have <ethics and principles

  8. On Number 1, I voted Bannon.
    All 3 have hubris.
    However, the moral aspect of hubris is that it leads to downfall.

    Arpaio may have suffered losses, but he is still trying to run for Senate. His story is not over.

    Same with Christie. He may be out, but he seems to have controlled his exit. And, he may be back.

    Bannon had the ear of the President and has now hit rock bottom. In my view, he’s done.


  9. As far as I can tell, nothing Arpaio has done or even been accused of would be worth mentioning, if he were running as a Democrat. They get away with issues like this all the time, after all.

  10. You know how: it devolves to the apathy of the common voter.

    Yes, the progressive media covers for them while attacking their opponents; yes, their own party will not discipline them; yes, corruption play in their favor.

    But is still comes down to the American people not paying attention and upholding standards.

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