Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 1/20/2018: Government Shutdown Edition

Good Morning.

1 Just how stupid is the public? Charades like the latest government shut-downs provide an excellent opportunity to find out. As regular readers here know, I am particularly annoyed when elected officials and journalists set out to make the public more ignorant or devoid of critical-thinking skills than they already are by making dumb arguments using logical fallacies, rationalizations or deceit. Both parties benefit from civically ignorant citizens, but the nation suffers. This time, it’s the Democrats who are banking on the public being too gullible and stupid to function. Here was the message I received from the Democratic National Committee—which, I will add, keeps sending me this crap despite my repeated efforts to unsubscribe from their daily dishonest shilling .It’s illegal to do this, but as the Democratic Party is proving with this latest drama, law-breaking is of minimal consequence to them when it suits their agenda:

It’s official — Republicans have shut down the federal government. They control the White House and both chambers of Congress, and under their watch, they haven’t been able to govern and keep the lights on. If they’re not capable of doing the job they were elected to do, we know plenty of Democrats running across the country who are up to the task.

How stupid, biased and dishonest to you have to be to swallow this lie? The shutdown was, beyond argument, engineered by Democrats, who have been threatening it for a long time. The argument is also dumb, indeed backwards. The government shut down because the Republicans couldn’t pass a spending bill without Democratic votes: they need a total of 60 “yeas” in the Senate. All but five Democrats, including Bernie, voted for shutting down the government. All but three Republicans, the trio of iconoclasts Graham, Flake and Paul, voted to keep it open, and the DNC calls that the Republicans shutting down the government.

Aren’t even Democrats offended at that degree of dishonesty and cynicism? Isn’t that classic Orwell: “War is Peace,” and “The Measure Republicans Voted For Is the Measure Republicans Opposed“? How can anyone trust a party that issues official communications like this? That is a party that will lie to your face, or assume that you have been so corrupted that you will lie on its behalf.

Moreover, the statement above might as well be written by the Republican National Committee, with the message being, “Since Democrats won’t cooperate to keep the government running and will sacrifice the welfare of citizens for non-citizens, we obviously need more Republicans in the Senate.” That message is factual.

The Democrats are holding the nation hostage to get a path to citizenship for the DACA group, adults who have had many years to resolve their citizenship problems but who chose–chose—not to do it. If they think that’s the right thing to do, then they should admit it, own it, and see who thinks that’s responsible governing.

2. Then there’s the news media and the internet…I like Fark, but here is how that site’s wags characterized the shutdown: “Trump and Republicans decide spiting DACA kids is more important than keeping the government running.” Fark is a humor web site, yet  that doesn’t read like a joke to me; it reads like the spin Democrats are expecting their allies in the news media and the web to promote. Yes, when the government enforces laws that are on the books, the intent is to spite the lawbreakers. This might be mordantly humorous as absurdist satire, except that this is increasingly the progressive narrative against due process ( conservatives want to spite women by not declaring anyone they point at and accuse of sexual assault must be guilty), law enforcement (cops want to spite African Americans by arresting them) and, of course immigration controls (Trump wants to enforce immigration laws because he wants to spite immigrants.) Here, let me fix that blurb for you, Fark: Democrats decide that grandstanding for its open-borders base and pro-illegal immigration supporters is more important than keeping the government running.”

Let’s keep an eye on which news sources echo Fark. I can’t imagine a more accurate test of journalism integrity, or the lack of it.

3. The worst lies are the ones you tell yourselves. The shutdown seems to be prompted by happy talk that despite so, so many additional reasons to distrust their party, a “blue wave” is coming that will sweep the GOP into minority status, pave the way for impeachment, turn the 2016 election into a bad trip, man. This must be sound strategy, reason the Democrats: after all, it’s based on polls, and also on maxim, attributed to H.L. Mencken,  that  “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.”  What Mencken actually wrote is even more relevant; his  actual words were:

“No one in this world, so far as I know — and I have searched the records for years, and employed agents to help me — has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.”

Depending on his analysis, the 2016 election might have given H.L. pause. The Democrats’ capacity for self-delusion seems bottomless, and this poll suggest that their rash bet on the shutdown is incompetent as well as irresponsible.

4. Kaboom. Reader John Glass was the first to send this along, thus exploding my head. Former FBI Director James Comey will teach a course on ethical leadership for the College of William & Mary. He’ll be co-teaching a three-credit course, during fall 2018, spring 2019, and summer 2019 semesters.


As an ethicist and a leadership trainer, I’m used to this kind of slap in the face, and it is a slap in the face. Several of the Watergate felons tour the country lecturing about ethics. John Dean, who was disbarred, has taught legal ethics. Class action lawyer Bill Lerach, disbarred and sent to prison, taught legal ethics when he got out. If Bill Clinton, or Hillary Clinton, wanted to teach ethical leadership at Yale or Harvard, do you think those schools wouldn’t jump at the chance?

This is just another example of celebrity being valued over integrity, and ethics being treated as field that must be accompanied with bread and circuses for anyone to pay attention. Comey leaked classified  material . Comey courted the appearance of impropriety more than once. Comey was not candid with Congress. If Comey had left the FBI before he could be fired by President Trump, and his last moments in the public eye were as a scapegoat for Hillary’s defeat, do you think William and Mary would have found him an attractive choice to teach leadership ethics? Call me cynical, but I don’t.

The Comey story is one more indictment of the quality of education our youth receive at elite colleges.

36 thoughts on “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 1/20/2018: Government Shutdown Edition

  1. A defense of Comey: he is in a great position to teach about ethics and the downfalls of not practicing ethical behavior, as he has lived them.

    This is assuming he is aware and contrite of the unethical behavior he took part in during his job at the FBI.

    Wish I could sit in and find out.

    • That’s always the argument for people like Comey, including disbarred lawyers. Me, I’d raher be taught by people who didn’t have to be caught being unethical before they figured out that ethics was a better approach.

  2. Jack:
    Perhaps you missed this:

    Sitting on the advisory board of this “non-partisan” group is:
    James Clapper
    John Brennen
    Charlie Sykes
    Max Boot
    Norman Ornstein

    Reiner is involved because he can reach a large audience.

    Is this the beginning of an organized coup de’ tat? How can Brennen and Clapper who may be involved in the creation of the collusion story be considered non-partisan?

  3. Personally, I think the entire concept of “a government shutdown” is misinformation. Various federal workers get extra, random, paid vacations. Big deal. If people didn’t get paid for days they DIDN’T work, hell, I’d vote for one a month.

    • I don’t totally disagree, but I should point out there are side effects. My husband works for a credit processing company — they do the grunt work of communicating between lenders and other places like the credit reporting agencies and the IRS. In his department, every time the IRS hiccups my husband’s department either have one hand tied behind their back trying to get things processed or it becomes impossible to get anything through and their hours get cut (and in either case, their annoyed customers don’t direct complaints to the Dems or the IRS.)

      I’m generally for the trimming of any nonessential employees, but just throwing a wrench in the gears does grind a lot of things to a halt.

  4. I was under the impression that Republicans could have passed the spending bill on their own. I was mistaken. You are right; it is fair to blame the Democrats for the shutdown.

    • Simple majorities can only pass budget and tax issues in the reconciliation process.

      Many get confused with the Byzantine rules of the Senate. The problem is that politicians rely on the public’s lack of understanding of House and Senate rules to create misleading messages.

  5. I was thinking of an award for the kind humorous – intentional or not – and absurd narrative & decision making that is bandied about society today and I came up with something along the lines of a Bizarro Award. But it turns out that the ComicCon people got there first with the Wonderland Award, There is, in fact, a genre of literature known as Bizarro fiction: whose short story writers & novelists are honored each year. I think they should add a category for criticism (sic).

  6. I live in a small town in East Tennessee, have no formal education beyond high school, a few classes at a community college, and a certificate in bookkeeping technology earned while attending a trade school. Yet, I can see through the lies that are told and the amount of hatred propagated by the liberals and Democrats toward everyone and everything conservative. This hatred generated by our “supposedly” leaders reminds me of the hatred Hilter propagated toward the Jewish people and anyone who disagreed with him. At the age of sixty-seven, I am sickened to say that I am no longer proud of this country. That pride started fading while Obama ran around the world bowing down to leaders of other countries and it is now gone thanks to the hatred toward a certain political class of people plus those of the Christian faith. That that is evil (law breakers) is called good and that which is good (keeping or enforcing the law) is called evil! God help us if the liberals and Democrats succeed in their agenda! Now that is the opinion of a Southern, under-educated, uninformed, and unexposed female in a little town in TN which happens to be the home of another hated President, Andrew Johnson.

  7. I hope one day, Jack, you will be able to acknowledge the wonderful investigative journalists who are slowly uncovering and illuminating the insalubrious apparent connections between the Trump organisation, organised crime, dirty money, and foreign governments. In many parts of the world the State can control critics: non compliant journalists disappear; the regular news media are sickenly sycopantic; resistance does appear to be futile. But not in the US, or at least not yet, thank God.

    In my view your incessant criticism of the ‘messenger’ betrays bias and is shortsighted. At least some parts of the press and media (eg Rachel Maddow) deserve rock solid support and ‘hero status’ even though you may disagree with their viewpoint.

    • Andrew,

      Do you actually believe Rachel Maddow is an investigative journalist?

      She is a talking head just like everyone else with their own show. Unlike Sheryl Atkinson she has no discernable background as an investigator. She wears her bias on her sleeve as she weaves together unsubstantiated stories with other legitimate facts to create the illusion that her narrative is completely factual. She is a polemicist just like Hannity. Both rely on selective information to advance their POV. Both ommit exculpatory information if it undermines their narratives

      Jack calls out BS where he sees it and that includes calling out Trump regularly for his aggregious puffery or ridiculous statements.

      Try listening to Catherine Herridge, Sheryl Atkinson who are top notch investigative journalists.

      • In my view there area number of investigative journalists from all viewpoints who should be recognised for their considerable contributions. Rachel Maddow is just one, and yes she is a ‘talking head, but she and her team certainly put in a lot of work. I was encouraged when Jack talked of his ‘epiphany’ and I thought this was about accepting that all ‘investigative journalism’ is inevitably biased, not so much through its analysis of ‘X’ but how it was decided to write about ‘X’ and not about ‘Y’. But perhaps I misunderstood him.

        You say Rachel Maddow ‘wears her bias on her sleeve’. To my mind that is exactly where bias should be acknowledged, openly and honestly : ‘open carry’. It is those who conceal their bias who endanger public debate. Even worse are those who maintain (and even seem honestly to believe ) that they are without bias.

        I strive to counter my bias by trying hard to access sources and people likely to think differently. That is in part why I have been accessing EA.

        The wonderful way we can now access multiple sources reporting on the same events means we now are less dependent on ‘unbiased’ journalism ( if we ever had it). I heard last night Rachel Maddow’s take on the recently released Glenn Simpson transcript ( the 14 November interview with the Intelligence Committee covering the Fusion GPS work) which I thought was quite disturbing. Following your recommendation I’ll look out for anything from Catherine Herridge or Sheryl Atkinson, but I’m not sure how best to access. I also now have the full transcript but at 130 pages I can’t do more than skim. I doubt whether Jack will cover, but of course it is entirely up to him to decide what he writes on.

        • Of course you thought it was quite disturbing. I predicted her take on that matter, as could anyone. The spin on this is especially fascinating: opposition research paid for by the Clinton campaign, full of rumors and lies, is used by the Obama Justice Department during a presidential campaign as an excuse to spy on members of the opposing party’s candidate campaign, and somehow “reporters” like Maddow don’t find that disturbing.

          Setting out to take down an elected President because you want to take him down isn’t an ethical journalist motive. Deciding there must be something there because you really, really hate the guy and wanted him to lose isn’t an ethical motive either. It is like a prosecutor picking out a citizen because of her political views and investigating to see if there are crimes she can be charged with. I’m sure you think that’s “wonderful” too, as long as you have a low opinion of the target.

          It’s not. It’s harassment and abuse of power.

          These kinds of “investigations” are the work of activists, not journalists. Journalists are objective and independent. And activists, like Maddow, who pose as journalists are deceiving the public. Simply displaying her bias every day, with every other statement and, ugh, her smirks, aren’t enough to qualify as transparency. She’s a partisan advocate, and like a lawyer representing a client, should not be referred to or regarded as anything more than that.

          Smoking gun: The woman repeatedly gives a forum to DAN RATHER. Do you comprehend what that means? Rather is the symbol of fake news. He was fired because he knowingly used forged documents to “prove” what he was certain was an accurate and damning accusation against President Bush, with the objective of winning the election for (that idiot) John Kerry. Maddow has Rather as a guest solely because he’s a Trump critic—that’s is no justification. Endorsing him tells me all I need to know about Maddow’s ethics. It is as bad as Fox News using Ollie North as a contributor a decade ago—both men were proven liars.

          “Wonderful journalists” don’t give a platform to disgraced journalists and purveyors of fake news with partisan intent. It’s as simple as that. By extolling Maddow, you out yourself.

        • Atkinson has a program on ABC, Herridge reports on DOD issues and the Congress for Fox. Herridge and Atkinson do make appearances on Fox pundit shows but they are news reporters and do not postulate on how the info should be taken nor do they editorialize.

          Lets be clear, Hannity, Maddow, Last word, Tucker Carlson, Chris Mathhews, are editorializing

          Mika and Joe, Fox and Friends combine news updates mixed with editorial bias

          Brett Baer (Fox) straight news 50 % with a segregated editorial panel of “analysts”.

          CNN Nightly programming predominantly editorials disguised as news. Rolling news ticker pretty straight news.

          MSNBC News with Brian Williams, you be the judge.

          If nothing else the failure of the media to give an objective reportage has caused me to read more primary source material.

        • “You say Rachel Maddow ‘wears her bias on her sleeve’. To my mind that is exactly where bias should be acknowledged, openly and honestly : ‘open carry’. It is those who conceal their bias who endanger public debate. Even worse are those who maintain (and even seem honestly to believe ) that they are without bias.”

          This seems silly to me, but maybe I’m misunderstanding you. Are you saying that you’d rather someone blatantly pursue an agenda than try to appear objective? Acknowledging that we can never be completely free of bias, wouldn’t it be better for everyone if people, especially those who disseminate information, actively tried to overcome their bias and be as objective as possible, rather than proverbially give in and wear it on their sleeve?

    • 1. Do not condescend to me on my site, Andrew. I don’t take it well, and I won’t tolerate it.

      2. I will condescend to YOU, however, since the concept of a profession appears to be alien to you. It is not sufficient for a member or three of a profession here and there to be trustworthy and ethical. They all must be, and those who are not must be disciplined or expelled, or the whole profession is untrustworthy. If the meal from a 4 star chef tastes like crap and makes me sick, and I see no indication of accountability or consequences, then I know not to trust 4 star chefs.

      3. Investigative journalism that begins with an agenda is usually unethical journalism. In this case, since Donald Trump has been a public figure for decades with high-profile business dealings, and such obvious candidates for scandal as unions, Law Vegas, Construction companies and the Mob likely associates, the fact that those wonderful investigative journalists found nothing disqualifying before the man was elected President tell me that either they aren’t so wonderful, or there wasn’t much to find.

      On the other hand, anyone with eyes and ears knew that the Clintons were engaging in influence peddling and lining their own pockets, but these wonderful investigative journalists, the same ones that buried the Juanita Broderick story, somehow never found it worth looking into for years. Conclusion: these journalists aren’t wonderful at all. They are hacks. That they are searching for dirt that you personally would like to stick to this President doesn’t make them less hacks.

      4. In 2016 and 2017, journalists have neutralized themselves. They can’t blame Trump for their falling public trust. They have earned it.

      5. I do not criticize the news media’s unethical performance incessantly. The news media has been conducting itself in unethical fashion incessantly, and it is my job to point that out. The reason they continue to behave this way is that gullible and/or blind observers—like you—call them “wonderful” when you like their slant. That’s what the hacks depend on.

      5, Rachel Maddow is not a respectable journalist. She’s an ideologue, and proves this routinely. She’s smarter than Sean Hannity–who isn’t?— but no less partisan. And any anchor covering an election night who emotes her horror and sorrow to the TV viewers when her candidate loses is a rank amateur.

  8. I just found out that, because of the shutdown, I won’t be getting the service-connected disability check from the VA that my family depends on at the beginning of the month.

    The hatred; it..burns !!

    • Sad our so called leaders are so self centered they don’t care how the citizens suffer as long as they can discredit the other political party. They don’t lose anything and neither do the illegals one side is protecting. My heart breaks for all who are affected financially by this shutdown. Maybe they should just go set up house at the capital until the it ends.

  9. Yes. Other than for the ‘all knowing’ and the ‘totally ignorant’ nobody can be ‘truly objective’. We all have different experiences and different prejudices (or bias). Why else would ‘we’ disagree so much?

    What would ‘overcoming their bias’ look like? Even if a news team could succeed in completely eliminating their opinions (probably making their reports really boring and killing their circulation) how would they decide what to report? In any event, do you really want ‘facts’ without any attempted interpretation? Apart from raw sports results and stock markets, I generally want to see the range of opinions, expressed honestly, even passionately, and that helps me decide where I stand.

    I think I know for instance where Paul Krugman is coming from, having read a number of his books and articles. Yes of course he is ‘biased’. Other commentators come from different sets of prejudices and frameworks ( ie bias) and I read them too. What is most valuable is seeing well moderated respectful debate between the different viewpoints. Sadly this seems increasingly hard to find.

    So what we are really missing is not ‘objective reporting’, but ‘respectful debate’.

  10. With regards to the Democratic “Lie” that the Republicans caused the shutdown:

    You’ve made it a point before on this blog to differentiate between a LIE, and a statement that the speaker believes but is incorrect. I wonder what the breakdown between those two is with regards to democrats (both the actual politicians and their supporters in the public)?

    I’ve said before how distressed I am at the state of politics where everyone seems to think that “their side” is so self-evidently righteous and honorable that anyone who disagrees must be actively and maliciously evil. To Democrats with that lens, surely it appears that the Republicans are “causing” the shutdown by refusing to make the obviously correct choice to do… something… for the DACA recipients. If that is clearly the only acceptable path, then refusing to enthusiastically pursue it puts the Republicans in the position of obstructing the proper function of government.

    Not, of course, that this makes the statements any more true; politicians have a responsibility to be above that sort of petty black and white thinking but it seems most (if not all) prefer to actively wallow in it.

  11. #1 Jack asked, “Just how stupid is the public?”

    There is decent evidence that a big chunk of the population is partisan blind and pretty damn politically stupid.

    It’s real clear that the political left thinks the population are a bunch of imbeciles and the political left is depending on that fact to oppose the political right so the left can, as a buddy of mine says, win by default. It’s not too surprising that the political left thinks the population is stupid, after all, the left as been dumbing them down for years.

    The story “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” comes to mind; I think I can safely predict that this is likely going to seriously backfire on the Democrats during the mid-term elections!

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