Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/9/2018: Post 2016 Election Ethics Train Wreck Update Edition. Sorry.


Good Morning.

I don’t say “I told you so” as often as I could or would like to. One continuing theme at Ethics Alarms since the 2016 election that drove progressives mad has been the accusation leveled at me that I have been under-emphasizing the existentially perilous character and conduct of the President while concentrating too much on the conduct of his critics. My answer has been that I believe that the reaction of progressives, Democrats and the news media to President Trump’s election has been, by far, the most disturbing ethics story of the past year, and in historical context one of the most serious and dangerous periods in U.S. history. That conclusion has been reinforced as the year progressed. I was and am right.

None of that makes the ethical conduct of the Trump Presidency any better than it is; as I made clear in last year’s ethics audit,  he has largely behaved as I expected he would when I declared him, over and over again, unfit and unqualified. However, if our institutions and the public’s trust in them remain as strong as they have through-out U.S. history, a single odd-ball President, even for two terms, will not do irreparable damage. What the resistance and its allies in the Democratic Party and the news media are doing, however, threatens to wreck many of those institutions and tear down public trust to a point of no return. That’s my professional assessment. It is not one based on partisan politics or ideology, but on American history, cultural history, and ethics.

1 Fake news and fake history. I knew it was manufactured nonsense when my Facebook friends, Democrats, pundits and the mainstream news media began once again screaming “Fascist!” and claiming that the President’s expressed desire for a major military parade was a terrifying departure from American tradition. I knew a little research would prove it so, but then, I thought, surely some news source would have the integrity to do its job, and some “nationally recognized historian,” like go-to Democratic shills like CNN’s Douglas Brinkley, would set the record straight. Why should I have to do the work for free that these people are paid handsome fees to do, and have a duty to do besides?

Yet few corrections from these supposedly objective sources were registered while Rep. Adam Smith (D-CA) said, “A military parade of this kind would also be a departure from the values of our constitutional democracy,” and Rep, Ted Lieu (D-CA) sneered, “Because authoritarian regimes like Russia and North Korea hold massive military parades does not mean that we must as well. Politico headlined, “Trump’s Military Parade Draws Bipartisan Rebuke.” The Washington Post told readers,  “Military Parades Are About Ego and Power. Of Course Trump Wants One.”  Normally reasonable bloggers were similarly triggered, like Prof. Jonathan Turley, who wrote, “The United States has long rejected the holding of military parades featuring tanks, missiles and other heavy weapons as a symbol of authoritarian regimes like the Soviet Union, North Korea and other countries.”

I guess this depends on what one’s definition of “long” is. Such parades have been out of style since the Vietnam War caused much of the public and the political class to turn against the military, though politicians still give deceit-laden lip-service to “supporting the troops,” just not what they do. Military parades featuring heavy weaponry were not uncommon between the end of the Civil War in 1865 through 1961 during the peak of the Cold War, when it was arguably strategically beneficial to remind the USSR that if it was going to bury us, there would be a fight.  Many of these parades, in 1919, 1942, 1946, 1953, 1957, 1961, and as recently as 1991, featured tanks, missiles, and sometimes many thousands of troops  Let’s see: that’s Presidents Wilson, Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and George H.W. Bush…Hitlers all. That there is Chuck Schumer, a leader of the party having the vapors over the President’s suggestion, saying this:

Now, I happen to agree that the United States needn’t stage intimidating military parades. One of the moments that my admiration for the nation and its culture crystallized was at the Montreal Expo, where the Soviet Union’s exhibit of heavy machinery and weapons was over-shadowed and embarrassed by the charming, bright, U.S. pavilion that featured  Hollywood films, baseball memorabilia, pop music, political campaign buttons and Raggedy Ann dolls. Where would you rather live? Nonetheless, the utter dishonesty and viciousness displayed by the President’s hateful critics, literally ignoring history to declare his desire for a parade  frightening,  was typical and unforgivable, and part of a pattern.

Note: To its credit, the New York Times was one source that accurately reported that such parades were not unknown in  U.S history, and cited that 1991 parade under Bush.

2. Perspective on the Ethics Train Wreck.  Here are two articles that accurately reflect, I believe, what sparked the Ethics Train Wreck and how it has proceeded:

  • In the Wall Street Journal, Dan Henninger recounts the “Trump panic” following the election. I remember it well. The reaction surprised me, even as a vocal and aggressive NeverTrumper. I remember a smart, rational, female lawyer and single mother I worked with in Massachusetts telling me shortly after the election that she was terrified for her mixed race toddler and his future, and she really sounded terrified. It was clear that she had been panicked by the hysteria of others in her echo chamber world—this was Massachusetts, remember—and I urged her to calm down.

I explained why such fears were unjustified, even assuming the worst—the realistic worst, not the “he’s going to start throwing gays and Hispanics and Muslims into camps! ARGGH!” worst—and that the hyperbolic alarm coming from Democrats was irresponsible. “I hope you’re right,” she said, shakily. “I am right,” I said, without a second’s hesitation.

  • Writer Michael Walsh provides his assessment of how the “resistance,” the Democratic power structure, the “Deep State” and the news media combined their efforts to take down the elected President. I am not fully convinced of all aspects of his analysis, but it does look more plausible with every passing day, and it is far more persuasive than the furious spin and denials coming from the anti-Trump mob since the Nunes memo was released.  Walsh begins,

“As the Obama wall of silence begins to crumble, the FBI’s reputation is befouled by its own rash actions, a politicized Justice Department stands revealed as, well, politicized, and the Democrats furiously spin the facts outlined in the Nunes Memo and subsequent revelations, there’s only one overarching question left to ask: what made them think they could get away with it?

And by “them,” I mean the lot of them—the corrupt, partisan officials, the political operatives masquerading as selfless public servants, the intelligence community pooh-bahs who betrayed their trusts, the preening “straight arrows,” the talking heads, the Washington bureau chiefs, the White House correspondents, every man jack of whom did his level best to create, run, and disseminate a disinformation operation designed to do one thing: destroy the unwanted and unwelcome presidency of Donald J. Trump.”

The answer is obvious: they thought they could get away with it because a) they convinced themselves that impeachable offenses were sure to either occur or be uncovered, b) they assumed that the biased, anti-Trump news media had sufficient power and credibility to distort, hide, or spin the truth, and c) they underestimated their foe, perhaps the biggest mistake of all.

3. If only there was an objective, trustworthy institution whose criticism of the real deficits of the President and his administration would be taken seriously…

  • As I assumed, Omarosa Manigault is in the process of monetizing her White House experience and embarrassing the Trump White House. The fact that this reality star villainess was allowed access to the center of our executive branch was shocking at the outset, especially since this end result was nearly guaranteed. Writes Prof. Turley:

” Even supporters of Trump have noted the selection of unvetted or unimpressive people in the White House.  The embarrassment of a former staffer on this low-grade show could not occur at a worse time as the Trump White House struggles to explain its failure to act on allegations of spousal abuse by Rob Porter. The White House is right to treat Manigault Newman with derision, but there remains the question of why she was ever given a job in the White House….Omarosa is the bill that came due for the White House after elevating this individual to the highest office of the land.”

  • RealClearPolitics reports that federal bureaucrats—this is the swamp that President Trump promised to drain—have redacted 20 billion dollars worth of salaries  from public records:

Here’s a sample of what we discovered from the FY2017 records:

  • 254,839 federal salaries were redacted in the federal civil service payroll (just 3,416 salaries were redacted in FY2016).
  • 68 federal departments redacted salaries. Even small agencies like the National Transportation Services Board and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation redacted millions of dollars in salaries.
  • $20 billion in estimated payroll now lacks transparency.
  • A 7,360 percent increase in opacity hides one out of every five federal salaries.

Who’s the bureaucrat in charge? Not a Trump appointee – the president doesn’t even have a current nominee at OPM. So, the buck stops with new acting Director Kathleen McGettigan, a 25-year staffer who assumed the position because she was the next in line, not because the White House appointed her.

I know the Trump administration wants to reduce the size of the Federal government by not filling superfluous jobs, but many important jobs have also been left unfilled, creating chaos, inefficiency, needless expense and opportunities for corruption. This is incompetence, irresponsible, and a breach of trust.

  • And about that ” failure to act on allegations of spousal abuse by Rob Porter”: Even though he was already aware that staff secretary  Porter was going to be denied security clearance by the FBI, Chief of Staff John Kelly told the Daily Mail this week that Porter was “man of true integrity and honor.” Porter then resigned after his two ex-wives claimed that he has physically abused them.

Why would Kelly say this if he knew about the allegations? I assume the general doesn’t consider wife-beating a badge of honor. Maybe Porter assured Kelly that he was innocent, but even then: Kelly didn’t just fall off the turnip truck. He has to know that a denial would be the response whether Porter was innocent or guilty. Porter, meanwhile is dating Hope Hicks, the White House communications director and one of President Trump’s closest aides. Did she know about the allegations? If so, she had an obligation to warn the President and Kelly. (This is one more example of why organizations should prohibit dating among management staff. It creates a crisis of loyalty and conflicts of interest.)

Meanwhile, dozens of White House employees don’t have permanent security clearances and have been working for months with temporary approvals to handle sensitive information while the FBI continues to probe their backgrounds. One of them is Jared Kushner,  the President’s son-in-law. Why Kelly, whose mission since he took over the role of White House manager in July has been to stem the chaos hasn’t jettisoned aides denied permanent clearance is a mystery, and now his own job may be endangered. Kelly has created an ethical dilemma, for while saved the Trump Presidency from imploding after the Anthony Scaramucci debacle, and appears to be a crucial force protecting Trump from himself, praising a wife-beater in his position is, or should be, a firing offense.

Trump would probably love to get rid of Kelly, because inmates always hate the warden, and not firing him could be fairly called The King’s Pass in action. Yet without someone like Kelly keeping order, the “resistance” could yet get its wish, as we discussed here a year ago.

What a mess.

51 thoughts on “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/9/2018: Post 2016 Election Ethics Train Wreck Update Edition. Sorry.

  1. “One continuing theme at Ethics Alarms since the 2006 election that drove progressives mad…”

    I’m not sure which 2006 election is was that drove them mad, but I think 2016 was a tipping point.

  2. “Many of these parades, in 1919, 1942, 1946, 1953, 1957, 1961, and as recently as 1991.”

    Many of those dates were to celebrate the conclusion of military conflict. So, in that sense, it is a departure from recent history to throw one just for the sake of throwing one.

    I will take this opportunity to plug NPR again — they reported on all these dates as well.

          • Just don’t join certifiable idiot, Arn Menconi, and his “protest” as they plan to lay down in front of the tanks. When he was advertising his great protest against our police state, he equated it with the man who stood before the Tienanmen Square tanks….

            what a dummy.

            • I am not against military parades — in fact, I think air shows are amazing. I am against spending the millions it would take to bring everything into DC. Getting around DC on a normal traffic day is arduous; all industry (with the exception of tourism) will have to close on the day of the parade. There are plenty of military installations around DC where we can honor the military with a lower price point if that is what our President wants to do.

              Also, I would like that money to go to veterans and veterans’ families directly. That is something that I would support over a parade.

              • This pretty much summarizes my view, SS. It’s not that I think such a parade is needed, a good idea, a smart use of resources, or anything else. Indeed, I’d zero out the amazingly large amount in the budget for military bands and related events. It’s just that equating thinking otherwise is the symptom of being a Nazi that annoys me…

                • Most Liberals do not think Trump is a Nazi — simply that he is the worst kind of narcissist. And we thought that well before he was running for President. My husband (a NJ/NY guy) still cannot process that he is President because he was considered a big joke in the 1980s, before he gained popularity on a national level.

              • Regarding the price tag on a military parade…are there reliable estimates of the cost of one that actually subtracts out what the soldiers would be getting paid anyway if they were still at home station, which I guess, being familiar with pay scales, would probably account for upwards of 60% of total costs of such a parade, could the balance of the parade come out of NPR’s funding?

                • The biggest budget items would come from getting everything to DC and all the extra local manpower/expenses (DC police, FBI, Secret Service, permits, etc.). And that is before the hit to the economy. Sure, tourism will get a boost, but EVERY other business in DC will have to shut its doors that day.

              • Well, let’s think about this for a moment. The date that is being looked at with any degree of certainty is probably November 11, or that weekend, which is a legal holiday weekend when mostly only tourism would be open anyway. The place is already full of parading and ceremonial military units: the Army’s Old Guard, the Marines’ Eighth and I garrison and musical support, the US Navy Band, the USAF Band, all based right there, with several more ensembles and units nearby. It’s a fairly short ride up to DC from Norfolk if you want the ACT people to show up and give it an international veneer.

                Actual combat people are going to be a little harder, but not ridiculous, assuming we want to stick with East Coast units. The 82nd Airborne Division is in North Carolina, and is mostly composed just of infantry, who can come in by air. The 10th Mountain Division is in upstate NY, and also relatively easy to move. Actual heavy units with the armored fighting vehicles, tanks, and all that stuff would probably be the 2nd Marine Division in North Carolina and the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, GA. It would be a daunting, but not impossible task to move enough of their heavy equipment up to DC for a parade. No doubt National Guard units from Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Delaware could be invited, with equipment, to help fill things out.

                Tie up a few ships, Navy and Coast Guard both, at the Navy Yard and other nearby ports, and each can provide a marching contingent. Of course Joint Base Andrews can host however many planes and helicopters we want, and those are physically very easy to move around.

                Since we’re celebrating victory in WWI, we can invite however many WWI reenactors can make it, with the proviso they get there themselves, including David Wayne Shuey (from PA), who performs Black Jack Pershing, complete with horse. I guess we will also want the bands and say, one company each from the academies and also from any state military school that wishes to come. We’ll give 11 high school and 11 college bands invites, of course with the proviso they need to get there themselves.

                If we want some vintage aircraft as well, they can tie down at either Manassas or Culpeper. I guess we’ll need some floats also, and some celebs that are connected with support for the military or patriotism, who might mutter that they are there for the troops, not for Trump, but would show up.

                At 11 a.m. we’ll fire a cannon to signal a moment of silence, which we’ll break at 11:02 a.m. with another cannon shot, and the sound of the U.S. Army Herald trumpets. We’ll begin shortly thereafter with a flyover by the USAF Thunderbirds and the F-22 Raptors, then step off on the ground, led by the Metro DC police and the horse-mounted units. As the reenactors pass there will be another flyover with vintage aircraft. Possibly as the naval units pass there might be a pass by either the Blue Angels or the US Navy’s VFA-106 (the “Swordsmen”) if they aren’t available. The parade will conclude at 3 p.m. with a helicopter flypast from the Army, USMC, and USCG. It’s all doable.

    • ““Many of these parades, in 1919, 1942, 1946, 1953, 1957, 1961, and as recently as 1991.”

      Many of those dates were to celebrate the conclusion of military conflict. So, in that sense, it is a departure from recent history to throw one just for the sake of throwing one.

      I will take this opportunity to plug NPR again — they reported on all these dates as well.”

      And many of those dates did not celebrate the conclusion of military conflict. So in that sense, this is not a departure from recent history to throw one to celebrate the efforts of the military over the past 2 decades of conflict.

        • And I believe ’61 was for Kennedy.

          And I highly doubt that ’42 celebrated the conclusion of major military involvement in a conflict.

          So, 4 of 7 were not about celebrating the conclusion of military conflict.

        • I’m sure, but so what? Is there a “Inauguration military parades aren’t militaristic and redolent of dictatorships, but the rest are” rule? If Trump had such a parade for his Inauguration, is there any doubt that everyone would say that it was more proof that he is a Nazi?

          • I think the idea being that there could be roughly 3 “types” of military parades here:

            1) celebrating a military accomplishment – which seems to be the 1919, 1946, and 1991 parades, which I don’t think anyone, Left or Right has an issue with…though I think the modern Left probably would tend closer to having an issue with than not.

            2) celebrating a national leader – which I think the Left to a tee are using as the argument for why Trump wants this parade…that he’s a narcissist who wants to demonstrate his military power, for him, to cow all others. Except that the parades of ’53, ’57, and ’61 all indicate that indeed, America has had in recent history, military parades in support of it’s national leaders. All while miraculously not being a military dictatorship.

            3) parades that are sort of “neutral” and merely celebrations and acknowledgement of the service our military provides and opportunities for the nation to let the military know “hey, go get ’em!” (whoever the ’em is at the time).

            • And of course, there is this 4th type:

              A parade organized by Trump which is just for that reason very, very wrong
              (in the eyes of many US-citizens).

    • Some of our clients are doctors. They are excellent doctors– I’d entrust them with my care.

      However, they are poor at our profession. Yet many of them think their excellence in doctoring makes them experts in our profession as well, and they let us know.

      Robert O’Neil is an excellent marksman and an excellent tactician.

    • CNN is regularly really nasty, headlines dripping either contempt or sarcasm, when it comes to Trump.

      I thought Seals weren’t supposed to talk about their missions…or is that something that stuck in my head from the movies?

  3. “To its credit, the New York Times was one source that accurately reported that such parades were not unknown in U.S history, and cited that 1991 parade under Bush.”

    A small (almost irrelevant) observation: Most of the articles I’ve read DO mention the 1991 parade, but with the inclusion of the ominous language “Not since 1991 …” as though it were all ancient history. Moreover, many of those same articles go out of their way to mention that Trump was “inspired” by the Bastille Day parades — yet not of them goes on to accuse the French of authoritarianism.

  4. “Meanwhile, dozens of White House employees don’t have permanent security clearances and have been working for months with temporary approvals to handle sensitive information while the FBI continues to probe their backgrounds”

    If he thinks the FBI top ranks are full of partisan opponents of his administration – and who could blame him – maybe the President won’t simply fire members of his staff on their say-so. Thus the poison spreads.

  5. If anyone thinks the suggestion of a military parade is about anything other than trolling the ever-living-snot out of the Left, they should go back and think again. Because it is. And it’s phenomenal watching the results…and watching the results reveals reasons to justify actually having a parade celebrating the American military and its heroic efforts in pursuit of national foreign policy.

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