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.