Afternoon Ethics Warm-Up, 2/10/18: A Train Wreck Update And A Post On “Democratic Norms”

Good Afternoon…

Why is the warm-up so tardy today? You don’t want to know...

1 The Harvey Weinstein Ethics Train Wreck takes an unexpected turn, which is hard to do for a train...Feminist Katie Roiphe is being widely attacked by the #MeToo mob for her  Harper’s essay ,“The Other Whisper Network: How Twitter Feminism Is Bad for Women.” Her thesis: with women reveling in a new-found power to destroy men’s reputations and careers with mere accusations of sexual misconduct in the workplace or on a date, women’s advances in society are likely to be reversed based on basic suspicion and fear.  The mere news that she was preparing the piece was enough for Roiphe to be called, on social media, Roiphe reported, 

“pro-rape,” “human scum,” a “harridan,” a “monster out of Stephen King’s ‘IT,’?” a “ghoul,” a “bitch,” and a “garbage person”—all because of a rumor that I was planning to name the creator of the so-called Shitty Media Men list. The Twitter feminist Jessica Valenti called this prospect “profoundly shitty” and “incredibly dangerous” without having read a single word of my piece. Other tweets were more direct: “man if katie roiphe actually publishes that article she can consider her career over.” “Katie Roiphe can suck my dick.” With this level of thought policing, who in their right mind would try to say anything even mildly provocative or original?”

The threat of criticism of the online “shitty media men” spreadsheet that gathered anonymous allegations of sexual misbehavior for the purpose of destroying the careers of those on it prompted the  unethical website’s creator, Moira Donegan, to out herself, which she did proudly and to remarkably little criticism from women, who feel pressure to remain silent from peers, Roiphe says. Asks Kyle Smith in the National Review,  “Is a movement that effectively silences even mild dissent by mostly like-minded people something to be proud of?”

One feminist who has been critical of the #MeToo witch hunt tendencies from the start is “Advice Goddess” Amy Alkon, who writes, “Women of past generations worked so hard to be treated as men’s equals. Now every woman has to be looked at like a walking lit fuse.” Of course this is happening: I predicted it too. As Smith writes at another article in the NY Post, many men are no longer willing to be alone with female colleagues:

Consider what’s happening in the capital of Florida. Female staffers and lobbyists have found “many male legislators will no longer meet with them privately,” reported The Miami Herald. “I had a senator say, ‘I need my aide here in the room because I need a chaperone,’ ” lobbyist Jennifer Green told the paper. “I said, ‘Senator, why do you need a chaperone? . . . Do you feel uncomfortable around me?’ ‘Well,’ he said, ‘anyone can say anything with the door shut.’ ”“I’m getting the feeling that we’re going back 20 years as female professionals,” said Green, who owns her company. “I fully anticipate I’m going to be competing with another firm that is currently owned by some male, and the deciding factor is going to be: ‘You don’t want to hire a female lobbying firm in this environment.’ ”

…Across industries, “Several major companies have told us they are now limiting travel between the genders,” Johnny Taylor, president of the Society for Human Resource Management, told the Chicago Tribune, citing execs who tell men not to go on business trips or share rental cars with women co-workers. UCLA psychologist Kim Elsesser, the author of “Sex and the Office,” sees a nascent “sex partition.” If men start to back away from women, at least in professional settings, it’s difficult to see how that will aid the feminist cause.


Good job, everybody!

2.  Catching up on the terrifying norm-defying Presidency...Back in January, I wrote regarding the foofaraw over whether the President called Haiti and some African nations “shitholes” and the ridiculous claim by Senator Durbin that no President had ever used such a vulgar term in the White House:

“You see, Trump is different. He isn’t like a normal President. He doesn’t deserve, therefore, to be treated like a normal President. This justifies the anti-democratic effort by the Democratic Party to undermine him and his office as long as he is in it. The new book by the two Harvard Professors I mentioned in item #1 here  was designed as a partisan weapon to further this narrative. The theme of “How Democracies Die” is that President Trump, unique among Presidents, is defying crucial “norms.” I will elaborate of the dishonesty of that thesis in a later post; this one is too long already.”

I never did. Here, finally, is what I was going to write:

The authors of the book, Professors Harvard professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, were the most credentialed of the “resistance” attack dogs sicced on Donald Trump to carry a core message of the movement: unlike any other President, this one was willing to discard tradition, established practice, and “democratic norms.” The New York Times wrote about it; so did the Atlantic and others. The theme began emerging when the President fired James Comey. Yes, yes, the critics said, a President can fire an FBI chief, but Presidents don’t because of the importance of keeping law enforcement apolitical. Well OK, Bill Clinton fired one, but that was special. All right all right, every President from about 1945 to 1972 SHOULD have fired J. Edgar Hoover since he abused his power outrageously–that’s five Presidents—but Trump doing it proves he’s a dangerous authoritarian! This talking point comes from the quieter Siamese Twin of Fake News, Fake History. Every President defies previous norms, or makes up new ones, and the stronger the Presidents involved are, the more norms they shatter. Andrew Jackson threatened to lead an army into a state and hang a Senator, John C. Calhoun. No President had ever done THAT before. He openly defied the Supreme Court. he set out to kill a powerful government institution, the Bank of the United States, and did. This is only a sample of Jackson’s norm-denying conduct, but he was a transformational President, and he didn’t leave the democracy in tatters.

John Tyler defied the consensus regarding what the Constitution meant about Presidential succession when a President died. Everyone told him that as Vice President, he was just a place-holder until a special election could be held. Tyler said, in essence, “I’m President now, so bite me. The next election will be in four years.” Abe Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus and locked up a newspaper editor for publishing critical editorials. Andrew Johnson openly defied a law passed by Congress as unconstitutional.

Much of the caterwauling about Trump’s “authoritarian” defiance of norms issues from his idiotic tweeting and use of the social media platform to attack individuals and the news media. There are no “norms” regarding social media. Other Presidents didn’t use Twitter this way because, of course, there was no Twitter. I once made a list of the past Presidents who would have eagerly reported to Twitter to fight the press and critics, or reach the public directly. A conservative list would be John Adams, Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, A. Johnson, Teddy, Wilson, Coolidge (a limit in characters wouldn’t bother Cal at all), FDR, Truman, LBJ, Nixon and maybe Clinton.

Meanwhile, Woodrow Wilson shattered a norm when he addressed Congress directly with his State of the Union message rather than just submitting it in writing. Franklin Delano Roosevelt paid no attention to “norms.” He defied the two-term tradition. He defied the norm of not locking up American citizens because of their heritage. He defied the norm of not trying to change the size of the Supreme Court. He defied the rather crucial norm of not secretly plotting behind Congress’s back to send aid to combatants in a foreign war. He defied a norm by dictating who would be his Vice President. One of his Vice Presidents, President Truman, then defied a norm by personally attacking a newspaper columnist as President. Jack Kennedy ignored a norm by appointing his own brother as Attorney General, and also broke one of decorum, allowing citizens to see him, indeed touch him, while he was in a bathing suit.  LBJ showed his abdominal scar to the world. Both Nixon and Clinton, trying to stave off impeachment, broke with multiple norms in their claims of executive privilege. Gerald Ford became the first President to pardon a predecessor. Jimmy Carter, in my personal least favorite norm defiance, met with ordinary citizens on TV and asked them how they would run the country. ( Carter violated a crucial Presidential norm by being a weenie.)

Believe me, this is just a sampling; I could go on and on. The point is that Presidents break norms, and norms are made to be broken…unless they are broken by President Donald J. Trump. Then doing what all strong leaders do is proof of dangerous authoritarian motives

Fake history.

29 thoughts on “Afternoon Ethics Warm-Up, 2/10/18: A Train Wreck Update And A Post On “Democratic Norms”

  1. Kudos for your historical memory rant which is nothing short of inspiring. I especially liked FDR’s and would add: whose use of the media, and norm defiance, might be likened to DJT’s in taking his message directly to the people via Fireside Chats.

  2. As I was sitting watching a good production of a show I hate, “Assassins”—talk about fake history–I remembered that Obama was a major norm defier whom I left out of my list, bypassing Congress routinely with dubious executive orders, refusing to defend laws on the books (DOMA) and refusing to enforce others (Immigration). He openly lobbied and threatened SCOTUS, and attacked news organizations by name.

    • Another good example. Or Grover Cleveland governing by veto in his first term. There are so many examples, it genuinely offends me to read the argument being made that somehow Trump doing what so many other Presidents have done, and all dynamic leaders must do, is uniquely sinister. I keep waffling, but historians are among the professionals that have most diminished themselves since November 2016.

      • The fact that Trump is not a member of the political class seems to have driven politicians and the punditry and political science (so called) academics absolutely berserk. Their despising Trump knows no bounds whatsoever. They are unhinged.

      • Neither of us are professional historians, yet we were able to spot the many exceptions here. It seems that the media, educators, and the public themselves have also come up short in historical, civic literacy. And it doesn’t stop there. I recently visited the National Archives & the National Museum of the American Indian and was troubled by the way the exhibits were curated & interpreted. Complex, dynamic historical events are reduced to one-sided PC narratives, usually involving victimhood or sinister government actions. True, this is DC, but then again, these are national museums, with shows that often travel. Critical thinking, like conversation, is rapidly becoming a lost art.

  3. Speaking of norms … Pence stood only for the US team at the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics. This is being reported as a snub aimed at North Korea. And already I’ve seen people accusing Pence of hypocrisy because he opposed the NFL kneelers. I don’t think those people know what “hyprocisy” means. What are the ethics of Pence standing only for the US team at an event meant to bring the nations of the world together on common and respectful grounds?

  4. I heard an interview with Roiphe yesterday and was very impressed. She is very articulate and expressed many things I had been thinking and discussing with my husband, putting my thoughts into words when I could not.

    I hope the current tone of the #metoo movement is the pendulum swinging too far in the other direction, and that it will moderate soon. Otherwise, as your post suggests, women are going to come out losing rather than gaining influence.

  5. 1)

    Some years back I read Roiphe’s book ‘The Morning After’. I’d say that it was one of the titles (along with ‘Slouching Toward Gomorrah’) that pushed me to an examination of the political platform of the liberal progressive. It went on from there of course and into ‘forbidden territories’ and this is why I recommend reading everyone, even the ‘extremists’. It may even improve the ‘cocktail chatter’ that, I am sure you admit, has gotten so boring and conventional.

    Here is Roiphe talking about what she has experienced as a result of undertaking the assignment and writing the article:

    Here I wish to illustrate a point I made in another place: We see here, in what I think are uncertain terms, what happens when there is not an intellectual platform for discussing ideas but one that is basically emotional.

    There can be no discussion when people live, think and act out of their emotions and cannot, or will not, attempt to isolate and then talk about the idea-bases that are operating here.

    ‘Twitter’ is synonymous in this sense with ‘emotional reaction’. A Twitter Culture is one that deals in emotionalized terms. And Twitter Hysteria is a condition that needs to be confronted. It is a contagion.

    The #metoo movement, I suggest, can be seen topographically as one interested in protecting women from abuse. But in fact, and in order to understand it, it must be examined far more critically. And in order to carry that out one has to be able to gain clarity about the IDEAS that are in operation. This is sociological and philosophcical work.

    Therefor, if there are ethical considerations here, and certanly there are, one has no choice but to employ intellectual and thus philosophical tools to bring out a fuller conversation about ‘what is going on’.

    Especially in our present and as things spiral out of control.

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