At the beginning of the month we discussed the scandal in Nashville, Tennessee, where the female mayor, —the news media tried oh so hard to bury her party affiliation deep in reports, but she’s a Democrat— was carrying on an adulterous affair with the head of her security detail. Some quotes from the Ethics Alarms essay to refresh your memory for the horrors to come:
—She apologized “for the harm I’ve done to the people I love and the people who counted on me” but said she won’t be resigning. In a news conference, she said nothing illegal happened and no policies were violated.
—“I know that God will forgive me, but that Nashville doesn’t have to,” Barry said. “And I hope that I can earn their trust and I can earn your trust back, and that you will forgive me
—-This is classic appearance of impropriety.
—-In the Bill Clinton mold, the mayor is framing this as a matter of marital fealty rather than official misconduct—which it is—so she can argue that it’s just “personal private conduct.”
—-The conduct is unethical whether there are policies or not.
—-This is sexual harassment. The officer was a subordinate, and she was his boss, with the power to fire him or worse. There can be no genuine consent in such situations. In these cases with the typical genders reversed, neither the news media, nor the public, nor, in all likelihood, a hypothetical jury, would see it that way.
—-Barry’s playing the God Card is grounds to remove her all by itself.
—-Come on, #MeToo, show some integrity. Get this workplace predator kicked out of office.
Interestingly, a prominent and respected female, feminist Democrat who comments here with distinction argued in the comments to that post that this wasn’t even a newsworthy story outside of Nashville. Also interestingly, the New York Times disagrees, and even published a spirited—but stupid!—defense of Barry’s conduct, arguing that unlike, say, Al Franken, who was forced to resign for pre-political career conduct and unproven post-political career allegations, the fact that a Democratic mayor—FEMALE! Don’t forget that she is female!–was using state-paid employees under her supervision as a personal, state-funded dating pool does not mean she’s untrustworthy or qualified for high office.
Okey-dokey then! What we have here is an old-fashioned convenient double standard!
And this just in! Nashville’s main newspaper, the Tenneseean, reports that Rob Forrest, the Mayor’s married lover, earned substantially more overtime than the other bodyguards on Barry’s secuirty detail, $173,843.13 between July 2015 and January 2017, which was nearly $53,000 more than the other four bodyguards received combined. But, as several internet wags have noted, let’s be fair: Rob was doing more for the mayor than those other bodyguards..
Now let’s all read the op-ed*, by Margaret Renkl , whom the Times proudly describes as ” a contributing opinion writer.” This time around, I won’t get into such matters as the odd silence of the #MeToo warriors, who have set out to destroy successful men who were accused of being boorish on a single date. I won’t even question the competence of the Times editors, allowing such unethical, illogical, poorly reasoned hypocrisy to make its way into its pages to make Times readers more ethically inept than they already are. No, I just want to focus on Renkle and her claim that Barry shouldn’t have to resign, and the unethical rationalizations for wrongful conduct she gainfully employs along the way.
Here is the complete current list (some new rationalizations will be added soon, but this is plenty). These are just the titles; go here to get the full descriptions.
1. The Golden Rationalization, or “Everybody does it”
1A. Ethics Surrender, or “We can’t stop it.”
The Golden Rationalization has many variations, among them…
“It’s done all the time.”
“It’s always been done this way.”
“Everybody is used to it.”
“Everybody accepts it.”
“Nobody’s complained before.”
“It’s too late to change now.”
1B. The Psychic Historian, or “I’m on The Right Side Of History”
2. Ethics Estoppel, or “They’re Just as Bad”
2 A. Sicilian Ethics, or “They had it coming”
3. Consequentialism, or “It Worked Out for the Best”
4. Marion Barry’s Misdirection, or “If it isn’t illegal, it’s ethical.”
5. The Compliance Dodge.
6. The Biblical Rationalizations
“Judge not, lest ye not be judged,” and “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”
7. The “Tit for Tat” Excuse
8. The Trivial Trap (“No harm no foul!”)
8A. The Dead Horse-Beater’s Dodge, or “This can’t make things any worse”
9. The Reverse Slippery Slope
10. The Unethical Tree in the Forest, or “What they don’t know won’t hurt them.”
11. The King’s Pass, The Star Syndrome, or “What Will We Do Without Him?”
11.A “I deserve this!” or “Just this once!”
12. The Dissonance Drag
13. The Saint’s Excuse: “It’s for a good cause”
13A The Road To Hell, or “I meant well” (“I didn’t mean any harm!”)
14. Self-validating Virtue
15. The Futility Illusion: “If I don’t do it, somebody else will.”
15 A. The Reverse 15
16. The Consistency Obsession
17. Ethical Vigilantism
18. Hamm’s Excuse: “It wasn’t my fault.”
19. The Perfection Diversion: “Nobody’s Perfect!” or “Everybody makes mistakes!”
19A The Insidious Confession, or “It wasn’t the best choice.”
20. The “Just one mistake!” Fantasy
21. Ethics Accounting, or “I’ve earned this”/ “I made up for that”
21A. The Criminal’s Redemption, or “It’s just a small part of what I am!”
21. Ethics Accounting (“I’ve earned this”/ “I made up for that”)
22. The Comparative Virtue Excuse: “There are worse things.”
23. The Dealer’s Excuse. or “I’m just giving the people what they want!”
23 A. Woody’s Excuse: “The heart wants what the heart wants”
24. Juror 3’s Stand (“It’s My Right!”)
24. A. Free Speech Confusion
25. The Coercion Myth: “I have no choice!”
25A. Frederick’s Compulsion or “It’s My Duty!”
26. “The Favorite Child” Excuse
What my guy did is OK, because your guy did it.
The conduct of your guy, which I think is wrong, should set the standard of conduct for my guy, who I think is better than your guy.
The worse your guy can behave without being criticized, the worse my guy can behave without my objecting.
The conduct I deplored in your guy is acceptable to me in my guy, because you didn’t have the integrity to criticize it.
It’s all right for my guy to do what your guy did, but I still think your guy is scum for doing it, and you were a hypocrite not to criticize him.
27. The Victim’s Distortion
28. The Revolutionary’s Excuse: “These are not ordinary times.”
29. The Altruistic Switcheroo: “It’s for his own good”
29 (a). The Gruber Variation, or “They are too stupid to know what’s good for them”
30. The Prospective Repeal: “It’s a bad law/stupid rule”
31. The Troublesome Luxury: “Ethics is a luxury we can’t afford right now”
32. The Unethical Role Model: “He/She would have done the same thing”
32A. Imaginary Consent, “He/She Would Have Wanted It This Way”
33. The Management Shrug: “Don’t sweat the small stuff!”.
34. Success Immunity, or “They must be doing something right!”
35. The Tortoise’s Pass: “Better late than never”
36. Victim Blindness, or “They/He/She/ You should have seen it coming.”
#36 A. The Extortionist’s Absolution (“You were warned!”)
36 B. The Patsy’s Rebuke, or “It’s not my fault that you’re stupid!”
37. The Maladroit’s Diversion, or “Nobody said it would be easy!”
38. The Miscreant’s Mulligan or “Give him/her/them/me a break!”
#38 A.“Mercy For Miscreants.”
39. The Pioneer’s Lament, or “Why should I be the first?”
40. The Desperation Dodge or “I’ll do anything!”
41. The Evasive Tautology, or “It is what it is.”
41 A. Popeye’s Excuse, or “I am what I am.”
42. The Hillary Inoculation, or “If he/she doesn’t care, why should anyone else?”
43. Vin’s Punchline, or “We’ve never had a problem with it!”
44. The Unethical Precedent, or “It’s Not The First Time”
45. The Abuser’s License: “It’s Complicated”
46. Zola’s Rejection, or “Don’t point fingers!”
47. Contrived Consent, or “The Rapist’s Defense.”
48. Ethics Jiu Jitsu, or “Haters Gonna Hate!”
49. “Convenient Futility,” or “It wouldn’t have mattered if I had done the right thing.”
50. The Apathy Defense, or “Nobody Cares.”
Rationalization 50A. Narcissist Ethics , or “I don’t care”
#51 . The Underwood Maneuver, or “That’s in the past.”
52. The Hippie’s License, or “If it feels good, do it!” (“It’s natural”)
53. Tessio’s Excuse, or “It’s just business”
54. The Joke Excuse, or “I was only kidding!”
55. The Scooby Doo Deflection, or “I should have gotten away with it!”
56. “The Idealist’s Delusion,” or “We’re/ You’re Better Than This.”
57. The Universal Trump, or “Think of the children!”
#57 A. The Utilitarian Cheat or “If it saves just one life”
58. The Golden Rule Mutation, or “I’m all right with it!”
Do unto others as you know others would do unto you.
Do unto others what they did unto you.
Do unto others as you wish others would do unto you even though you wouldn’t deserve it.
Do unto others as those others treat others.
Do unto others as they threatened to do unto you.
Do unto others as others who think like you do would also do to those others.
Do unto others according to how you feel about what they did unto you.
Do unto others before they do it unto you.
Do unto me as you would want to have done unto you if you were as devoid of civilized values as I am.
and, “Do unto others as if the others felt like I do, even though they may not.”
59. The Ironic Rationalization, or “It’s The Right Thing To Do”
60 A, B,and C. The Cheater’s Rationalizations
60. A. Barry Bonds’ Pass: “He didn’t need to cheat.”
60 B. The Vendetta Excuse: “It’s not the cheating, it’s the cheater”.
60 C. O.J.’s Facade: “You can’t prove it!”
61.The Paranoid’s Blindness, or “It’s not me, it’s you.”
62. The Doomsday License
63. Yoo’s Rationalization or “It isn’t what it is”
64. Irrelevant Civility or “But I was nice about it!”
64A. Bluto’s Mistake or “I said I was sorry!”
65 .The Pest’s Justification or “He/She/They can take care of themselves”
I recommend printing it out, and checking off the rationalizations as you read. I’ll give the answers with analysis in another post. Just to get you started, here’s one for free: the headline for the op-ed is “Nashville’s Mayor Has Stumbled. Who Will Cast the First Stone?”
This is, of course, one of the Biblical rationalizations, #6, and a sadly common one at that. From the entry on the Rationalizations List:
“One must also remember that stoning was a life-threatening ritual in Biblical times. Like many metaphorical passages in the Bible, this metaphor can be carried too far, and has been. There is a big difference between participating in the physical wounding of an individual when one has been guilty of similar failings, and simply disapproving such conduct and calling for appropriate punishment. Interpreting the passage to mean that nobody can ever be punished or admonished for ethical misconduct except by the ethically pure is simply a cynical justification for a universal lack of accountability and responsibility.”
OK, that’s one. How many others can you find?
* UPDATE: I forgot that the Times has a paywall. I apologize for frustrating readers: here’s my solution. It would be unethical to republish the whole op-ed, since the Times chooses to charge for it, so I’m going in include about half of it here, so at least readers can identify the rationalizations in the first part. Maybe some of you will decide to get the online Times. Here we go…
…Along with this confession, the mayor offered the kind of full-throated apology we almost never get from public officials: “I accept full responsibility for the pain I have caused my family and his,” she said. “I knew my actions could cause damage to my office and the ones I loved, but I did it anyway.”
She ended her statement with a pledge: “God will forgive me, but the people of Nashville don’t have to. In the weeks and months to come, I will work hard to earn your forgiveness and earn back your trust.”
This promise did not seem like an act of damage control. This is the way Megan Barry really talks. The language of full emotional availability is her native tongue.
Perhaps that’s why this city loves her. She hugs schoolchildren. She looks genuinely joyful at city parades and festivals. She grieves that too many Nashville teenagers are slain by guns. When Max Barry, her own son and only child, died suddenly last summer, the people of Nashville wept with her. When she spoke openly about the drug addiction that killed him, we marveled at her courage and admired her resolve to bring addiction out of the shadows of shame.
But in a red state like Tennessee, this liberal mayor also has powerful opponents, and they are not idiots. An editorial in the conservative Tennessee Star wasted no time in calling for her resignation: “Barry and the fawning, liberal Nashville media are trying the Clinton defense.”
In the age of Donald Trump, conservatives have surely surrendered the right to moral outrage on this particular subject. But for those who are unperturbed by appearances of hypocrisy, a sex scandal presents a golden opportunity to halt Ms. Barry’s ambitious progressive agenda — primarily her expensive plan for public transit, but also her unequivocal support for abortion rights, gun control, same-sex marriage and refugee resettlement — and end any plans she might have for higher office.
From the beginning, the mayor has insisted that this affair was a personal calamity only, that nothing about it was illegal or an abuse of power. But even for those inclined to accept the financial documents she has submitted to justify the professional nature of her travels with Sergeant Forrest, the affair itself raises questions.
Were those travels, and their costs to the city, merely excuses to be alone with Sergeant Forrest? Did her feelings for him influence her defense of the Metro Police Department when it was under scrutiny last year for the shooting of a black man in the act of fleeing? Did the affair put her own staff in the unwelcome role of tacit facilitators? When she recommended Sergeant Forrest’s daughter for a newly created city job, was the young woman the best candidate for the position?
Already these questions, and others, are rightly the subject of public investigations by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and by Nashville’s Metro Council, and there may soon be others. We have no way of knowing whether the investigations will exonerate the mayor or reveal improprieties that are unacceptable in a public servant. Unlike her political opponents, I prefer to wait for their findings before forming an opinion about whether she should resign….