The Ethics Conundrum Of The Undisciplined Mind: What Does The President Mean When He Says He Mispoke?

Today President Trump said he had “realized that there is a need for some clarification” regarding his remarks yesterday.

“In a key sentence in my remarks I said the word ‘would’ instead of ‘wouldn’t” The sentence should have been, ‘I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia.’ Sort of a double negative.”

Contradicting what most critics took to be his message yesterday,  the President proclaimed his “full faith and support for America’s great intelligence agencies,” adding,

“I have felt very strongly that while Russia’s actions had no impact at all on the outcome of the election, let me be totally clear in saying that — and I’ve said this many times — I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place.”

Knowing what we know about Donald Trump—I’m not speaking here to the anti-Trump unhinged, who “know” that he is a fascist, colluding, cheating autocratic moron menace who stole the election and who is only President to con the nation and raid its coffers—what does all that mean? What does it mean when someone who thinks and speaks—and acts— like Trump does says, ‘I didn’t mean what I said’?

Not only don’t I have any idea, I don’t think it is possible to know. I see the following possibilities:

1. The President really did say “would” when he meant to say “wouldn’t,” and only realized it later. Likelihood: Sure, that could happen. It’s happened to me. I remember a legal ethics seminar when I was talking about Raymond Burr and “Perry Mason” and was told afterwards that I had said “Aaron Burr” more than once. I had no idea. One of my room mates in law school was talking to me about a moot court competition and how a judge had “buffaloed” one of our esteemed classmates in his oral argument. Somehow, my friend got derailed and started referring to the judge as “the buffalo” as he told the story. He had no idea.

2. The President originally said what he meant, decided that the reaction was too hot and becoming perilous, and flip-flopped out of pragmatic political considerations. He’s lying when he says he misspoke. Likelihood: Very. How many times have we seen Trump do a U-Turn when he deemed it politically wise?

3. The President changed his mind. He really meant what he said both times. Likelihood: Also likely. He improvises opinions and viewpoints on the spot. In 24 hours, he might feel differently.

4. The President doesn’t know what he really thinks, and doesn’t feel bound to any views, any ideals, and principles or any process. That is both his strength and his weakness. Likelihood: Frighteningly enough, I don’t find this explanation unlikely either.

You see, everyone needs a linear constant to negotiate the chaos of life, something reliable, strong, clear and enduring that we can turn to in the recurring chaos and darkness of human events, for guidance and confidence. For some of us, that constant is our religion and its moral tenets. For others, it is a philosophy or an ideology. For some, it’s a goal, like power, or wealth, or fame.

I’m not sure what Trump’s constant is; I wonder if he knows. It’s not ethics, I’m sure of that. Integrity is not a value Trump cares about or even acknowledges. The frightening possibility is that the President of the United States has no linear constant that guides him, making him a human being who thrives in chaos.

While you ponder that, here is a poll:


79 thoughts on “The Ethics Conundrum Of The Undisciplined Mind: What Does The President Mean When He Says He Mispoke?

  1. If I have to give every other politician a pass when they clearly stated an opposite opinion and then claimed to have misspoke, then I will overlook this statement.

    With that said, ask me if I trust our intelligence services more than Putin. My answer would be I trust neither to give Trump a break.

    If Putin is a liar and we cannot trust anything he says because he always tries to sow discord then what am I to make of his statement when he claimed at that press conference that he wanted Trump to win. Could he be simply continuing to give Trump’s opponents more ammunition to weaken Trump.

    It seems to me that if we want to stand up against Russia we should not be creating a circular firing squad.

    • Z
      Five years ago I would disputed the idea that there is a “deep state”. Not so today. Today I believe there is an entrenched mob of power hungry persons; both elected and unelected.

      I was not a Trump supporter during the primaries and have no blind allegience to any candidate. The relentless attacks combined with absolutely no positive commentary in most major media have made me come to the conclusion that Trump is seen as a threat to to established order and the various machines, democrat, republican, and foreign.

      I have also come to believe that Trump is not in this for Trump. I laugh at those that bring up the emolluments clause because his presidency has negatively impacted his brand equity. If Trump can mitigate the growing differential in power between the citizenry and the government thwn his presidency will be be a positive one. Too many misplace their focus on wealth disparity when the real threat is the growing loss of individual liberties of the general populace while the power of government grows. Without liberty one can amass no wealth.

      • There is and has always been a ‘deep state’ but while politicians keep to the rules and norms its members generally keeps to their various duties and pose no threat. They are the ultimate guardians, dedicated to public service and respectful of proper authority. Without their continuing goodwill and diligence, normal civilised life is impossible. You rouse them at your peril.

        • Andrew, Who gave them the authority to be the guardian, who makes the rules and why are the unaccountable?

        • Without their continuing goodwill and diligence, normal civilised life is impossible. You rouse them at your peril.


          The American people are the force you are seeing. EVERY time they get roused the world shakes and changes. The deep state has worked for decades to mitigate the power of the governed: that is changing under Trump and they don’t like it.

        • I prefer “entrenched bureaucrats” to “deep state”. “Deep state” sounds scary and nefarious. “Entrenched bureaucrats”, in my mind, more closely identifies why the local, state, and federal governments are so thoroughly inefficient, incompetent, and protective of themselves above all other things. These bureaucrats are concerned about protecting themselves from any and all scrutiny.

          Witness: Comey and Strzok. They both bjected to challenges of the integrity of the FBI, DOJ, and the intelligence community. They were outraged that someone would even consider thinking that the FBI and its actions were politically motivated. Strzok, in fact, said that his work was immune from scrutiny notwithstanding is obvious disdain for Candidate Trump and the hayseeds out there voting for him. Now, Comey wants all registered Republicans to vote for the Democrats in November, to send some sort of principled message to the Establishment (read that as Republicans).

          Interestingly, those “speaking truth to power” have fallen in line with Strzoks and Comeys of the world. The Resistant, Democrats (applauding the confirmation of the Purple Heart on Strzok for . . . what exactly?), and the news media have been rending their respective garments over such criticism. Yet, these are the same people attacking ICE for enforcing immigration laws (because Nazis), and intelligence reports that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.


  2. I’ll suggest that he lied the first time around, while trying to slip around the question in the presence of Putin and after discussing various head of state-sy things with him.

  3. I’ve always been taught the ethical thing is to “listen generously.” This means granting people slack when it comes to verbal mistakes, to assume the best interpretation, and not to read unkind assumptions into what they say. Often harder to do in practice, especially when dealing in the political arena.

    Until there’s good reason to believe otherwise, I have to assume he really did misspeak, regardless of what my gut may say.

    • I think it’s fair to say that Donald Trump has never received the benefit of any doubt since he started his run for President, not by Democrats, not by Republicans, not by the news media. Never. He gets the opposite: the presumption of malice, dishonesty and stupidity.

    • Giving people the benefit of the doubt is a reasonable policy, but you also have to keep a running total. If someone says something a little untrue once, it could be anything from unclear sentence construction to misspeaking to an honest error of understanding. But when it happens over and over, and when there’s a pattern of always erring in a way that makes them look good (from their own point of view), it begins to look like a personality trait of deliberately disregarding the truth for personal gain, in which case you have to reconsider giving them the benefit of the doubt. Because they are liars.

      You can argue — as some have — that this is not really lying, but that’s a difference like the one between deliberately running people over in your car versus habitually driving 60 mph down side streets and accidentally running people over. There’s a difference, but it’s not an important difference to the victims.

      • The issue to me is akin to Hanlon’s Razor – it’s very easy to accidentally say “would” instead of “wouldn’t.” Who among us hasn’t made a similar mistake? If it were a more strained explanation of word difference, I would be more suspicious.

  4. His characteristic is as a jingoistic narcissistic egocentric head-up-his-ass-tic sociopathic idiot son of an a hole. Fascistic.

    It’s not that he shouldn’t be living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, it’s that he should be living on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, begging for help.

    It’s not just that he is more fit to haul the nation’s garbage, it’s that he should be hauled away as garbage. Half the nation knows it, that’s why they are learning to speak Russian.

    He is a jerk, and as bad as Hillary would have been, yesterday should be Trump’s Waterloo.

      • I stopped at Waterloo, then I started thinking of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, then I started thinking of Napolean because that’s what I was supposed to think of the first time but didn’t. Then I thought of Trafalgar but not because of Nelson but because of Hornblower which is my association with the Napoleonic wars.

        My brain is weird.

      • The comment by Ash should be seen for what it is – a false flag attempt to make the left look totally ignorant. There are intelligent arguments against some of what Trump does; failing to use even one in a rant is not something a good leftie would do. Right?

      • “Fascist” is such an overused, misunderstood term.

        From Wikipedia:

        “Fascism is a form of radical authoritarian ultranationalism, characterized by dictatorial power, forcible suppression of opposition and control of industry and commerce, which came to prominence in early 20th-century Europe. The first fascist movements emerged in Italy during World War I before it spread to other European countries.opposed to liberalism, Marxism and anarchism, fascism is usually placed on the far-right within the traditional left–right spectrum.”

        This is one of those definitions that is so self contradictory it serves as a direct example of how crowd sourced answers cannot be taken at face value. For instance, take the sentence “before it spread to other European countries.opposed to liberalism, Marxism and anarchism”

        I’m not sure if the author was saying that fascism exists in opposition to liberalism, Marxism, and anarchism, or if the countries fascism spread to were opposed to liberalism, Marxism and anarchism…. And seeing as how the article had just finished telling us that a features of fascism included dictatorial power and the control of industry and commerce which could be summarised as “authoritarian Marxism.”, I don’t think anyone really does.

        Apparently, the Nazis are a good example of fascists…. Although the author may have conveniently forgotten that the name “Nazi” is derived from “Zeit des Nationalsozialismus” which literally translates to “Time of National Socialism”. Even the etymology of the word fascist is based on Marxism; “fascio” meaning “bundle of sticks” was a popular name for unions or guilds in that era of Italy, and probably an allusion to the idea that where individual sticks might break, the group could endure (And as an aside, the british word for a bundle of sticks: Fag. No reason for telling you that, I just made the connection and chuckled.).

        But we’re in 2018, almost exactly 100 years after the rise of the original fascists, and progressives are lazy and forgetful at the best of times. They’ve only read one book (Harry Potter), they’ve only seen one series (The Handmaid’s Tale) and they only half-assed studied one particular point in history (WWII+- a decade), and almost every allusion they make can be grounded in one of the three. But because their frame of reference is so limited, and because reality doesn’t always conform to their expectations, they rewrite the narrative of their references in a sort of bizarre fanfiction to serve their needs. “Fascist” isn’t a form of authoritarian Marxism, and neither is Nazism, for that matter, you see…. No, Fascism was RIGHT wing, cis-male-hetero-capitalist authoritarianism! It was Nationalistic (Which, to be fair was true, but to also be fair, “Nationalistic” at the time wasn’t considered a matter of not wanting to bribe your enemies with cash, or maintaining a non-porous border, it was a matter of genocide.)! And that’s really as far as they get.

        Some readers here might remember my dismantling of Hillary Clinton’s “silencer” tweet in the wake of the Las Vegas shooting, where I pointed out that not only was she mistaken, she didn’t know the name of the device, what it did, what it’s actual intended use was, and was so wrong that the truth was actually the opposite of what she had asserted (basically: If the Las Vegas Shooter had been stupid enough to put a suppressor on a bump-stocked AR-15, the heat buildup would have warped the barrel and fewer people would have died.). Following that, I asked the question:

        “If you can barely tell the shootey end of the gun from the grippey end, then how the actual hell do you expect to come up with anything resembling effective gun control, and more importantly, why on Earth should we listen to you?”

        I’m going to make a play on that:

        “If you are so culturally and politically illiterate that you cannot make a cogent argument without a metaphor to children’s fiction, or your own strange mind-cannon of a history you don’t actually understand, then why should the grownups around you give a damn what you think?”

    • For actually practicing diplomacy at a summit? Sure. What is this, impeachment plot M? I better check.

      Michael is right and fair; “fascistic” is lazy, resistance cheap-shot stuff, nonsense on its face. The ones emulating fascists are Trump’s foes, with their media manipulation, violence and demonizing tactics.

      Do better. This kind of junky comment just stinks up my blog.

    • Ash,

      You left off crypto-Nazi, supported by yellow-bellied, running-dog lackies of the bourgeoisie. Oh, and you forgot to write that Trump is a poopy-head who smells bad.

      C’mon. Get it right, Ash. Otherwise, don’t waste your time.


  5. 1) He was asked what is probably the least likely question he could be asked by a bomb-throwing journalist. How appropriate is it to ask the leader of the nation how he plans on holding the leader of a competitor nation accountable in the presence of that other?

    In the context of supposedly trying to build rapport with another nation, how much of a wild curve ball is that?

    This already puts Trump on his heels, and he’s notorious for rambling nonsense when on his heels.

    2) Trump has compartmentalized all things Russia-investigation as being a personal attack on him and a personal attack on his campaign. He is incapable of seeing any aspect of the Russia investigation as having anything to do with the election in general. (And in fairness, the DNC operatives have used all things Russia as a personal attack on him and his campaign).

    So any question about the Russia investigation, as everyone knows, especially the bomb-throwing journalist, will be taken as a personal attack on Trump which he will immediately use waffling language to deflect and mitigate.


    Trump meant what he thought he said. However, given his tendency to word salad his way out of things like that, the words that came out of his mouth didn’t pass through his internal dictionary to make sure they matched up with what he thought he said.

    Trump then tried to correct his intended meaning without significantly changing the bulk of the original message in an attempt to get it closer to what he meant what he thought he said. And mucked that up as well.

    I don’t think that’s an option on your poll.

    • Asking provocative questions of participants in a joint press conference designed to get the participants mad at each other is perfectly appropriate. I’ve seen it done many times before Trump/Putin. Of course, they were all Weigh-ins…

    • >>>1) He was asked what is probably the least likely question he could be asked by a bomb-throwing journalist.

      It is the kind of question that Trump’s handlers would have prepped him for, were he open to being prepped. Given that every question can and will be used against him, you really do wish he would have the humility to accept coaching on these predictable hostile questions.

  6. There are days I respect and feel he is doing a good job, then there are other days I want to know how he can think that is a good idea, and finally thier are those days I think how did we get here! Knowing what is on his mind might give a mind reader pause!

  7. I do this all the time. I say Tennessee instead of Texas, I call my dog by my son’s name and vice versa. I even do it while reading. I say he misspoke.

  8. I think it’s just impossible to be sure. He may have misspoken, he may have simply lied about it for the sake of convenience. In my view, both possibilities are equally likely.

    Trump seems a man of supreme self-confidence who feels like he always comes out on top. That’s a quality I am completely unfamiliar with. It is as alien to me as life from another galaxy would be.

    One of the problems with Trump, and please pardon the sort of amateur psychobabble, is that he seems a rare bird in his combination of arrogance, confidence, and ability to communicate on a wavelength that conventional politicians go out of their way to eschew. All my life, politicians have been seen as silver-tongued narcissists interested mostly in enriching and arrogating power to themselves. Ask yourself this – when was the last time a politician came out of office poorer or only as wealthy as he went in?

    Trump is different. He’s already wealthy, and has shown no inclination to increase that wealth by using his office. I believe he truly wants to make America great again (to the extent it isn’t now), and I also believe that he thinks that actual diplomacy with our opponents is better than confrontation. Confrontation is a tactic that he applies to our friends, which I also find appropriate, as most of our friends have taken unfair advantage of this country. This is 180 degrees from convention.

    I don’t know if it will work. But I’m okay with giving it a try. I don’t live my life in fear, and I’m okay with him making those who do a little miserable.

    • I agree, also. Why, all of a sudden, have attempts at communication with adversaries become bad things? I’m old enough to recall the cold war and how installing that “red phone” on the Presidents desk to facilitate direct communication with Moscow was seen as a step back from the nuclear brink… No, I don’t know if the thing connected at the other end, but the idea of it was seen as good.

      And given the recent track record of the intel agencies and their work during the 2016 campaign, why would DJT now sing their praise? Picking between 2 hostiles is tough, especially in the presence of a third, the press. Like said up thread, he was trying to slip the question.

    • Trump is different. He’s already wealthy, and has shown no inclination to increase that wealth by using his office.


      Let me ask you something. How much does he charge the secret service to rent the golf carts they follow him with every weekend when he’s off at one of his properties? How much does he charge them for the rooms they stay in? How much does his charge the secret service for the office they have to keep in Trump tower to protect him?

      How much does he charge his own campaign for holding fundraisers at his own properties?–It’s all laid out in his quarterly FEC filings, by the way, you’re free to look it up–How much of his legal bills are paid for by his campaign fund? How has his choice of tariffs magically avoided Ina’s shoe company? How many members of his staff have promoted his daughter’s business? How many times has he used visits to promote his own properties? How is it that the membership fee at Mar-a-largo has doubled since he took office?

      How many foreign governments have moved to hold events at Trump properties as a way to curry favor? No emolument, no emolument, you’re the emolument.

      How much has the tax bill saved him? Oh right, he refuses to release his tax return.

      • This is so silly. None of this would even constitute a rounding error in his wealth. Indeed, I would argue that Trump would’ve made more money from all sources had he not been elected president. The Trump-haters, which constitute a significant portion of his potential customers (i.e. the rich gentry liberals) would sooner walk barefoot through San Francisco’s poop-covered streets than stay at one of his properties or play at his golf courses.

        Also, emoluments – you obviously don’t know what that clause means. This has been addressed by many experts, virtually all except the utterly deranged concluding that clause does not apply to Trump’s situation. For that matter, George Washington took emoluments, and nothing was ever said or done about it.

        Here, read and learn.

        Finally, the tax bill – That was a bill created by Congress, which he signed. He did not craft it, and as far as I can tell gets no benefit above and beyond what a normal American in his situation would.

        His tax return is private information. He has no duty, ethical or legal to release that information to suit his critics.

        • So he’s not enriching himself because the ways he’s enriching himself don’t count because he’s super rich, or so he says even though he’s a pathological liar who never actually revealed where his money comes fomr or how much there is or how leveraged he is or how much he owes or to who. But that’s okay because you believe the pathologically lying treason weasel.

          And it doesn’t count if foreign governments try to curry favor with him by throwing money his way because reasons?

          • …foreign governments try to curry favor… by throwing money…

            You mean like they did with Hillary? Project much?

            Seriously, could you BE more unselfaware? The Clinton Crime Family took in ‘donations’ and made decisions for foreign governments routinely. Heard of Uranium One? Dig a little and you will see a vast host of donations preceding boons granted to other governments.

            Why did you think she set up her own server? Deleted 30,000 emails? The Clintons have always been ‘all about the money.’

  9. Trump’s constant is: get a good deal and become more wealthy. He who dies with the highest net worth wins. I saw it all the time in business clients. Maybe politicians can’t deal with Trump because they spend too much time around other politicians. They should spend more time around business people. Fortunately, Trump is currently trying to make the U.S. more wealthy. Nothing wrong with that. The U.N., NATO, China, the Saudis and OPEC can all stop soaking us. What on earth is wrong with that? I think a greedy business guy (but I repeat myself) is just what the country needs after Mr. Internationalist Redistributionist set out to impoverish the country to save the planet and remedy income inequality.

  10. I generally fall under the “it’s impossible to be sure” category…. But I think it’s unlikely… Donald Trump doesn’t admit he makes mistakes, He’ll walk the wrong way away from a plane on the tarmac and expect everyone else to correct to him. Actually saying the words “I misspoke” is something of a change for him, and because it’s such a distinct change from his base inability to admit he was wrong, I think this was a calculated attempt.

    The question is: “What do we do with that?”. Part of my frustration with this president is that he’s poorly spoken and his refusal to correct himself has led to this absurdity where he’ll have basically taken every possible stance on any given issue. At heart, I think he’s a populist, he governs the way he thinks his base expects… He just sometimes doesn’t know what that is, and sometimes gets it wrong. If he sees that an admission where that he got the point wrong, desperately…. stupidly wrong, and a pivot to the correct position actually works out, it could push him to doing more of the same in the future. And for that reason, even though I think that the admission is more of a “I hear you, I was wrong, I now think….” than I think he actually held the view as he was saying it, I’m inclined to let him get away with it, because I’d like to see more of it.

    Or maybe that’s wishful thinking.

    • Are we discussing the same Trump? I have given up on him changing the way he works, as he has been successful enough all his life to not see the why of changing.

  11. I voted for “He changed his mind” but, having had a few moments to think about it, it dawned on me that Trump had to say what he said in Helsinki. He had to declare that Putin did not have an impact on the 2016 election. Otherwise, if he declares that Russia/Putin hacked and affected/effected the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, then he is playing into his opposition’s hands: He is conceding that his victory is tainted by the stain of meddling and his possible collusion thereby stealing the election from Hillary Clinton. Is that a diplomatic or political zugzwang?


  12. The latest dumb dumb thing making the rounds:

    That Article 2, Section 4 says that the Vice President, and all other civil officers (somehow including the speaker of the house) will be removed along with the President if the president is impeached.


    • Is that the Article 2 Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution, or Article 2 Section 4 of the Democrat National Committee constitution?

      I’m sure it must be the latter.

    • At the least dumb.

      Section 4

      The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

      Following their logic, Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi are also out, Along with the rest of Congress, the Cabinet and…dare I say it…the entire bureaucracy (read ‘Shadow Government’)

      • dragin_dragon: “Following their logic, Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi are also out, Along with the rest of Congress, the Cabinet and…dare I say it…the entire bureaucracy (read ‘Shadow Government’)”

        That’s how I read it, too. So…could they…might they…be saying how THEY would “drain the swamp?” (Of course, we know that the swamp would fill up all over again right away, and, we know what species – predators, all – would dominate the political, social, and literal food chain in the re-filled swamp, like the dinosaurs did, for the ensuing 100 million years.)

  13. I voted for “It’s impossible to be sure” because, after long years of opportunity to think about (or, not think about) whatever it was I was thinking – or, not thinking, or, thinking I was thinking or not thinking – it’s impossible for me to be sure about every thing I have ever really done. Getting married has been helpful to me, but it’s impossible for me to be sure the benefit has been mutual, and I am sure she could have done far better than to stick with me.

  14. I can’t remove my previous vote, would choose “impossible to be sure”.

    What if he is providing answers to the questions which he thinks he should be asked?

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