Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/6/2020: Another KABOOM!, Two Deranged Op-Eds, And Kansas City Police Adopt The Nuremberg Defense

Feeling blue, beleaguered and dispirited: time for my favorite “Good morning” video again:

1. Yes, it’s another KABOOM! to begin the day. The same critics who attack the President every day for his response to the virus, whatever he does or says, have been alternately praising China for its handling of the pandemic or defending it. Now look at these photos  from two days ago, April 4, showing Chinese citizens heading for the Huangshan mountain park to enjoy the great outdoors, as CNN put it.

2. Today in leadership ethics…on this date in 1841, President William Henry Harrison, then the oldest man by far to take the Presidential oath of office (America take note),  died after just 31 days from a cold he caught by grandstanding to show he wasn’t so old (he refused to wear a top coat in freezing weather, and delivered what is still the longest inaugural address in our history). He was the first President to die in office. He also died after being elected in a year ending with a zero,  launching a creepy 120 year tradition of every POTUS elected in such a year also dying in office (Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, Harding, FDR, JFK)  until Ronald Reagan beat it, though just barely.

Vice President John Tyler was sworn into office amidst mass confusion: the Constitution was unclear about what happens when a President dies. It directed that in case of the President’s death “the Powers and Duties of the said office” “shall devolve upon the Vice President” until a new President is elected. Here the most unlikely of leaders, an obscure figure from the opposition party (Tyler was a Southern slave-holding Democrat  put on the Whig ticket, maybe because “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too!” scanned) who had no constituency, looked like Ichabod Crane…

…and who later joined the Confederate cabinet, made a bold decision that changed American history in too many ways to imagine.

While many experts and legal scholars argued that he was only a temporary, acting-POTUS until a special election could be held, Tyler decreed that he was, in fact, the President, and would serve out Harrison’s full term. Congress couldn’t figure out how to stop him, and thus the United States, by accident and the unilateral decree of an otherwise minor political figure, adopted the smooth manner of transition that has served it so well. It wasn’t until the 25th Amendment, ratified in 1967,  that there was anything in the Constitution saying directly that the Vice President permanently assumes the job and finishes out the term upon the death, resignation or removal of the President.

Fun fact:  President Tyler, who was born in 1790, has a grandson living in Virginia. Lyon Gardiner Tyler, Jr., born in 1924, is 96 years old. I once saw him from afar when he was still living at the Tyler plantation, dubbed Sherwood Forest.

3. Today’s gratuitous and divisive bit of pundit Trump hate comes from Times op-ed writer Jennifer Senior, whose screed is called “Trump’s Nacissiam Could Cost Us Our Lives.” How’s that for a hysterical and fear-mongering hyperbole? She’s a progressive Obama fan (One of her book is called “Dreaming of Obama”), and despite a lack of training  or experience in psychology or psychiatry, she presumes to tell us how President Trump’s narcissism—there’s no denying he’s a narcissist, like about 75% of our Presidents, including dreamy Barack Obama—is undermining the response to the Wuhan virus.

I was eager to read this one, as I have been desperately seeking a specific explanation about exactly how the President can be credibly blamed, now or ever, for a single Wuhan virus death beyond “If he had done something other than what he did,  different things might have happened.” I was, of course, disappointed.

There is literally nothing substantive in the op-ed beyond various distillations of the Big Lies we have been hearing and reading all along, and conclusions that flow from “I hate this guy; don’t you hate this guy?” rather than any serious analysis. Here’s an example:

Narcissistic leaders never have, as Trump likes to say, the best people. “They have galleries of sycophants. With the exceptions of Drs. Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx, Trump has surrounded himself with a Z-team of dangerously inexperienced toadies and flunkies — the bargain-bin rejects from Filene’s Basement — at a time when we require the brightest and most imaginative minds in the country.”

Well, I could have a ball deconstructing that ridiculous sentence, as I suspect could you. What Senior would presumably call an example of “the best and the brightest” are non-toadies like MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, the main architect of Obamacare, who was caught on video several times mocking how gullible the American public was to fall for the administration’s fictions about the Affordable Care Act, or Attorney General Eric Holder, who refused to permit an independent investigation into the non-toadying IRS sabotaging Tea Party groups before the 2012 elections, or Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who [fill in the blanks].  Meanwhile, “best and brightest” Dr. Fauci was telling the President in February that the virus wouldn’t be a big concern, and Dr. Birx says things in public like this.

The entire piece is nothing more than another iteration of “Orange Man bad, so anyone he appoints is bad, and anything that happens is worse than it would have been if someone other than Bad Orange Man was in office.” For three and a half years we have been reading this junk, the same thing over and over, and the division, cynicism and distrust that this has engendered COULD cost us our lives, or at least our democracy.

4. Ann Althouse chose a different Times Trump-hate op-ed to fisk, a Frank Bruni rant  headlined, “Has Anyone Found Trump’s Soul? Anyone?” She does, as usual, a great job, coming from the same perspective I do, a non-Trump voter who has kept bias and the herd instinctat bay  sufficiently to find the  Democratic/”resistance”/ mainstream media assault on Trump repulsive.  She concludes,

I see Bruni stumbling through the canyons of his mind. There’s an outpost up ahead… your next stop — the Trump Hotel. Columnists check in. But they never check out.

5.  Once again, Ethics Alarms asks, “Where is the ACLU?” In another example of gratuitous and troubling police state tactics on the pretense of “protecting the public,” Kansas City police broke up a driving parade of elementary school teachers and administrators on April 4 because, the police said, the celebration was nonessential and against state orders.

John Fiske Elementary School workers had gathered in their cars at 11 a.m. for what they called the “Lion Pride Parade 2020,” according to the school’s Facebook page, which included the parade route the cars were going to take. The harmless and non-infectious idea was to celebrate the beginning of distance learning for students forced to take their classes over the  internet beginning today,  showing the students their teachers care about them and also demonstrate social distancing.

Nancy Chartrand, public information officer with the KCKPD, said officers were only following state-mandated orders.

“Only following orders”...where have I heard that before? I’m sure it will come to me…

17 thoughts on “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/6/2020: Another KABOOM!, Two Deranged Op-Eds, And Kansas City Police Adopt The Nuremberg Defense

  1. Re: driving car parade

    My wife is as of this moment taking our middle child to a car parade celebrating one of his classmates birthday. If anyone dares raise a peep about it (police, school administration, random neighbor) they are not hearing the end of it from me until the stupid virus is eradicated.

  2. Upon seeing the title to Bruni’s screed, my first question was “Has anybody seen Bruni’s integrity?”
    Then I read the “NYT Picks” comments and read one complaining about how the Brazilian president is behaving just as badly as President Trump. So I responded with this (which got accepted!). It probably won’t change any minds, but at least I found it therapeutic::

    Interestingly, there’s one country that *isn’t* complaining about their leader during the pandemic – at least for longer than the 10 minutes it takes the censors to remove the unappreciated posts – China. Not only has Xi the Savior redeemed his country from the scourge of the “virus of unknown origin” and sent all his subjects back to work or school, but now his subservient media is singing his praises – both domestically and internationally. And when asked about how things are going, ordinary citizens respond “Can’t complain – I understand the rules”.

    I, for one, would rather see reporting on the sausage being made (even if the reporting continues to be done by evangelical vegans) – most of us can separate the offal reporting from real meat.

  3. RE: Covid-19

    Here in Hagerstown MD traffic is light but all it does appear that all activities are proceeding like any other day when there is a national holiday. You can pick up your big screen TV at Best Buy or buy liquor at any of the dozens of packaged goods stores. Apparently, our liquor board is allowing TGI Fridays to offer “Off Sale” ie carryout liquor beer and wine. Need to pick up some new patio furniture, no problem Lowes, Home Depot and even Ollies bargain basement is open. The only things closed are those that are considered to be in the hospitality and retail sectors that don’t sell food. People are on the tennis courts and riding bikes around the neighborhood.

    What is new is the use of masks. I see many with those surgical masks that the current administration is being blamed for not having enough of, or, they are becoming a Kardashian fashion statement. You can buy all sorts of masks on Amazon and guess where they ship from – you guessed it Wuhann China. Our local hospital set up a testing site and I never saw anyone ever there. It is now closed. Two friends from WVA came up and were tested at an satellite urgent care/office facility but they were the only ones seeking tests.

    Sociologically speaking I see two distinct groups forming; those who want to be victims and those who see themselves as frontline heroes. Almost daily I have some stranger advise me on social distancing or other advisory or command. These people seem to think they are the font of all knowledge when in fact they are just authoritarians in waiting. At the other end of the spectrum are the people who see this as an opportunity to avoid any personal responsibility. They range from those that see every cough as evidence they are going to die and they need people to do for them to those who are complaining that government is not doing enough for them financially and emotionally. I for one just need facts, I don’t need or want a digital hug.

    A friend sent me this YouTube video . The video suggests we are all being duped by the gloom and doom prognosticators. I do recall that CBS news played footage from an Italian hospital and represented it as Elmhurst Hospital in NY so part of the video I know is factual. The problem I have is what about the rest of it. Did CBS willfully try to deceive us or was it a unfortunate error by a producer? I don’t know. If this video is showing what is actually occurring we need to be on high alert as to what the bureaucracy has in store for us

    When I listen to Fauci I get mixed messages. One day he says the anti-malarial drugs are unproven and not worth taking and on another he says they are safe and he would take them until something better was in the offing. Now bandanas or masks are worthwhile yet a week ago they were not. On top of that if masks are in such short supply that 3M cannot meet our total demand and the president is then forced to upend foreign policy to commandeer such masks, then why should the general public be advised to acquire and use N95 masks.

    At this point, I am not sure Fauci or Brix are the right persons to advise Trump or us. Even the Surgeon General cannot deliver a positive message.

    I am beginning to believe that I cannot believe anything I am told. I hear that the hospital ships have few patients, I hear that we have shortages of nurses and doctors in one broadcast and in another I see hospitals are laying off medical personnel because of the elimination of non-essential surgeries. Recent videos of New York Hospitals by citizen reporters do not show the hospital being overwhelmed at all.

    If we are having thousands of deaths each day from this virus the names of its victims should be front and center. Don’t tell me 500 people died yesterday from Covid-19. Give me their names and ages and what hospital they died in so that I can begin to draw my own conclusions. I am a rational person but what I see and what I am told are far different and making me skeptical of any information given to me by government.

  4. so again I ask what changed between the time you wrote this:
    “I was eager to read this one, as I have been desperately seeking a specific explanation about exactly how the President can be credibly blamed, now or ever, for a single Wuhan virus death beyond “If he had done something other than what he did, different things might have happened.” I was, of course, disappointed.”

    and the time you wrote this:
    “The fact is that in a government culture where accountability has been discarded, where the leadership’s priorities have been politics, optics, ducking responsibility and blame-shifting, where there is no leadership skill at the top and thus no projection of competent leadership thorough the chain of command, public trust in government competence is irrational, and trust based on wishful partisan denial is unforgivable, and perhaps FATAL.” (caps mine)

    5 years ago you were champing at the bit to lie the blame of Ebola deaths as the foot of the Obama administration. Now in your mind it’s not even rational to point out missteps because there’s no definitive way of knowing whether different actions may have yielded different results.

    Trump Derangement Syndrome indeed.

      • Got it! Thanks for pointing me to that post (and a couple of others)…I think I’ll repost it later today for contrast.

        The post, as the title suggested–was specifically about the CDC’s epic ineptitude early in the Ebola crisis. The context was a the refusal of the Mainstream media to accord any responsibility or criticism to the Obama administration during the ebola situation, despite a Obama’s administration-long pattern of agency incompetence and a refusal to hold incompetent administrators accountable. And yes, as I had written before, any government that knows it won’t be held accountable and that the news media will cover for it no matter what is dangerous. The statement was, however, about a specific agency that was screwing up. We knew that Obama’s HHS was incompetent (thanks to the Obamacare rollout) and that nobody had been fired. We knew, or should have known, that Obama was a lax and feckless manager and leader, and he was. Yet the news media, then and now, the media refused to identify specific examples of government incompetence. Ebola, moreover, was a known contagion, with known characteristics and outbreaks that had been observed and studied.

        The context of today’s post was, if anything, the opposite. The news media is attacking anything Trump has done, sometimes opposite actions, in order to Undermine him politically. The attacks are personal, like Senior’s. Unlike with Ebola, which is fatal 90% of the time (but harder to catch), the Wuhan virus is not so fatal but also still susbtantially misunderstood. Since it has been unclear what the right response is, there is no way at all to say something the president did or didn’t do was responsible for any death or death, so the accusation that he is, at this point (and it’s this point when the accusation is being made), is unfair. In the case of Obama’s stuttering response to Ebola, the statement that the systemmic incompetence of the entire administration and health care apparatus was “perhaps” fatal is fair, and I explained why. Note that I did not mention the other President’s narcissism.

        This is an ethics blog, and the news media’s determination to sweep the last President’s incompetence under the rug, and indeed tell the opposite story, is as unethical and dangerous as the news media’s efforts to cripple this administration by calling everything this President does or says a crime against government. There are plenty of good reasons not to be confident of Trump’s leadership here and in other matters, but he has not been permitted to take his best shot. This current crisis is a good example, with the public being encouraged to panic, trust the untrustworthy (China, the CDC, WHO) and to blame the President for the outbreak.

        I’ll stand behind both posts. They are not contradictory. My goal remains to take bias out of the analysis.

      • Here it is:

        Look – yes, I get it, hindsight is always 20/20 and all that. Yes, there are some people that want to hang every and any bad thing that happens in this country around Trump’s neck. Yes, he was not responsible for the virus – but he was responsible for the preparedness and the response. As are DeBlasio & Cuomo for New York’s preparedness and response.

        They (and every other person in some leadership role that in any way is dealing with this crisis) should all be asked, and asking themselves, what could we have done differently? What worked well? What did not? And yes, a very uncomfortable question that MUST be asked is “could we have saved more lives if we had done things differently?”

        No, there’s no way of knowing for sure what other outcomes may have presented had other decisions been made, but how do you prepare for the next crisis by not asking that question?

        Did the president downplaying the virus until well into March have any impact on how citizens responded to various guidelines once they were released? Again, impossible to know conclusively, but we need to try and answer that question. The impact of his words and actions will not have impacted the trajectory of the outbreak in the US to the degree that some would have you believe, but there was certainly an impact. How do we assess that? How do we better understand how a president SHOULD react to threats like this in the future in order to make sure we are collectively prepared to respond as necessary?

        I understand the argument that people are placing too much blame too quickly on the president alone, but to simply claim that asking these questions is completely absurd just boggles my mind.

        To quote some more of your words back to you:

        “During the various interviews as the entire set of Ebola protocols and their execution were shown to be ineffective and ill-considered, I watched one official after another say, “We have to stop pointing fingers and fix the problem.” How can any problem be fixed without identifying who screwed up, and making certain they either don’t do it again, or are not in the position to do it again?”

        The implication, of course, was that decisions and actions made were incorrect – and created more risk than other decisons or actions would have. That was in response to an epidemic that caused two deaths in the US. For COVID-19, where the stakes are astronomically higher, you don’t think the same standards should be applied?

        • This is a legitimate argument, but again, we knew all about Ebola and could identify mistakes in real time. I list “Don’t point finger” on the Rationalizations list. In this case, Dr. Fauci, who has made plenty of his own mistakes in both scenarios, is right: we didn’t and don’t know enough about what works and what doesn’t in this situation for it to be analogous. Just today I read an article with some credibility that said some doctors and researchers question how much or if non-symptomatic infected spread the disease! Meanwhile, the economy is a consideration that didn’t enter into the calculations on ebola at all. The point is, how can any evaluation of the Wuhan virus response be made with such a lack of consensus and knowledge—which was NOT the case with ebola? How can an evaluation be made fairly when “everything this guy does or did is wrong by definition, because its this guy!” is the prevailing context?

          • Sure there are unknowns, but there are a whole lot of knowns at this point as well. Evaluation can be made and made fairly if we sift out the noise and take limited knowledge into consideration. And it can and SHOULD be done in real time to the best of our abilities so that course corrections can be made and people can be held accountable (and removed from the decision making process when appropriate). We can’t forego evaluation completely because of limitations – that would be an irresponsible over correction. And I would remind you that roughly 30-40% of people in this country and a not insignificant chunk of the national media thinks “everything this guy does or did is right by definition, because it’s this guy!” Too many people in this country think that besides occasionally running his mouth off or sending dumb tweets, he’s a damn fine – nay, the BEST – president this country has seen in decades – and that any criticism of his conduct is illegitimate on its face because the media is out to get him.

  5. (5) I would only approve of them breaking up the ‘parade’ if it was causing traffic issues or breaking traffic laws. However, I certainly would personally approve of the police stopping ours. Our teachers drove through the center of town, honking their horns for 2 hours each day for 3 straight days. They had police escorts who blocked off every intersection on their route, covering half the town. For 2 hours, there was horn honking and a 15 mile detour to get to locations within a mile of my house. All this so we could pay homage to the public school teachers who still haven’t figured out how they are going to teach the students 3 weeks later. On 2 of those days, I was suffering from headaches and trying to lie down at lunch to make them go away. Non-stop horn honking doesn’t help. Of course, this only occurred in the poor part of town. They didn’t block off the streets and do this in the wealthier neighborhoods.

  6. My town’s elementary school, coincidentally enough, had a Lion’s Pride Parade (yes, same mascot!), with a small caravan of teachers following one of bus routes and waving to students. It went of swimmingly (speaking of swimming, I also mistook the lead lion for a shark, but that’s irrelevant).

    • “It’s not irrelevant; it’s a hippopotamus,” triggered by Rich in CT, thank you so much.

      [Source: some people think it’s from a Marx Bros. movie but can’t prove it. Googling it gets you to a sub-head in an article asking why Jordan Peterson isn’t considered among “the world’s leading intellectuals” (a fairly reasonable question), and only finally directs you to its parents, Flanders and Swann, in imitation Groucho-speak in their intro {1:05} – you have to listen fast – to their (futuristic 50s) live audience recording of the infamous “Hippopotamus Song.” You are welcome to join in the chorus]:

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