Continued…From The Ethics Alarms Mailbag: “What’s Your Reaction To Various Ethics Controversies, Including The Use Of The White House, During The Republican National Convention?” Part 2: The First Family And “Government Functions”

The question of whether the just-completed GOP convention breached ethics rules or principles as many are claiming is multi-faceted. In the first section of this three-part  post, I considered the ugly facet of the event’s many Hatch Act violations. The rest is more equivocal.

B. The First Family

No doubt about it, President Trump’s family set a record for speaking time at a national party convention. For Trump-haters—and this really is what we’re talking about in this section and nothing else—the display was nauseating. One of the inquirers  pronounced this “Royal Family” behavior, and even suggested a dark conspiracy to pave the way for more Trumps at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Talking Point Alert! The “All Trump Hate All The Time” New York Magazine called the parade of Trump children the kind of “dynastic overkill that only this President would dare flaunt.” Well, only one previous President had the opportunity to approach this one by using so many adult children as flacks, and he chose to pass: George H.W. Bush. Then again, he lost.

I wouldn’t cross the street to hear any of the President’s family speak, but the claim that there is something unethical about putting them on the program is just about as perfect an example of Trump Derangement as you could find. Trump is an old guy, and leads the Presidential historical field in adult, politically active children. His kids, and his son in-law, are attractive, poised, and experienced. Chelsea Clinton spoke in support of her mother at the 2016 Democratic National Convention: if there was any criticism of her appearance as unethical, I missed it—and she was not the first offspring of a President or Presidential candidate to have a speaking slot. So what’s the alleged ethical breach here? It appears to be the “it’s unethical to have more than an unspecified number of Presidential children speak at a convention when you’re Donald Trump” rule.

Having Melania speak also set many of the Deranged’s teeth on edge. (See Midler, Bette…but not just her.) Eleanor Roosevelt was the first U.S. First Lady to speak at a party convention in 1940. Her husband wasn’t at that convention, because  he was breaking the no-two-term “norm,” and strategists thought it was best for FDR to lie low. After that, no First Lady spoke at a national party convention for 32 years, until Pat Nixon, a veteran campaigner, followed in Mrs. Roosevelt’s cold footsteps in 1972. Another 12 years went by without a FLOTUS taking the podium, but since Nancy Reagan addressed the GOP party convention in 1984, every First Lady has spoken, though none faced the jaundiced eye of a hateful media like Mrs, Trump, who was accused of plagiarizing her speech in 2016.

The trend of Presidential challengers’ spouses speaking is a more recent phenomenon, with one, Tipper Gore crossing an ethics line (or an “ick, pooie!” line) with an obviously staged kiss in 2000, as part of the Democrats’ “Humanize Robotic Al Gore” plan.

C. “The use of governmental functions for political purposes.”

Professor Turley wrote,

“The incorporation the naturalization ceremony also raises concerns over the use of such governmental functions for political purposes. I also found reformed former felon John Ponder’s remarks to be powerful, but I agree with critics that the incorporation of a pardon signing into the events at a political convention to be wrong.”

This is uncharacteristically vague on the part of the professor. OK, such Presidential actions as pardons and the naturalization have not been used in this manner before, but what is unethical about it? It’s wrong, essentially, because Turley and other critics don’t like it. At the root of their objection is again, the Ick Factor, not any ethical principle. What would it be? Is there an appearance of impropriety? No. The ethics theory is apparently based on, again, the “democratic norms” chant,  or Big Lie #6: “Trump’s Defiance Of Norms Is A Threat To Democracy.” This is and has always been a contrived and cynical argument, as I explained in detail at the link. I concluded,

Every President defies previous norms, or makes up new ones, and the stronger the Presidents involved are, the more norms they shatter. This doesn’t automatically threaten democracy, as the “resistance” and the news media, adopting the boot-strapping argument of “Why Democracies Die” claim. What threatens democracy is efforts to de-legitimize presidential power as an alternative to winning elections…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 that threaten democracy.

I’ll have to check to see which President was the first to turn bill-signing into political theater, signing in front of cameras and handing out pens. That’s a “government function”; I’ll be surprised if any journalists, law professors or historians had the vapors over it. Ronald Reagan first took the staid State of the Union message and used it to play to the cheap seats, having guests in the gallery who he introduced and used to score political points. Every President since has violated the previous norm like Reagan, and now the guest routine is a norm…but President Trump ‘made it into a circus’ last time, thus violating the norm violation.

The Presidency is political all the time now, and anyone who pretends it is unethical to acknowledge that fact and behave accordingly is either being disingenuous or in a fantasy world.

There’s one more part of this post coming—ironically, the topic that initially spawned the mailbag inquiry: The use of the White House.

7 thoughts on “Continued…From The Ethics Alarms Mailbag: “What’s Your Reaction To Various Ethics Controversies, Including The Use Of The White House, During The Republican National Convention?” Part 2: The First Family And “Government Functions”

  1. Good grief. I’ve stopped obsessing over every little thing that happens in the social/political realm years ago . Decorum anymore is subjective.

    There are things President Trump does that drive me to drink but who cares? Unless it’s a serious matter that affects our national economic or homeland security status, let. it. go. I didn’t like seeing Obama appearing on late night talk shows and schmoozing with the Hollywood elite but who cares? I didn’t feel the need to beat it to death.

    President Trump and his family live in the White House. It’s their home. And a beautiful setting. I had no problem with that. And other issues – Melania’s speech, the naturalization & pardoning events etc – they were all informative and just happened to be inspirational to many people in the same situations in life. When would they ever have the chance to share that personal experience otherwise? When would the general public ever know of the challenges and achievements of ordinary people having extraordinary experiences? It’s valuable on many levels.

    The ethical question of whether is it appropriate or an abuse of power and status is subjective. I can’t offer any formal ethics theory but I can say when it comes to issues like these it should be the concern of the general population and not a potentially partisan pulpit especially during such a time of political/social/ethical unrest and polarization.

    If things become obviously inappropriate the general public will speak up. If a sitting president were to hold such an event and include circus acts or show slides of their latest vacation I would probably have a problem with that and so would the general public.

    Political analysis anymore has reached the level of the absurd and I don’t think this topic is worth the time to explore.

  2. Incorporating pardons and naturalization into the convention necessitates willing participants to be used in such a fashion. These are people who are metaphorically “over a barrel”. There’s a power imbalance and I am of the opinion that we can’t (and they can’t) possibly know if they’re there of their own volition. It’s likely they’re just accommodating in order to get something they deeply desire.

    That’s the ethics argument I would make anyway.

      • Yes, which is why every action should be carefully considered. In this case though, these people are seeking something. One of whom, the single only person in the world who can provide her is the president. Would she have been given her full pardon if it wasn’t done for the audience of the RNC? We don’t know. We’d like to assume “yes” because we want to believe the best in people. It’s possible that the naturalization candidates were a done deal in advance and they were given a chance to “opt-in”, I would make that selection process as transparent as possible and having each of them give interviews explaining how it all came to be from their perspective. With a presidential pardon though? I don’t think that’s a conflict that can be resolved.

        “Hey, I’d like to give you a full pardon during the RNC.”
        “Um, could I just have the pardon?”
        “No. Take it or leave it and sign this NDA.”

        I just don’t see a way to resolve this one.

        • Excellent point regarding the circumstances surrounding this pardon. I would like to see a sound piece of investigative journalism on the events and conversations leading up to it, with interviews.

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