Ethics Observations On President Trump’s Press Conference

P conference

The transcript is here.

1. This was pretty close to Donald Trump at his worst, if we don’t count episodes like his performing mocking imitations of journalists or insulting women’s appearances. It was also predictable. Even as bad as it was, I would rate the press conference as superior to Richard Nixon’s infamous concession speech when he lost his attempt to become Governor of California in 1962 (“You won’t have Richard Nixon to kick around anymore…”). There was no self-pity in Trump’s rant, just anger and indignation. Anger and indignation are appropriate and justified in this case.

2. He should not have given the press conference at all. Some Presidents could under these circumstances; this one can’t, and he should know that. All he could do is stir up division, or worse. Trump has no ethical bearings, so he feels (I’m sure) that since Hillary Clinton and the Democrats worked to undermine the legitimacy of his election in 2016, he is justified in doing the same to Biden. That’s not ethical, but that is how he thinks. So do a majority of Americans.

3. If you look only at the broad message Trump was conveying, it’s not wrong. The election was held under unfair conditions, and his re-election bid was undermined by many factors beyond his control. Since the President communicates in stream of consciousness short-cuts and verbal atrocities, I long ago decided to ignore the details of what he says, since I know he only believes them for the approximate seconds between when a thought pops into his head and when it comes out of his mouth.

4. If you look instead at the details, they are all over the place—exaggerations, misstatements, broad over-generalized assertions, falsehoods—you know, the usual. Factcheckers have had a party, which, as we have seen repeatedly, allows the news media to ignore anything legitimate and important in the President’s remarks. This is Trump’s fault as much as theirs, maybe more than theirs. There is a time to be careful in one’s words, or, if one cannot muster the self-control, to shut up. This was one of those times. However, President Trump has a flat learning curve.

5. One obvious falsehood was his statement that the election machinery in all of the unsettled states is run by Democrats, Georgia being the most immediate and glaring example where this is not the case. It is irresponsible for the President to mislead the public like that, intentionally or not (I bet the President believed what he said when he said it). But it is also true that Democrats have manipulated vote counts in states they did not run, when they were in charge of a crucial county. We all saw this during the Florida recount in 2000, and that state had the Republican Presidential candidate’s brother as its governor. Again, the President’s broad message—it looks like Democrats are manipulating the vote counts—was and is not unreasonable, though he should not be the one making that accusation.

6. This section was excellent:

I challenge Joe and every Democrat to clarify that they only want legal votes because they talk about votes and I think they should use the word legal, legal votes. We want every legal vote counted, and I want every legal vote counted. We want openness and transparency, no secret count rooms, no mystery ballots, no illegal votes being cast after Election Day. You have Election Day and the laws are very strong on that. You have an Election Day, and they don’t want votes cast after Election Day and they want the process to be an honest one. It’s so important.

We want an honest election and we want an honest count and we want honest people working back there because it’s a very important job. So that’s the way this country is going to win.

Unfortunately, it was sandwiched between a mess of rumors, unsubstantiated claims, and typical Trumpian hyperbole, as when he said that he would win “easily” if only legal votes were counted.

7. Both parties and their leaders have been disgraceful in their suggestions that the election would be “stolen” if the opposition prevails. The Democrats like to frame this under their catch-all of voter suppression. (Again, I direct readers to Andrew McCarthy’s piece in The National Review.) President Trump, however, cannot ethically stoop to “Everybody does it” or other rationalizations. He is President. He must not say the election is, has been or will be “stolen,” until or unless there is definitive  proof that he would have won had not the voting been tampered with. The same is true of using the term “rigged.”

8. The truth is that the Left’s four year effort to use lies, fear, hate, Congressional abuses of power, rumor-mongering, character assassination and distortions, fake news and open bias by the news media and social media to undermine this President and get him out of office finally worked, barely, and at a terrible price. It would be nice if Donald Trump possessed the rhetorical skills to explain what happened in an articulate, clear, convincing way, but he does not. Thus we get disorganized rants with meat-axe words like “stolen” instead.

9. Three networks cut coverage of the President’s news conference on the theory that he was “spreading misinformation.” If the President is holding a news conference and says he will explain why he is the Princess Anastasia, it is still news. This is unethical journalism, partisan bias, and indefensible.

10. At the end, we hear reporters’ voices asking, “Why are you undercutting this process, sir?” and  “Are you being a sore loser?” The first is a “When did you stop beating your wife?” question, and the second is an accusation framed as a question.

8 thoughts on “Ethics Observations On President Trump’s Press Conference

  1. Ironically, last night I watched “The Free State of Jones.” In the post-civil war era after the ratification of the 14th Amendment, the lead character Nate led over 20 voters, mostly freedmen, to the pole. Upon entry, he declares that he and his fellow Republican friends would like a Republican ticket. After the Democrat poll, people informed them that there were no Republican tickets available there were threats rendered. The Republican tickets were found the 20+ Republicans cast their vote. AS the scene closed with the camera on the full jar of Republican ticket a screenshot appears informing the viewer that in that election the official count was 476 Democrats and 2 Republicans. Is this a case of art imitating life, or was it a prefigurement of today’s chaotic reality?

  2. Agreed with most everything you said here. I also didn’t like that those stations cut away from his speech. It reinforces the idea that the media is biased.

      • Having finally seen ABC, NBC, and FoxNews…

        OMG. Bias is at ridiculous levels. That may be understandable in the case of Fox, but ABC and NBC don’t need to exaggerate, omit etc to make Trump look ridiculous. Just reporting him verbatim, with fact checking showing both the few times he’s telling a sometimes exaggerated truth (but a truth nonetheless), and the many more times he’s telling the most ridiculous lies, would be enough.

        The US MSM is foetid. I really thought you were exaggerating.

        In my defence, most of my past viewing has been of local channels, rather than the main networks. Sinclair is silly, but most of the Fox local affiliates report things straight.

  3. Hi Jack, GA voter here. While the state is governed by a Republican, his statement concerning run by Democrats is not as far off as it may seem. The count in GA was held up by Fulton County (which always has some issue). Fulton County is an absolute corrupt mess, and is 100% Democrat. There is only so much Kemp can do.

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