January 7, 2021 Ethics Nightcap, The “Everything Is Spinning Wildly Out Of Control” Edition


Well, the national mood is clearly infecting Ethics Alarms. First a self-banned commenter from the past starts sending me private hate mail for no discernible reason. Then another banned commenter sends an attack comment while I’m sleeping. THEN a previously rational commenter of some note proclaims his exit because, he says, all I write about is politics, and because he said I excused the President for inciting a riot (which I did not). Then another commenter started calling participants here Nazis,and yet another commenter, whom I trust to use more restraint, also used a Nazi analogy to describe the Hill riot yesterday.

I expect better here, frankly; better, fairer, and more civil.

I get it: readers aren’t immune from being freaked-out during freakouts, but please, read “If,” (my father’s favorite poem, and a lifetime credo for him and his son) and calm the hell down:

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with wornout tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on”;

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run –
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man my son!

(And if you let Rudyard’s 19th Century male bias dissuade you from paying attention to his message, you’ll be a fool, my friend.)

I’ll only address one of the commenter upsets I described above: the accusation that Ethics Alarms has been writing about politics and neglecting ethics. I resent that, because I have been killing myself trying to find non-political ethics stories that are worth writing about, at a time when almost everything has been politicized. At the same time, I cannot in good conscience fail to explicate the unethical and unprecedented effort to sabotage an elected US President and all that has involved and corrupted since 2016, so this has necessarily involved many posts, more than I would have liked. It is the most significant U.S. ethics catastrophe of the last hundred years at least, and attention should be paid. What happened yesterday was a direct and predictable consequence of this.

Yet even so, Ethics Alarms has been and continues to be about all topics and all spheres of ethics. There are four or more posts most days, and four or five mini-posts in the “warm-ups.” Find another website that includes more diverse material on the topic of ethics; go ahead, try.

I will also note that the complaining commenter has not availed himself of the open forums, which exist specifically to invite readers to raise issues related to ethics that I may have missed or neglected. This is a participatory forum.

Annoyingly, the commenter who made this complaint also said that he had mostly “skimmed” posts here for the last year or so. Well, Ethics Alarms is not for “skimming,” and if one cannot read all of what I write, I’m not very interested in your opinions on what you have only half-comprehended.

1. You can’t say the President didn’t have this coming. Here is the last list I got of the Trump officials following Mick Mulvaney in resigning as a protest against the President’s poor handling of yesterday’s riot at the Capitol: Elaine Chao, Transportation Secretary (and perhaps more to the point, Mrs. Mitch McConnell); Stephanie Grisham, chief of staff to Melania Trump; Sarah Matthews, the White House deputy press secretary; Anna Cristina ‘Rickie’ Niceta, the White House social secretary; Matthew Pottinger, deputy to national security adviser Robert O’Brien; Tyler Goodspeed, chairman of Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers; Eric Dreiband, the assistant attorney general and head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, and Betsy DeVos, the Education Secretary.

Some of these are just getting an early jump on finding new jobs; some are taking advantage of the situation to do some virtue-signaling and grandstanding; some may be trying to hurt the President, and some may be acting on principle. Whatever their reasons, the President asked for these exits by embarrassing all those associated with him by acting like a jerk, showing his usual lack of self-restraint, and making any association with him feel like a dead albatross.

2. More on DeVos: her letter of resignation was more pointed than the rest, and her points are well taken.

From CNBC:

In a letter to Trump, which said she would leave office Friday, DeVos listed what she said were the successes she and Trump had in education policy.“We should be highlighting and celebrating your Administration’s many accomplishments on behalf of the American people,” DeVos wrote. “Instead, we are left to clean up the mess caused by violent protestors overrunning the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to undermine the people’s business,” she wrote. “That behavior was unconscionable for our country,” DeVos wrote. “There is no mistaking the impact your rhetoric had on the situation, and it is an inflection point for me.” She also noted that “impressionable children are watching from all of this, and they are learning from us.”

“I believe we each have a moral obligation to exercise good [judgment] and model the behavior we hope they would emulate,” DeVos wrote. “They must know from us that America is greater than what transpired yesterday.” She said she was resigning “in support of the oath I took to our Constitution, our people, and our freedoms.”

3. Estoppel confusion. Commenter Michael alerted me to a confusion of terms. I use “ethics estoppel” here to describe those who have disqualified themselves from pious critiques of conduct that they have previously endorsed or defended. That means that while their position may be valid, they are not to be taken seriously when they proclaim it. However, before I launched that concept, one of the earliest Rationalizations on the list, #2, was named “Ethics Estoppel”or “They’re just as bad”…

“The mongrel offspring of The Golden Rationalization and the Bible-based dodges a bit farther down the list, the “They’re Just as Bad” Excuse is both a rationalization and a distraction. As a rationalization, it posits the absurd argument that because there is other wrongdoing by others that is similar, as bad or worse than the unethical conduct under examination, the wrongdoer’s conduct shouldn’t be criticized or noticed. As a distraction, the excuse is a pathetic attempt to focus a critic’s attention elsewhere, by shouting, “Never mind me! Why aren’t you going after those guys?”

As you can see (I hope), this is the opposite of how Ethics Alarms now uses the term. The concept is not that current wrongdoing is mitigated because others have done as bad or worse, but that those who defended what was as bad or worse are estopped from being critics of similar conduct. The example for all time: Hillary Clinton saying that female accusers should be believed.

Rationalization #2 is now named “Whataboutism.”

4. More on Ethics Estoppel: Right on cue, John Hinderaker neatly summed up the reasons why, as I wrote yesterday,

First and foremost, anyone who did not condemn all of the George Floyd/Jacob Blake/Breonna Taylor/ Black Lives Matters rioting that took place this summer and fall is ethically estopped from criticizing this episode.That means I can, and will, condemn it as stupid, useless, self-destructive and anti-democratic violence, but most Democrats, progressives and media pundits cannot.

(Note that I did not write that the pro-Trump rioting yesterday was excusable or less despicable because of what the Left has done repeatedly, but that I don’t care to hear the same people that praised that violence now act as if they have any integrity or principles, when they clearly do not.

Hinderaker writes,

Do you remember when President Trump was inaugurated on January 20, 2017? Leftist Democrats rioted in Washington that day. That riot was arguably worse, more violent and more destructive, than what happened in D.C. yesterday. The liberal rioters destroyed stores, set vehicles on fire and battled with the police. Six police officers were wounded. …I don’t recall a single Democratic office-holder denouncing the Democrats’ Inauguration Day riot, and the Associated Press came perilously close to praising the rioters.Over the ensuing four years, Antifa and Black Lives Matter rioted countless times, bringing devastation to cities like Portland, Seattle, Kenosha and Minneapolis. Did any Democrats denounce these riots? Not that I remember. Many Democrats endorsed them, or seemed to do so. Kamala Harris, for example, said about the riots in June:

“They’re not going to stop. They’re not going to stop. This is a movement, I’m telling you. They’re not gonna stop. And everyone beware because they’re not gonna stop. They’re not gonna stop before Election Day and they’re not going to stop after Election Day. And everyone should take note of that. They’re not gonna let up and they should not.”

This was after 12 people had been killed in Democrat-sanctioned rioting, and billions of dollars in destruction committed. Have any Democrats denounced Black Lives Matter for its role in the riots? Not one.

Has any Democrat denounced Antifa? Not that I know of, and some, like Keith Ellison, have specifically endorsed Antifa’s political violence.Democratic Party journalists have joined the party’s politicians in excusing riots. The New York Times, for example, published an admiring profile of Antifa. The Washington Post, likewise, has carried water for Antifa.

The litany could go on for a long time. Yesterday’s assault on the Capitol was outrageous, but let’s not forget that last time out-of-control demonstrators interrupted business at the Capitol, shouted down senators and pounded on the doors of the Supreme Court, it was Democrats objecting to the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. And speaking of assaults on capitols, did any Democrats object when leftists occupied the Wisconsin Capitol in Madison for four months, destroying property, impeding public business and violently assaulting conservatives? Not a peep.

Thanks for the memories.

19 thoughts on “January 7, 2021 Ethics Nightcap, The “Everything Is Spinning Wildly Out Of Control” Edition

    • Here’s my favorite:

      “The New York Times’ architect of the “1619 Project,” Nikole Hannah-Jones, explicitly rejected the idea that destroying property fits the definition of “violence.”

      “Destroying property, which can be replaced, is not violence,” Hannah-Jones said on CBS, to which the anchors offered no challenge.”

      I’ll bet the Jews that survived Kristallnacht would disagree.

      Since the word Nazi gets thrown around a lot, let’s take this example of escalation to heart.

      Nazi Germany had laws against arson, vandalism and assault and battery. If you beat up a good German, you could be assured of being arrested and doing time in a prison or concentration camp. But, if you beat up a Jew, it’s likely the police wouldn’t even show up. If they did, the victim would often be blamed for “provoking” the attack by merely being present. When Jewish businesses or places of worship were burned, the fire department came…but generally only to keep flames from spreading to other buildings.

      There was never a declaration that said, “It’s okay to beat up Jews and destroy their property”, but, by refusing to enforce the laws when it came to crimes against Jews, the German government tacitly endorsed those crimes. It didn’t take long for those so inclined to realize that they would not be punished for most crimes against Jews (there were instances of rape on Kristallnacht and the rapists were actually arrested – not for rape, but for engaging in “blood defilement” – along with their victims (for the same crime of blood defilement).

      By the same token, when burning crosses and vandalized black churches and homes were being tolerated, was there any question that physical attacks on African-Americans would be excused, as well? Did those victims of property damage not consider what was done to them violence?

      Property damage is just the precursor to the inevitable escalated physical violence against targeted peoples. When people are marginalized to the point that their property isn’t respected, it’s just a small jump to disrespecting their persons, as well.

  1. The mob storming the Capital is this day’s Reichstag fire I’m afraid. Although it was inexcusable what these morons and thugs did, I detect massive glee on the part of Biden, Pelosi, and all the rest of the politicians who now have Trump by the throat and can claim the moral high ground. A pox on all their houses. They began the destruction of American democracy since the first day Trump was inaugurated.

  2. Want to encourage you to remember many of us LOVE YOU, what you do, who you ARE, abs your UNIQUE voice in this world.

    Your blog is my sanity check. When I feel like I’m going nuts because I don’t bit into the press, I am always relieved to hear your take.

    I share so much of what you say. You give me courage abd gave for the last 4 years.

    You and your readers have helped me know I’m not alone.

    Please KNOW you do good work and it’s aoooooo appreciated! I wish I knew more how to communicate that!

    Hope this helps a little!

    I feel blessed to have discovered your writing and you in my life’s journey!

    All my respect,


  3. Well, the national mood is clearly infecting Ethics Alarms. First a self-banned commenter from the past starts sending me private hate mail for no discernible reason. Then another banned commenter sends an attack comment while I’m sleeping. THEN a previously rational commenter of some note proclaims his exit because, he says, all I write about is politics, and because he said I excused the President for inciting a riot (which I did not). Then another commenter started calling participants here Nazis, and yet another commenter, whom I trust to use more restraint, also used a Nazi analogy to describe the Hill riot yesterday.

    Sounds like I’ve got to go back through the comment threads and see what I missed in my relative “absence”, I’ll get to it sometime. Lately I’ve been pretty swamped with work, family, general anger at how the USA culture is spiraling into an abyss of moral bankruptcy, and spending some quality time critically thinking. The year 2021 is not starting off in a good way, there is lots to think about these days.

  4. As for the “mostly peaceful protest” in Washington DC…

    Protesting is fine but the moment protesters forcibly cross police barriers and resort to intimidation, violence, breaking into buildings, and destruction they are no longer patriots they are criminals and they should be prosecuted as such.

    I remember not so long ago when “mostly peaceful protests” were destroying parts of cities and it was justified and it’s still happening in some places. I remember people justifying breaking in, vandalizing and taking over state and federal buildings including capitol buildings during protests by many thousands of people saying things like “this is our building”. These things were claimed to be patriotic protests by the people and the violence was justified and not condemned; but alas, we plainly see what we already knew was true, there are hypocritical double standards that show us that these perceived rights to protest, intimidate, occupy and destroy are only for the 21st century political left and anytime the political right engages in it, it’s evil – period.

    I mean this in all sincerity; Republicans have literally become the equivalent to the Jews in 1930’s Germany to the political left and the fully consumed left leaning media and if you don’t think this is going to get really bad then I don’t think you’re paying attention.

    I cannot effectively express how sick I am that the United States has spiraled down to where it is today.

    Personally I think all this bastardization of rights is morally bankrupt and I’m at a complete loss as to how to fix a culturally broken society.

    Liberty for me but not for thee; this is how liberty dies.

    In so many ways these days trying to address what’s happening in our culture seems quite futile and I’m weary.

  5. Maybe you should look at the people who refused to condemn left-wing riots as ‘violence’ in a different light. These protests are not, at their core, about Donald Trump. Trump is a symptom of the problem, not the problem itself. The problem is that people have realized there are two sets of laws: Laws for Republicans and no laws for Democrats. This was highlighted in an election where election laws were broken, bent, and ignored all over this country. The Constitution was violated in Pennsylvania and Michigan, at least*. No judge, Democrat, or media outlet thought there was a problem with this. The protest centers on Trump because he is the only one who has called this out and he is the one who was wronged in this latest incident. Are we nation of laws or do we have an unaccountable ruling class?

    In a protest about “Laws for Republicans and none for Democrats”, let’s look at this incident.
    (1) By the standards of Democrats and the media, this protest was beyond peaceful. In a protest of maybe more than 50,000 people, a few dozen (at most) broke some windows and knocked over some furniture. All the damage was fixed in one night without problem.
    (2) When Democratic members of Congress escorted protesters through security and they took over the Capitol during the Kavanaugh hearings, it was no big deal. No members of Congress were removed from office even though the hearings were disrupted. The press sharply criticized all efforts taken against the Kavanaugh protesters both inside the capitol or in DC.
    (3) During Trump’s inauguration, the rioters were not shot even when they physically attacked people. I didn’t see the Trump protesters attacking citizens in the street. I did see video of people being violent against police while yelling ‘ACAB’ over and over again, the battle cry of BLM and Antifa.
    (4) Democratic members of Congress publicly called for Republicans to be attacked.

    I think worrying about the ethics of people criticizing this protest who have excused rioting, looting, and murder by Democrats for the last 4 years is pointless. This protest was about the fact that there are laws for Republicans, but none for Democrats. All these people are doing is illustrating the point. If they think rubbing that point in the faces of all those protester and telling them that there is nothing they can do about it is going to help, that may backfire.

    *The Constitution puts the power of selecting electors in the hands of the state legislatures. In Pennsylvania, the state Supreme Court overruled the legislature several times and itself once. The Supreme Court changed the law on mail-in ballots (overruling the legislature) and then ignored the fact that their ruling on this was violated as well. The Pennsylvania state legislature joined in a lawsuit against the selection of Pennsylvania’s electors (which seems to illustrate the problem dramatically). In Michigan, the police blocked Republican lawmakers from entering the state Capitol during the selecting of electors. The Republican majority was shut out, turning control of the legislature over to Democrats for the selecting of the electors.

      • He’s doing something halfway between misleading you and outright lying. The electors were already chosen. When they met in the state capitol to cast their votes, the Republicans attempted to enter with an alternate slate of electors who intended to vote for Trump despite Trump having lost Michigan. The idea was to put both slates in front of Pence and by some magic get him to choose them over the legitimate already-certified Biden electors.

        They tried this in a few states but since without official documents their electors had as much legitimacy to cast votes as your pet hamster… You know.

        But he phrased it in such a way as to induce outrage in the unaware and ready primed to be angry as democrats and hopefully spread it around. It isn’t a particularly slick bit of propaganda, it doesn’t have to be. Getting one in 20 people who read it to act the useful idiot and spread it on is still effective.

        • As was noted in the video, they refused entry to the legislators. That would be the majority party of the legislature. As I pointed out, the legislature controls the selecting of electors, not the governor. This constituted an unconstitutional action.

  6. Jack said:
    And if you let Rudyard’s 19th Century male bias dissuade you from paying attention to his message, you’ll be a fool, my friend

    This disclaimer beautifully encapsulates the absurdity of this alien place we find ourselves in today. That someone my think the “woke” implications of the writings of a long-dead but legendary author from centuries past render them somehow less worthy because they weren’t carefully crafted enough not to offend sensibilities centuries in the future says more about our current tribulations than any other single thing I have read.

    Isn’t it funny how ironic disclaimers like this are often as profound as anything else we say or write?

    When it comes to subjects for ethics commentary, it would be negligent and unprofessional for you to ignore these profoundly important current events and the ethics lessons they implicate. The trick is, and I think you have mastered it, not to allow these lessons to be any more profound than other, equally important non-political examples. But in an environment so profoundly target-rich, you have a responsibility to yourself and your profession to take good advantage of the opportunities they present, even at the risk of reader fatigue.

    Having said that, I do understand the saturation a lot of people must be feeling with political shenanigans and the impulse to talk about … well, anything else. I feel them myself.

    But as the person who sets the mission for this site, it is your responsibility to it, and all your readers, to choose your subject matter appropriately. Despite my recent lack of commentary, I think you have done this outstandingly well. At least from my perspective and speaking only for me, you have stayed true to what I understand to be your vision for this site throughout trying times. I have seen other blogs fail to do so, but not this one. In my personal lay opinion, anyone who is so jaded that they can’t see that could use a little honest introspection.

    Finally, regarding ethics estoppel, I don’t think the objects of your criticism would agree with the concept. They think their job is to promote the correct “spin” on the news. They dare not offend their core readers/viewers by failing to promote the “woke” position and downplay the violence when the Left riots lest they be “canceled”, and likewise to emphasize that same violence when the Right loses its mind because, as Jesus said, you cannot serve two masters. Our media has long ago (and I mean very long ago, like back in the Huntley-Brinkley days or even before) decided that it is necessary to the proper function of this country for them to present the news in a way that promotes “proper” thought and discourages “wrongthink.”

    Recently, we have seen the mask fall off and the media admit that they haven’t just put their thumb on the scale, but have jumped on it with both feet. But let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that they used to be fair and balanced, because any of us who bother to critically look at the past know better. My judgment is that this has been taught in journalism schools for a long time — perhaps not openly, but its spirit permeates the profession. Trump’s superpower is that he has incited the media and other formerly respected institutions as well as the Democrats and many Republicans to drop the facade of faux objectivity expose their true selves.

    To understate it significantly, that exposure has consequences, many of them still unforeseeable.

    So notwithstanding your commentary, the media believe they are doing what’s best for the country — in fact, a patriotic and professional duty — by promoting the Left and discouraging the right. Every good must have a bad, and every hero a villain. No matter what the objective truth is, those two fundamental opposites must always be satisfied for all this to work and for most of their consumers to engage with them. Nobody wants to hear the objective truth about their favorite sacred cow, which they have named and worshiped all their lives. The media has long since chosen theirs.

    That leaves the rest of us with scraps to sort through, alas. Ethically, it is a mares’ nest of misbehavior, but professionally, it is unquestionably effective, successful, and lucrative.

    • Put another way: “When my ox is being gored, it’s just wrong. When it’s their ox, it’s okay. Social justice is just so much more important than any election irregularities our side has decided are false.”

      Or still another way: “We’re on the side of the angels, and the other side is evil. Our objectives are much more important than theirs, because we’ve decided theirs are illegitimate.”

      It’s fun to mock this, but it’s really not mock-worthy. This person is clearly convinced that there is only one legitimate perspective, and that is his/her/xe/xir/[woke pronoun here]. That’s signature significance of a closed and ossified mind.

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