Three Ethics Metaphors: The Rise, The Presidency And The Fall Of Donald J. Trump, Part III: And This One Applies Equally To Joe Biden

I bet everyone has forgotten about this series, which began on Ethics Alarms almost a year ago. I haven’t.

The first metaphor for the Trump Presidency was that of the passengers in an airplane navigating a storm voting to let a dog (in some versions, a chimp) try flying the craft. The metaphor was apt, and it’s still apt, even though moral luck worked its magic, and not only did the plane not crash, the dog turned out to a better pilot than anyone could have predicted. It was still irresponsible for this country to permit a man with Trump’s well-documented character flaws and proven proclivities both and executive and a human to be given such control over the destiny of the nation.

The second metaphor was from “Animal House”:

As I wrote:

A segment of the population decided that the system was rigged against them, that Democrats and Republicans were both involved in a massive, decades long con in which their primary goal was not to do what was in the public interest, but what was most likely to keep them in power and eventually line their pockets, and that their voices were not just being ignored, but that they were being insulted while being ignored. The so-called “deplorables” were mad as hell, and they weren’t going to take it any more. Voting for Trump was an “Up yours!” to the elites, the sanctimonious media, the corrupt Clintons, the hollow Obamas, and obviously corrupt Democrats like Pelosi and Harry Reid, machine Republicans like Mitch McConnell, and pompous think-tank conservative like Bill Kristol…It’s idiotic, but the message isn’t. It’s “Animal House”! and “Animal House” is as American as Doolittle’s Raid….In Germany, The Big Cheese says jump and the Germans say “How high?” In the US, the response is “Fuck you!” Obama never understood that…. I love that about America. And much as I hate the idea of an idiot being President, I do love the message and who it was sent to. America still has spunk.

That message needed to be sent, and it is, fortunately, still resonating, perhaps more strongly than ever. Trump was a symbol and a catalyst; not the best of either in an ideal world, but still what was desperately required.

The third metaphor is expressed by lawyer Barney Greenwald (Jose Ferrer) in the clip above from “The Caine Mutiny.” In two posts on the ethical obligation to give a President a chance to succeed (or fail), I wrote,

“[T]he fair, patriotic, ethical and rational approach to the impending Presidency of Donald Trump is to be supportive of the office and the individual until his actual performance in the job earns just criticism. Attempting to undermine a Presidency at its outset is a self-destructive act, for nobody benefits if a Presidency fails.”

I wrote that first before Trump took office, and was stunned the degree to which the “resistance”/Democrats? mainstream media defied its obvious wisdom. Later, I wrote,

How could I know, at a point where the term “the resistance” hadn’t even surfaced yet, that the unparalleled assault on a President would not only continue, but escalate to the point where a newly minted Congresswoman would announce to a cheering mob, “We’re going to impeach the motherfucker!”?

The quote from the clip that is the operative metaphor for Trump’s Presidency—and Joe Biden’s—is when lawyer Barney Greenwald says,”You don’t work with the captain because of how he parts his hair…you work with him because he’s got the job, or you’re no good.”

I wrote in 2017, as every Facebook friend seemed to be posting venom about Trump, his skin color, his hair and his tweets daily and when late night TV was nothing but anti-Trump venom, hour after hour,

If you are a citizen, Trump is your President. We don’t have, or allow, citizen states. You can dissent, and support political opposition, but you still must obey the laws and be loyal to the nation, which means loyalty to the nation’s elected leadership. Loyalty doesn’t require agreement, but it does require respecting legitimate authority, and seeking what is best for the United States of America. Constitutional crisis is never good for any nation. A crippled government is never good. A leader estranged from the public is never good. Seeking these things is irresponsible and foolish, but more than that, it is dangerous.

Donald Trump is in over his head. He knows it, I think. Maybe, just maybe, with a lot of help, a lot of support and more than a lot of luck, he might be able to do a decent job for his country and the public. It’s a long-shot, but what’s the alternative? Making sure that he fails? Making him feel paranoid, and angry, and feeding his worst inclinations so he’s guaranteed to behave irrationally and irresponsibly? How is that in anyone’s best interest? That’s not how to get someone through a challenge, especially someone who you have to depend on.

The American Presidency has always been a merger of man and office. This is a very important and powerful tradition. It means that every new occupant of the office is immediately, with his election, imbued with the virtues and stature of the men who came before him. This provides instant legitimacy, but also an instant obligation. The new President feels the immense burden of having to meet the standards set by his predecessors, and it is a daunting challenge. Yet many of our elected and unelected Presidents (the Vice-Presidents) rose to exceed all reasonable expectations based on what they had done before. Arthur, Truman, Lyndon Johnson and Ford qualify for this description. Only one President faced public ridicule and political antipathy from the moment he was sworn in, and that was Andrew Johnson. He was a failure, at a time when the task facing the President might have even defeated his fallen predecessor, Abraham Lincoln. Might Johnson, whose rise remains the most impressive “anyone can grow up to be be President” life story we have ever seen or are likely to see, have found the strength and character to be a successful leader had he not faced disrespect, hatred and mockery from the start? Probably not, but he hardly could have done worse.

Either the Presidency will make Donald Trump a better man, or Trump will permanently harm the Presidency and weaken it, thus making the office less of an inspiration and source of strength for future occupants. (Nixon wounded the office; so did Carter, and Clinton.) It is absolutely in the nation’s best interests to seek the first result. That requires focusing on the office and its strengths, and uniting as a nation behind that office. The relentless, unprecedented assault on Trump since his election by Democrats and the news media may have already done irreparable damage.

Well, congratulations, Trump-haters, that damage was done, and not surprisingly, the next President is feeling the effects.

This weekend, President Biden had a bad day, speech-wise. At the Commissioning Commemoration Ceremony of the USS Delaware, he recalled the days when Michelle Obama was Vice President. Biden said of wife Dr. Jill: “And I’m deeply proud of the work she’s doing as First Lady with [the] Joining Forces initiative she started with Michelle Obama when she was vice president, and now carries on.” Conservative pundits, as they say, “pounced.” Wrote Robert Spencer,

His misstatement here is not just some innocuous slip of the tongue to be matter-of-factly corrected as if it were an insignificant typographical error; it is just the latest in a long string of weird statements that should arouse genuine concern about the mental state of the president of the United States, if such concern weren’t immediately dismissed as tendentious partisan mudslinging. The Joe Biden who recalled when his wife served as the vice president asked on March 4: “How did we get to the place where, you know, Putin just decides he’s gonna invade Russia? Something like this hasn’t happened since World War II.” Biden declared in his State of the Union address that “Putin may encircle Kyiv with tanks, but he’ll never gain the hearts and souls of the Iranian people.” On Equal Pay Day (March 15), Biden called his ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, “Linda Thomas Greenhouse.”

Give the President a break. Making the same appeal last year, I wrote, invoking The Julie Principle,

Biden has never been very bright, and is less so than ever; he’s always been less than articulate, and a jerk as well. Now he’s over his head in a job he’s unfit to handle, and he feels the walls closing in, because they are.

Obviously, that paragraph still applies, but I’m feeling more sympathetic today. Harping on Biden’s verbal gaffes is not helpful or constructive. He’s old, and old people whose minds still function well in other ways often begin having trouble sorting through names and words. I’m a lot younger than Joe, but a few years ago at a D.C. Bar ethics presentation, while discussing an ethics issue illustrated in a “Perry Mason” episode, I called actor Raymond Burr “Aaron Burr,” and didn’t even realize it. More to the point, after President Eisenhower has his stroke, he often grappled for words while speaking and answering questions. (In one book, Richard Nixon revealed that sometimes Ike faked aphasia to duck questions he didn’t want to answer.) But even Democrats muted criticism of this,  because they knew the old General was trusted and respected.

And just maybe they had seen “The Caine Mutiny” recently (it was released in 1954in Ike’s first term) and they got the message: You don’t work with the President because of how well he talks…”you work with him because he’s got the job, or you’re no good.”




23 thoughts on “Three Ethics Metaphors: The Rise, The Presidency And The Fall Of Donald J. Trump, Part III: And This One Applies Equally To Joe Biden

  1. ”you work with him because he’s got the job, or you’re no good.”

    I remember a similar quote in the Band of Brother series. “You salute the rank, not the man.”

  2. But what do we do when we don’t HAVE a president? There’s no point in saying “He’s not my president.” He simply isn’t a president. The man behind the curtain is the president. Joe Biden is our first sitting animatronic president. A group of unelected technocrats and political operatives are feeding him his lines which he occasionally manages to read correctly. I feel bad because he’s being subjected to elder abuse. But what on earth is wrong with pointing out the man is simply non compos mentis and other people are running the country and, at least in my opinion, doing a terrible job of it in any number of areas? And I don’t think I’m suffering from some sort of Biden Derangement Syndrome.

    • And I have to say, I’ve always thought the end of “The Caine Mutiny” is just plain weird. I just don’t think it works structurally. Perhaps the bulk of the narrative doesn’t give adequate indication the wrap up is coming. A guy just shows up and slimes the guys who were the major players in the action in a strange postscript. It’s too jarring and simply elicits a “Whew! Didn’t see THAT coming!”

        • I was referring to the book, actually. I have seen the movie as well. I was in high school when I read the book, however.

          • I read the book in high school, too.

            I remember giving a book review it and mentioning the mutiny itself. The teacher interrupted and told me not to give everything away.

            I couldn’t help thinking, “But the word Mutiny is in the title. How is that giving everything away?”

            • Besides the low pay, I got out of high school teaching because for the most part, career high school teachers were an extremely depressing demographic to be among. There were a few good and even great ones, but not many. A high school faculty lounge could be one of the rings in Dante’s hell.

    • You’re not. The fact is that the current occupant of the White House is suffering from dementia and was never all that bright to begin with. So far he has achieved no successes and a great deal of failure. I don’t think things are going to get any better anytime soon, and I don’t think they’re going to get any better anytime not so soon either. That’s why his ratings are in the dumper and they are going to stay in the dumper. Continued bad policy is going to get continued bad results.

      In the Obama administration I remember that sometimes people would make posts online saying that if you are hoping for the president to fail you are a traitor. Interestingly, a lot of those same folks are the same folks who were doing everything humanly possible to make certain that the Trump presidency was a failure. Now those same people want to blame Trump for the insurrection that wasn’t. I might have a lot more respect for these people if they didn’t treat those of us who don’t agree with them like we are idiots.

      As it is, they have completely lost any high ground from which to argue that their guy is entitled to any kind of support or deference. I for one do not intend to grant Dementia Joe even a little bit of support, and the same goes for everyone from his party. They have shown they are not worthy of even minimal support, because they do not support us the people.

      I said again and again in 2020 that it was becoming increasingly obvious that Mayors and governors, Democrats all, did not have ordinary people’s backs during the disaster that was the George Floyd freak out. Not only did they not have ordinary people’s backs, in some cases they actively supported those who were damaging and destroying ordinary people’s lives.

      Frankly, the Democratic party is rapidly approaching the point of being the Nazi Party except targeting whites instead of Jews. I do not say this lightly but I believe it is the case.

  3. I for one think Biden is playing the old codger role to avoid taking any responsibility for his decisions. To me it is an act. Biden checks the direction of the wind everyday. He is a real slick SOB who has people believing he has some dementia issues. I don’t buy his game one bit. He has been using his position to enrich himself for 40 years. A person with diminished capacity would make mistakes in his double dealing and hard evidence of his grifting would be front and center for all to see.

    I can respect the office, but I have no respect for Biden as a politician. And, yes I will work to oppose his attempts to divide the nation and his policies that serve to undermine America’s strategic interests.

    • Whew, Chris. Is Joe really that cagey? Maybe, I suppose. You’ve obviously been a closer observer. Clearly, he’s a grifter on the Clinton lines, but is the capable of being that crafty? Maybe so. Hunter is certainly ruthless and energetic.

      • Hunter is Joe, the Big guy’s, bag man. Biden insulates himself through his brother, sister and son.

        The only way Biden is not involved in pay for play is if he truly has cognitive problems. If he was declining mentally he would be unable to keep up the grifting scheme without exposing himself accidentally.

  4. “I’m a lot younger than Joe, but a few years ago at a D.C. Bar ethics presentation, while discussing an ethics issue illustrated in a “Perry Mason” episode, I called actor Raymond Burr “Aaron Burr,” and didn’t even realize it.”

    You also wrote the name of the Governor of Florida as “Jim DeSantis” a couple days ago.

    But it’s not just that he forgets names, and positions, and titles, of his cabinet ministers, colleagues, or wife. It’s more than that, it’s the slowness of his speech, the weird facial ticks, the creepy whispers, how he routinely gets lost and needs someone to point to where he should go…. I don’t know whether he’s lying when he said he never told soldiers that they were going to Ukraine (working from memory, but it was close to “when you get to Ukraine, you’ll see the resilience of the people”), that he threatened to use chemical weapons (“If the Russians use chemical weapons, we’ll respond in kind”), or that he called for regime change (“For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.”) or whether he actually does not remember saying them.

    I remember when Joe Biden fell up the stars to AF1 three times on the same ascent. I remember the weird story he told about his grandkids playing with his leghair. I remember the “lying dog-faced pony-soldier” comment. I remember when he tripped in the shower, broke his leg, and blamed it on grabbing his dog’s tail. I remember when he lost his teeth and his eye exploded in the same debate. I remember when he started a speech in front of the Annual Friends of Ireland Luncheon with the words “I might be Irish, but I’m not stupid”. I remember when he said that he would “develop some disease and say I have to resign” when asked about how he would resolve policy disagreements with his VP. I remember when he said to a black podcast “I’m telling you, if you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black”. I remember when he responded to a question from a journalist with “Look, fat”.

    And that was all from… what? the last 18 months? We haven’t even started on the policy discussions. Afghanistan. Ukraine. Inflation. Domestic Oil Production. Federal Covid Issues. It’s only been a year!

    Look, you never hope for anyone to fail, but particularly someone that high up the food chain… He’s the president, and his failures impact you, so you hope for his success. But when the emperor has no clothes on, pretending he’s clad isn’t ethical. Joe Biden barely knows which way is up on any given day of the week. Expecting someone who has never been on the right side of a foreign relations issue in his life to navigate the intricacies of Ukraine while in the throes of cognitive decline is elder abuse.

    I was right there beside a whole lot of people mocking the removal attempts on Trump, particularly in the context of the 25th Amendment. I’m even loathe to suggest this because it’s fuel for the “you’re a partisan” response. But I don’t think it’s absurd to suggest that perhaps Democrats should start to consider putting a realistic succession plan in place and invoking Section 4 of the 25th Amendment.

    • Ironically, I think the GOP has been cut off by pushing a 25th Amendment application by virtue of the AUC’s pushing it baselessly during Trump’s term.

      • It wouldn’t be the GOP. The initiating party of a section 4 removal is the VP and a percentage of the cabinet. I wrote about this a while back;

        “First off, Mike Pence had to be involved. He would have to decide that President Trump was unable to discharge the duties and powers of his office, and to deal with that, he would have to gather a majority of the Cabinet and go to war with Trump.

        He would have to produce a letter to that effect, and deliver it to Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. That would be enough to actually remove Trump from office…. For about 34 seconds. That’s how long it would take Trump to scribble furiously on a cocktail napkin that no, he wasn’t incapacitated, crumple it up, and fling it at the faces of Pelosi and Schumer. Then he would be President again. That is, unless Mike Pence and the Cabinet leaders wrote a letter to Pelosi and Schumer within four days that basically says: “No, I really mean it, this dude is cray cray.”.

        That would start a process. Both houses of congress would be required to assemble within 48 hours and hold a vote in both the house and the senate. Removal of the President would require a two-thirds majority vote, and if that couldn’t be achieved, Trump would continue to be President.”


        “[I]f we get to the point where Joe isn’t capable, and it’s obvious that he isn’t capable, which isn’t impossible, because there’s a long haul between now and 2024, then as opposed to a situation where a vote for or against the removal of Joe Biden is a direct partisan popularity contest, we’d have a situation where we’d want to legitimately look at the merits of removal. Frankly, if it got to the point that the 25th was actually invoked, Biden probably wouldn’t fight it; I have the impression he ran because he wanted to beat Trump, and the Democrat bench was really shallow and he was afraid they’d blow it, more than he actually wanted to be President. If he did contest it…. God that would be messy. From a partisan perspective: There’s no chance that a Republican takes office following Harris making a section 4 invocation, the VP becomes the President, and unless Harris tapped a Republican to be VP, the rest doesn’t even warrant conjecture.”

        Back to 2022:

        I thought then (and still think now) that a Section 4 removal is extremely unlikely, a contested Section 4 removal would be one of the biggest and messiest things we’ve seen politically in our lifetimes…. But I underestimated how vacant Biden would get. I’m not sure he has it in him to finish his term, but I also don’t think he has it in him to just resign, so I don’t know. It’s possible Democrats just don’t have a plan because they aren’t thinking that way (but Kamala is). There’s also a very small possibility that they’re counting on Republicans to impeach because they think 1) Republicans would after how they treated Trump and 2) the optics of a partisan removal might be better for them. 2023 is going to be insane.

        • Correct. I meant the GOP is in a very weak position to push for the appropriate people to initiate the proceedings due to the Dems’ having abused the entire concept while Trump was in office. And of course, and a purportedly fully functioning Harris might be even more ungainly for Ron Klain to handle than Joe. So maybe that would be even worse. To paraphrase Al Haig, “and then you have Nancy Pelosi.” Yikes!

          • I take your point, but the GOP doesn’t need to push anything. The GOP pushing it makes it less likely to happen. Kamala is power hangry, if she thought for a minute she’d get away with it and couldn’t find a pen, she’d rip out her own fingernails to write the letter in blood.

          • OB you asked if Biden was that cagey. If you consider that Biden picked KH to protect himself from the potential of being removed for any reason that suggests he is as crafty as a fox. Playing the role of grandpa Simpson may be easy for him because people are willing to buy it but know they have no option now but to leave him alone and protect him.

        • I think Hunter is the key to the Democrats’ exit strategy. They’ll keep a lid on things until the midterms, then Hunter will be indicted for some mild stuff relating to his shady overseas deals. Nothing that will touch Joe – maybe tax evasion or some other white-collar crime. Joe will pardon him, and then make a big show of stepping down because of it. It’s a way to force Joe out while making him look sympathetic, and never having to admit he’s in deep mental decline. It’s also a way to make the DOJ (falsely) appear politically independent and repair some of the incredible damage that department has done to its reputation in the last decade or so.

          The only hitch is Kamala. They have to find a way to get her out of the picture, because if she gets her incompetent hands on the presidency, the damage she’s capable of causing could ensure that Democrats might not get back into power again for a decade or more. They’ve hamstrung themselves, of course, by insisting for years that any criticism of a black woman – no matter how richly deserved – is racist misogyny. So getting rid of Kamala is an incredibly thorny problem, and there’s nothing they can offer her to make her bow out voluntarily. She’s so very close to pulling off the greatest “upward fail” in history.

  5. I still considered DJT as the lesser evil in that election, whether he was a dog or a monkey. If that election and presidency happened 100 years ago, would it have been as obvious that he had almost no impulse control. I look at the things he did both good and bad. he was a citizen President, not a politician, which might not be a bad thing, considering our current President.

    • The Big Guy, Clinton Foundation, repeated bankruptcies for DJT, no one who can be President is without Sin, ethics is important, for personal behavior, not sure it can really apply to groups or nations, as we currently exist. Sorry, Jack.

  6. “A crippled government is never good.”

    What if your government has degenerated to little more than a massive grift to enrich the political class and its wealthy cronies at the expense of the people of the nation? What if it’s obvious that those in government and its myriad bureaucracies no longer give two-thirds of a half-eaten shit about doing what’s in the best interest of the nation, but merely are in it to protect their own fiefdoms and extract what they can for themselves? What if the oligarchs who buy and sell politicians like Beanie Babies are using the power of government to advance their own interests at the expense of ordinary citizens’ rights and well-being?

    In such a case – purely hypothetical in 21st century America, of course! – perhaps crippling the government is the best outcome the people can hope for. I’d take a crippled, deadlocked government that can’t get anything done over one that is actively causing harm any day. Perhaps if the federal government had been a little more crippled over the past two years, and unable to, for example, just create fourteen trillion dollars (!!!) out of thin air, we wouldn’t be reeling from out-of-control inflation and staring down the barrel of economic collapse.

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