Category Archives: History

I Forgot George Washington’s Birthday! In Penance…

portrait_of_george_washington

If there is any American whose birthday none of us should fail to note and celebrate, it is George Washington. In my case, he is in good company, since I have had difficulty my whole life remembering birthdays of close family members and friends, with the exception of my son’s, once the Boston Red Six finally won their first World Series in 86 years on the same date, and my own, which I have been trying to forget ever since finding my dad dead in his chair on that date eight years ago. Nonetheless, my failure to salute the first and indispensable President is especially disgraceful for an ethics blog, and I apologize both to George and to all of you.

Time flies: I hadn’t issued a post specifically devoted to George’s remarkable character since 2011. (Something has gone seriously wrong when one has 287 posts on Donald Trump and only six about Washington.) In penance, allow me to atone with my favorite entry’s on the list of ethical habits some historians believe made him the remarkably trustworthy and ethical man he was, ultimately leading his fellow Founders to choose him, and not one the many  more brilliant, learned and accomplished among them, to take on the crucial challenge of creating the American Presidency.

Directed to do so by his father, young Washington had copied out by hand and committed to memory a list called “110 Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation”  It was  based on a document  composed by French Jesuits in 1595; neither the author nor the English translator and adapter are known today. The elder Washington was following the teachings of Aristotle, who held that principles and values began as being externally imposed by authority (morals) and eventually became internalized as character.

The theory certainly worked with George Washington. Those ethics alarms installed by his father stayed in working order throughout his life. It was said that Washington was known to quote the rules when appropriate, and never forgot them. They did not teach him to be a gifted leader, but they helped to make him a trustworthy one.

The list has been available at a link here (under Rule Book, to your left), almost from the beginning of Ethics Alarms. Would that readers would access it more often. Here are my 20 favorite highlights from the list that helped make George George, and also helped George make America America: Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Citizenship, Education, Ethics Heroes, Etiquette and manners, Government & Politics, History, Leadership, Religion and Philosophy

It’s Presidents Day! Our Special Guests: the 22nd and 24th Presidents, Grover Cleveland [UPDATED]

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Grover Cleveland has all sorts of unusual distinctions among the Presidents. (No, he wasn’t “normal,” either.)  He was one of several Presidents to drop a more prosaic first name for his less common middle one (like Grant, Wilson,  and Eisenhower). He was the second biggest President at over 250 pounds, and had the largest collar size. Despite his reputation for being a tough guy, Grover ended a string of Civil War heroes elected President by being the only POTUS who had paid a poor man to take his place in the Union army. That was legal, but it was not especially admirable.

Cleveland was one of only two bachelors elected President, and was the only one married in the White House (to a 21-year old beauty, the Melania of her day, who was less than half his age). Grover also lost the Presidency when he ran for re-election despite winning the popular vote, in the most similar election (1888) to our last one. This set up his most famous distinction, serving split terms, as he came back to beat President Harrison in 1892.

My favorite Cleveland tale is how the President pulled off the amazing feat of having part of his jaw removed and replaced with a rubber prosthetic without the public learning about it, by secretly having the operation performed on a yacht.

Ah, but all of these pale compared to his central role in the worst scandal ever to strike in a Presidential campaign, which he survived, incredibly, by telling the truth.

Or so we have been told.

Maybe not.

On July 21, 1884, a bit more than three months from the Presidential election, , the Republican Buffalo Evening Telegraph broke a story that seemed like it would determine who was to be President. Ten years earlier, a Buffalo woman named Maria Halpin had given birth to a son with the surname Cleveland, and then been taken to a mental asylum while the child was adopted by another family. The mother claimed that former Buffalo mayor and current New York Governor and Democratic Presidential nominee Grover Cleveland was the father.

In a remarkably quick display of candor, then or now,  Cleveland admitted that indeed he and  Halpin had been “illicitly acquainted,” and the son might indeed be his. As the only unmarried man among several Cleveland friends who, the campaign implied, may have “known” the woman,  Cleveland had claimed paternity and helped Halpin place the boy with a caring family. Still, this was the Victorian era, and the clergy, in particular, was disgusted.  “It seems to me that a leading question ought to be: do the American people want a common libertine for their president?”  wrote a preacher from Buffalo to the editor of the Chicago Tribune.

While Cleveland, whose nickname was “Grover the Good,” had sex problems, Maine Senator James G. Blaine, the Republican candidate, had been caught taking bribes. Why he was nominated with such a record of dishonesty and influence peddling, I will never understand. (No modern political party would do something that stupid, fortunately.) being able to use the catchy mocking anti-Cleveland chant, “Ma, ma, where’s my Pa?” was a godsend for the struggling Blaine campaign.

To make things worse for Grover, reporters tracked down Halpin, and her version of the relationship differed from the candidate’s in unpleasant ways. Days from the election, the Chicago Tribune quoted her as saying, darkly, “The circumstances under which my ruin was accomplished are too revolting on the part of Grover Cleveland to be made public.”

Continue reading

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The President Is Right About The Mainstream News Media, And It Can’t Handle The Truth, Part III: The Tweet

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Part I in this series began with a random choice of a New York Times anti-President hit piece of the day. This is the one of truths that the mainstream media wants to pretend  doesn’t exist: the intentionally, relentlessly negative, innuendo-filled reporting regarding the Trump administration, with the goal of alarming the public, undermining its trust in the government, weakening his Presidency, or bringing it down entirely. Just to be up to date, let’s look at today’s front page…and what do we find? “A Back-Channel Plan for Ukraine and Russia, Courtesy of Trump Associates.”  The article includes a prominent graphic titled “Donald Trump’s Connections in the Ukraine.” But the article itself, and any research into the individuals shown in the graphic, show no association between Donald Trump and the Ukraine whatsoever. We see…

Andrii V. Artemenko: Ukrainian politician with a peace plan for Ukraine and a file alleging that its president is corrupt.

Felix H. Sater: Russian-American businessman with longstanding ties to the Trump Organization.

Michael D. Cohen: Trump’s personal attorney, under scrutiny from F.B.I. over links with Russia.

Paul Manafort: Former Trump campaign manager with pro-Russian political ties in Ukraine now under investigation by the F.B.I.

There is no evidence or even allegation that Artemenko has even spoken to Trump. Sater was involved in helping businessman Trump seek deals in Russia, and that is all the article tells us about him. Cohen is Trump’s lawyer, and a lawyer’s clients are not “linked” to other clients, unless you think Patty Hearst was “linked” to O.J. Simpson through their mutual lawyer, F. Lee Bailey.

Then there is Manafort, who is not  in the Trump Administration, and was fired from the campaign before the election. Back when he was the campaign manager, Politifact did a “check” on him, and found that he had done political consulting work for Ukrainian politicians. Among the international clients Clinton consultant James Carville lists on his website are politicians in Argentina (lots), Columbia, Bolivia,  and yes, the Ukraine, that’s just “some” of the them, meaning that some of the others either don’t want to be known or wouldn’t make Carville look good if they were known. Was Hillary Clinton “associated” with everyone on Carville’s client list? (Also a Carville client: the late Senator Ted Kennedy, serial pussy-grabber and un-prosecuted negligent homicide suspect). Of course not, but that’s the degree of “association” with the Ukraine that the Times article pins on the President, once you get past the front page headline and graphic. The photo over the online version of the article even shows President Trump, who is barely mentioned in the substance of the piece at all, except in such references as “Mr. Trump’s lawyer.”

Might all of these “associations”—this use of guilt by association would be too attenuated even for Joe McCarthy–eventually add up to something sinister, and a scandal that involves the Trump administration? Sure, anything is possible. THAT would be news. THAT would belong on the front page. THIS story, however, is a dog’s breakfast of innuendo, speculation, “hmmmm..” and nothing. It is fake news…not fraudulent in its facts, fraudulent  in its presentation, placement in the paper and intentional suggestion that what is known justifies suspicion of the President. The defenders of the ongoing journalist attacks on the President continue to argue that fact-based smears and rumor-mongering stories published in major news sources are not “fake news,” and after a story like this, I have to wonder about their honesty too. There is only one way this kind of smoky article makes a front page above the fold.

Now on to the Tweet Heard ‘Round The World. As discussed in Part II, the President was performing  a public service when he told the newsmedia to its reporters’ smug  faces that they were biased, hateful, incompetent and dishonest. Somebody had to do it. Their supposed “watchdogs” like CNN’s Brian Stelter won’t do it, because he is too busy bashing the President himself while defending his pals.

It would be much better if someone in academia, or a prominent journalist pointed out how terrible a biased and untrustworthy news media is for the nation, but this is the Left’s attempted coup, after all. Try finding an objective authority in academia or journalism. So the leader of the nation, on national television, has to tell the self-congratulatory journalists that they are failing their duty to the nation, which is to inform the public. They see their duty as bringing down a President their Progressive Masters hate.  In other words, the President is saying, essentially..

The follow-up tweet elaborated by specifying just how much of a betrayal this is, saying,

The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!

Look at this as the second slap. Better yet, look at it as the journalism version of Ronald Reagan slapping the Soviet Union with the well-deserved label, “The Evil Empire.”  Many commentators, including former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, traced the beginning of the unraveling of the Iron Curtain to Reagan’s brutal frankness. Continue reading

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Filed under "bias makes you stupid", Arts & Entertainment, Character, Citizenship, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, History, Journalism & Media, Popular Culture, Rights, Social Media, U.S. Society

KABOOM! One More Reason I’m Glad I’m Not In College Today, Because I’d Be Out Of College Tomorrow

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Students at Elizabethtown College this month are capitulating to a push by the Elizabethtown College Democrats, who want white students to wear white pins in the shape of  jigsaw puzzle pieces “to remind them of their white privilege.” The racial branding at the small and private liberal arts college in Pennsylvania is supposed to prompt introspection about racial issues.

And it is President Trump who is being called Hitler….

I am fairly certain that my reaction to this racist belittlement and intimidation would be the same at ages 18 to 21 as it is now at age…well, as it is now. I would vocally refuse to wear the damned things, mock any student who did as  submissive, addled  and  cravenly enabling totalitarianism of the left, and wear this myself to make the obvious analogy as clear as the nose on Jimmy Durante’s face…

 

yellow-badge

Continue reading

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Filed under Education, Government & Politics, History, Kaboom!, Race, Rights, U.S. Society

Down The Slippery Slope: Yale Embraces Historical Airbrushing

john-c-calhounFrom The New York Times:

After a swelling tide of protests, the president of Yale announced on Saturday that the university would change the name of a residential college commemorating John C. Calhoun, the 19th-century white supremacist statesman from South Carolina. The college will be renamed for Grace Murray Hopper, a trailblazing computer scientist and Navy rear admiral who received a master’s degree and a doctorate from Yale.

The decision was a stark reversal of the university’s decision last spring to maintain the name despite broad opposition. Though the president, Peter Salovey, said that he was still “concerned about erasing history,” he said that “these are exceptional circumstances.”

“I made this decision because I think it is the right thing to do on principle,” Mr. Salovey said on a conference call with reporters. “John C. Calhoun’s principles, his legacy as an ardent supporter of slavery as a positive good, are at odds with this university.”

And there we go!

How cowardly and equivocating  Salovey is! If he’s concerned about erasing history, and he should be as an educator, then he should have the principles and fortitude not to engage in it. But “these are exceptional circumstances,” he says. This is right out of the Rationalizations list: The Revolutionary’s Excuse: “These are not ordinary times” and The Troublesome Luxury: “Ethics is a luxury we can’t afford right now.”  For good measure, he adds a third rationalization, The Ironic Rationalization, or “It’s The Right Thing To Do.”

Of course it’s not the right thing to do. The right thing to do would be to teach the smug protesting young ignoramuses, who only know that Senator Calhoun was a slavery supporter as if that is the reason he is regarded as one of the great Senators in U.S. history (it’s not), any more than Andrew Jackson is defined solely by “The Trail of Tears,” that history is complex, cultures evolve, leadership is hard and even the most accomplished human beings are flawed gaspachos of greatness and sin. That would be the right thing because Yale is allegedly an institute of higher learning. This is the act of an institute of political correctness, intellectual laziness and stereotyping.

There were other rationalizations embedded in Salovey’s betrayal of history and culture, such as..

1A. Ethics Surrender, or “We can’t stop it.”

Sure you can, if you have any integrity and care about your obligation to educate rather than capitulate.

13. The Saint’s Excuse: “It’s for a good cause”

And what cause would that be, sir? Your sophomoric students are demanding that important historical figures be airbrushed out of existence like Soviet Politburo figures out of favor, and Yale’s cause is supposed to be teaching  young minds to be more tolerant of the complexities of the real world. Now Yale’s cause is “Find the path of least resistance, and maybe they’ll calm down!”

15. The Futility Illusion:  “If I don’t do it, somebody else will.”

This is only true if Yale is unable to articulate why it is important not to banish historical figures from the nation’s past as soon as activists get wind of a weakness they can exploit to bring themselves power. Continue reading

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From The “It’s No Fun Being An Ethicist” Files: I Offend Some Seminar Attendees…

mao

I facilitated a professional ethics seminar a while ago for a scholarly institution, (The locale, names and client have been changed to protect the guilty.) The discussion came around to rationalizations and my favorite on the list, #22:

22. The Comparative Virtue Excuse: “There are worse things.”

If “Everybody does it” is the Golden Rationalization, this is the bottom of the barrel. Yet amazingly, this excuse is popular in high places: witness the “Abu Ghraib was bad, but our soldiers would never cut off Nick Berg’s head” argument that was common during the height of the Iraq prisoner abuse scandal. It is true that for most ethical misconduct, there are indeed “worse things.” Lying to your boss in order to goof off at the golf course isn’t as bad as stealing a ham, and stealing a ham is nothing compared selling military secrets to North Korea. So what? We judge human conduct against ideals of good behavior that we aspire to, not by the bad behavior of others. One’s objective is to be the best human being that we can be, not to just avoid being the worst rotter anyone has ever met.

Behavior has to be assessed on its own terms, not according to some imaginary comparative scale. The fact that someone’s act is more or less ethical than yours has no effect on the ethical nature of your conduct. “There are worse things” is not an argument; it’s the desperate cry of someone who has run out of rationalizations.

In this case I did a sarcastic riff that is usually well received, about the common example of #22, “It’s not like he killed somebody”:

“Well, you can’t argue with that logic, can you? And if he did kill somebody, it’s not like he killed two people. And even then, that’s not as bad as being, say, a serial killer, like Son of Sam, who, when you think about it, isn’t nearly as bad as a mass murderer like Osama bin Laden. But he’s not as bad as Hitler, and even Adolf isn’t as bad as Mao, who killed about ten times more people than Hitler did. And Mao’s no so bad when you compare him to Darth Vader, who blew up Princess Leia’s whole planet…”

It made the point, and the audience laughed. Then, quite a bit later, I received an e-mail from a participant, complaing about this section. Can you guess what the complaint was?

Think about it a bit…

Time’s up!

Do you have an answer? Continue reading

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Ethics Observations On The Impeachment Poll

johnson-impeachment

Public Policy Polling reported yesterday that…

“Just three weeks into his administration, voters are already evenly divided on the issue of impeaching Trump with 46% in favor and 46% opposed. Support for impeaching Trump has crept up from 35% 2 weeks ago, to 40% last week, to its 46% standing this week. While Clinton voters initially only supported Trump’s impeachment 65/14, after seeing him in office over the last few weeks that’s gone up already to 83/6.”

What’s going on here?

Ethics Observations:

1. The article buries the lede. What has changed is that Clinton voters now want the President to be impeached by an incredible 83-6 margin. Good job, news media! Well done, Democrats! Nice well-poisoning, social media! Now, if the poll is to be believed, virtually all of the 65,844,610 voters who supported Clinton have adopted the Left’s favored totalitarian mode of governance: if our candidate loses the election, gain power through other means.

2. This has been the relentless message wafting in from the Left  like Assad’s poison gas since November 8, 2016, when “The World Turned Upside-Down.” The popular vote should decide the election…Electors should violate their pledges…Trump should be impeached before he takes office…He should be stopped from taking the oath until he sells all of his business interests—Russia “hacked the election,” we should have a do-over…His cabinet should declare him “unable to discharge the duties of the Presidency,” and make Pence President…the military should take over…He should be arrested…He should be shot…Rioters should prevent the Inauguration from occurring…Did I miss any? I’m sure I must have. But now it has come back to impeachment.

3. Impeachment has been the default remedy of radicals, fanatics and crazies who oppose Presidents since at least the 1950s, when the John Birch Society was running amuck. Democrats, having once taken their name seriously and genuinely supported, you know, democracy, used to regard it as dangerous device that could be used to take power away without the inconvenience of elections. John F. Kennedy won a Pulitzer Prize for putting his name on a pop history book called “Profiles in Courage” (he didn’t write it) about heroic U.S. Senators, and one of the most stirring tales was the book’s recounting the story of Edmund Ross, Republican Senator from Kansas, who bucked his party leadership and his constituents by voting for President Andrew Johnson’s acquittal in his impeachment trial, thus causing the effort to throw Johnson out of office to fail by a single vote. Kennedy’s book stated that Ross, whose career in Kansas was ended by the vote (he later switched parties and moved to New Mexico), may well have saved the balance of powers and the integrity of the the democratic process. Johnson was an unpopular and obstructive President who stood in the way of the Radical Republicans’ plans to subjugate the defeated Confederacy, but his “high crimes” consisted of using his power in politically unpopular ways.

4. The Democrats carried on Ross’s tradition when they refused to give Bill Clinton’s impeachment a fair trial, and he had engaged in impeachable offenses. That didn’t mean that it would have been good for the country to remove Clinton from office, however, especially since the Republican Party had been openly searching for ways to undermine Clinton since he was elected. The impeachment was an example of something justifiable done for unethical reasons, thus setting, again, a dangerous precedent. Impeachment has to be a last resort when a President’s conduct abuses law and power, as it would have been if Nixon hadn’t resigned. Any other use of the device will allow elections to be overturned whenever a President’s opposition gets sufficient popular support and representation. Continue reading

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