Observations On That Disturbing Trump Cabinet Meeting

Yesterday’s weird, televised segment of the Cabinet meeting was troubling in many ways. If you missed it, and I am envious if you did because it will haunt my nightmares for a long time, here is what happened:

Trump began by giving a positive assessment of his first 143 days and said,”Never has there been a President….with few exceptions…who’s passed more legislation, who’s done more things than I have.” Bad start. Trump, in fact, has signed very few bills. “Never—with few exceptions”—is classic Trump-speak, aka gibberish. This is also the kind of statement Trump’s Furies call “lies.” This was not a lie. In some convoluted way, the President thinks its sort of true. THAT’S the problem, not that he’s lying.

This was just the appetizer, though. The full course was the Cabinet officials, one by one, around the table, taking turns praising their boss.  This could not have been spontaneous. It reminded me of “King Lear”s” opening when the old, fading monarch requires each of his three daughters to tell him how much they love him as the price for getting a piece of his kingdom.

The charade began with Vice President Pence, who called it the “greatest privilege of my life” to serve in the Trump administration. Then Attorney General Jeff Sessions said it was an “honor” to serve Trump, and the rest of Trump’s Cabinet more or less aped what Pence or Sessions had said. Maybe they had all been given talking points. As a final inducement to projectile vomiting, Lackey-in-Chief Reince Priebus gave us a suck-up for the ages:

“On behalf of the entire senior staff around you, Mr. President, we thank you for the opportunity and the blessing that you’ve given us to serve your agenda and the American people And we’re continuing to work very hard every day to accomplish those goals.”

And may I fellate you here, sir, or later?

Disgusted and depressed observations:

1. This is exactly the kind of self-destructive fiasco  a top Chief of Staff who has a proven record running successful government operations on the state or national level could and would prevent. Instead, Trump has a Chief of Staff who actively made it worse. In February, Ethics Alarms featured my post calling for the appointment of such a figure as “the single most ethical thing President Trump could do.” That was four months ago, and this is more desperately needed now than ever.

2. Since this horrible display did happen, we now can say with certainty that none of the President’s inner circle has the influence, guts or common sense to stop him when he yields to his worst instincts.

3. We can also conclude that not a single member of the President’s Cabinet possesses  sufficient integrity, courage, principle or self respect to be trusted by the American public. These are billionaires and generals, and not one said to Trump, “I’m sorry, Mr. President, but this will make you look weak and me look like an ass-kissing yes-man. I won’t do it, nor will I remain in a Cabinet stocked with lapdog sycophants who would debase themselves and their high offices by doing it.  Do you discard this idiotic charade, or do I resign now?”

Shame on them, every one. Continue reading

The Dishonest Tax Day Anti-Trump Protests

All such Anti-Trump protests should be called “We Are Furious That Our Terrible Candidate And Her Corrupt Party Lost The Election And Are Throwing An Infantile Tantrum While Rejecting  Democracy and American Institutions Until We Get Our Power Back.”  That’s all they are, every one of them. At least then the demonstrations by un-American hypocrites who want to overthrow an election that didn’t go their way would deserve props for being honest.

The Tax Day protests were the electoral college protests, the illegal immigrant protests, the women rights protests (coming up: the science protests) and all the others with just a different hook. I’m sure by now there is a well-paid public relations team charged with coming up with the next one. The amount of ill-used time, public expense , inconvenience, wasted news coverage space and accumulated idiotic rhetoric such protests will generate over the next four years should be measured somehow, because it will be staggering. Is this going to be the longest, most costly, most devisive and unethical national tantrum in U.S. history? It already is.

Just to get the alleged justification for the latest sham out of the way: President Trump has no obligation, legal or ethical, to release his taxes at this point. It would be irresponsible for him to do it, in fact.

Of course, as Ethics Alarms noted during the campaign, candidate Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns was unethical: unfair to voters, a breach of transparency; and disrespectful to the process. His oft repeated reason why he “couldn’t” release them was also an obvious lie. This episode, like so many others during the campaign, demanded consequences, and there probably were some.

Who knows how many votes it cost Trump? The conduct alone did not disqualify him for election: If he were the most qualified, competent, brilliant, trustworthy, inspiring candidate the nation had seen for decades, would the mere failure to release his tax returns have caused me, or any reasonable voter, to refuse to vote for him, and instead vote for, yechhh, Hillary Clinton? Of course not.

Whatever reason there was for Trump to take this risk and refuse to abide by long practice and tradition, the gamble worked. Now, however, there is no ethical reason to reverse that decision.The original reason the decision was unethical doesn’t exist: voters had a right to see the details of that aspect of his life before choosing him to be President. He’s not running for office now, however. Now his duty is to try to do the job he was elected to do. Yes, I know the “resistance” refuses to accept or acknowledge this, but facts are stubborn things. Now, releasing the tax returns is only demanded by one set of citizens: those who already hate his guts, reject his Presidency, want to see it fail, are willing to see the nation fail if that’s what it takes, want to cobble together reasons to impeach him, and are only interested in using the returns, whatever is in them—it literally doesn’t matter—to further disrupt his attempts to do his job.

Literally nobody who either voted for the President or who wants him to succeed in dealing with the wave of problems left festering by the inept and feckless administration before his would say that allowing Democrats and other Trump foes to have a new weapon to level against his Presidency is in the best interest of the nation. The only people who want to see his tax returns  right now want them solely as a stick to beat him with.

“Show us your fucking taxes, you emotional child!” alleged comedian Sarah Silverman screamed from the podium to appreciative  Tax Day protesters. That was representative of the attitude of every individual at every one of the Tax Day protests. I wouldn’t put any ammunition, no matter how ineffective, in the hands of someone like that. It would incompetent. It would be self-destructive. It would be stupid.

Naturally, reporters are incapable of comprehending this, because they also want to bring this President down so intensely they can taste it. The pundits are already deranged: here’s Salon’s Heather Digby Parton, explaining why Maxine Waters, a career embarrassment to Congress, is a leader because she insists that she wants to impeach Trump now:

“It may seem that Waters just has a pugilistic personality and is out front because it’s her political style to mix it up. But there is a strategy at work in this. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that a president was impeached for only the second time in history and this was over a “crime” that seems laughably insubstantial compared to the possibilities that Donald Trump could face. Just for starters, Trump’s presidential campaign is being investigated in a counterintelligence probe, and the list of his conflicts of interest are so wide-ranging and so deep that almost anything could implicate him in a corruption scandal. Impeachment is really not a far-fetched proposition.”

Again, facts are stubborn things. First of all, impeachment is always a far-fetched proposition, and was intended to be.  Conviction requires two-thirds of the Senate, and unless that is feasible, the exercise of impeachment by the House is a waste of time that paralyzes the government. Bill Clinton lied under oath in a court of law and used the government to engineer a cover-up. That’s not insubstantial, except to Democrats whose position then as now was that their Presidents can do no wrong and are never accountable. Bill’s crime is insubstantial, Salon says, “compared to the possibilities that Donald Trump could face.” “Could face!” Savor that one for a bit. That’s the mindset of the entire “resistance.” These unhinged and totalitarian-listing Americans are just certain that “something is out there,” like “The X-Files,”  because it might be out there, at least in their hyper-partisan dreams. The investigation is part of the partisan anti-Trump Presidency play-book, and is about as meaningful as Republican investigations aimed at proving that the Obama Administration intentionally allowed our Libyan ambassador to die.

You see, investigations are not proof of wrongdoing. They have become weapons to insinuate wrongdoing: Joe McCarthy paved the way, As for Trump’s conflicts, “almost anything” would not constitute an actual scandal.  “Almost anything” will allow Trump-haters to claim there is a scandal, and the news media to support such claims as long as they can do undermine the President as much as they can…which brings us back to the tax returns.

If the President could plausibly believe that the news media would be fair and objective, maybe he would release his returns. All we hear is that the only explanation is that he has something nefarious to hide. That is not the only explanation. The other explanation that the news media has provide every reason for him to believe  that almost all the major news organizations are allied with his enemies, and will not fairly report on what is in the returns. Do you doubt that?  How? MSNBC reporter Morgan Radford  interviewing actress Debra Messing at a Tax Day protest, heard the former “Will & Grace” star state as fact that American democracy was “attacked and infiltrated by Russia,” ( a hysterical characterization, and pure Hillary campaign talking point—I wonder, would Messing be saying this if Russia hacked Trump’s tax returns before the election?) and responded by asking Messing the  “best way to make our voices heard” in order to “neutralize” the threat posed by the “current administration to democracy.”

Reporters aren’t even trying to be objective, don’t want to be, and are convinced their market doesn’t want them to be journalists, but activists. Thus their news organizations are refusing to enforce even minimal journalism standards. Why would any leader determined to do the daunting job facing him give these unethical, hateful hacks any assistance in warping public opinion?

CNN’s Chris Cillizza graphically illustrates how bias makes journalists stupid and untrustworthy in his feature called “The big thing Trump gets wrong about his taxes and the 2016 election.”

Taking off from the President’s typical and unhelpful “Nyah nyah, I won” tweet about the protest, Cillizza writes,

The Trump logic appears to go like this:

Democrats hit me for not releasing my tax returns during the campaign.

I won.

Ergo, no one cares about my taxes.

This isn’t the first time this sort of thinking has been deployed by Trump and his senior staff. Back in January, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway insisted that “we litigated this all through the election. People didn’t care.”

Conway’s point didn’t make sense then. And Trump’s doesn’t now.

No, Chris, your point is the umpteenth example of  journalists misreading sloppy Trump team rhetoric to make an invalid point.  What Conway meant was not that “people didn’t care.”  It was that the people who voted for Donald Trump cared about other things more. They still do. The election, after all, wasn’t about tax returns. (Similarly, those who didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton may care very much about women’s rights, but cared more about keeping the corrupt Clinton machine from getting its grubby hands on the levers of power.) The people who cared about other things more than Trump refusing to reveal his taxes still care more about those things, which now includes his having to deal with very real and very pressing problems which the tax returns cannot do a thing to solve. Because the election is over and Trump is President for the next four years, they care about his taxes even less than before in comparison to wanting him to be successful. Trump, and Conway, I and I hope you KNOW the taxes matter to the people who want to wreck his Presidency; we all know Chris cares, because it can only cause harm to the administration.

The President’s point makes perfect sense, and not releasing his returns now also makes sense.

Anything else would be deliberately crippling his ability to lead, and no responsible leader does that intentionally.

President Trump does too much of that unintentionally already.

[And may I add, boy, I’m sick or having to write about this. But then, Samuel Pepys got tired of writing about the plague.]

A Presidential “Othering” Ethics Puzzle: What IS This Statement? Misleading? Ignorant? Biased?

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In a column today, Washington Post political columnist Chris Cillizza writes,

“The simple fact is that Trump has never had real friends in the sense you or I think of the term. The relationship world of Trump has long been split into two groups: (1) his family and (2) people who work for him. And people who work for you are rarely your actual friends.”

This was written in the context of an article titled “The very peculiar isolation of Donald Trump.”

What’s going on here? It is definitely one more “othering” exercise from the news media, part of a concerted effort to avoid “normalizing” this President so that tactics previously regarded as unthinkable, undemocratic and unAmerican will be accepted by the public when they are used against him. The message is that this President is strange, weird. He’s not like us. He’s a monster. Today, for example,  MSNBC’s Katy Tur insinuated that the President might be planning to start murdering journalists, asking a guest.

“As we know, there’s, since 2000, been a couple dozen suspicious deaths of journalists in Russia who came out against the government there.Donald Trump has made no secret about going after journalists and his distaste for any news that doesn’t agree with him here. Do you find that this is a dangerous path he is heading down?”

I was struck by Cillizza’s column  because the topic is one of several upon which I wrote my honors thesis in American government. (If you are in Cambridge, Mass., you can find a copy in Widener Library.)  Cillizza’s statement made me realize, for the first time, really: Ah! There’s at least one aspect of his personality that is typical of American Presidents!” I studied exactly that aspect of Presidential biographies to test my thesis that the U.S. Presidency attracted a specific character type, and the type was not “normal” by the public standards. Continue reading

Ethics Observations: Comey’s Second Letter On The Clinton E-mail Investigation

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FBI director James  Comey informed Congress yesterday, two days before the culmination of the Presidential campaign, that the recently re-opened inquiry into Hillary Clinton’s  irregular handling of classified e-mails uncovered no new evidence that would change July’s recommendation that she shouldn’t face criminal charges.

“Based on our review, we have not changed our conclusions that we expressed in July with respect to Secretary Clinton,”  Comey wrote in a letter to the leaders of several congressional committees.

Observations:

1. Good.

If Clinton wins the election, she should be able to start her term of office without this scandal of her own making still hanging over her head. After all, there are sure to be new scandals in due time, unless she turns over a new leaf like Richard Nixon did when he finally became President in 1968. Herblock, the Washington Post’s iconic Republican-hating cartoonist, even symbolically gave him a shave. (Herblock drew Nixon with a five-o’clock that made him look like an axe murderer.) Yes, the irony is intentional.

If Hillary loses, Comey’s late “never mind!” might stop Democrats from claiming that her inevitable coronation was prevented by a deliberate FBI plot, and allow them to further undermine trust in law enforcement. It might, but it probably won’t.

2. In fact, this process has already started. The Washington Post’s political columnist Chris Cillizza quickly filed a piece called “It’s hard to see how James Comey could have handled this last 9 days any worse.”

It should be used in classes to illustrate what “hindsight bias” means. He also makes a persuasive argument in favor of Comey’s letters—both of them—thinking he’s doing the opposite: Continue reading

Since Nobody In The Mainstream Media Will Flag President Obama’s Outrageous Hypocrisy, I Guess It’s Up To Ethics Alarms. Rats.

I hate this. I really do.

Boy, can you believe Donald Trump suggesting that a Presidential election can be stolen? This guy is a monster!

Boy, can you believe that Donald Trump suggesting that a Presidential election can be stolen? This guy is a monster!

I hate that the astoundingly biased and partisan news media and pundit class refuse to even make a fair pass at doing its job, forcing an ethics blog to place itself in the position of being accused of defending Donald Trump.

Yeccch.

[Rueful but amused aside regarding the biased and partisan news media: Late Sunday evening,  Chris Cillizza, who authors the political blog for the Washington Post, tweeted: “Let me say for the billionth time: Reporters don’t root for a side. Period.” This was a manifestly absurd assertion, and made me wonder about Cillizza, who may not “root for a side,” but whose own left-leaning and pro-Clinton bias creeps into his work at regular intervals. But the gods of irony were ready: Monday morning the Center for Public Integrity released its 2016 campaign analysis that showed that U.S. journalists gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to  Clinton’s campaign. CPI identified 430 people as “journalists, reporters, news editors or television news anchors ­— as well as other donors known to be working in journalism.” 96 % gave money to Clinton, according to federal campaign finance filings. That’s 96. Ninety-six. NINETY-SIX. As in “all but 4%.” Got that? Are we clear? Those 430 journalists gave $382,000 to Clinton and $14,000 to GOP nominee Donald Trump. Fifty journalists  gave to Trump; 380 gave to Clinton. Many more members of the media almost certainly donated, and almost certainly in a similarly unbalanced split, but the law only obligates candidates to disclose the names of donors giving more than $200 in a single election cycle. In its report, CPI noted that even though many news organizations have policies against donating to politicians, those organizations’ reporters donated anyway. Poor, naive, Chris Cillizza, having proven that as a reporter, his confirmation bias prevents him from seeing what is all around him, at least had the integrity to follow up his previous tweet (“Period.”) by tweeting…

“Well this is super depressing. NO idea why any journalist would donate $ to politicians.”

Well why don’t you think about it, Chris? I’m sure it will come to you. But I digress...]

I know this is a political campaign and that hyperbole and loose facts are as American as apple pie. However, Barack Obama is President of the United States, and he, even more than most, must not actively seek to re-write history, especially since so many of his supporters have the historical perspective of mayflies. Therefore he must not be allowed to escape proper condemnation for these statements he made  in a campaign speech attacking Donald Trump. Yes, only condemnation will do, for his statements were dishonest, untrue, and constituted hypocrisy as its worst. Presidents should be better.

Obama had the gall to lecture Donald Trump with two head-exploding statements for anyone whose memory extends back before the Bush presidency, and one that should have triggered mass cranial eruptions from anyone conscious during the past 8 years: Continue reading

The Latest Unethical Tactic: Attacking Journalists Who Don’t Actively Try To Promote Hillary Over Trump [UPDATE: Hillary’s Health]

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Once the New York Times embraced the rationalization “Ethics is a luxury we can’t afford” and announced that journalists had a duty to bias their reporting to block Donald Trump’s election, this result was foretold. It was really foretold in 2008, when the news media first abandoned even the pretense of fairness and objectivity to ensure the election of our first black President.

Matt Lauer, of all people, became the object of furious invective after he hosted a live prime-time forum with Trump and Hillary. He was accused of unfairness, gullibility and even sexism in his handling of the event. His main offenses: not “fact-checking” Trump, as when he said, not for the first time, that he opposed the Iraq invasion from the beginning (he didn’t), and grilling Hillary about her e-mail machinations.

The only way the transcript supports the latter contention is if one is Bernie Sanders and believes Hillary’s “stupid e-mail” is irrelevant. Lauer didn’t spend an inappropriate time on this issue, given what a perfect example it is of Clinton’s Arrogance, deviousness, lack of transparency, and, apparently, incompetence and recklessness.  I’d say he was easy on Hillary: he didn’t mention her sleazy conflicts with Clinton Foundation donors at all, and she is much less adept at spinning that slam-dunk conflict of interest and ethical violation than with her e-mail, which she has been lying about for more than a year. Pro-Clinton news media, which is to say, news media, howled about Lauer not challenging Trump’s thoroughly disproven claim about opposing the Iraq War, but Clinton already had done this, saying, “Now, my opponent was for the war in Iraq. He says he wasn’t. You can go back and look at the record. He supported it. He told Howard Stern he supported it.” Maybe Lauer thought that was enough; it should have been: Trump’s lie on this score has been well-publicized, including here, on Ethics Alarms.

Meanwhile, he did not challenge Clinton on her obviously false claim that emails cannot be considered classified if they do not contain formal classification markings, and worst of all, he did not challenge her unconstitutional call to ban citizens who are placed on a no-fly list from exercising their Second Amendment rights. This is especially important, because this fact isn’t understood by most Americans, and a Presidential candidate advocating defiance of the Constitution is, or should be, a big deal. Never mind, though: Lauer wasn’t supposed to be tough on Hillary. He was only supposed to be hard on Trump, and because he wasn’t “hard enough,” a.k.a., “harder,” a.k.a. “biased like the rest of the mainstream coverage,” then it means that he was incompetent. Continue reading