Tag Archives: civility
The quote itself is by Ron Chernow, the historian who authored the recent well-reviewed biography of out 18th President, “Grant,” “Hamilton,” the biography that inspired, we are told, the mega-hit musical. and “Washington” (won’t somebody send a copy to the fools at Christ Church?) was given to an interviewer as his description of another book, the Philip Roth’s historical novel “The Plot Against America”:
[A] democracy can be corrupted, not by big, blaring events, but by a slow, insidious, almost imperceptible process, like carbon monoxide seeping in under the door.
Some random thoughts on this statement, which I believe is exactly right, and a lot more interesting than the more frequently used analogy about boiling a frog slowly:
- Grant, as Chernow’s book (among others of recent vintage) documents, was present at one of those points when democracy seemed to be in the process of being poisoned, and acted forcefully.
By 1868, when Grant was elected to succeed Andrew Johnson, who had done everything he could to allow the South to resist extending civil rights to the newly freed slaves, the KKK had evolved into a powerful terrorist organization that referred to itself as “The Invisible Empire of the South.” Under the Klan’s first “Grand Wizard,” the brilliant former Confederate cavalry general Nathan Bedford Forrest, whites from all classes of Southern society joined the Klan’s ranks. They attacked and punished newly freed blacks for crimes like behaving in an “impudent manner” toward whites, brutalized the teachers of schools for black children, and burned schoolhouses. It also terrorized and often murdered Republican party leaders those who voted for Reconstruction policies. In Kansas over 2,000 murders were committed as the 1868 election approached; in Louisiana, a thousand blacks were killed in the same period.
Grant entered office knowing that the Civil War victory could come apart. He made some bad appointments–Grant was naive about politics and trusted too easily—but his choice as Attorney General, Amos T. Akerman, was masterful. With Grant’s support, and the with the help of the newly created Justice Department under Grant, he vigorously worked to enforce the Fifteenth Amendment, which gave the vote to black men in every state, and the First Reconstruction Act of 1867, which placed tough restrictions on the South and closely regulated the formation of their new state governments. Between 1870 and 1871, the Republican Congress passed and Grant signed into law the Enforcement Acts, which made it a crime to interfere with registration, voting, officeholding, or jury service by blacks. Congress also passed the Ku Klux Klan Act, which allowed the government to act against terrorist organizations.
- When I was growing up and becoming interested in the Presidents, a life-long passion that led me to both law and ethics, Grant was routinely listed as one of the worst in the line. All one heard from historians was about the financial scandals that rocked his administration. Grant’s great success in subduing the Klan was literally never mentioned. The main Presidential historian then was Arthur Schlesinger Jr., a member of Jack Kennedy’s inner circle. His job as he saw it was to minimize the contributions of any Republican President, like Teddy Roosevelt (“near great” in his rankings), Eisenhower (“below average”) and Grant (“failure’). Meanwhile, Woodrow Wilson, who dragged the U.S, into the first World War, botched the Versailles Treaty and who actively revived the Klan, being a stone-cold racist, was “great.” Naturally, I believed all of his distortions, which were largely those of the historians at the time, then, as now, often partisans and propagandists. It took me a while to realize that this had been my first encounter with the Left attempting to alter present perception by controlling the past.
That is one of the major sources of Chernow’s carbon monoxide today, except that the disinformation now emanates from the schools, colleges, and the news media. Continue reading
1 Following a day in which various exigencies and responsibilities, plus fatigue and distraction, caused me to whiff on getting up at least three posts I thought were worthy of consideration, yesterday I failed to get any up at all. This makes me very unhappy, and I apologize. A fly-in, fly-out assignment in New York City had me up early and back late, whereupon I had my son’s birthday to acknowledge, the World Series to scrutinize and some aching feet to attend to. Priorities can’t be ignored, and being able to recognize when something you want to do and are devoted to doing just cannot be done well in the time allowed is a matter of life competence. Yet I hate failing loyal readers who care about ethics issues and rely on Ethics Alarms to explore them, and feel negligent when this occurs…fortunately, not very often.
Still too often, however.
2. The emergence of Hollywood director James Toback as a serial sexual harasser (at least) had me preparing a post about why theatrical directors are especially prone to this conduct. The gist of it was that in college, where participation in theater is often more social than aesthetic, directors forming romantic relationships with their cast members is neither taboo nor typically exploitative. Similarly, in community theater such relationships are not unusual or unethical, unless they interfere with a director’s artistic duties: casting an inferior performer because she’s your girl friend or because you want her to be is per se unethical. These are the cultures that produce many directors, and they enter professional theater, and later films, with bad habits that cannot be tolerated or continued in a professional context. Similarly, performers also come out of that culture. It may be difficult for some of them to comprehend that what is arguably acceptable in amateur settings is becomes unconscionable in a professional one.
However, this cannot explain Toback’s conduct. An astounding 200 plus women now say they were harassed or assaulted by him, and the list filled up in less than week. Compared to Toback, Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby seem restrained.
Actress Selma Blair, for example, says her agent arranged for her to meet Toback for a possible role in one of his films after her career had begun with promise. Blair says the meeting was scheduled at a hotel restaurant, but when she arrived the hostess told her that Toback wanted to meet in his hotel room. There, Toback asked her to perform a monologue nude, directed her to have sex with him, and said he would not let her leave until he “had release.” Then the actress says, he simulated sexual intercourse on her leg.
I begin my sexual harassment seminars by stating that the problem is one of ethics. If you have respect for human beings regardless of gender, if you are fair to people you interact with, if you are caring toward them and obey the Golden Rule, if you apply the three basic ethics alarms checks (“Does this seem right? Could I tell my mother about this? Would I want this on the front page of my local newspaper?”), then you won’t be a harasser. But I can’t begin to explain how someone reaches the point of depravity and utter contempt for women that he would behave the way Blair describes Toback behaving. This is, to understate it, uncivilized. Was he raised by wolves? I suspect even wolves would be horrified by his behavior. My father never had to sit me down at 13 and say, “Jack, it’s time for a talk. It’s never right to simulate sexual intercourse on a woman’s leg when she has come to interview for a job.” I didn’t need to be told this. Who needs to be told this who isn’t already a dangerous sociopath?
Somehow, the culture of Hollywood devolved to such a state that abuse of power and women became a social norm, and even conventionally acculturated adults had their values erased and replaced. That is the only way the Tobacks and Weinsteins could come to exist. That culture is now too sick and entrenched to be wiped clean by a few scandals. It is going to take a long time to change it, if indeed it can be changed. Continue reading
In his Monday column for the New York Times, David Brooks evoked Yale Law professor Stephen L. Carter‘s 1998 book “Civility” to recommend how reasonable people should engage with “fanatics.” I like the quote a lot, with this caveat: Brooks makes it clear, as almost all Times op-eds do now, that by “fanatic” he means all those strange, nasty, stupid, hateful people who don’t subscribe to the New York Times world view and progressive cant. As a result, I have to take Brooks’ words with several grains of sea salt, and indeed try to forget that they are coming from a pundit who has at other times implied that President Trump should be removed from office regardless of whether he actually does anything that would meet the standards required by the impeachment clause or the 25th Amendment.
That and other opinions he has put into print–always in the measured words of the intellectual he styles himself to be—marks him as a fanatic in my book, just one operating under the cover of gentility and intellectual rhetoric. Now, it would have been easy for Brooks to dispel my suspicions and also to have a larger audience for his wisdom had he chosen, as his example of a fanatic, a member of the antifa, or a college student who believes that conservatives should be censored, or any number of leftist nut cases who are as plentiful now as the autumn leaves. But no. Brooks knows that wouldn’t endear himself to his colleagues like Paul Krugman and Charles M. Blow, so his first example of a fanatic, and his only American one, was “a Trump supporter” who threatened him at a baseball game.
Thus Brooks’ column manages to be condescending and arrogant, as well as partisan, because of his failure to harness his biases. The substance of his quote, however, comes via Terry Teachout, the drama critic of The Wall Street Journal, the critic-at-large of Commentary and a thoughtful moderate for an arts guy, and through Amy Alkon, a moderate conservative feminist Trump-hating blogger and author, and Professor Carter, who seems like a reasonable and not especially political sort. This is enough, I think, to cleanse Brooks’ words of their inherent hypocrisy. Deciding that those who disagree with you must be the fanatic in the conversation is, after all, a poor starting point for a productive discussion.
With those reservations and qualifications, here is the quote: Continue reading
I would not have predicted that the NFL Anthem Protest (Or is it the anti-Trump protest? The “there are still injustices in America protest”?) Ethics Train Wreck would be the topic to cause multiple meltdowns, name-calling bouts and potty-mouth attacks among the veteran commenters here. I’ve given up on predicting which issues will ignite the assembled, however.
I am proud of the passion and intelligence with which the regular participants in this forum attack the varied matters I throw down for consideration. At their best, even the most intense debates usually bring more light than heat, to use the dichotomy poor Howard K. Smith employed when William F. Bucklet snapped, called Gore Vidal a “queer” on live TV and threatened to punch him out. However at least four veteran commenters here have had Buckley-esque flip-outs of late, and that will not do.
I don’t expect this blog to ever be “safe.” Bad, lazy, poorly reasoned, biased and partisan opinions should always be called out, and in terms that fit the offense. I do not want to police words, but when we move beyond fair or at least supportable assessments of comments into insults and the denigration of commenters, I expect the ethics alarms to ring out. If they don’t sound, I don’t know what the purpose of Ethics Alarms is. Theoretically, we are here to learn from each other, and that means giving each other the benefit of an assumption of good will, and occasionally a damn break.
Those who have contributed positively here for a lengthy period build up credits that will allow them to commit one or more egregious breaches of decorum without any adverse action. Ironically, I also expect the veterans and frequent commenters to be role models, and lead by example.
I also want to urge some commenters here to make an effort to curtail endless, circular one-on-one debates in which the objective deteriorates into getting the last word. In the past, Ethics Alarms has seen some epic debates resembling the Hundred Years War. What is remarkable about all of them is that it was clear as glass from the start that neither combatant was going to yield, and indeed was even fairly processing what his or her adversary was saying. I confess: outside of checking in periodically and making sure that the exchange isn’t resembling a Tarantino film, I don’t read these very long. They are boring. And because they are boring, they make Ethics Alarms boring.
Commenters with agendas are also a problem. If you approach every issue here knowing immediately what position you are going to take before you even read the post, I submit that your objective is less helping us nourish an ethical society than something else. You need to think about that, because it makes you a less valuable participant here. It also can make you annoying.
One more thing I need to add (and am adding as I am in a Fairfax, VA hotel after a horrible sleepless night as I prepare for a presentation to local lawyers about legal ethics and technology: occasionally pushing another commenter’s buttons—you know who has them, and what to push—is occasionally justifiable, but becomes sadistic and abusive if engaged in as a regular tactic.
You know, I’ve met a lot of you. There isn’t one commenter that I have met that I don’t like. Every one is a smart, passionate, interesting person. I would recommend that before you start hurling abuse at another empty face in cyberspace, consider that, as Marge Simpson sang in “O Streetcar!,” “A stranger’s just a friend you haven’t met.”
We can get our work done civilly and respectfully. I’ve seen it. If all else fails, consider the advice of Elwood P. Dowd:
Years ago my mother used to say to me, she’d say, “In this world, Elwood, you must be” – she always called me Elwood – “In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.” Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant.
I recommend both.
A video has gone viral, mostly thanks to conservative websites and blogs, of MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell having an extended meltdown during the taping of his show, full of vulgar, expletive-laden explosions at his staff. Mediaite, the media gossip and news site, first released the video, and stitched together the multiple tantrums to make O’Donnell look especially ridiculous.
The tape resembles some classic moments from “SCTV on the Air,” the satirical syndicated ensemble comedy show ( with John Candy, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Catherine O’Hara, Ric Moranis, Joe Flaherty and Dave Thomas) that chronicled the mishaps of a struggling, fictional local TV station. It is indeed funny watching a news anchor lose it, and once he blows his gasket, O’Donnell is spectacular
You will not see Ethics Alarms criticizing O’Donnell, however. Nor will I link to the video. (The clip of Steve Martin In “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” erupting at an airport rental car employee is as close as I will get.) I know that I would be humiliated if one of my own bad moments during my work day, or after it, were surreptitiously videotaped and then leaked to the individuals I would least want to see it. I have had episodes, in the sparsely populated ProEthics offices, when stress, frustration, a series of horrible events and my own ineptitude have caused my emotions to boil over, and the resulting displays have not been something I would want shown to my grandchildren. If there is anyone who hasn’t had such episodes, I am awash in admiration.
I came close to having one today, in fact, after a string of annoyances was capped by the receipt of a summons from a deranged former commenter here, who is suing me for defamation because he says I was mean to him (I was; he deserved it) and wants me to pay him $100,000. The suit is groundless and pure harassment, but I have better things to do with my time than deal with such things, and that did it for me.
My tirades are much more creative and active than O’Donnell’s. Also louder. Ask my wife.
There are few talking heads that I admire less than Lawrence O’Donnell. He is nasty, perpetually angry, and so left-biased that his head probably doesn’t turn to the right. I have been in the dark place where he was, however, and will be again. The only difference is that I do not have working with me the kind of unethical, vicious, back-stabbing subordinates who would leak a video just to hurt me and my career. Continue reading