Tag Archives: civility

On The Disapproval Of President Trump

Talk about cognitive dissonance…

The recent barrage of  anti-Trump stories, self-inflicted Presidential wounds and media smears has the President’s approval ratings down again, back to his unshakable 37% or so core, presumable the American who, as he so memorably joked, would support him if he shot someone in Times Square. It has also been as high in some polls as 50% in the not so distant past, and substantively, not much has changed, except that the economic news keeps getting better. “There’s Never Been a President This Unpopular With an Economy This Good,”writes Bloomberg, and I’m sure that’s true. There was also never an individual as unpopular as Donald Trump elected President of the United States before he was.

The “disapproval rating” of his performance is incoherent, of course, because it is an undecipherable mis of apples, oranges, and wooden shoes.  Some disapprove of Trump because of his almost completely revolting character. Some disapprove of him because they disagree with his policies, since they are socialist, statist  One Worlders who believe, against all evidence, that Barack Obama was a great leader. Some are Republicans who are embarrassed to have such a man representing their party, no matter what policies he pursues. Some are conservatives who regard Trump as not sufficiently conservative, for indeed he’s not a conservative at all. Some are classist snobs. Some are morons who just believe what social media and the mainstream media tells them to believe. I’d love to know how this group breaks down, but we’ll never have that information.

Still, I find it encouraging that Trump remains unpopular despite his many positive achievements, some arguable, some not. It is good that the idea that there is more to being a respectable and admirable President than presiding over positive economic times, strong foreign policy, and military success. It is especially encouraging to see Democrats and progressives being driven to that position after stubbornly refusing to acknowledge that the character of a national leader is important during the Bill Clinton years, and after nominating Hillary. The President of the United States is not a CEO, and not a mere policy wonk (Yes, I recognize the absurdity of calling someone like Donald Trump a “wonk” of any kind). Leadership is as much a symbolic role as a pragmatic one. Leaders shift cultural values and norms; they define, or should, what a nation and its public regard as good, bad, right, wrong, admirable, and unacceptable. This was the basis of my initial, long-held, endlessly expressed, and unyielding opposition to his leadership style and personal demeanor, perhaps most forcefully explained here.

The importance of a President’s character goes far beyond being an automatic role model, however. A President, while he is in office, defines the Presidency itself. If he defines it in negative terms and values, everything connected to the Presidency suffers as well (See: the Cognitive Dissonance Scale): our system, democracy, the separation of powers, constitutional government and its institutions. A President has a duty to strengthen his office for future occupants, and to uphold the highest standards that his predecessors set. Donald Trump does not understand this aspect of his job, and never has. The reasons for this can be debated; he is obviously not a student of history, and as someone who has succeeded by breaking rules and defying conventional wisdom, he would be unlikely to understand why this role should be regarded as different from any other executive post. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Government & Politics, History, Incompetent Elected Officials, Journalism & Media, Leadership, U.S. Society

Labor Day Ethics Leftovers, 9/4/18: Big Lies, Big Jerks, Big Mistakes [UPDATED]

 

Good morning!

1. So, so predictable. Yesterday was fun: I assumed that the post about the undeniable pettiness, incivility and hypocrisy at Senator McCain’s funeral service in D.C. would prompt multiple exclamations of “But…but…Trump deserves it!”, “He’s worse!” and “What about what Trump does?” I was not disappointed. Each one of these desperate efforts to avoid facing the issue discussed and admit reality is signature significance for having crippling flaws in one’s ethics analysis abilities, gaping holes in one’s basic understanding of right and wrong, and a victim of stupidity-inducing bias. Nothing in the post excused or referenced the President’s own conduct in any way.

2. Baseball ethics. No, it is not unethical for pitchers to carry crib sheets. During the top of the eighth inning in Saturday night’s Phillies game against the Cubs in Philadelphia, third base umpire Joe West noticed the Phillies  pitcher looking at a card he had pulled from his pocket, and confiscated it. The card contained scouting reports on how to pitch a Cubs batter. The advanced analytics baseball teams now use to devise how to position fielders and pitch to batters are too detailed for the typical player to commit to memory. Lots of them carry little cheat sheets, sometimes in their hats. Although lots of old school players and tradition-loving fans hate the development, it’s here, and there are no rules against it.

Never mind: Joe West, who is one of the more arrogant and autocratic umpires, felt that the piece of paper constituted a “foreign substance” under the rules, and thus surmised that it was prohibited by the provision designed to stop pitchers from making the ball do tricks by surreptitiously applying K-Y Jelly or slippery elm. Yup, ol’ Joe thought the pitcher, Austin Davis, was  going to use the card to doctor the baseball. Good thinking, Joe! MLB quickly set him straight the next day, announcing that West, as he often is, for he is an awful umpire,  was mistaken.

The fact that West couldn’t figure that out himself, and that he is the longest tenured MLB ump, tells you why we will have robo-umps calling strikes within five years or less.

3. Nah, there’s no mainstream media bias! Today’s nauseating example of mainstream media’s refusal to report and comment on the news objectively comes from the New York Times—Surprise!—which writes sympathetically about the Democratic Party’s dilemma as it tried to derail the Supreme Court nomination of Bret Kavanaugh. There’s no filibuster any more! Multiple Democrats tell the Times how unfair this is. Guess whose name is completely absent from the article? Why, former Senate majority leader Harry Reid, who resorted to the so-called nuclear option to pass Barack Obama’s judicial nominations over Republican opposition. “They are making a mockery of the process, and that is because the No. 1 goal …. is to stack the bench with ideologues, because they know they cannot achieve their goals through the elected branches,” said the Republican leadership at the…no, wait, that quote is from Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the current Democratic leader. He doesn’t mention that his predecessor is the reason the system is “broken.” At least the Times, in one brief sentence , acknowledge that “Democrats” eliminated the filibuster for federal judges below SCOTUS level. They do not make it clear that this shattered a long-standing Senate tradition, and that it made the GOP follow-up of killing the device for Supreme Court nominations both politically feasible and inevitable.

The Times also does not remind readers that its editorial board applauded Reid’s move at the time. Continue reading

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Now THIS Was Hypocrisy: John McCain’s National Cathedral Service

Ethics Alarms has spent a lot of time and space trying to clarifying the term hypocrisy, which like another term abused here by commenters, ad hominem attacks, is more often  misused than used properly. Hypocrisy is conduct that proves insincerity and  dishonesty (or, Hanlon Razor fans, stupidity), in which one’s conduct does not match one’s contemporaneously stated belief regarding what one’s conduct should be, under circumstances that suggest that the objective of the words was to deceive, by falsely claiming dedication to principles the speaker in fact does not possess or aspire to. Thanks to the orgy of hypocrisy that the Washington, D.C. funeral service for the late Senator John McCain this weekend deteriorated into and the equally hypocritical reporting on it, we now have a perfect example of hypocrisy for the ages.

Let’s start with the fact that a theme of the service was McCain’s alleged dedication to civility. The fact that the Senator openly planned his own funeral to settle scores and act on old grudges is the ultimate rebuttal of that claim. It was undeniably uncivil to dis-invite the President of the United States from what would otherwise be a display of unified and bi-partisan Washington community respect for a departed public servant. That was an insult, and intended as one. Insults are not civil. The retort to this is that the President was not civil to McCain, which is true. However, if the professional duty of civility is waived by another’s breach of it, then there is no such duty.

McCain’s own daughter launched the proceedings with her own uncivil rant, saying in part, “We gather here to mourn the passing of American greatness—the real thing, not cheap rhetoric from men who will never come near the sacrifice he gave so willingly, nor the opportunistic appropriation of those who lived lives of comfort and privilege while he suffered and served.” Later, she added, “The America of John McCain has no need to be made great again, because America was always great.”

In addition to being uncivil—I have never been to a funeral that consisted even in small part of veiled insults and attacks on someone else, and Marc Anthony aside, have always understood that using a funeral service for this purpose is boorish and unethical—the attacks on the President, like Meagan McCain’s, were cowardly. The man (and the office) being savaged wasn’t present, and the crowd was united in its hostility to the target. George Washington’s 110 Rules of Civility cover that kind of conduct neatly:

89. Speak not evil of the absent, for it is unjust.

Leading up to the ceremony, the news media were equally dishonest in describing McCain. Dana Milbank of the Washington Post declared that McCain  “never forgot that political opponents are not his enemies, and that there are things more important than winning elections.” Funny, it seems pretty clear that McCain regarded Donald Trump as his enemy, treated him as such, and made certain that his admirers would carry out his vendetta. The description also was historical revisionism, at least through the news media’s own assessments. After fawning over the “maverick” when he was challenging George W. Bush, journalists turned on McCain and discovered his dark side when he ran against a man the entire journalism establishment had decided to elect President. The Pew Research Center found that between the Republican National Convention’s close on September 4, 2008 and the final presidential debate on October 15, McCain’s media coverage was more negative than positive by a 4-to-1 ratio, and pundits like Milbank were writing statements like this one, from New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, who said ,“Even some of McCain’s former aides are disturbed by the 73-year-old’s hostile, vindictive, sarcastic persona.”

When it was George W. Bush’s turn to speak—his family had enhanced its stock with McCain by barring the President from Barbara Bush’s funeral—one of his accolades was that McCain “detested the abuse of power”, though not, apparently, sufficiently to do the right and responsible thing and give up power when he was no longer well enough to discharge his duties. Is an octogenarian Senator with aggressive brain cancer still fit to serve in the U.S. Senate for almost a year as his condition deteriorates? To ask the question is to answer it, yet McCain insisted on keeping his power to the end, in part so he could continue undermining the President of the United States. Let’s say McCain “detested the abuse of power” by others.

That’s hypocrisy too. Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 8/27/2018: Petards, Conflicts, And Bullshit Edition

Good Morning!

1. Oh no! Hoisted by my own petard! I’m pretty certain that Clinton fixer Lanny Davis has an unwaivable conflict of interest in his representation of Trump fixer Michael Cohen. The legal ethics establishment is soft-peddling the issue because most legal ethicists apparently hate President Trump more than they like ethical lawyering, but I’ve been wrestling over whether to file a disciplinary complaint. The problem is that any complaint that has even a tinge of political motivation won’t be touched by the Bar (if prior performance is any indicator), so a complaint by me would be the proverbial lonely tree falling in the forest. The remedy would be to issue a publicity release about the complaint, but I’ve criticized that tactic as unethical right here, on more than one occasion. Rats.

It might be just as well. After the mere hint that I was defending Donald Trump (I was not) on NPR appears to have gotten me blackballed there after many years as an ethics commentator, I probably should not criticize the lawyer for the most popular sleaze in D.C. these days.

2. Neil Simon Ethics. In an alternate universe, my still operating professional theater company, dedicated to keeping unfairly buried, forgotten or unfashionable American theater works of the past in front of audiences who deserve a chance to see them, is looking at a lot of Neil Simon productions. The works of the —by far—most successful writer of comedies in Broadway history are already sneered at as sexist and “outdated,” and I can vouch for the fact that all it takes is one militant female board member with a checkbook and a chip on her shoulder to kill a production. Remember S.N Behrman? Seen any Philip Barry plays lately? How about Kaufman and Hart? Simon just died, and he’s already heading to obscurity along with those guys, and most of their plays are still funny too.

3. Here’s another topic it’s dangerous to get intoFrom CBS:

A pregnant Washington state woman said she was fired via text message from a sub shop where worked, with a store manager telling her “it’s not a good time to have somebody who is leaving for maternity leave in several months anyway.” Kameisha Denton told CBS Seattle affiliate KIRO-TV that she had told the manager she was pregnant and due in December, asking for maternity leave.

Denton said she realized that she hadn’t been assigned shifts at Jersey Mike’s sub shop in Marysville, Washington, so she sent a text to her manager inquiring about the hours. The response she says she received was shocking.

When Denton asked for her “updated schedule” she received something a bit different. The store manager named only as “Marcos” in Denton’s phone responded, “I am sorry to inform you but it’s not going to work out with Jersey Mikes. It’s not a good time to have somebody who is leaving for maternity leave in several months anyways. You also failed to tell me this during your interview.”

Denton posted the exchange on Facebook in a post that had garnered over 1,000 shares in just two days.  

Denton told KIRO-TV,  “I was just like in shock, it took me a minute to face reality — I was like this is really happening.”

Continue reading

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An Urgent Message From Your Host

I appreciate that there are strong personalities with strong opinions in the colloquy here, and I like it that way. I also appreciate those of you with an acid pen. I do not want to censor Ethics Alarms. Established participants here get great leeway with language, because they have credit in the bank, and have earned the privilege of an occasional lapse. I also realize that harsh language has its uses.

However, direct attacks, including threats, against other commenters isn’t acceptable. It makes my blog look ugly, for one thing, and discourages new readers. It also, obviously, undermines the mission.

I do not want to micro-moderate Ethics Alarms, and I believe that all of the regular participants here are worthy of the trust I place in them.

Don’t disappoint me.

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Filed under Etiquette and manners

Ethics Hero: Black Swan Books Owner Nick Cooke

The “A Nation of Assholes” scenario is in full sway when an entire side of the ideological divide attacks the owner of a public accommodation for insisting that his customers are not harassed and abused. That is a fair description of the fall-out from the recent episode at Richmond’s Black Swan Books, where the owner behaved like the owner of the Red Hen restaurant should have behaved: like an American, like a supporter of diversity of view, like a believer in our political system, like a foe of bias and discrimination.

From the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

Nick Cooke, owner of Black Swan Books on West Main Street in the Fan District, said Bannon was in the bookstore Saturday afternoon and that a woman confronted him, calling him a “piece of trash.” Cooke said he called 911 and that the woman left as he made the call.

“Steve Bannon was simply standing, looking at books, minding his own business. I asked her to leave, and she wouldn’t. And I said, ‘I’m going to call the police if you don’t,’ and I went to call the police and she left,” Cooke said. “And that’s the end of the story.”

The Richmond Police Department confirmed a call was made around 3:15 p.m. Saturday for a report of someone yelling at a political figure in the bookstore and that the call was canceled before any officers responded.

“We are a bookshop. Bookshops are all about ideas and tolerating different opinions and not about verbally assaulting somebody, which is what was happening,” Cooke said.

But it was not the end of the story, because so many Democrats and progressives have taken a dangerous turn to totalitarianism and the tactics of  Lenin and the Nazi Party, seeking to harass and abuse those with whom they disagree. The antifa is no longer on the far fringes of the Left: it is creeping toward the center, or perhaps the better metaphor is that the Left is creeping toward it, and I do mean creep. These are awful people, as I’ve said before. Not because of their beliefs, but because of their conduct. Unable to produce the political dominance that they thought had been assured with the election of Barack Obama, frustrated progressives are increasingly abandoning the values and processes of a constitutional democracy to resort to political and social warfare. The attempt to exclude conservatives and Republicans from the basic rights of citizenship, such as being able to walk down a street, shop, or have dinner without being accosted and hectored, represents an escalation, and is signature significance for an ideological movement that has forsworn ethics for the pursuit of power.

( And yes, I personally think Steve Bannon is also an awful person. As is President Trump. As are Maxine Waters, Chuck Schumer, Mitch McConnell, Joy Reid, Michael Cohen, Charles M. Blow, Barry Bonds, Stephen Colbert, Howard Stern, Joe Arpaio, Omarosa, Anthony Scaramucci, Harry Reid, Scott Pruitt, Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton. There are many millions of arguably awful people, all well short of being criminals, in this country, and every one of them has the right to live his or her life unmolested when they are not being overtly awful. Any political party that takes the position that this statement is not true should be disqualified from holding power.)

Speaking of awful people, Philippe Reines, a top aide in Hillary Clinton’s Presidential campaign, tweeted out the contact information for the bookstore on Sunday afternoon, in effect doxxing her and siccing the social media mob and the Maxine Waters Brigade on the book store and its owner. Typical of the illogic employed by the self-righteous harassers was this tweet:

Woman: Steve Bannon, you’re a piece of trash!

Bookstore Owner: We are a bookstore! We tolerate different ideas!

Also Bookstore Owner: *calls police on woman to have her removed because she expressed her different ideas*

No, you lying moron, the owner called the police because the woman was harassing his customers.  Presumably Nick would have called the police on Bannon if the former Trump aide had been harassing her.

Black Swan Books  is the anti-Old Town Sport&Health Club, which I wrote about as an Ethics Dunce here.

In that 2017 fiasco, a Georgetown professor named Fair, ironically enough, harassed white nationalist Richard Spencer while he was quietly working out, no Heil! gestures or anything, and the club revoked his membership.

(Remember: awful people. Do NOT let them get power.)

I wrote—and I’m sorry for such a long self-quote, but I think I wrote it well the first time:

I’m so weary of reading about restaurants that give discounts to diners who pray, and bar owners who declare that no Democrats are welcome and Maine propane dealers who tell their customers that they can freeze to death if they voted for Donald Trump. I’m tired of pointing out what should be obvious to everyone in a pluralistic society, but suddenly isn’t, particularly, it seems, to proto-totalitarians like the Georgetown professor, who is doubtless hard at work indoctrinating her young charges into believing that those with non-conforming views should have their rights taken away for the greater good. I detest Spencer’s views, but I consider Fair and her kind the far greater threat to the nation, in part because there are so many of them.

Why? She is a greater threat because her version of society doesn’t work, and soon devolves into armed camps. As I wrote in a post called, “Americans: End This Slippery Slope Now, Before It’s Too Late,” about a Washington, D.C. restaurant that publicly apologized for letting an alt-right group to eat there,

I know, I know: Neo-Nazis are really bad. Yet I don’t want my freedom to participate in life and society to be limited by someone else’s judgments about my beliefs or politics. Listen to the rhetoric from angry Clinton supporters since the election. If you want to enforce immigration laws, you hate Latinos. If you think the unborn deserve rights, you are a misogynist. If you voted for Trump, you are a blight on humanity. Thanks to the rhetoric of Black Lives Matters and the tacit approval of some well-placed politicians, police officers have been refused service in various establishments… The argument that this group or that group is special and doesn’t deserve the same courtesy and service as other groups is simply a rationalization born of bias, like… the position that the Vice President Elect, alone among all the millions of audience members who are allowed to attend theatrical performances as part of the community, ought to be subjected to personal harassment based on his political beliefs.

If we, as a culture,  approve of this abusive treatment of the alt-right, then we are approving similar treatment when the group being discriminated against is the Democratic Party, the ACLU, a mosque, the Shriners, the Boy Scouts, NARAL, or a newspaper editorial board. Rights mean nothing if the most unpopular, most controversial, most offensive individuals and organizations cannot exercise them….This is a slippery slope that leads right to the end of the principles and liberties that make the United States an ethical nation, and perhaps a nation at all.

Well, since I wrote that, self-righteous, proto-totalitarian progressives and “the resistance” have been greasing that slippery slope.

The Richmond bookstore owner’s effort isn’t enough by itself, but at least he demonstrated how to throw sand on it.

 

 

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 6/26/2018: Our Amazing, Evolving, Contentious Culture

Good Morning!

1. Outrageous Self-Promotion Dept.: Just in case you live in the vicinity of Washington, D.C., AND are interested in the cultural impact of the works of Gilbert and Sullivan in the U.S., AND would like to see me (and three long-time friends and colleagues who will periodically join me in performing some selections from the brilliant satirical operettas) discuss this rich and wide-ranging topic (Politics! Satire! Movie scores! Broadway musicals!) over a three-hour session that will fly like the wind, all it will take is a mere 50 dollars (just 35, if you are a Smithsonian Associates member) and your attendance. I’d love to see you. The program is Gilbert and Sullivan in the 21st Century, this Saturday, June 30, at 9:30 a.m. Here are the details.

2. Speaking of culture…If you want to feel better about the state of U.S. culture, I recommend watch a Beach Party movie. I just saw the first one all the way to the end for the first time—to realize that it was easily the best of its line (there were six—SIX!!!—more) is mind-boggling all by itself—and found it immediately uplifting. The 1963 William Asher-directed relic looks like it’s from some particularly demented parallel universe, depicting a weird place where 30-year-olds pretend to be  loitering teenagers who do nothing all day but gyrate to frenetic versions of the Twist, listen to awful surf music that makes the Jan and Dean sound like Brahms in comparison, do some surfing themselves (but just the males), and interact with B-list comics like Morey Amsterdam and Harvey Lembeck. The songs and their hackneyed lyrics make you yearn for the nuanced hip-hop musings of Kanye West; the comedy makes “Big Bang Theory” seem like Oscar Wilde, and to speculate on what kind of populace would actually enjoy such badly-conceived and sloppily-executed crap is to risk madness. If this was America in 1963, a) Good riddance, b) How did we survive? and c) No wonder the Soviet Union thought they were going to win!

No blacks are to be seen; indeed no skin color of any shade but glistening white is visible anywhere—didn’t these people even tan? Here’s a typically clueless exchange to ponder:  Annette Funicello: “The professor got his robe from the chief of the Tokyo Fire Department!” Random 30-year-old teenage beach bum: “Great! I’ll call him if my rickshaw catches fire!”  [laughter]. In the hilarious motorcycle gang, where all of the actors appear to be at least 45, the male members’ leather jackets say “Rats” on the back, and their female cohorts’ jackets say “Mice.” None of the”girls” have any function in the film, and no higher purpose, than to moon after the guys and gyrate in their faces.  Accepted conduct is for every male youth to gawk, pant, and emit some sound the equivalent of a wolf whistle every time a shapely female passes. The romantic lead (of sorts), teen idol Frankie Avalon, trying to make virginal, had-to-get Annette jealous, grabs a generic Scandinavian waitress and just starts kissing her. It’s like a magnet. Just kisses her He doesn’t  even wait. When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Then he tells her he loves her so she’ll make out with him until Annette loosens up. This is the hero, remember.

They should show this film in every junior high school American History class. I’m very serious about this.

3. An abject lesson in how the news media uses language to manipulate public perception: Virtually every news report about the Trump administration’s actions at the Mexican border described them, and are still describing them, in headlines as “family separation.” The cumulative effect of this is to make casual, not fully-engaged readers and listeners think that family separation is the objective of the policy. The objective of the policy is to enforce current immigration laws while obeying other legal requirements, such as the one that forbids children from remaining with federally  detained parents.  This is, under the Ethics Alarms definition, fake news: deliberately deceitful reporting that conveys a false impression. The equivalent would be characterizing the imprisonment of African American men convicted of felonies as “the Trump policy of making black families into single-parent households.” Continue reading

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