Ethics Dunce (yawn!): Donald Trump

I know, I know…designating Donald Trump an Ethics Dunce again is in the “dog bites man”category. Nonetheless, I couldn’t let this pass.

Presumably as part of his advance PR as he seeks the Republican presidential nomination, thus ensuring the ugliest campaign since 1860 and maybe ever, the Once and Future POTUS is about to unveil “Letters to Trump,” a book revealing 150 private letters sent to him by celebrities and VIPs, among them Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan,  Princess Diana, Ted Kennedy,  Mario Cuomo, Arnold Palmer, Regis Philbin and more; those are the dead ones. Tradition and law holds that that they have no privacy rights now, so I can’t find fault with the inclusion of their letters in the book, which will also include Trump’s comments about the letters and their authors.

However, the book will also include letters from the living, like Bill and Hillary Clinton,  Jay Leno, Liza Minnelli and Oprah Winfrey. I think its fair to assume, since Hillary is on the list, that Trump did not ask for or receive permission to publish their letters. He doesn’t have to, of course: once they are mailed, they are his to do what he wants with them. Nonetheless, common respect and courtesy demands that sharing such communications presumed to be private at the time they were sent—you know, just like President Trump expected that communications he had with advisors, Cabinet members and others during his presidency would be treated as confidential. What about the Golden R..oh, never mind. Continue reading

Facebook Suddenly Rediscovers The Democratic Principle Of Free Speech, And (Of Course), Rep. Schiff Objects

Nick Clegg, Meta’s (that is, Facebook’s) president of global affairs, announced that Donald Trump’s Instagram and Facebook accounts would be reinstated after more than two years of being unethically banned from both platforms, while Twitter, as we now know, was doing likewise for partisan and ideological reasons. Trump was still President of the United States when Facebook censored him, and this late capitulation to what Meta must see as a slow shift in public perception doesn’t mitigate or erase that misconduct at all. We can’t trust these people, and they are very powerful. They helped, eagerly helped, advance a party’s anti-democratic agenda, and will undoubtedly try to find ways to do so again. But they can’t be effective propagandists if not enough people trust them. That’s why Clegg said,

“The public should be able to hear what their politicians are saying — the good, the bad and the ugly — so that they can make informed choices at the ballot boxBut that does not mean there are no limits to what people can say on our platform. When there is a clear risk of real world harm — a deliberately high bar for Meta to intervene in public discourse — we act.”

And who is Nick Clegg, or any Big Tech honcho, or anyone, frankly, to decide what mere words create a “risk of real world harm”—and is that “real world harm,” or “real world harm”? The guy can’t even avoid being ambiguous while explaining his company’s standards, and that’s no accident. Suppressing speech and political expression thrives in ambiguity.  Any speech that doesn’t cross the line into criminal fraud or incitement as defined in statutes does not cause either “real world harm,” orreal world harm.” The suppression of speech by biased, often ignorant, corrupt intermediaries does cause harm. But if the prevailing metaphorical winds shift again, Clegg and Meta/Facebook will censor Trump again, or any other perceived threat to the divine progressive agenda. Count on it. Continue reading

Great, Trump’s First Unethical Quote Of The Month Of 2023

“It wasn’t my fault that the Republicans didn’t live up to expectations in the MidTerms. I was 233-20! It was the “abortion issue,” poorly handled by many Republicans, especially those that firmly insisted on No Exceptions, even in the case of Rape, Incest, or Life of the Mother, that lost large numbers of Voters. Also, the people that pushed so hard, for decades, against abortion, got their wish from the US Supreme Court, & just plain disappeared, not to be seen again. Plus, Mitch stupid $’s!”

Donald Trump, scoring a rare (even for him) unethical Trifecta on Truth Social

No, Trump’s Ethics Quote of the Week yesterday was in a different category: Ethics Alarms “Ethics Quotes” are reserved for statements that raise ethical issues (in that case, is it responsible for a former President to express himself like an 8th grade playground bully?) but are not per se unethical in themselves. His latest is an unethical quote, and remarkably so.

It begins with a whiny, Bart Simpsonesque “I didn’t do it!” lament; this was typical of  Trump as President (to be fair, also Biden and Obama) as he habitually refused to accept responsibility when his actions backfired, but wanted all the accolades when his policies worked. (Incidentally, this is a common CEO mindset. My boss at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce once said that may job was to make him look good: when I did well, he would take credit, when i failed, it was all on me.) Trump is being substantially blamed for the failure of the “Red Wave” to materialize, and rightly so. His incessant complaining about the 2020 election allowed Democrats to make the mid-terms about him rather than their own miserable management, and his endorsements helped inflict enough weak Senate candidates on the GOP—like Herschel Walker and Dr. Oz—in winnable races that what should have been a new Republican Senate stayed Blue. Trump wasn’t solely at fault, but he shares a large chunk of the blame. Next eh engages in deceit, a specialty: many of the candidates he endorsed won, nut most were in safe districts where they would have prevailed anyway. Those 20 losses were mostly winnable races, and crucial ones that could have been won if Trump had just kept his trap shut for two years. Continue reading

Ethics Quote Of The Week: Donald Trump (And An Ethicist’s Zugzwang)

Let’s start with the quote: Donald Trump wrote on his Twitter alternative Truth Social in response to the January 6 kangaroo court’s withdrawal of his subpoena,

“Was just advised that the Unselect Committee of political Thugs has withdrawn the Subpoena of me concerning the January 6th Protest of the CROOKED 2020 Presidential Election. They probably did so because they knew I did nothing wrong, or they were about to lose in Court. Perhaps the FBI’s involvement in RIGGING the Election played into their decision. In any event, the Subpoena is DEAD!”

Gee, why don’t you tell us what you really think, Mr. President?

I don’t want Presidents of the U.S. to express themselves like this, essentially in the style and with the cheap-shot rhetorical flourishes of a middle school wise-ass. It harms the office; it degrades the dignity and credibility of the office-holder, it’s a terrible example for the nation’s #1 role model to set for the young, and it undermines public confidence in the judgment and trustworthiness of the individual.

Trump talked and tweeted like this all through his four years in office, as we know, and has ever since. The approximately 30% of the electorate that, in his immortal words, would continue to support Trump if he shot someone in broad daylight in the middle of Times Square love this crap—it’s so, so authentic!–and they are dead, dead, dead wrong. This kind of outburst shows why Trump should never have been elected, and why people like him should not lead the United States —and until a weird confluence of random events and factors intervened, have not. Continue reading

It’s Asshole vs. Jerk vs. Troll, And May The…No, Let’s Hope They All Lose

It now appears that the controversial dinner former President Trump had with suddenly radioactive wacko Kanye West and racist, sexist, proto-fascist Nick Fuentes was a diabolical trap set by the “deliberately offensive former Breitbart editor, alt-right cheer-leader, misogynist and professional troll Milo Yiannopoulos, whom Ethics Alarms foolishly assumed was kicked to the curb for good (and I do mean good) when a tape surfaced of him making light of pederasty in an interview. Milo lost a book deal and his star status on the Conservative Creep Speaking circuit as a consequence. In declaring his professional demise, I wrote (in 2017), “Society and political discourse will be better off and more ethical without Milo’s hateful bile polluting them. That is a good thing.”

What do I know? Milo got himself hired as a staffer by Republican Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, herself an Ethics Alarms designated waste of space. Ethics Alarms, 2021: “This, my friends, is a crazy person, and no party can ignore or tolerate a House member who embodies the worst and most fevered stereotypes spread by that party’s opposition. Rep. Greene…needs to be marginalized and isolated in Congress so that not only can she do as little damage as possible, but so that when she says ridiculous and offensive things, nobody can say that this loose cannon speaks for the party.”

Milo, who is also apparently “Ye’s” Presidential campaign manager (of course he is!), takes full responsibility for setting up the dinner that has even former Trump lackeys calling the hopeful Presidential candidate a fool for hosting. Milo:

Continue reading

Ethics Observations On Trump’s Dinner With Kanye (And Nick)

Last week Donald  Trump  had dinner at Mar-a-Largo with Kanye West—I’ll start calling him by his new name, Ye, once I’m convinced that it’s not just another gimmick, or in other words, “never”—as well as Nick Fuentes, a 24-year-old leader of an annual white-supremacist event called the America First Political Action Conference, and Karen Giorno,  a veteran political operative who worked on Trump’s 2016 Presidential campaign. Never in my memory has the identity of dinner companions ever been used by the media as a supposed smoking gun against the dinner’s host. West, you may recall, had a much publicized meeting with Trump when he was President; he has recently been “cancelled” for making what seemed like anti-Semitic comments. (Kanye, it is fair to say, is mentally unstable and a publicity addict, and is likely to say anything at any time.) Fuentes dining with Trump, however, has been the focus of most of the criticism from the media, political figures, and others. The Times’ house anti-Trump specialist, Maggie Haberman wrote,

Even taking at face value Mr. Trump’s protestation that he knew nothing of Mr. Fuentes, the apparent ease with which Mr. Fuentes arrived at the home of a former president who is under multiple investigations — including one related to keeping classified documents at Mar-a-Lago long after he left office — underscores the undisciplined, uncontrolled nature of Mr. Trump’s post-presidency just 10 days into his third campaign for the White House.

She (and her co-reporter Alan Feuer) also quoted several figures who condemned Trump’s guest list:

  • “To my friend Donald Trump, you are better than this,” David M. Friedman, who was Mr. Trump’s longtime bankruptcy lawyer and then his appointee as ambassador to Israel, wrote on Twitter. “Even a social visit from an antisemite like Kanye West and human scum like Nick Fuentes is unacceptable. I urge you to throw those bums out, disavow them and relegate them to the dustbin of history where they belong.”
  • “This is just another example of an awful lack of judgment from Donald Trump, which, combined with his past poor judgments, make him an untenable general election candidate for the Republican Party in 2024,” said Chris Christie, a former governor of New Jersey who is considering a candidacy of his own.
  • “Matt Brooks, chief executive of the Republican Jewish Coalition, said, ‘We strongly condemn the virulent antisemitism of Kanye West and Nick Fuentes, and call on all political leaders to reject their messages of hate and refuse to meet with them.’”
  • Jonathan Greenblatt, the C.E.O. of the Anti-Defamation League, condemned Mr. Trump’s meeting with Mr. Fuentes, [saying], “Nick Fuentes is among the most prominent and unapologetic antisemites in the country…He’s a vicious bigot and known Holocaust denier who has been condemned by leading figures from both political parties here, including the R.J.C….[that  Trump ]“or any serious contender for higher office would meet with him and validate him by sharing a meal and spending time is appalling. And really, you can’t say that you oppose hate and break bread with haters. It’s that simple.”


Continue reading

Sunday Afternoon Ethics Reflections, 11/20/2022, Part I: The Nuremberg Trials And Donald Trump

This time I’m separating the usual intro to these ethics potpourris with the enumerated stories. I began by noting that this is the anniversary of the beginning of the Nuremberg Trials in 1945, as notable an ethics milestone as one could imagine, from several perspectives. The trials were an admirable effort to make grand statement about the line of inhuman evil that even war could not justify and that a world would not countenance. They were also significantly hypocritical, just as the post-Civil War trial of Andersonville Prison commander Henry Wirz, the sole judicial precedent for Nuremberg, was hypocritical, punishment inflicted on the losers of a terrible war that could easily have been brought against the war’s victors if the results had been reversed.

There really was no enforceable international law to base the Nuremberg Trials on, making the trials illegal if not unethical. Did they stop genocide? No, and one could argue that the show trails didn’t even slow genocide down. They did, I guess, make people think; one important result of the trials was that the films of liberated death camps, made by U.S. troops and supervised by the great Hollywood director George Stevens, were finally shown. How much the trials made people think is much open to debate. I have always been fascinated by the issues raised by the Nuremberg Trials, and Abby Mann’s 2001 stage version of “Judgment at Nuremberg” was one of the productions I oversaw at The American Century Theater. Directed by Joe Banno, it included post show discussions after every performance, some with D.C. area historians, lawyers and judges as guests. Incredibly, I felt, the show had never been produced in the Washington D.C. area, professionally or professionally. Disgracefully is perhaps the better word. TACT’s was a professional, thoughtful and excellent production, yet the Washington Post refused to review it. “Dated,” was their verdict on most of my theater’s productions. The apathy about “Judgment at Nuremberg” was a major factor in persuading me to end my theater’s 20 year-long mission of presenting neglected American stage works of historical, cultural, theatrical or ethical significance.

But I digress. While I was checking to see whether I had noted this anniversary before (I had not), I found the following post, which was the earliest Ethics Alarms entry featuring a reference to the Nuremberg Trials. Written in 2012, it makes fascinating reading today, so here it is. One nostalgic note: Among the commenters on that post more than a decade ago were Michael Boyd (last heard from on this date ten years ago), Brook Styler (final comment), Chase Martinez ( left in 2015), Julian Hung (last heard from in August of last year), Danielle (who wished me a Merry Christmas in 2016, and vanished), Modern Knight ( final comment in 2017), and several one-time commenters who never returned. But Michael Ejercito was among them, speaking of loyalty. The good kind.

The Donald’s Dangerous Ethics: Loyalty Trumps Honesty On “Celebrity Apprentice”

Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Elon Musk


I can’t decide whether it is completely predictable that the richest man in the world has a 5th grader’s comprehension of ethics and integrity of principles, or whether it should alarm us all. I do know that those of us hoping that Musk could transform Twitter from the censorious, leftist propaganda organ that it has become into a fair and valuable platform for public discourse are probably going to be disappointed.

Musk said on Twitter yesterday that he was reinstating former President Donald J. Trump to the platform, and poof!, Trump was back on the site. That’s fine: Musk should have reinstated him immediately as soon as he had the metaphorical reins of Twitter in hand. His banning in 2021 was both partisan and political; as the immediate former President, Trump’s ability to express his opinions and positions on the most used social media platform was essential to the national dialogue, regardless of what he had to say, or how obnoxiously he might say it. The principles that supposedly led Musk to spend billions of dollars buying Twitter demanded that Trump be reinstated.

But what did Musk do? He put the matter up for a vote on Twitter. How does that compute, as the robot on “Lost in Space” might say? Allowing a group to vote to decide whether an individual gets to speak or not is the epitome of censorship. Stifling free expression by those who are unpopular or who have unpopular opinions is the antithesis of the First Amendment. Doesn’t Musk understand that? Apparently not, or, perhaps more likely, he does understand it to the extent he has thought about it in his brilliant but weirdly wired brain, but doesn’t care. The vote was good publicity. The vote would get headlines. The vote would attract new accounts. Principles, shminciples; ethics, shmethics. I own this place and I’ll do what I want.

That’s basically the Donald Trump approach to ethics. Great.

Continue reading

Worst Idea Ever: Donald Trump As Speaker Of The House

In “Jurassic Park II: The Lost World,” Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldberg) tells John Hammond’s ambitious and foolish nephew, “Taking dinosaurs off this island is the worst idea in the long, sad history of bad ideas.” Indeed, a T-Rex does run amuck in San Diego later thanks to the irresponsible scheme, eating several people in the process.

But taking a Tyrannosaurus Rex to the U.S. was still a better idea than the idea being floated by some deranged Republicans to make Donald Trump Speaker of the House. I’m not convinced that making a T-Rex Speaker of the House wouldn’t be a better idea.

Most Americans don’t know that the Speaker can be anyone—you, me—whether or not that individual is a member of House of Representatives. Every Speaker has been a member, however, for the obvious reason; bringing in an outsider is dangerous and an invitation to disaster. Making Trump Speaker would be infinitely worse. The chaos he would cause in beyond even my fertile imagination to consider. Any Republican that seriously suggests such a thing should be marked for shunning and political cancellation.

Here’s the scary thing: if Democrats want to destroy the Republican Party as surely as dropping them all in an acid bath, voting to give Trump the Speaker’s position would be the way to do it. Could they be that Machiavellian? Well, it’s the same party that spent millions winning primaries for the very same GOP “election deniers” they later declared to be clear and present dangers to democracy—and that cynical, hypocritical strategy worked.

I wouldn’t put it past them.

I wouldn’t put anything past them.

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 11/7/2022: Approaching Dread Edition

Speaking of threats to democracy: this is the anniversary of the day in 1944 that voters elected Franklin Delano Roosevelt to a fourth consecutive term. There is little question in my mind that had FDR been healthier, he was perfectly capable of deciding to run for fifth and sixth terms too; this was a looming American dictator who wasn’t hiding it, and Americans still blithely voted for him. Everything about Roosevelt made him the template for a democracy-busting, cult-of-personality Big Brother USA, including his ruthlessness. We were lucky: another of the many examples proving Bismarck right when he said, “There is providence that protects idiots, drunkards, children, and the United States of America.”

Oh, he probably didn’t say it, but I’ve taxed quote maven Tom Fuller enough for one week…

1. For my own mental health, I’m going to eschew reading the pre-election freak-outs by New York Times pundits showing up today with titles like “Republicans Have Made It Very Clear What They Want to Do if They Win Congress” and “Dancing Near the Edge of a Lost Democracy.” Still, I couldn’t resist starting to read “What Has Happened to My Country?” but quit when Margaret Renkl made me read, “…Right-wing politicians and media outlets have turned American democracy upside down through nothing more than a lie. They put forth Supreme Court candidates who assure Congress that they respect legal precedent but who vote to overturn Roe vs. Wade the instant they have a majority on the court….”

There is nothing inconsistent about respecting precedent while deciding that a particular case precedent is too misguided and destructive to uphold, Margaret.

“…They endorse political candidates who openly state that they will accept only poll results leading to their own election….”

No candidate has stated that, openly or otherwise, Margaret, you hack.

“They denounce calamities where no calamities exist…”

That was it! I quit. A mouthpiece for the party claiming that electing Republicans will destroy democracy, whose #3 ranking official in Congress compares the U.S. today to Germany in the 1930s when Hitler was on the rise [Pointer: Other Bill], that thinks “The Handmaiden’s Tale” is about to become reality because of the Dobbs decision, and that has gone all in on speculative climate change doomsday predictions does not get to say that about Republicans and be taken seriously.

2. Dangerous slippery slopes ahead….NBA superstar Kylie Irving shared a tweet that promoted the “Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America” documentary and book. Both are, by all reports, pretty vile, with familiar anti-Semitic tropes like Holocaust denial and claims of a world-wide Jewish conspiracy. There is nothing inappropriate about employers disciplining employees who put their organizations in unflattering light that might hurt reputations and profitability, nor with the Brooklyn Nets suspending Irving for “at least five games” without pay over the controversy. That’s reasonable, even a bit lenient. He responded with a publicist-drafted apology. Then Nike announced that it is suspending its relationship with Irving and will not release Irving’s highly anticipated new shoe, the Kyrie 8, which was scheduled to be released this month.

That’s also fair. A celebrity who represents a corporation and its products can’t engage in high profile prejudice and expect to keep the gig. The loss of the Nike deal will cost Irving many millions of dollars, and that’s what happens when you embarrass a business partner. However, now the Nets have given Irving an ultimatum of sorts: in order to rejoin the team and start collecting his salary, he must.fulfill six requirements:

  • Apologize and condemn the film he promoted
  • Make a $500,000 donation to anti-hate causes
  • Complete sensitivity training
  • Complete anti-semetism training
  • Meet with the ADL and Jewish leaders
  • Meet with team owner Joe Tsai to demonstrate an understanding of the situation

Continue reading