Hoping That Future Presidential Candidates Won’t Be Asked About Whether They Would Kill Baby Trump

back-to-the-future-delorean

I refused to weigh in on the brief and silly ethics question being asked of various Presidential candidates regarding whether they would kill Baby Hitler given the chance via DeLorean or Star Trek gateway or something similar. I am beginning to wonder, though, if candidates to lead whatever is left of the U.S. 50 years from now will be asked a similar question about killing Baby Trump.

I have written…

Donald Trump’s revolting candidacy…cannot fairly be called the most unethical presidential candidacy, but it is early yet. It may well prove to be one of the most harmful. As the United States faces some of the most difficult challenges in its history, Trump has chosen to use the nation’s process of deciding on its leader for his own ego gratification and self-promotion, without  preparation for the job, deference to fair campaign rhetoric, or acknowledgment of his own fatal flaws as a candidate. Exploiting his status as a media celebrity in a celebrity-besotted culture, as well as the news media’s lack of discipline or principle, he is opportunistically advancing his candidacy on the lack of credible GOP contenders, using tabloid headline tactics….Donald Trump is perfectly happy to make a mockery of the presidential nomination and election processes while distorting them too. If he manages to convince enough fools to vote for him, hell, sure…he’d have a blast running for President. If his run peters out, it’s still worth lots of publicity, and increases the value of the Trump “brand.” Even the most unethical of the previous candidacies were based on a sincere, if misguided belief that the country’s welfare would be served by it. Does Trump have that belief? I wonder. No, his can’t be called the most unethical candidacy. But it is reckless, and it is intentionally appealing to the worst in 21st Century American character: fear, celebrity worship, ignorance, and materialism. Meanwhile, every second of attention his candidacy distracts from serious consideration of our nation’s leadership reduces the chances of the public doing its hardest and most important job carefully and competently.

I wrote that five years ago. Continue reading

Scott Brown And The Slippery Slope To Distrust

Stay classy, Senator...

Stay classy, Senator…

Who started our elected officials down the slippery slope to the point where the public viewed them as indistinguishable from any other celebrity? Was it when  Richard Nixon appeared on “Laugh-In” in 1968? Was it when ex-Speaker Tip O’Neill allowed himself the be shown in a commercial for Quality International Budget Hotels, popping out of a suitcase? Was it a decade earlier, when washed up song and dance man George Murphy won a U.S. Senate seat for California? There were critics who sounded the alarms loud and early about the dangers of our leaders trading on their visibility and power like any pop singer, athlete or actress; such critics were inevitably told to “lighten up.” We assumed, did we not, that our leaders, being responsible and respectful of our institutions,  would know what lines not to cross, and when their self-mockery, playing around and hucksterism would risk harming the credibility of democracy and the public trust.

Why would we assume that, especially as cynical politicians increasingly sought to win the votes of even more cynical young voters?

Ronald Reagan explained to an interviewer that while it would be fun to return to acting—playing a Bond villain, maybe—after leaving the Presidency, it would be unseemly. Is anything unseemly now? Arnold Schwarzenegger stepped out of a Governor’s mansion back into cyborgdom without blinking. Rudy Giuliani appeared in drag on Saturday Night Live while he was still mayor. Senators and House members eagerly grabbed cameos in sitcoms and dramas. Some were even good at it: Senator John Glenn’s guest appearance on “Frazier” is one of the highlights of the whole series. Did any of these eager publicity hounds consider that the more our leaders behaved like every other celebrity, the less reason the public had to believe they were any better, smarter, or more honest than the politically vocal and usually ignorant celebrities who supported them?

A public office is a public trust, and therefore the honor of that office is a gift that the temporary occupant should not trade upon for crass commercial gain and ego fulfillment.  It is bad, and corrupting, enough that the simple fact that they held high office is usually enough to guarantee former officials private sector employment in lobbying firms, universities, law firms and other lucrative enterprises. Still, the institution and positions a former elected leader leaves behind are still deeply affected by the conduct and the reputation of former occupants.

When I first studied Presidential leadership, the consensus among political scientists was that the public perceived the office of the Presidency according to the conduct, reputation, image  and character of George Washington.  Today, thanks to constantly sinking precedents, the public expects lies, excuses incompetence, and shrugs off greed, with the ugly example of the Clintons now reaching depths never envisioned even when Gerald Ford became the star client of the William Morris agency.

Yet somehow I didn’t think it would come to this. I didn’t foresee a former U.S. Senator following the lead of Marie Osmond and Kirstie Alley, and becoming a shill for a diet supplement.  I am so damn naive sometimes. I assumed that an ex-Massachusetts Republican Senator would no more follow that seedy path, no matter how much he needed the money,  then Sarah Palin would pose nude for Playboy. Yet here is Scott Brown, serving as spokesperson for AdvoCare products, which resemble Herbalife in their marketing plan and likely legitimacy.

His acceptance of such an undignified and dubious role harms every U.S. Senator, the institution of the Senate, and the republic itself. It further obliterates all pretense of superior character and respect for the institutions they serve from our politicians, and makes every single one of them appear less worthy of office, respectable or dignified in the eyes of citizens and voters. There are essays all over the web right now asking why slimy Donald Trump is polling so well, given that he is boor, a bully, a clod, a huckster and a self-promoting fool.

Scott Brown and the trend he represents is a big reason. “How is Trump any worse that the rest?” Trumps fans will ask. “At least he doesn’t pretend to be something he’s not.”  Dignity and respect for the privilege of public service have always been vital tools of leadership, and prerequisites for attaining it. This was understood for so long that our leaders forgot why those qualities were important.  Now they have neglected both for their own selfish, short-term gains in money, celebrity and ego-gratification, leaving a distrustful public that can no longer distinguish between statesmen and con artists….perhaps because there is no distinction left.

Ethics Takeaways From Donald Trump’s Reply To Jake Tapper’s Question About “Traditional Marriage”

TrumpBoorish, arrogant blight on the American landscape that Donald Trump is, he has his uses.

Trump is that amusing if tragic anomaly, the low information Presidential candidate, kind of like Michele Bachmann. On Friday, right after the SCOTUS gay marriage decision was announced, he sent out a tweet blaming Chief Justice John Roberts for it, even though Roberts was one of the dissenters. Today, CNN’s Jake Tapper asked him to explain his stated support for “traditional marriage” by explaining Trump’s own non-traditional marital conduct in that context:

“What do you say to a lesbian who’s married or a gay man who’s married who says, ‘Donald Trump, what’s traditional about being married three times?’”

Trump’s marvelous response….

“Well, they have a very good point. But I’ve been a very hardworking person. And actually, I have a great marriage, I have a great wife now. My [first] two wives were very good..I really don’t say anything. I’m just, Jake, I’m for traditional marriage.”

….is a cornucopia of ethics-related information:

1. “Well, they have a very good point.” Translation: “I haven’t actually thought about this issue very much, I’m just asserting a position that seems to the one I think Republican voters who have thought about this as little as I have will agree with. Don’t expect me to be consistent or profound.”

Take-away: Trump has no respect for the public, his party, the office he purports top be running for, or the people who care deeply about the gay marriage issue, so he has literally devoted no time or effort to understanding the issues of the day, including this one. That attitude is, of course, an insult to all of us.

2. “But I’ve been a very hardworking person. “ The King’s Pass! Continue reading

Ethics Quote Of The Week: Me, On the Presidential Candidacy Of Donald Trump

uncle-sam-suicide

From my post in 2011 titled, Unethical U.S. Presidential Candidacies: Is Trump’s the All-Time Worst?, which suddenly became green again in the wake of the horrifying news that The Donald is running for Presient again, for real, this time, or as close to real as Trump ever gets. I wrote:

“Donald Trump is perfectly happy to make a mockery of the presidential nomination and election processes while distorting them too. If he manages to convince enough fools to vote for him, hell, sure…he’d have a blast running for President. If his run peters out, it’s still worth lots of publicity, and increases the value of the Trump “brand.” Even the most unethical of the previous candidacies were based on a sincere, if misguided belief that the country’s welfare would be served by it. Does Trump have that belief? I wonder. No, his can’t be called the most unethical candidacy. But it is reckless, and it is intentionally appealing to the worst in 21st Century American character: fear, celebrity worship, ignorance, and materialism. Meanwhile, every second of attention his candidacy distracts from serious consideration of our nation’s leadership reduces the chances of the public doing its hardest and most important job carefully and competently.”

More heartfelt and truer words have never been composed in my brain.

You can read some selected examples of Trump’s miserable character here, and I have only scratched the surface. Every other candidate for President, including Hillary Clinton, was just elevated in stature by Trump’s announcement.

Anyone, indeed anything, looks good compared to him.

Ethics Dunce: CNN’s Chris Cuomo

Bob BarkerCNN morning anchor Chris Cuomo is a fascinating study in modern broadcast journalism. Handsome, engaging, obviously intelligent and wearing his New York liberal Democrat family’s brand for all to see, he will either become an annoying MSNBC-style left-wing media scold (like his dim predecessor Soledad O’Brien), manage to walk the perilous tightrope between fair newscaster and openly liberal commentator, or (my prediction) go into the Cuomo clan business and run for office. Lately, however, his adventures have me wondering if his ego will swallow his judgement, setting him on a trajectory for MSNBC itself.

On Wednesday’s New Day, Cuomo couldn’t hide his obvious disappointment over Florida Republican David Jolly’s victory in the much-watched Florida special Congressional election. He  noted that The Price Is Right theme music was played Jolly’s  victory rally on Tuesday, and expressed disgust: “What a metaphor for what politics has become – that they are playing the theme song of The Price Is Right when they celebrate a victory, because it’s about the money! It makes me sick.”

The impression Cuomo left was indeed disgusting, that Republicans were celebrating the triumph of their big money campaign over the Democrat’s similarly obscenely funded campaign, calling attention to their victory in what had become, due to its presumed bellweather status, a local race that had attracted support from deep-pocket king-makers from both parties. Ironically, Democrat Sink outspent the Republican Jolly, who won, making Cuomo’s indictment an example of selective prosecution. His indignation that the Republicans would be mocking the role of money in politics, however, seemed to justify his making them out to be villains. Continue reading

Eliot Spitzer And The Pathology Of Leadership

Some members of the Enormous Ego Club...

Some distinguished members of the Enormous Ego Club…

The New York Daily News today issued a scathing rejection of Eliot Spitzer’s candidacy for New York Controller, and endorsed his rival. This, from an ethical point of view, is a no-brainer, but it was the manner in which the rejection came about that was noteworthy, and the lessons we can glean from Spitzer’s character that are worth pondering.

The Daily News editors were obviously incensed that Spitzer obfuscated, spun and, in their view, lied when they quizzed him on the shady circumstances that caused him to resign in disgrace as Governor of New York.  Spitzer was alternately indignant—How dare you interview me about my criminal use use of a prostitution ring  when I was Governor, when that was long ago and I’m offering my services to the people of New York?—and evasive, as described in this passage of the endorsement piece: Continue reading

Paterno, Hoover, and Jones’s First Law

Would Uncle Walt have resisted the curse of Jones's First Law?

Jones’ First Law, one of many useful corollaries to Murphy’s Law (“Anything that can go wrong, will.”) is usually stated:

“Anyone who makes a significant contribution to any field of endeavor, and stays in that field long enough, becomes an obstruction to its progress – in direct proportion to the importance of his original contribution.”

This week was a good one for Jones (whoever he was; I can’t seem to find out) if not for the rest of us, because two classic examples of his principle were on display:  Penn State coach Joe Paterno, who managed to stay coach long enough to unravel his legacy and help lay the groundwork for an ethical, moral, legal, public relations, and financial catastrophe for the institution he had dedicated his life to, and J. Edgar Hoover, the subject of a newly-released Clint Eastwood directed film that shows how he too stayed long enough as the key figure of an institution he built—the FBI—to become an embarrassment to it. Continue reading