Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/9/2018: Post 2016 Election Ethics Train Wreck Update Edition. Sorry.

 

Good Morning.

I don’t say “I told you so” as often as I could or would like to. One continuing theme at Ethics Alarms since the 2016 election that drove progressives mad has been the accusation leveled at me that I have been under-emphasizing the existentially perilous character and conduct of the President while concentrating too much on the conduct of his critics. My answer has been that I believe that the reaction of progressives, Democrats and the news media to President Trump’s election has been, by far, the most disturbing ethics story of the past year, and in historical context one of the most serious and dangerous periods in U.S. history. That conclusion has been reinforced as the year progressed. I was and am right.

None of that makes the ethical conduct of the Trump Presidency any better than it is; as I made clear in last year’s ethics audit,  he has largely behaved as I expected he would when I declared him, over and over again, unfit and unqualified. However, if our institutions and the public’s trust in them remain as strong as they have through-out U.S. history, a single odd-ball President, even for two terms, will not do irreparable damage. What the resistance and its allies in the Democratic Party and the news media are doing, however, threatens to wreck many of those institutions and tear down public trust to a point of no return. That’s my professional assessment. It is not one based on partisan politics or ideology, but on American history, cultural history, and ethics.

1 Fake news and fake history. I knew it was manufactured nonsense when my Facebook friends, Democrats, pundits and the mainstream news media began once again screaming “Fascist!” and claiming that the President’s expressed desire for a major military parade was a terrifying departure from American tradition. I knew a little research would prove it so, but then, I thought, surely some news source would have the integrity to do its job, and some “nationally recognized historian,” like go-to Democratic shills like CNN’s Douglas Brinkley, would set the record straight. Why should I have to do the work for free that these people are paid handsome fees to do, and have a duty to do besides?

Yet few corrections from these supposedly objective sources were registered while Rep. Adam Smith (D-CA) said, “A military parade of this kind would also be a departure from the values of our constitutional democracy,” and Rep, Ted Lieu (D-CA) sneered, “Because authoritarian regimes like Russia and North Korea hold massive military parades does not mean that we must as well. Politico headlined, “Trump’s Military Parade Draws Bipartisan Rebuke.” The Washington Post told readers,  “Military Parades Are About Ego and Power. Of Course Trump Wants One.”  Normally reasonable bloggers were similarly triggered, like Prof. Jonathan Turley, who wrote, “The United States has long rejected the holding of military parades featuring tanks, missiles and other heavy weapons as a symbol of authoritarian regimes like the Soviet Union, North Korea and other countries.”

I guess this depends on what one’s definition of “long” is. Such parades have been out of style since the Vietnam War caused much of the public and the political class to turn against the military, though politicians still give deceit-laden lip-service to “supporting the troops,” just not what they do. Military parades featuring heavy weaponry were not uncommon between the end of the Civil War in 1865 through 1961 during the peak of the Cold War, when it was arguably strategically beneficial to remind the USSR that if it was going to bury us, there would be a fight.  Many of these parades, in 1919, 1942, 1946, 1953, 1957, 1961, and as recently as 1991, featured tanks, missiles, and sometimes many thousands of troops  Let’s see: that’s Presidents Wilson, Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and George H.W. Bush…Hitlers all. That there is Chuck Schumer, a leader of the party having the vapors over the President’s suggestion, saying this: Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2/8/2018: Tolstoy And The News [UPDATED!]

Good Morning!

1  Thanks, Leo! I think.. Althouse reminded me of a Tolstoi quote that offers the perfect explanation of why bias makes you stupid:

“The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of a doubt, what is laid before him.”

Researching this one led me to another quote from the Peasant Count:

“I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabrics of their life”.

The quotes explain more of what is going on in the culture, journalism and politics right now than I am comfortable thinking about…which means that I am perpetually uncomfortable.

2. Someone please explain why we have not had this made crystal clear to us...This morning I heard Senator Lindsay Graham, a Republican Senator whom I regard as an honorable and ethical public servant, note while talking about the unfolding FISA scandal that Christopher Steele, the author of the so-called Russian dossier, was paid in part by the DNC and the Clinton campaign to assemble the material, for which he visited Russia and engaged with sources there. Wait…what? This made Steele an agent of the Clinton campaign by definition, and means, therefore, that the Clinton campaign was “colluding” with Russia during the Presidential 2016 campaign, to “meddle” with U.S. elections.

[UPDATE and Correction: This is what the honorable and ethical Senator said. In fact, since Steele was a former spy, he couldn’t go to Russia. He did, however, engage sources who did, and who made contacts with Russians. Legally, this makes little difference. An agent who uses an agent to do the work of the principle is still responsible for what THAT agent does. ]

But the statement above is inaccurate. ] This constitutes more evidence of Clinton “collusion” than Mueller’s year-long investigation has uncovered regarding the Trump campaign, since, as far as we know, it has uncovered no such evidence at all. Is Mueller investigating Democratic “collusion”? If not, why not? The argument that Clinton was engaged in exactly the kind of activities Trump’s campaign is being accused of has been brushed off as crazy Fox News talking points by the mainstream media. It seems pretty clear now that this is a false and deliberately misleading representation, even before we arrive at the problematical use of the document by the FBI and the Justice Department. Continue reading

John Kelly’s Statement About General Lee And The Civil War Was Fair, Benign And Accurate, And The Historians And Journalists Claiming Otherwise Have Exposed Themselves And Their Professions, Not Kelly, And Not The President

[I’m sorry: this post is long. The provocation for it is serious, however, and I couldn’t thoroughly shred this despicable media effort to make what John Kelly said yesterday something it was not and not even close to being without going over my word limit. I hope you read it. It’s hard to try to counter a concerted effort to mislead and lie to the public from this tiny outpost.]

This development yesterday really depressed me. Either the leftward professions are losing their collective minds, or they are so dedicated to turning the public against the president that they will engage in complete fabrication. Both conclusions are frightening.

Yesterday, CNN reporter April Ryan thought it was appropriate to end a White House press briefing by shouting, “Sarah, is slavery wrong? Sarah, is slavery wrong? Does this administration think that slavery was wrong? Sarah, does this administration believe slavery was wrong?” What, other than a complete absence of fairness and professionalism, provoked this unethical outburst? It was this statement by Trump Chief of Staff John Kelly, as he was interviewed by Fox News’ latest star, Laura Ingraham, regarding the The Confederate Statuary Ethics Train Wreck, specifically the Charlottesville controversy over the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee. Here is Kelly’s entire statement:

“I would tell you that Robert E. Lee was an honorable man.He was a man that gave up his country to fight for his state, which 150 years ago was more important than country. It was always loyalty to state first back in those days. Now it’s different today. But the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War, and men and women of good faith on both sides made their stand where their conscience had them make their stand.”

Based on that statement, April Ryan, and other hair-trigger “resistance” zealots, concluded that there was now a question whether the Trump administration “thinks slavery is wrong.”

Astounding.

But such is the dishonest and biased state of the news media today.

Let’s begin by examining the components of Kelly’s statement.

A. “I would tell you that Robert E. Lee was an honorable man.”

There are no contemporary  accounts from anyone who knew Lee that he was not honorable, meaning honest, moral, ethical, and principled, the usual synonyms for honorable. I doubt Kelly was using the word in its most literal sense, “worthy of honor,” but he might have been, The argument is, and I would make it, that such traits a honesty, integrity, courage and other ethical values make any individual, famous or not, worthy of honor.

Lee was terribly, tragically wrong in his choice regarding which side to fight for during the Civil War. I am not an admirer of Lee for this reason. However, during his life there were many episodes where he exhibited exemplary character.  His immediate acceptance of responsibility for the failure of Pickett’s Charge was one, meeting his returning soldiers personally and exclaiming, “It was all my fault.” Another was his insistence that the Confederate army surrender rather than take to the hills in guerrilla resistance that might have extended the Civil War indefinitely.  Lee was flawed, and few men in history who were so admired by their contemporaries have made such a tragic mistake. That does not alter the fact that he was an honorable man.

The problem is that the modern Left does not believe that it is possible to be honorable and to not embrace the Left’s most fervently held principles, even if you lived centuries ago. This is, in part, why  our politics are so uncivil, and why partisans today show less respect to those with differing opinions on public policy than Lee and many of his generation showed to members of the enemy army who were trying to kill them.

B. “He was a man that gave up his country to fight for his state, which 150 years ago was more important than country. It was always loyalty to state first back in those days. Now it’s different today.”

This is a statement of fact. Lee’s position was certainly consistent with Kelly’s statement. In some kind of magic, un-negotiated  conspiracy to take what Kelly said to mean something he emphatically did not say, one writer after another has claimed that Kelly was arguing that the Civil War wasn’t about slavery. Here, for example, is Vox:

“Though this view has long been promoted and even taught in schools around the country, there has been a new push to recognize the cause of the Civil War as rooted in a disagreement about slavery and the refusal of Southern states to give it up…”

Though what view?  Kelly wasn’t opining on the reason for the Civil War, or what was the root cause. He was talking about Robert E. Lee. Is there any question that if Virginia had decided not to secede—as of course it seceded over slavery—Lee would have fought with the Union? I have never read any historian or biographer who said otherwise. Here’s Biography.com, usually an uncontroversial distiller of historical consensus in its Lee biography:

“But Lee’s commitment to the Army was superseded by his commitment to Virginia. After turning down an offer from President Abraham Lincoln to command the Union forces, Lee resigned from the military and returned home. While Lee had misgivings about centering a war on the slavery issue, after Virginia voted to secede from the nation on April 17, 1861, Lee agreed to help lead the Confederate forces.”

That’s what Kelly said. Not every soldier thought that loyalty to state over country was the correct priority, and Kelly wasn’t saying that Lee’s position was the dominant one. It was a common one, however. 1861 was less than a hundred years after the culturally diverse Colonies came together to fight the American Revolution, and the states had been fighting over the balance of power between the federal and state governments almost non-stop ever since. Kelly was acknowledging the fact that Lee’s extreme state loyalty seems odd today, when so many citizens live in several states during their lives, and move from one to another without giving it a second thought. 150 years ago, citizen bonds to the state of their birth was a far, far greater issue, and being asked to take up arms to fight against that state would have posed a wrenching dilemma for most Americans.

That is all Kelly said. If one doesn’t understand the context of Lee’s decision to fight on the same side as the defenders of slavery, then one cannot begin to assess Lee’s status as an American figure. Anyone leaping from that statement to “the Civil War wasn’t fought over slavery” is engaging in a clinical level of confirmation bias, and that’s exactly where the attacks on Kelly are coming from. This statement, that doesn’t mention slavery, isn’t about the root cases of the Civil War, and that only explicates Robert E. Lee’s  overwhelming reason for fighting for the Confederacy, is being deliberately distorted to show that President Trump and others in his administration are apologists for racism. The fact that nothing in Kelly’s words even hint at that didn’t stop this example of mass race-baiting, based on air. Continue reading

An Epic And Unexpected Example Of How The Right Thing To Do Is To Undo A Bad Decision As Soon As You Realize that It Was A Mistake, And Not Worry About How Anyone Reacts, Who Says “I Told You So!”, Who Says You Shouldn’t Have Made The Mistake In The First Place, Or How Much You Are Tempted To Try To Make The Original Bad Decision Work Out Despite Knowing Deep In Your Heart That It Never Will…

I am referring, of course, to President Donald Trump firing Anthony Scaramucci as his Communications Director today.

For the first time, President Trump has given future Presidents a positive role model to emulate. Almost no Presidents, indeed, almost no executives anywhere,  have the guts and competence to do this. Of course, I don’t know if any President has made as unbelievably bad an appointment before. Lincoln appointing George McClellan as his top general for the second time comes close.

Donald Trump seldom admits mistakes. There is no other way to interpret this stunning act (I first saw it in a comment on Ethics Alarms, and I thought it was satire), no matter what the President says, other than “I screwed up big time, and I had to fix it.” Neither Obama, nor Clinton, nor either Bush, nor Reagan were ever willing to do this hardest and most humbling of management acts.

Apparently General Kelly told the President that “Mooch” had to go, and he went. This is excellent news on multiple fronts. I assumed that Kelly would eventually demand loose-cannon Scaramucci’s head—it was so, so obvious that he was a walking, talking pathogen in an already sick White House culture. I did not think Kelly would act so quickly. This speaks very well for him: Davy Crockett would have approved too. Davy’s ethics formula was “Be sure you are right, and then go ahead.” Kelly was sure, and saw no reason to wait. There was none. Every second Scaramucci remained wild and free was a second closer to the next crisis.

It is also a wonderful sign that the President took his new Chief of Staff’s advice. Wow. I now have hope that he may be persuaded to give up stream-of-consciousness tweeting.

We can use this event as yet another test to assess just how biased various pundits are.  How many will have the integrity to say, as I do, that firing a Scaramucci as soon as possible is a competent and courageous example of good management, even if it was made imperative by the President’s own  head-explodingly terrible, incompetent and irresponsible decision?  My guess is very few. What they want to do is bash Donald Trump, and this certainly gives them ammunition.

I would ask them this, however: how often have you hesitated to admit a mistake and fix it, waiting and hoping that somehow it would work out, only having to fix the problem later after the predictable catastrophe occurred? And you weren’t doing this in front of the whole nation, with a pack of hateful journalists just waiting to heap ridicule and abuse on you for doing the right thing?

President Trump deserves praise for this. And if his example is followed by managers everywhere, it will be a better world in too many ways to count.

[I thought this was over-kill, however…]

 

Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 7/29/2017

Good Morning!

1. There are several accurate and fair points in the New York Times overview of the Obamacare repeal and replace fiasco, as well as some details that all add up top one thing: the GOP, top to bottom, wasn’t prepared to follow up on the promises it was making during the campaign. To be responsible and honest, it should have had the substitute plan for the Affordable Care Act crafted, analyzed and ready before the 2016 campaign was even underway—you know, one that still dealt with pre-existing condition problem, capped mediacl negligence lawsuit awards. and took steps to lower health care cots while giving the public more choices rather than fewer and not adding to the national debt. Instead, they just used a false promise to stir up the base, like Harold Hill railing about the new pool table corrupting the youth in River City. It was a con job, in other words, all along. Incredibly, the Times reports—assuming that what it reports is true, and of that we can never be sure, remember—

“Vote yes, Republican leaders told the holdouts in their conference. We promise it will never become law. After seven years of railing against the evils of the Affordable Care Act, the party had winnowed its hopes of dismantling it down to a menu of options to appease recalcitrant lawmakers — with no more pretenses of lofty policy making, only a realpolitik plea to keep the legislation churning through the Capitol by voting to advance something, anything.”

That’s nauseating, and unethical governance and politics at its worst.

Other notes from the article

  • “A ruling party that never expected to win. A conservative base long primed to accept nothing less than a full repeal. An overpromising and often disengaged president with no command of the policy itself and little apparent interest in selling its merits to the public.”

It’s fine to face reality when you appear to be defeated. It is unethical to run for office without being as prepared to win as you would be if your were the frontrunner.

  • “Yet in private sessions…Republicans worried about being saddled with a politically toxic “Trumpcare,” with some acknowledging that their dual promises — repealing the law swiftly without pulling the rug out from Americans — could not be reconciled.”

This just occurred to them? Wasn’t this obviously a problem that could have been predicted since. oh, 2010?

  • “Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, assembled a working group of 13 senators to draft the legislation — all of them male — excluding Ms. Murkowski and Ms. Collins.”

What a moron.

2. J.K Rowling, Harry Potter’s mommy who hates our President with a passion, sent out a re-tweet of an edited video appearing to show President Trump snubbing a child in a wheelchair. She wrote, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them.’ – Maya Angelou https://twitter.com/ansel/status/889596818383814656 …”

The tweet had gone viral, with more than 58 thousand retweets. It’s also carrying a lie. The actual, unedited video shows the President kneeling and talking to the boy. Now the tweet itself and the page of the tweeter has vanished.

Rowling has shown us that she is a foreign citizen using her influence to spread fake news in an effort to undermine our government. Someone should turn her into a newt. Continue reading

Ethics Observations On The Scaramucci Attack Interview Aftermath

1. We are told that President Trump was thrilled with Anthony Scaramucci’s vile, obscene, threatening, vainglorious interview attacking his own colleagues and making Samuel L. Jackson’s movie rhetoric sound relatively refined. Incredible. An individual who represents the White House expresses himself in a published interview like a preening teenage gang member, breaches all existing standards of management and professionalism, throws red meat to the stalking news media writing the narrative that the President’s office is a den of narcissists, assassins, jerks and nut-jobs, and the President is applauding.

This is a level of irresponsible leadership not just unprecedented in U.S. history, but seldom equaled in the history of national leadership world wide. Incompetent and irresponsible don’t begin to describe it.

2. We are also told that the President was disgusted with Reince Priebus’s failure to “return fire” at the White House’s thuggish communications director. Wait, what? What kind of leader wants his staff to have public pissing matches? That’s a rhetorical question; the answer is obvious: a bad leader.

Yes, Priebus is a weenie: Ethics Alarms marked him so in 2015. Trump knows he is a weenie: if Priebus hadn’t been a weenie, he would have stopped Trump from getting the Republican nomination. He sold out instead.

Priebus is  a professional however, who knows, as Scaramucci and Trump do not, that a warring staff at the highest levels of government makes the public nervous and that government look like a Three Stooges short. As I wrote in the post about the Mooch’s outburst, Priebus and Steve Bannon should have presented their letters of resignation unless Scaramucci was disciplined. If Priebus was a weenie, so was Bannon. “Returning fire,” however, would have been disruptive and destructive. The President is angry with Priebus for  for being prudent, exercising restraint, being responsible, and being professional—in short, for conducting himself ethically. Continue reading

The Easy Ethics Verdict On Trump’s Middle East Immigration Suspension

immigration-protests

There are three steps to evaluating the ethical nature of any law or government action. The first is what was done. The second is how it was done. The third, and usually most difficult to assess, is why it was done, and whether the measure’s objectives are ethical, including whether the measure can reasonable be expected to accomplish them. . What President Trump’s controversial Executive Order temporarily halting immigration from seven Muslim nations is was covered in the previous post on the subject. Thanks to the fact that our mainstream journalists are incapable of reporting some news events without allowing their biases to distort or confuse the facts, the what was misrepresented to the public, and that misrepresentation is reflected in most discussions of the relevant issues on the web.

How the measure was implemented is an ethics  issue, as this involves competence, responsibility, accountability, diligence and leadership.

The Executive Order was incompetent and irresponsible.

There, that was easy.

It’s nice to be able to post an analysis here that nobody will disagree with. Usually I don’t even bother posting such verdicts.

The sudden order (you can read it here) caused world-wide confusion. Passengers were barred from flights to the United States. Customs and border control officials received notice and instructions in the wee hours of the morning, and many began work without knowing what they were supposed to do.  The order  blindsided Trump’s cabinet—what there is of it so far—including Homeland Security chief John Kelly and, incredibly, “Mad Dog”  Mattis, the new Secretary of Defense, who was not consulted by the White House during the preparation of the order and was not given an opportunity to provide input while the order was being drafted. Mattis did not see a final version of the order until a few hours before President Trump arrived to sign it at the Pentagon. Now he really has reason to be be mad. Continue reading