Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/25/2020: Lies, Liars, Fake Headlines And False Narratives.

Good morning!

What’s it like outside?

1. The Sisyphus Report. Ethics Alarms is currently at its all time high water mark for followers, a number it has reached three times previously, only to fall back, sometime precipitously.

When you are trapped in your home, you tend to obsess about such things.

2. You know why, but still…the mainstream media isn’t fact-checking or pointing out the blatant, insulting lie from Nancy Pelosi yesterday regarding the House Democrats’ alternative “stimulus” bill that “Everything we’re suggesting just relates to COVID-19. It’s not changing policy except as it applies here.” That bill included [Pointer: The Blaze]:

  • A bailout for the U.S. Postal Service
  • Student loan debt forgiveness
  • Required same-day voter registration
  • Airline emissions standards regulations
  • Study on climate change migration
  • Collective bargaining provisions
  • Increased federal minimum wage for companies that accept government loans
  • Publication of race and pay statistics for corporate boards

I’m not even mentioning things like the millions designated for the Kennedy Center, because that was technically related to addressing harm caused by the pandemic.

As I and many others noted, the Democrats’ grandstanding effort to stuff the rescue bill with progressive agenda items related to climate change, the Green New Deal and other social justice wish list items was political posturing for the base, which was forgivable as long as they didn’t try to hold the nation hostage, which they didn’t, at least for very long. But Pelosi’s denial that her party did what it did in plain sight (for anyone who bothered to read the bill about it) is the stuff of Jumbos, and the news media was obligated to let the public know.

They haven’t, and presumably won’t. Instead, journalists will continue to factcheck and scream about every lazy, non-substantive misstatement of facts by the President, and back the Democratic cant that President Trump always lies.

A party whose leadership issues pure disinformation like Pelosi’s should be estopped from using the “Trump lies”refrain.  Continue reading

“What? That Horrible Nancy Pelosi Kept Ripping Up The President’s Speech Again And Again?”

The video above was released by the Trump campaign, and tweeted out by the President. It made effective, if predictable, use of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s inexcusable stunt of symbolically ripping up the President’s State of the Union text at the conclusion of his address.

Immediately upon the ad’s release, the Speaker’s office demanded that Twitter and Facebook take it down. Pelosi’s deputy chief of staff, Drew Hammill, tweeted, “The latest fake video of Speaker Pelosi is deliberately designed to mislead and lie to the American people, and every day that these platforms refuse to take it down is another reminder that they care more about their shareholders’ interests than the public’s interests.” But a Facebook spokesman replied on Twitter, “Sorry, are you suggesting the President didn’t make those remarks and the Speaker didn’t rip the speech?”

Hammill indignantly responded,  “What planet are you living on? This is deceptively altered. Take it down.” Facebook would not.  “I can confirm for you that the video doesn’t violate our policies,” said representative Andy Stone, pointing out that what Facebook called “unacceptable altered video” were those edited to make it appear that a person said something they didn’t say, or did something they didn’t do.

Ugh. The video was edited to make it appear ( though not fooling anyone with an IQ above freezing) that Pelosi ripped up the speech while the President’s various human interest salutes were unfolding. That’s something she didn’t do. Continue reading

Ten Ethics Observations On The President’s 2020 State Of The Union Message

The text of the speech is here.

1. As I mentioned at the end of the previous post, my professional assessment, as a speech coach and a stage director, is that Trump’s delivery–timing, pacing, energy, focus, expressiveness, emphasis, technique–was excellent. Like other politicians (and me, frankly) the President is best, most relaxed, most persuasive and likable, when he is speaking extemporaneously. This time, though the speech was obviously scripted, he delivered it like his more familiar riffs.

And he has improved over his term in office. So many POTUSes have not.

2. As for content, I saw the speech described as “Reaganesque.” That’s high praise, but not far off. There were no ringing catch phrases, but the most important feature was that the speech was positive, optimistic, and upbeat. This was especially remarkable because many expected the President to be combative and defiant, and to directly address his impeachment. Not doing so was wise, and indeed ethical. Living well is the best revenge, and the President’s recitation of his administration’s achievements, no matter how the factcheckers spin them—it’s Trump, so we assume hyperbole—was a virtuoso dismantling of Big Lie #5: “Everything is Terrible.”

It’s not terrible, of course, far from it, and the false narratives constantly repeated by the Democratic candidates about how the middle and lower classes weren’t benefiting  were belied by Trump’s statistics asNancy Pelosi stared.

3. The repeat stunt of having all the female members of Congress on the Democratic  side wear white  was juvenile, incoherent and dehumanizing. I was reminded of the sperms in Woody Allen’s “Everything You Wanted To Know About Sex But Were Afraid To Ask.” Whatever their chant was, it didn’t work. The President deserves ethics points for specifically condemning late term abortion in front of this group, and featuring a little girl born at 23 weeks was a powerful visual aid.

Most Americans do not approve of late term abortions, and the device of making Democrats explicitly show their disapproval of Trump’s vow to stop it exposes a gaping ethics black hole on the Left.

4. At times I wish Ronald Reagan had never introduced the manipulative technique of using guests in the audience for applause and heart-rending moments, but I have to admit President Trump used it like no one before him, shamelessly but effectively.  I just hope nobody tries to top it, because that was my limit, and perhaps a bit over.

There was the African-American boy who wants to join the Space Force, and his 100 year-old Tuskegee airman great-grandfather, in uniform, having just been promoted to  general by Trump. There was the young African American girl who had been denied her application for a tax credit scholarship to attend a private school in Philadelphia because the state’s Democratic governor had vetoed a funding bill. The President told her she would get her scholarship after all, as she and her mother beamed. There was the new President of Venezuala, symbolizing a capitalist rescuer for a nation wrecked by socialism. Rush Limbaugh, recently diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer, appeared genuinely overcome when Mrs. Trump awarded him the Medal of Freedom on the spot. Also on the spot was a surprise reunion between a military wife and her soldier husband, back from deployment.

Great drama, great sentimentality, great showmanship. It was a combination of Oprah, Maury, and “Queen for a Day,” but schmaltz works, and the President proved himself a master of it.

5. Pelosi’s guests included Fred Guttenberg, the father of a high school freshman killed in the 2018 mass shooting at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. He got himself removed from the audience by shouting something about his daughter as the President pledged to preserve the Second Amendment. Using the victim of tragedies as political props is an objectionable stunt (Trump did this too, with Kelli Hake and her son;  Army Staff Sergeant Christopher Hake, was killed  in Iraq, a victim of the late Iranian terrorist leader Qasem Soleimani. Another guest was the brother of Rocky Jones, the victim of an illegal immigrant in Tulare County, California, and the parents of an ISIS victim, but Trump’s guests didn’t disrupt the event. They had also lost loved ones to bad people, just like Guttenberg, but do not advocate taking away law-abiding people’s rights in their grief. Continue reading

The Limits Of Graciousness: The President Rejects Nancy Pelosi’s Hand

The President in 2018 wearing a different tie.  Pelosi’s hand is the same

Though she offed it, President Donald Trump declined to shake House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s  hand prior to delivering the 2020 State of the Union address tonight. (I’m watching the State of the Union Address as I write this.)

Perhaps those who are frequent readers here expect me to chide the President. He should remember that political disagreements aren’t personal, after all. As America’s leader, he should model the ethical virtues of forgiveness, civility, grace, and the Golden Rule. Our elected officials should always stand for the principle that though we may disagree as a people, we should never be disagreeable. In this case, such symbolic comity is especially essential. The nation has seldom been more divided, or more contentious in its division. Shaking the Speaker’s hand would be a step, albeit a small one, toward healing the rift.

Although this would be my ethics prescription under normal circumstances, this is not such a circumstance, and everyone knows it, or should.  Under Nancy Pelosi’s leadership, the partisan opposition of the Democrats to this President has breached all political norms and ethical traditions. The attacks on him, and not only him, but his family as well, have been directly personal, with Pelosi and her lieutenants using savage and unconscionable rhetoric to embarrass and insult him and, if possible, disable the President’s influence and lawful power. During the reprehensible impeachment burlesque, still ongoing,  the President has been denigrated as no Chief Executive before him, and as no leader of the United States should ever be denigrated by members of Congress, or any citizen. Continue reading

The Tipping Point Nears…

You know, Vince, in Iran they’d cut your hand off for this. Maybe in Hollywood too, now that I think about it…

Two episodes in recent days have pushed me closer to the tipping point at which I am forced to conclude that even as an ethicist who has held fast to the principle that no one who both reveres the office of the President of the United States and who believes that the office must be held by a man (or a woman, Bernie!) of outstanding ethical character with strong supporting ethical values can ever vote for Donald Trump or want to see someone like him, if there is such a creature, leading this nation.

I am not there yet, but I would have never dreamed at any time in 2012 through most of 2019 that I could get this close. It is true that President Trump has been far more successful than I expected in the narrow category of policy, domestic and foreign. It is true that he has displayed some admirable character traits, though they have all been in the category I call “enabling virtues,” meaning that they are traits that can serve both good and bad motives and objectives. It is also true that this President has never been given a fair chance to do his job, as he has been undermined, harassed and obstructed since the moment he took office in unethical ways never experienced by any of his predecessors with similar intensity and duration.

Nonetheless, voting for someone like Donald Trump to lead the United States of America is ethics antimatter to me, and professionally impossible—right now. However, the behavior of the “resistance” and  Democrats increasingly indicates that they must be decisively defeated so their current approach to American culture, society, rights and political conduct is sufficient ruinous that they begin a period of urgent reform.

Relatively small events often are tipping points with me, and both of these are small as well. However, when conduct is undeniably signature significance, proving that a group or individual is corrupt and untrustworthy because only the corrupt and untrustworthy would behave in such a way even once, my mind’s made up. I consider these two episodes frightening and if not quite constituting tipping points for me, coming too close for comfort.

I. The Vince Vaughn Affair Continue reading

The Other Branch’s Persistant And Hypocritical Corruption

I subscribe to the Times, but I stopped routinely reading all of the editorials, op-eds and letters to the editor once I realized the stultifying and depressing sameness of it all: narrow viewpoints, deranged columnists, and ugly bias, day after day. This Christmas Eve-day dawned with my wife in a panic, the tree decorations still incomplete, and a recognition that I was going to have to get Ethics Alarms posts done in the midst of other tasks so the 30 or so readers likely to tune in here today wouldn’t be disappointed. I grabbed the wrong section of yesterday’s Times during a tree-breather, and had to consume the editorial section.

For once, the main editorial was not an anti-Trump screed.

Appropo of the Democratic candidates’ mantra of corruption (though the editors somehow never saw the connection), it was about the persistent insider trading and conflicts of interest that have made Senators and Representatives unethically rich for ages, and that surpass in genuine corruption anything President Trump has been accused of.  (Ethics Alarms covered the issue here, and here.) The Times editors began with the saga of former Rep. Chris Collins, who had to resign his office and also went to jail for breaking the insider trading laws. His crime was tipping off his son about a stock likely to go bad based on his early notice of pending legislation, The Times found it convenient to use Collins, a Republican, as the stand-in for all of Congress, but everything he did before crossing the line of the law is, if not routine, disturbingly common among Democrats and Republicans alike:

[H]e served on various congressional committees that played a role in directing federal health care policy. Mr. Collins was the company’s largest shareholder. He served on the company’s board. He solicited investments in the company, including from other members of Congress. (Tom Price, who served as a Republican representative from Georgia and then as secretary of health and human services in the Trump administration, was among the buyers.) Mr. Collins wrote legislative language to expedite drug trials, potentially benefiting Innate, and he pressed a staff member at the National Institutes of Health to meet with the company about its clinical trial.He also invested in other health care firms, some of which held federal contracts.

Continue reading

If I Had Been Able To Swing A Full-Time Impeachment News And Commentary Blog, These Kind Of Things Would Have Been On It…

I. In the House impeachment Report, Chairman Nadler really and truly says this:

“The question is not whether the President’s conduct could have resulted from permissible motives. It is whether the President’s real reasons, the ones in his mind at the time, were legitimate. Where the House discovers persuasive evidence of corrupt wrongdoing, it is entitled to rely upon that evidence to impeach.”

Such an attitude and approach is smoking gun evidence of a rogue process. The President, of course, has not been interviewed, questioned or cross examined. His “real reasons” can only be a matter of speculation, based on the confirmation biases of his prosecutors. In ethics, motives just confuse the issue, because all human actions have complex and interacting motives. In law, malum in re, that is, objectively bad intent, often defines a crime (such as murder), but a legal action does not become illegal because the actor has some wrongful intentions, just as an illegal action doesn’t become legal because the malefactor meant well. For leaders, those who deal in power, distinguishing between rightful and wrongful acts based on motives is particularly difficult, if not impossible.

I suppose Nadler should be praised for candor, but the state of mind of Trump’s inquisitors could not be less trustworthy or more irresponsible. They believe the President to be corrupt, thus they interpret conduct by him which literally any other President could have (and has) engaged in without criticism or condemnation (except on a policy prudence basis) as impeachable. This has been the presumption from the beginning of his Presidency. No leader can function properly in such an environment….which was the idea. Continue reading