Afternoon Ethics Warm-Up, 2/10/18: A Train Wreck Update And A Post On “Democratic Norms”

Good Afternoon…

Why is the warm-up so tardy today? You don’t want to know...

1 The Harvey Weinstein Ethics Train Wreck takes an unexpected turn, which is hard to do for a train...Feminist Katie Roiphe is being widely attacked by the #MeToo mob for her  Harper’s essay ,“The Other Whisper Network: How Twitter Feminism Is Bad for Women.” Her thesis: with women reveling in a new-found power to destroy men’s reputations and careers with mere accusations of sexual misconduct in the workplace or on a date, women’s advances in society are likely to be reversed based on basic suspicion and fear.  The mere news that she was preparing the piece was enough for Roiphe to be called, on social media, Roiphe reported, 

“pro-rape,” “human scum,” a “harridan,” a “monster out of Stephen King’s ‘IT,’?” a “ghoul,” a “bitch,” and a “garbage person”—all because of a rumor that I was planning to name the creator of the so-called Shitty Media Men list. The Twitter feminist Jessica Valenti called this prospect “profoundly shitty” and “incredibly dangerous” without having read a single word of my piece. Other tweets were more direct: “man if katie roiphe actually publishes that article she can consider her career over.” “Katie Roiphe can suck my dick.” With this level of thought policing, who in their right mind would try to say anything even mildly provocative or original?”

The threat of criticism of the online “shitty media men” spreadsheet that gathered anonymous allegations of sexual misbehavior for the purpose of destroying the careers of those on it prompted the  unethical website’s creator, Moira Donegan, to out herself, which she did proudly and to remarkably little criticism from women, who feel pressure to remain silent from peers, Roiphe says. Asks Kyle Smith in the National Review,  “Is a movement that effectively silences even mild dissent by mostly like-minded people something to be proud of?”

One feminist who has been critical of the #MeToo witch hunt tendencies from the start is “Advice Goddess” Amy Alkon, who writes, “Women of past generations worked so hard to be treated as men’s equals. Now every woman has to be looked at like a walking lit fuse.” Of course this is happening: I predicted it too. As Smith writes at another article in the NY Post, many men are no longer willing to be alone with female colleagues: Continue reading

The President Elect’s Happy New Year Tweet, With Musical Reflections From Ethics Alarms

trump-tweet-happy-new-year

It’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry.

The reactions to Donald Trump’s tweet above were so predictable.  Trump-haters are continuing their meltdown, because he used that scary word “enemies,” and imagining political foes being hung by piano wire and shot against a wall…maybe even THE wall. Trump’s fans are cheering, “That’s our guy!” Predictable or not, here is the official Ethics Alarms reaction to what may be Trump’s first tweet destined for the Yale Book of Quotations:

1. Get used to this. He’s not going to stop. I recommend re-reading this post from last year, on the Julie Principle. In fact, heeeeere’s Julie!

2. Oh, let’s get this out of the way: it’s a juvenile, undignified, un-Presidential message, and a deliberately provocative thing to do. It also  made me laugh out loud, I have to admit. Really, if you’re going to let this sort of thing drive you crazy, you’re not going to make it through four years. You’re not even going to make it through one. Reserve a padded room. I’m serious. Think about this song, because this is where you’re headed…

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Trump, Master Of Rationalizations, Scores A Perfect #4 AND A Perfect #5!

Former District of Columbia Mayor Marion Barry attends a news conference on the steps of Washington's city hall Monday, July 6, 2009. At the news conference Barry's attorney Frederick Cooke said Barry vehemently denies the allegation by Donna Watts-Brighthaupt, and that he's confident the stalking charge will be dropped. Barry, 73, stood behind Cooke but said nothing. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Somewhere, Marion Berry is smiling…

This is juuuust the beginning…

I have noted before that our President Elect never expresses any ethical awareness, and uses rationalizations exclusively to explain and justify his conduct. This is typical of say, 12-year-olds, but is less common among professionals in responsible positions.

Trump just authored a classic example, following the expression of concerns about his conflicts of interest, which are massive, unavoidable, and which should have been addressed seriously long ago, like in a Presidential debate, and at length. Unfortunately, Hillary Clinton and various journalists felt it would be more helpful to their cause to spend time talking about what Trump had said about an over-weight Miss Universe and in a private conversation with Billy Bush. How did that work out for you, guys?

Now various lawyers and ethics experts are saying that Trump “must” sell off his business holdings because his company’s myriad business entanglements will cast many White House decisions under a cloud. The President Elect has a neat answer for them, to wit:

“The law’s totally on my side, meaning, the president can’t have a conflict of interest.”

— Donald Trump, interview with the New York Times, Nov. 22, 2016

Bravo! This is a perfect expression of Ethics Alarms Rationalizations #4, and #5

4. Marion Barry’s Misdirection, or “If it isn’t illegal, it’s ethical.”

The late D.C. Mayor and lovable rogue Marion Barry earned himself a place in the Ethics Distortion Hall of Fame with his defense of his giving his blatantly unqualified girlfriend a high-paying job with the DC government. Barry declared that since there was no law against using the public payroll as his own private gift service, there was nothing unethical about it. Once the law was passed (because of him), he then agreed that what he did would be wrong the next time he did it.

Ethics is far broader than law, which is a system of behavior enforced by the state with penalties for violations. Ethics is good conduct as determined by the values and customs of society. Professions promulgate codes of ethics precisely because the law cannot proscribe all inappropriate or harmful behavior. Much that is unethical is not illegal. Lying. Betrayal. Nepotism. Many other kinds of behavior as well, but that is just the factual error in the this rationalization.

The greater problem with it is that it omits the concept of ethics at all.  Ethical conduct is self-motivated, based on the individual’s values and the internalized desire to do the right thing. Barry’s construct assumes that people only behave ethically if there is a tangible, state-enforced penalty for not doing so, and that not incurring a penalty (that is, not breaking the law) is, by definition, ethical.

Nonsense, of course. It is wrong to intentionally muddle the ethical consciousness of the public, and Barry’s statement simply reinforces a misunderstanding of right and wrong.

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Why Hasn’t President Obama Made A Formal Appeal To Avoid Violence In Ferguson?

riots

He has an obligation to do so. He is the leader of the nation; he is the most admired figure among African-Americans; he is sworn to uphold the Constitution, which the Ferguson protestors either want to ignore (by rejecting due process of law) or believe is being ignored and abused. He has the bully pulpit; he is a persuasive and eloquent orator when he cares about what he is saying. Most of all, he has an obligation because the rhetoric of his appointees, party leaders, surrogates and the President himself have exploited race as a wedge issue and lowered racial comity in the nation to its most dismal state in decades.

Now the stage is set for blood, with Rodney King-style riots in Missouri and perhaps elsewhere, should the grand jury refuse to indict Officer Darren Wilson. Already the process has been thoroughly corrupted by premature conclusions about what happened the day Michael Brown died, and the civil rights establishment, goaded by Brown’s parents, their opportunistic lawyer, and permanent agitators like Al Sharpton, have made it clear that nothing less than a murder indictment will constitute “justice.” Professional protesters have been recruited; looters and rioters are gleefully anticipating a rumble; local businesses are tripling security; and the National Guard is on alert. The fuse is lit, and the impending explosion will be devastating in monetary, human, spiritual and historical terms. President Obama is the one individual who might be able to put it out.

If he does not, if he does not even try, it will be the greatest failure of a sadly failed Presidency, and nothing will  surpass it no matter what horrors lay ahead.

I do not know why the President has not spoken out already. My best theories:

1. He never acts in a timely fashion, almost literally never. He “leads from behind,” which means that he avoids leading until it is unavoidable, despite the needless harm that results from each delay.

2. He does not want to make the effort and fail, so he would prefer to react to a riot and condemn it, rather than take responsible actions to prevent it.

3. He is so focused on the looming fight of his own making regarding illegal immigrants that he isn’t paying attention.

4. His advisors have told him that there is no political advantage to be gained in making such a speech, and that taking the side of the justice system will be seen as support for a white police officer over “an unarmed teen.”

5. He wants racial unrest because it will dominate the news and take attention from all the other issues—Gruber, the imperiled ACA, Ukraine, Isis, pointless expenditures to stave off climate change, and more—that reflect poorly on him and his administration.

I cannot, however, think of a theory that reflects positively on him as a President, a leader, an American or a human being.

Let me know if you can come up with one, would you? It would sure make me feel better.

KABOOM!! Dana Milbank’s New Record For Flagrantly Dishonest Punditry

Exploding head

I am through with Dana Milbank, and also with anyone who quotes him, relies on him, believes him or—take note, Washington Post—employs him. There must be some level of insulting, dishonest, toadying, intentionally misleading punditry that qualifies as intolerable, and Milbank’s latest column for the Washington Post—syndicated elsewhere so the maximum number of weak minds can be polluted—defined it. I’m not going to reprint a word of it for fear that it will poison the blog, or cause your head to explode like mine just did—but I can describe its thesis. Get this: Milbank decries a “crisis of the week political culture” in Washington, and blames the news media, Republicans and Congress for the shifting attention. I am suppressing a scream as I write this.

There is a “crisis of the week” political culture because the incredibly inept and incompetent President of the United States has mismanaged every conceivable aspect of the government’s policies, domestic and foreign, while maintaining incompetents and political hacks in key positions and sending the message that there will be no accountability for abject failure, and because, despite pledging unprecedented transparency, the standard operating procedure for this group of ideologically doctrinaire and skill-challenged group has been to posture, obfuscate, stall, mislead and lie until various ugly chickens come home to roost, and then to rely on the news media to accept absurd excuses, explanation and blame-shifting theories, chaos has been percolating beneath the surface in dozens of vital areas—oh yes, more bad news is coming—and the full measure of various disasters are finally becoming known.

There is a crisis of the week mentality because a new catastrophe caused by the epic incompetence of this Administration is being uncovered every week, and sometimes every day.

And Dana Milbank blames the political culture, as if it is making this stuff up.

And he expects readers to agree with him.

And a lot of them will.

Kaboom.

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President Obama’s Epic, Tragic Incompetence: A Review

Obama

I stumbled upon this piece in Commentary by Peter Wehner. At first I was grateful that he had written it so I didn’t have to, and then was struck by the title: The New Obama Narrative: Epic Incompetence. New? This has been the narrative of the entire Obama Presidency, and I have been periodically and grimly drawing attention to that fact, while watching the mainstream media attempt to obscure it, from the very beginning. Now, as the Veteran Administration fiasco finally presents a scandal that Democrats and journalists don’t dare to try to dismiss as, in Dana Milbank’s description of the Benghazi cover-up, a “nothing-burger,” incompetence in the unaccountable, unmanaged, embarrassingly unprofessional Obama Administration is suddenly being pronounced unacceptable. To the contrary, it is because the news media unethically accepted it that the incompetence of this President is finally killing people.

The tragic legacy of Barack Obama will be recorded in three parts: his groundbreaking achievement as the nation’s first black President, his utter incompetence at governing and leadership, and his dishonesty and the dishonesty he engendered by those who reported to him. The first has been fatally undermined by the second and third, and the third, dishonesty, necessitated by the second, the relentless incompetence. The reason this is so tragic should be obvious to all. President Obama, like all trailblazers, needed to be a stand-out, exemplary performer to avoid setting back the causes his ascension needed to advance. But instead of Jackie Robinson, he has been Pumpsie Green, and that may be unfair to Pumpsie, the first black player to wear a Boston Red Sox uniform who knew his limitations, and did the best he could for as long as he could. It is also tragic because America, as much as any time in its history prior to the Civil War, needed a strong, wise, confident, unifying leader to deal with great and difficult problems that will only get worse with time. The challenges would have tested the best of leaders; for President Obama, with neither leadership instincts or talent, they have proven impossible. Worse, the basic requirements of governing have been proven to be beyond him, and he does not have the self-awareness or humility to seek the help he needs.

From Wehner’s piece:

“The emerging narrative of Barack Obama, the one that actually comports to reality, is that he is a rare political talent but a disaster when it comes to actually governing. The list of his failures is nothing short of staggering, from shovel-ready jobs that weren’t so shovel ready to the failures of healthcare.gov to the VA debacle. But it also includes the president’s failure to tame the debt, lower poverty, decrease income inequality, and increase job creation. He promised to close Guantanamo Bay and didn’t. His administration promised to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed before a civilian jury in New York but they were forced to retreat because of outrage in his own party…The White House response to everything from the VA and IRS scandals to the seizure of AP phone records by the Department of Justice is that it learned about them from press reports. More and more Mr. Obama speaks as if he’s a passive actor, a bystander in his own administration, an MSNBC commentator speaking about events he has no real control over. We saw that earlier today, when the president, in trying to address the public’s growing outrage at what’s happening at the VA, insisted he “will not stand for it” and “will not tolerate” what he has stood for and tolerated for almost six years…On every front, he is overmatched by events. It’s painful to watch a man who is so obviously in over his head. And more and more Americans are suffering because of it.”

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Ethics Quote Of The Week: Peggy Noonan

 “A fellow very friendly to the administration, a longtime supporter, cornered me at a holiday party recently to ask, with true perplexity: “How could any president put his entire reputation on the line with a program and not be on the phone every day pushing people and making sure it will work? Do you know of any president who wouldn’t do that?” I couldn’t think of one, and it’s the same question I’d been asking myself. The questioner had been the manager of a great institution, a high stakes 24/7 operation with a lot of moving parts. He knew Murphy’s law—if it can go wrong, it will. Managers—presidents—have to obsess, have to put the fear of God, as Mr. Obama says, into those below them in the line of authority. They don’t have to get down in the weeds every day but they have to know there are weeds, and that things get caught in them. It’s a leader’s job… to be skeptical that grand schemes will work as intended. You have to guide and goad and be careful. And this president wasn’t.”

—-Former Reagan muse and current pundit Peggy Noonan in a Wall Street Journal op-ed titled “Low-Information Leadership.”

At least President Pierce had an excuse.

At least President Pierce had an excuse.

This is, of course, rank incompetence, but worse than that, it is arrogant, willful, shocking and frightening incompetence. It gives me no pleasure to say that I saw the signs of this years ago, for  years ago there was reason to be hopeful. Presidents learn, most of them, anyway. This one, without any experience to speak of in governing, management, leadership or even organizational process, not only hasn’t learned, but has never shown the slightest recognition that he has anything to learn. Continue reading