Ethics Irony: The Day The Author Of The Declaration Of Independence Sold An American To The Author Of The Constitution

John-Freeman-sale-to-JM-LOC

April 19 is a pretty bad day in U.S. history generally. In 1775, the Revolutionary War started with a rout in Lexington, Massachusetts, just a few minutes by car up Massachusetts Avenue from my childhood home in neighboring Arlington, then Menotomy. 700 British troops, having shot up that hamlet and its defenders on the way, found 77 armed minutemen under Captain John Parker opposing them on Lexington Green, now a large traffic circle. It took a just few minutes to kill enough of the barely trained Colonists for the ragtag army to disperse, but the British marched into a much larger force at nearby Concord Bridge, and a much worse result for the Empire. In 1993, a botched siege of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas ended with 22 children and almost 80 adult religious cultists burning to death. In 1995, the U.S. was introduced to domestic terrorism on a grand scale with the Oklahoma City bombing. But none of those events create the ethics trauma of considering a little noted financial transaction between the former third President and the newly sworn in fourth.

On April 19, 1809, Thomas Jefferson, seemingly always lacking cash, prepared a contract to transfer ownership of an indentured servant with the ironic name of John Freeman to freshly installed President and fellow Virginian James Madison.

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Unethical Tweet Of The Month And Ignorant Education Administrative Decision Of The Century: The Falls Church Virginia School Board

virginia Tweet

The legacies of Thomas Jefferson, primary author of the Declaration of Independence, and George Mason, instrumental in adding the Bill of Rights to the Constitution won’t make students and staff feel safe and inspired.

They really tweeted that.

I thought I had already posted this minutes before my 6:oo PM ethics seminar via Zoom started three days ago, and somehow I didn’t. I left the post in a more or less “res ipsa loquitur” state, making no further commentary, and ending the misfired bloggery with “Anyone who needs to have what’s wrong with this explained to them doesn’t belong on an ethics blog anyway.”

That’s still true, but I can’t say the failure of the news media to cover the story can be justified on the same basis. It has been covered here locally, but not nationally. Why is that? Wouldn’t you say that the decision of a large, D.C. area school district in Virginia to rename public schools honoring prominent Founders from Virginia because their names won’t inspire students but rather make them feel “unsafe” instead is big deal? A bit alarming, mayhap? A metaphorical canary not only dying in the mine of the Land of Liberty, but a chorus of dead birds performing a production of Götterdämmerung, one might conclude?

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Final Pre-Election Ethics Notes II

Jefferson quote

That meme turned up on Facebook. Of course, progressives and the Woke think Jefferson is racist whose memory should be consigned to the ash heap of history, so no wonder they disagree.

1. Daniel Horowitz suggests that Democratic and media fearmongering about the dangers of exposure to the Wuhan virus might have had the perverse effect of scaring Democratic voters away from the polls. “While we don’t know the ballot choices of those who voted early, we do know the party registration breakdown in most states. And in nearly every critical state, Republicans are doing much better than they did in 2016 in terms of in-person early voting,” he observes. “Given that Trump won in 2016 and the electorate will only get more favorable for Republicans on Election Day itself (because the majority of Democrats vote early), this portends an outcome way out of sync with the majority of polls.”

Boy, would that be what NeverTrumper George Will likes to call “condign justice”!

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Unethical Tweet Of The Month: The New York Times…And A Close Runner-Up, Both Libeling America

This isn’t news, it isn’t history, it isn’t fair, and it is anti-American. Does anyone objective need more evidence that the New York Times has abandoned any sense of its role in informing the public? This is pure, indefensible race-baiting and Black Lives Matter propaganda.

1. Native American Tribes “owned” almost all of the territory everything in the U.S. was built on, including the New York Times building. They don’t any more.

2. The Mount Rushmore sculpture is art, and the political and social views of the artist, Gutzon Borglum, is a matter of record. The George Floyd mobs want to justify erasing as much American art and culture as possible by any means necessary. If the artwork itself won’t justify the destruction (as with the Emancipation Memorial, the second version of which was just marked for removal in Boston), then the subject will ( Columbus); if the subjects are defensible, than the artist must have something in his history to support the erasure of his work. It’s a disingenuous bootstrapping exercise, for the objective is really to destroy the symbols of our republic and re-write the history of the United States. An artist’s work and the artist are separate and distinct. In the case of Mount Rushmore, the work has taken on far more importance and symbolism, all positive, inspiring and uplifting. An American who cannot find pride in Mount Rushmore is an ignorant American, one whose understanding of his or her own nation has been poisoned, or one with a sinister agenda. Continue reading

Monday Ethics Warm-Up, 6/22/2020: Lenin, Oliver, And The Troublesome Name

It would be well to consider the fate of that ultimate Sixties folk-pop group the Mamas and Papas, as we watch today’s idealistic anarchists make fools of themselves. By mid-way through their four-year run (during which they sold 40 million recordings), the group was self-destructing with inter-and extra-group sexual affairs and stage appearances where one or more of the group was too drunk or stoned to perform. The group kept breaking up and re-assembling, and fell apart for good in 1969. Mama Cass died of heart failure at the age of 34, after battling heroin addiction and other substance abuse. John Phillips, the creative leader of the group, also was a heroin addict and had emotional and substance abuse problems that he managed to pass on to his daughter, actress Mackenzie Phillips. In her memoir, “High on Arrival,” she wrote that she had a long-term sexual relationship with her father. Papa John also died of heart failure, when he was 66. Tenor Denny Doherty’s solo career flopped after the group ended. He was an alcoholic, but stayed sober for the final decades of his life. An acting career also failed; he finally got a gig as the “Harbormaster,” hosting a kids TV show that was a flagrant rip-off of “Thomas the Tank Engine,” but starring a talking tugboat. Doherty was 67 when he died from an aneurysm.

Michelle Phillips is the lone survivor of the group. She avoided substance abuse problems and after divorcing Phillips, whom she wed at 18, went on to a moderately successful acting career.

As today, these people who aspired to inspire lacked the wisdom, common sense, self-discipline, character, values or perspective to be trusted with their chosen mission.

1. Speaking of...When asked how it was that a statue of Vladimir Lenin was still standing in Seattle when protesters had toppled those of Ulysses S. Grant and others, the Human Rights Campaign’s Charlotte Clymer said, among her reasons, that “Lenin was not a slave-owner, you Confederate apologist fucks.”

To which National Review writer David Harsanyi responded with the obligatory, “Lenin created tens of millions of slaves.”

In related news, a 2015 video  of an interview with Black Lives Matter founder Patrisse Cullors shows her saying, “We actually do have an ideological frame. Myself and Alicia in particular, we’re trained organizers. We are trained Marxists. We are super versed on ideological theories…”

Several of the tenets seen on the BLM website are redolent of Karl. Do all these companies and pandering celebrities giving lip service to the group, attaching #BlackLivesMatter to their tweets and proclaiming support, know what they are supporting? I think it’s pretty obvious that they don’t. They are signaling their virtue by ostentatiously endorsing the most simple-minded and deceptive interpretation of the slogan, as if there is anyone who believes black lives don’t matter. I bet the vast majority have never visited the BLM website and read its agitprop.

That, needless to say, is as dumb as it is irresponsible. Continue reading

What Destruction Of Public Art? What Slippery Slope?

I woke up today wondering  whether those who blindly applaud the carnage of the George Floyd Freakout are lying, frightened or ignorant. The late post last night on Commentary Magazine’s manifesto quickly attracted a comment from Rationalization #64 Land, where John Yoo’s Rationalization, “It isn’t what it is,” holds sway. Implicitly denying the editors’ substantive list of the mob’s acts, “Adam” wrote in part,  “Art must be propagandist or be chopped away? (What art? Where? Who? Propagandist? How?)”

The growing movement to “chop away” at the memorials and statues to men, women and events whose interaction with history and culture no longer conform to what most or many Americans consider admirable (or politically correct) has been growing for years, with the clash of protesters in Charlottesville over a Robert E. Lee statue being only the most publicized of incidents around the country. “What art?” If a citizen is so ignorant of current events,  he shouldn’t be registering an opinion until he educates himself.

Almost on cue (protesters have been very accommodating of late in confirming past Ethics Alarms analysis), a George Floyd mob in D.C. pulled down a perplexing piece of public art, the statue of Albert Pike (above), an obscure Confederate diplomat and general who wrote alternate, bellicose, lyrics to “Dixie.” Writing this morning about why the D.C. police stood by and permitted the vandalism, Althouse wrote,

[W]hy isn’t mainstream media delving into the details of why the police are not acting to protect city artworks and to restore order? Where’s the journalism?! My hypothesis is that the media want to help Joe Biden get elected, so they’re presenting a rosy picture of the protests and refraining from any negativity about the Democratic politicians who control the cities where the disorder rages. I’m sure the journalists realize that at some point the majority of Americans will prioritize their interest in law and order, but — I imagine — they hope to hold us back from that tipping point.

The second question I am musing on is when and whether there will be that tipping point, or if, in the alternative, a critical mass of oblivious or dishonest “Adams”  will keep the public somnolent until it’s too late to tip, with disastrous consequences. Continue reading

Independence Day Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 7/4/19: Jefferson, Amash, Snyder [UPDATED]

Happy birthday, USA!

1. Thomas Jefferson’s Day. Since Nike chose this time to announce that it was ashamed of the Revolutionary War flag, and Charlottesville similarly picked this week of all weeks to distance itself from it most famous and accomplished son,  it is appropriate to recall why Thomas Jefferson is the single American who should be most honored on the Fourth of July.

At the Foundation for Economic Education site (excellent site, by the way), the organization’s president, Lawrence W. Reed, offers a cogent rebuttal to those who would metaphorically (or literally) tear down Jefferson’s memorials because he could not find it in himself to stop practicing slave-holding while publicly making the case against it. Reed writes in part,

More than any other man or woman, July 4 belongs to Thomas Jefferson. As the principal author of the charter that proclaimed America’s independence and the reasons that impelled it, his spirit and his words are essentially what we celebrate on this day.

That such praise is not deemed “politically correct” in some quarters and may even evoke hostility in others is not a pleasant commentary on the state of current political dialogue. A kind of intertemporal bigotry is loose in the land. It prompts the virtue-signaling self-righteous to judge people of the past against the conventions of today. Isn’t it strange that evolution is accepted as natural in the biological world but often not in the realm of human thought?

…[H]umans didn’t support slavery one day and then oppose it when they all woke up the next. Some people never saw the light; others were against it from the moment it first entered their minds. Millions in the late 18th and early 19th centuries were somewhere in between, and lots of them evolved on the issue over the course of their lives. In other words, they learned and they changed. That’s how humanity progresses.

Thanks to visionaries like Jefferson, Americans were forced eventually to end the contradiction between the words of the Declaration of Independence and the reality around them. Jefferson’s own words were evoked to accomplish that.

Historian Jim Powell, in his FEE article of July 1, 1995, titled “Thomas Jefferson’s Sophisticated, Radical Vision of Liberty,” addressed the slavery issue thusly.

“Though Jefferson had personal failings—in the case of slavery, a monstrous one—they don’t invalidate the philosophy of liberty he championed, any more than Einstein’s personal failings are evidence against his theory of relativity. Moreover, every one of Jefferson’s adversaries, past and present, had personal failings, which means that if ideas are to be dismissed because of an author’s failings, Jefferson and his adversaries would cancel each other out. When historians finish dumping on Jefferson, they still won’t have cleared the way for Karl Marx or whomever they admire. Jefferson’s accomplishments and philosophy of liberty must be recognized for their monumental importance.”

So yes, Thomas Jefferson wasn’t perfect. And neither are his critics. They should hope that across their entire lives, they might accomplish for liberty what Jefferson achieved in a few weeks of literary genius. He marshaled the English language on behalf of ideas, and they sparked liberty’s loudest thunderclap in human history….

2. Yes, Rep. Amash is an Ethics Dunce. One reason the Tea Party movement ran out of gas is that the elected officials who rose to power under its banner were mostly unqualified, doctrinaire, simplistic grandstanders who seemed to think bumper-sticker slogans are a substitute for reasoning. Amash is typical of the breed. He recently gained the praise of the Trump Deranged by declaring that the Mueller Report proves that the President engaged in “high crimes and misdemeanors” (it doesn’t, but any effort to undermine President Trump qualifies as heroic  to “the resistance”).  This predictably attracted a furious backlash in his district and his party, and Amash’s prospects for re-election in 2020 now appear to be about on par with John McCain’s.

His solution? Amash has declared that he is “disenchanted” and “frightened” by party politics, so he is leaving the Republican Party and becoming an Independent.

Party flipping mid-term is per se unethical, as I have pointed out here before.  He has a contract with his voters to serve in the party whose banner under which he presented himself for public service, and the party that helped fund his campaign. One of the few party-switchers in political history who did the deed ethically was former Texas  Senator Phil Gramm. [CORRECTION NOTICE: I had originally written “the late” here, because I was sure Gramm was dead. He’s not. I’m glad.] From my post about West Virginia’s Governor Jim  Justice, who switched from Democrat to Republican in 2017…

Just days after  he had been reelected to a House seat  as a Democrat in 1982, Gramm was thrown off the House Budget Committee in a dispute with party leadership. In response, Gramm resigned as a Representative, changed parties, and ran for his old seat as a Republican in a special election. He won easily, and  was a Republican ever after. That’s the honorable way to do it.

Rep. Amash isn’t honorable. He isn’t ethical. And after Election Day 2020, he won’t be in Congress.

Good. Continue reading

Ethics Warm-Up, 7/3/2019: Holiday Follies [UPDATED]

The end of Pickett’s Charge, July 3, 1863

Happy weird mid-week day before a holiday when almost nobody seems to be working…and remember Pickett’s Charge, July 3, 1863.

But ethics never takes a break…

1. Oops! Did we miss the real holiday? On this date in 1776, John Adams wrote to Abigail that the day before, July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress had voted to declare American independence from the British Empire. Adams predicted that July 2 would eventually be celebrated by every generation of Americans with parades, speeches, songs and fireworks, which Adams called  “illuminations.” Why did he turn out to be wrong? Oh, because history is messy, mistakes don’t get corrected, and tradition becomes more important than facts. (Once again, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence” rule applies: “When legend becomes fact, print the legend!” )

What happened on July 4th? The unsigned but ratified Declaration was sent to the printer on that date, and the printer dutifully marked his prints with “July 4, 1776”. The delegates didn’t start signing the document until August 2, and all the signatures weren’t down on parchment until November. The dramatic depiction of the signing taking place on July 4 in the musical and movie  “1776” is fake history.  It’s not all Broadway’s and Hollywood’s fault: the iconic painting “Declaration of Independence,” by John Trumbull, a version of which hangs in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington and which the actors are staged to re-enact in “1776” is often captioned “July 4, 1776.”

Trumbull’s artwork actually shows the moment on June 28 when the Declaration drafting committee officially presented its work to  the chairman of Continental Congress. John Hancock, There never was a signing ceremony.

Nonetheless, July 4 has, for some reason, been an unusually felicitous and significant day in U.S. history. It would be difficult to pick another that carried so much history, even without being the chosen date to honor the nation’s founding. Three of the first five U.S. presidents died on July 4, with John Adams and Thomas Jefferson famously dying on that date within hours of each other in 1826, fifty years after….the Declaration was sent to the printer.

But July 4, 1803, was the day word arrived from Paris that the Louisiana Purchase was complete, having been signed by Napoleon.  Without it, the United States would have been a very different country, and a much weaker and poorer one.

July 4, 1863 also was the date Robert E. Lee acknowledged his defeat at Gettysburg after his desperate, risky, massed attack on the Union line across a fence-strewn field and up a grade into artillery fire failed. That defeat probably sealed the fate of the Confederacy, and meant that this unique nation would, despite a bloody close call,  have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Pete Buttigieg

The competition for the worst Democratic Presidential nominee hopeful just got a bit more interesting when one of the media darlings among the 24 (24!) hopefuls made an Ethics Dunce of himself (in an interview with Hugh Hewitt) in a manner that is disqualifying for the Presidency by Ethics Alarms standards. Here’s the relevant section:

HH: … A very blunt question, because you talk about going to every Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Indiana when you were running statewide. Should Jefferson-Jackson dinners be renamed everywhere because both were holders of slaves?

Buttigieg: Yeah, we’re doing that in Indiana. I think it’s the right thing to do. You know, over time, you develop and evolve on the things you choose to honor. And I think we know enough, especially Jackson, you know, you just look at what basically amounts to genocide that happened here. Jefferson’s more problematic. You know, there’s a lot to, of course, admire in his thinking and his philosophy. Then again, as you plunge into his writings, especially the notes on the state of Virginia, you know that he knew that slavery was wrong…. And yet, he did it. Now we’re all morally conflicted human beings. And it’s not like we’re blotting him out of the history books, or deleting him from being the Found[ing] Fathers. But you know, naming something after somebody confers a certain amount of honor. And at a time, I mean, the real reason I think there’s a lot of pressure on this is the relationship between the past and the present, that we’re finding in a million different ways that racism isn’t some curiosity out of the past that we’re embarrassed about but moved on from. It’s alive, it’s well, it’s hurting people. And it’s one of the main reasons to be in politics today is to try to change or reverse the harms that went along with that. Then, we’d better look for ways to live out and honor that principle, even in a symbolic thing.

Even before this fatuous statement, my Presidential history, common sense and current day political analysis led me to conclude that the South Bend mayor has no chance of being nominated, and if by some miracle of convention deadlock deal he was, no chance of being elected. He is 1) gay, 2) white, 3) male, 4) way too young, and 5) too much immersed  the Democratic Socialist camp. I don’t have to get to some of his other problems, like the fact that he is infuriatingly smug. However, the statement to Hewitt would disqualify him for me even if I were a Democrat, and should make all thinking and ethical Democrats—you know, the ones that aren’t nascent totalitarians, look elsewhere, though good luck with that. Continue reading

Ethics Hero: Richard Schwartz, Responsible Citizen, And How His Experience Explains Donald Trump

Want to know why people are mad as hell and aren’t going to take it any more, so they decide to vote for anyone who appears to be outside the elite cabal that pretends to deliver “democracy?” Here’s a striking example.

During a public comment period during a Seattle city council meeting, Richard Schwartz came to the podium to make his case. He was troubled, as he should have been, that most of the council members were not looking at him, or appeared to be listening. Most were looking at their computer screens or smart phones, scrolling and apparently doing other tasks, or looking at porn, for all he knew. So instead of meekly accepting the disrespect and rudeness of his elected municipal representatives, he called them on it.

“It’s real discouraging to come up here and see all the heads down…,” he began, but Councilwoman Debora Juarez, who was presiding,  interrupted , saying “You’re on a two minute timer here, so let’s go.”

Schwartz professed puzzlement at the response, and after standing silently for several seconds, he asked,

“So it was unreasonable for me to ask that people look up and give me their attention?” Juarez answered by telling him that he only had only a minute and 30 seconds left, and lying, saying that he had their attention, when he obviously did not.

Discarding his prepared statement, since it was obvious that the City Council would only observe its obligation to take public comments in form rather than in good faith, Schwartz said that this was why he came to comment: “the state of our democracy.”  He pointed out that when State Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Seattle) spoke in a public comment session the previous week,  she was four or fine minutes and the council was attentive, while everyone else at that session was limited to a single minute.

“It reminded me of George Orwell’s famous line from ‘Animal Farm’ about how all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others,” Schwartz continued. And that’s how I feel like I’m being treated now, just because I was kind of asking for your attention, like I noticed you all were very attentive to Ms. Jaypal last week. And I immediately got a hostile response back from you. I don’t understand that.”

With no response, he asked the council members if they ever responded to constituents.  Juarez told him his time was nearly up, as her colleagues either tended to their phones or looked bored.

“Well, it’s all on tape and I think it’s a pretty sad commentary that you think that asking for you guys to look up off of your computers and give attention during the short period of time was an unreasonable thing,”  Schwartz  said. “I really feel bad about that.”

He should feel bad about that. We all should. Democracy doesn’t work when elected officials treat the public this way; it can’t. This is democracy in name only. The stunning thing is that Seattle’s city council is so corrupted by their own sense of entitlement, wisdom and certitude that no ethics alarms pinged when an engaged voter begged them to pay attention to him for a couple of minutes.

For a second straight post, let me reference this November 9 whine-fest by feminist Jessica Valenti called, “How do I tell my daughter that America elected a racist, sexist bully?” Continue reading