Tag Archives: Trump

A Right Makes It Right for the Right

In order to continue to rationalize and legitimize their support for Trump and all of the reprehensible things he says and does, Conservatives have had to abandon any semblance of principled ethical decision-making. They have retreated in their ethical justification to one recurring assertion…

Well he has the Right to do it.

We hear it all the time nowadays. But look, let’s be clear. We value and respect the Rights that we afford to each other through social norms, mutual respect, and as codified in our Constitution. But let’s also be clear, simply asserting that one has a strictly legal right to do something does not make it right to do. Acknowledging that someone technically has a right to do something does not excuse one from recognizing any other ethical considerations.

Having a legal or technical Right to do something doesn’t make it a wise thing to do, or a courteous thing to do, or a sensible thing to do, or even an honorable thing to do. In fact, sometimes asserting one’s Right is a dick thing to do. It may even be a selfish and unconscionable thing to do. Asserting a Right can in fact be the sociopathic thing to do.

It may be my Right to wear my stovepipe hat in a crowded movie theatre, but it’s a dick move. It may be my Right tell you that your little child looks like a mutant Klingon, but no one should do that. It may be my Right to exploit loopholes so that I pay no taxes on my millions, but really? And it may be my Right to brandish my gun and wave my Confederate flag around, but is it really right to exercise those particular Rights in that manner?

Similarly, the Congress may technically have had the “Right” to block Supreme Court Nominee Merrick Garland for eight months, but it was a dick thing to do. They technically had the “right” to appoint Amy Coney Barrett only weeks before a Presidential election, but it was still hypocritical and low-class to assert that Right. The President may technically have the “right” to personally intervene in Federal criminal cases to serve his own personal agenda, but it is still wrong. Trump may claim a “right” to grant pardons to anyone he wishes, or redirect resources, or to have private conversations with dictators, or any of a million other things. He may have the “right” to lie about matters personal and official, but it is still unethical. Simply put, his “right” to do those things does not make any of them the right thing to do. It certainly does not excuse them or make them into behaviors that we must accept.

It is not surprising that Trump, self-serving child that he is, would assert a “right” to do practically anything he wishes. Nor that Mitch McConnell would assert that any dirty tactic he may employ is within his “rights.” But it is really sad that so many outsiders, so many pundits and elected representatives, folks whose ethical responsibility it is to be ethically responsible, respond to concerns about ethical integrity only by saying “well he has the right to do that.”

Claiming that someone else has “the right to do that” is a weaselly and cowardly attempt to appear ethically-grounded while in fact abandoning anything beyond a pathetic pretense of ethical integrity. Conversely, quite often the truly right thing to do ethically is to put aside one’s own personal selfish “rights” to service a far greater and more noble good.

And it must be pointed out that very often these “rights” invoked are usually not affirmative, specifically granted rights, or even generally accepted rights. Most often these are matters of common human decency that no one ever felt they needed to enumerate in some gargantuan list of all the things no honorable person would ever do, or would even think of doing.

The lack of a specific prohibition is not a Right.

Yet, for the most part, this is the new Trumpian ethical low that we Americans have fallen to. If your totally reprehensible and unthinkable behavior has no specific law against it beyond hundreds of years of decorum and mutual respect, then you claim that it is your “right” to do that thing. And if you are a partisan or sycophant, you excuse that behavior by simply pointing out that it is technically and legally within their rights.

Invoking a technical right to do something is one of the most abused, misused, disingenuous, and yes even unethical, levels of ethical thinking and behavior. So realize that when apologists justify bad behavior as a “right,” they are almost certainly resorting to the weakest possible justification that they hope sounds principled, lofty, and unassailable.

We should not so easily let them off the ethical hook by simply invoking this sort of disingenuous justification.

Any Fool Can Do It

SurvivorOn October 9th, 1989, I watched an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation entitled “The Survivors” that made quite an impression on me. In it, Captain Picard and his crew encounter an elderly couple living in an unnatural oasis on a devastated planet. It turns out that the wife is a phantasm, an unknowing replica of the actual wife, now long dead. She was conjured by her husband Kevin, a godlike being who was devoted to her before her death and who has remained so centuries after.

By the way, Kevin was played by the iconic character actor John Anderson (see here). You probably don’t know his name, but if you watched any television from the early 50’s to the early 90’s, you cannot fail to recognize his distinctively Lincoln-esque countenance and voice.

Anyway, at the end Kevin reveals his shameful secret. When the planet he was living on with his wife was attacked by hostile aliens called the Husnock, he tried his best to use his powers to trick or dissuade them. Those efforts failed. Refusing to take any life, even those of the deplorable Husnocks, Kevin stood passively by as they devastated his planet and killed his wife along with the rest of her people.

The anguish of this loss caused him to lose control of himself, releasing a momentary outburst of uncontrolled rage. As Kevin told it:

“I went insane. My hatred exploded, and in an instant of grief, I destroyed the Husnock. I didn’t kill just one Husnock, or a hundred, or a thousand. I killed them all. All Husnock everywhere.”

What touched me was not merely the poignant tale of grief and loss and shame and regret. What touched me was what was implied by the story. What touched me was what else the story of Kevin teaches us.

Take note that Kevin was essentially a god. Unlike Thanos, Kevin didn’t need to expend all the power of the Infinity Gauntlet. It only required one stray thought for Kevin to selectively exterminate billions of lives. He was that powerful.

So after watching this episode, I asked myself the logical question. Given all that power, and given Kevin’s deep love and mourning for his wife, why didn’t he simply think her back into existence? Why didn’t he bring back all her people and restore her planet? In fact, given his deep regret, why didn’t he bring back the Husnock and direct them along a better path? Of course he would have… if he could.

The only answer is, he couldn’t.

So the truth, the revelation, the epiphany for the viewer must be that any fool can destroy. Tearing down is easy. It can be done with one errant thought. But even an omnipotent god cannot easily create. Even one as powerful as Kevin cannot in a million years ever recreate what he can mindlessly destroy in an instant.

We humans are certainly not gods, but in this regard we are the same as Kevin. We can easily, even unthinkingly, break a dish, crush a rose, tear someone down, shoot a gun, dash a hope, take a life, smash a historical relic, burn a building, bomb a city, nuke a country, even devastate a planet. Any fool can destroy. But it is immensely difficult, even impossible, to create or restore any of those things.

And what makes us immeasurably worse than Kevin is when we take pride and joy in destroying. When we believe that destroying makes us powerful. It does not. Any fool can destroy. Fools destroy because it makes them feel powerful.

However, it takes real strength and true genius to create.

This applies not only to physical things but to ideas. Any fool can knock down ideas. Any fool can pick them apart and tear them to pieces.  It takes an exceptional person to conceive new ideas and to build on the ideas of others rather than take delight in crushing them.

And this applies to ideas like Democracy as well as to our institutions. It required generations of strong and wise people to create our democratic ideals and institutions. But it only takes a few short years for a weak-minded and craven fool like Donald Trump to mindlessly tear them all irretrievably asunder. Feeling power and even pride in the “dismantling of the administrative state” – without building something stronger and better upon it – is the work of fools.

And we have no shortage of fools.

They Didn’t Really Hold Their Noses

Portrait of a young woman holding her nose because of a bad smel“The Religious Right held their noses and voted for Trump.”

You know this line all too well. Unless you live in a sensory deprivation tank, you probably hear it many times a day from pretty much every expert analyst. You’ve heard it so many times that you probably believe it without even thinking to question it.

But it is simply baseless nonsense.

The Religious Right did not in fact hold their noses and vote for Trump. They enthusiastically embraced Trump AND all of his vile, disgusting behaviors and rhetoric.  And even after nearly two years of incessent exposure to his lies and indictments and mean-spirited policies, these supposed nose-holders still support Trump without significant reservation or qualification. At this point it is fair to ask whether they support him precisely because of all his vile, disgusting behaviors and rhetoric.

You can reality-check this for yourself. Simply tune in any talk show that accepts calls from the Religious Right. The overwhelming number of these callers not only still support Trump, but they support him passionately and vehemently. You won’t detect any nose-holding from them.

The next time you hear an analyst repeat this meme, notice that they never provide any evidence or data to support it. In fact, this narrative of the mythological nose-holding, morally conflicted religious right voter is definitively disproven by impartial analysis of the facts. In a study of voting data, political science professor Paul J. Djupe at Denison University concluded that:

“To the central claim: noseholding is not disproportionately common (or uncommon for that matter) among white evangelicals (see here).”

Professor Djupe goes on to point out that:

“I understand why the claim of noseholding is attractive. It suggests that you and your group are better, more pure than a political candidate, that your support is temporary and subject to revocation. It is a claim of both independence and moral superiority.”

So any such claim of moral angst in a Trump voter is a false claim. Rather, it is a strong indicator of moral deficiency. It is analogous to my admitting to my wife that I had an affair with a seedy prostitute, but that I had to “hold my nose” to do it. And this moral failure is not only evident in their support of Trump, but in their wholehearted support of a Conservative Congress that engages in similarly egregious behaviors that are in direct conflict with their espoused moral values.

It is clear why the elite on the religious right like to push this narrative to make themselves look and feel better, particularly while they support politicians who engage in blatant behavior that is antithetical to everything they falsely claim to stand for.

But this nose-holding meme is also repeated without legitimate skepticism by mainstream analysts. I suspect this is partly because they themselves would be conflicted in such a situation. Perhaps they genuinely held their nose and voted for Hillary when their heart was with Bernie. It is natural then that they would naively project their own angst into those on the religious right.

But do not make the mistake of giving the Religious Right too much credit for basic human decency and morality. Do not underestimate their capacity to rationalize terrible behaviors as somehow moral and justifiable. I previously wrote about their support for torture as one example (see here). In the case of Trump, they did not, and still do not, even have the rudimentary decency to actually hold their noses while they fervently embrace both him and all his enablers.


Privatizing Theocracy

privatizationThe strategy is clear. Privatize as much of the government as possible and exempt those privately run services from Constitutional protections.

If we do not wise up, we could gradually privatize our way to theocracy.

Conservatives love privatization. Regardless of where they lie on the not-so-wide spectrum from capitalist to libertarian, they all share a foundational belief that the private sector does everything better than publicly run counterparts. To them, it is self-serving economic dogma that a hard-nosed, self-interested, profit motive is somehow inherently superior to a sincere mission to serve the public good. Therefore everything that can be privatized should be privatized.

Of course, there is no actual proof of any such inherent superiority. Sure, some privately run companies can be more efficient than governmental programs. But many are not. For every inefficient, bureaucratic, slow-moving government agency, one can point to dozens of disastrous, failed, bankrupt, unresponsive, and socially irresponsible private companies with obscenely overpaid corporate leaders.

Moreover, the primary function of private businesses is not to serve their customers with the best possible goods and services, but to extract maximum profit for shareholders and executives. The idea that competition always optimizes to result in the best possible services at the lowest possible price is a convenient fiction. Private businesses actually optimize to extract the highest possible profit by providing the cheapest possible services. Their fiduciary obligation is not to serve the public good, but on the contrary it is to pass off as many of their harms and risks as possible onto the public sphere.

It is simple math. All else equal, a well-run private company simply cannot provide better services than a well-run governmental agency because the private company must extract maximum profits. And it is a lie that government agencies cannot be just as well-run. In fact, our Conservative leaders know this, which is why they work so hard to make the Post Office and other services fail so that they can justify privatizing them.

Further, there are some public functions that are simply incompatible with the profit motive, these include things like health care. I am not against all private business, but I am against private businesses running essential social services that fundamentally conflict with their profit motive. I wrote a blog on the conflict between profit and healthcare (see here). And we have all seen how well has privatization worked for prisons.

This fanatical push for privatizing everything from military service to social security in order to extract private profits has been bad enough. But now, with Citizen’s United and Hobby Lobby and the dominance of Church-friendly executives in public office, we should clearly see another terribly dark side of privatization – the synergy of privatization and religion.

As more and more government services, from social services to education and beyond are privatized, those new “public service” companies can then exert their growing independence to reject governmental policies and even Constitutional protections to inject religious beliefs into those services. Rather than serve the general public good, rather than adhere to restrictions put in place to ensure the public good, these newly privatized services can now exert their “religious freedom” to limit those services in accordance with their religious beliefs.

The Religious Right has been frustrated because they have been thwarted in their efforts introduce prayer and intelligent design in schools. Their new strategy is focused on privatizing education so that they can “teach” whatever they wish to larger numbers of children. By simultaneously asserting religious rights of conscience for these private companies, they can do an end-run around the Constitution.

As another case in point consider hospitals. We used to have a lot of public hospitals. But we have allowed private, for profit hospitals to take over without requiring them to provide the same level of service to underprivileged populations. Increasingly, churches are assimilating all of these private hospitals and refusing to offer essential services that they feel violate their religious beliefs. The New York Times recently highlighted this (see here).

Now duplicate this same strategy to privatize every government service with an ideological or profit interest. If the greedy and the religious can remove all such operations from governmental oversight, then the protections of our Constitution become moot. How can the Constitution protect us with nothing remaining under its jurisdiction? The Conservatives want less, not more of the regulations that would be required.

Make no mistake. This trend toward theocracy by privatization will continue to accelerate unless we understand the following:

  1. Private corporations do not really do everything better, and some essential public services are fundamentally undermined by a profit imperative.
  2. Private companies must not be allowed to claim personhood and religious liberty in order to abdicate ethical responsibilities and circumvent Constitutional protections.
  3. Political leaders must not be allowed to be complicit in this theocritization by intentionally destroying working public services and by putting in place governmental structures to assist in privatization and the expansion of religious exemptions.

For further reading I recommend a previous blog entitled Why Wall Street Loves Trump (see here).

Maybe Trump is Good for US

trumpHow could Donald Trump conceivably be good for us and for the USA? I’m glad you asked!

Most of us appreciate that the normally low norm of juvenile political dysfunction in our country has degenerated over the last few decades down into an unsustainable and unacceptable low of incivility and internecine warfare. We have not quite reached a Mad Max level of dysfunction, but we’re getting uncomfortably and embarrassingly close.

We have always been proud of a certain level of dysfunction baked into our system of government. By design, we see great value in our system of check-and-balances in which each official and unofficial branch of government challenges the others to ensure that none of them run amok. A certain level of conflict is desired and expected.

However, if carried too far, healthy checks-and-balances can easily degrade into automatic knee-jerk obstruction and mindless attacks. Imagine a football team in which healthy competition between players degrades into “I don’t care if we win this game. I only care if my teammates score less than me. If my teammates get injured, all the better for me!

That is the very level of self-destructive behavior that our government has degraded into. As much as our system of government benefits from a measure of good-natured competition, it simply cannot function when the prevailing attitude is “destroy the other guy at all costs.” If the various groups refuse to cooperate and instead focus exclusively on winning and beating the other side, then healthy competition breaks down and becomes counter-productive and self-destructive.

Over the last few decades this is exactly what has happened in politics. Others could point to a different progression, but in my lifetime I have to point to the Clinton hearings as when it turned truly nasty. The Republicans pledged to “bring down” Bill Clinton even before he was sworn into office, and they put 100% of their energy into that. They virtually brought all responsible governance to complete halt while they prosecuted their incessant and relentless attacks on Clinton.

Unfortunately for all of us, this infighting has only continued to get worse from there. And frankly this war has been largely waged by Conservatives who have continued to escalate each year. They have lost all interest in moving our country forward and instead are doggedly fixated on simply destroying anything and anyone that does not identify with them. And they don’t even actually have an agenda. Their agenda is largely whatever hurts or at least does not help the other side and they are happy to burn down the nation if it diminishes their opponents.

So, is it any surprise that out of this climate of rabid, raving, insensate political ideologues, someone like Donald Trump should emerge as their leader? As clearly crazy and incompetent as he is, he is still a welcome breath of fresh air by comparison to the status quo that has emerged. He actually offers some hope amidst the angry, incompetent, government-loathing, self-interested dogmatic extremists that have completely taken over the Republican Party for far too long.

Here’s how this may be a good thing. Trump is a slap in the face of our self-image. He could be just the drenching of cold-frigid water that we need to wake up and snap out of our routine of mindless attacks and rigidly partisan childishness. Perhaps he will force pundits, political fight-promoters in the media, voters, and even Conservative leaders to step back a moment and ask, is this us? Is this the US? Is this as good as we can be?

I think for every American with a shred of sanity remaining, the answer has to be no. We can do much better. We must do much better. We can dial back our senseless Hatfield and McCoy feuding and work together to accomplish great and good things.

If Donald Trump succeeds in showing us just how far we have sunk, if he incites us only to step back and self-assess our behavior, he may have offered our nation the greatest service possible just when it is most desperately needed.