Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

This Week: It's all about Trump

It's All About Trump

It's All About Trump

Top Issues - Week of 1/30/17

Kirk O. Hanson

With this post, I begin a weekly ethics update on American leaders and institutions.  It will be a record of our behavior as Americans.  In the right-hand column, you can subscribe to the update, which will be posted weekly.

I have been rigorously nonpartisan since I became executive director of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics 15 years ago, and will continue to evaluate the actions of leaders solely by core ethical principles.  These comments are not based on law, but on ethics.  These views are my own. 

All five key ethics developments of the past week are related to the new administration of President Donald Trump:

1. Failure to Disclose and Manage Conflicts of Interest. On January 11, President Trump announced an entirely inadequate conflict of interest measure for his own businesses, compounding his continuing refusal to release his tax returns so Americans can judge whether his decisions favor his own interests.  While he resigned from his positions with his companies and says his children—not he—will make business decisions, the result violates everything about conflict of interest that we have embodied in our local, state, and federal laws and regulations.  This failure has already been costly in trust as observers worry his failure to include certain Muslim-dominated countries in his immigration order was motivated by the presence of Trump businesses in those countries, and speculation that tax reforms will selectively retain provisions that benefit the Trump family businesses.

2. Truth Takes a Beating. The political rhetoric of campaigns is always dicey from a truth perspective.  Multiple websites evaluate the truth of campaign claims.  But Presidents are held to a higher standard. President Trump trashed any commitment to truth in his first few days, first arguing that his inauguration crowds were larger than other presidents’ and  then repeatedly claiming up to 3 million illegal aliens voted for candidate Hillary Clinton. 

3. Civility and Respect Jettisoned. The complexities of American government require extensive consultation and cooperation to get it right, to craft policy proposals that actually result in bettering the lives of Americans.  Any notion that there would be even a moment of civility faded quickly in President Trump’s inaugural address which assailed the “carnage” in American cities and went out of its way to target others who came to honor his inauguration.  Later, President Trump blew up the bilateral relationship with Mexico, with which the United States has so many critical cooperative arrangements, by deliberately embarrassing the Foreign Minister and then the President of Mexico, who then cancelled his trip to Washington.  Presidential senior counselor Steve Bannon rounded out last week with his harsh comments that the media was “humiliated” and should shut up.

4. Immigration Order Violates Core American Values. It is hard to conceive of a more ill-designed order than Friday’s executive action, either from a practical standpoint or from an ethics perspective.  The order violated core ethical principles of non-discrimination based on religious belief or national origin, principles that are hallmarks of American identity and commitment.   The Asian Exclusion Acts of the early 1900s and the Japanese internment policy of World War II are blots on the American conscience.  The anti-Muslim effect and pro-Christian comments around this week’s order threaten our national values and perhaps even our security. 

5. A Good Executive Order on Ethics. President Trump was criticized for not promulgating an executive order on ethics for his appointees in the first few days of his presidency.  He did so on Saturday, his 9th day, and it was mostly in line with previous executive orders by Presidents Bush and Obama.  The irony, of course, is that his appointees will now be held to a much higher standard of ethics and conflict of interest than he will.

Kirk O. Hanson is the executive director of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. Views are his own.

(AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Jan 30, 2017


Kirk Hanson

Your Weekly Ethics Fix​ is a nonpartisan summary of the most important developments in ethics and American society, by Kirk O. Hanson, executive director of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. Views are his own, not those of the Center. 

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