Politics and Love, Uncategorized

Do Critics of the President Want Him to Fail No Matter What? (Is This the Right Question?)

I beg pardon of my readers who live in other countries or folks who tire of political posts. Don’t worry. I shall return to some other subjects in my next posts. I just had a few issues to get off my chest first, especially because of some of the political brouhaha going on in the U.S. during the pandemic.

Now to the Subject of This Post

I would like to grant two points at the beginning of this post: First, I am certain there are indeed people critical of President Trump who want him to fail no matter what he does. Second, there are critics of President Trump who behave in an unethical or immature manner in their criticism of him.

Having granted these two points, I would like to suggest that the question, “Do Critics of Trump Want Him to Fail No Matter What?” is the wrong question to ask. To understand why, I would like you to imagine a scenario I will call the Difficult Boss Scenario.

The Difficult Boss Scenario

Imagine that you work for a branch of a large, successful company. There are some great things about your branch, but it has struggled in recent years, and so your company recently hired your boss because he has a record of fixing problems like those in your branch. He has been your boss for three years. Unfortunately, while your new boss has helped the branch in some ways, he is difficult. He has anger issues, and he regularly berates his employees and curses at them for trivial reasons when he is in a bad mood.

Pic #1

He has also fired several women that he thinks are too old because, as he regularly tells everyone, he thinks older women are unattractive. This behavior violates your company’s policy against age discrimination.

In addition, it is common knowledge around your place of employment that your boss has made unwanted advances to women in the work place, even touching them inappropriately on several occasions. He has also actively worked against his company hiring any African-Americans, even ones who are highly qualified for the job, because he thinks they ruin the “look” of his company, actions which (again) violate your company’s policy on discrimination.

To make matters worse, there are increasing reports, documented by evidence, that your boss cooks the company books so that he can use company dollars to fund his own pet projects that have nothing to do with the business, and it is also common knowledge that he regularly communicates misinformation or flat-out false information to investors about key facts regarding the financial well-being of the company.

And even though he is brilliant in several key areas of the company, many of your colleagues who listen to him discuss investor reports are concerned that your boss has a very weak or non-existent grasp of some of the other basic facts of the company, and he shows very little desire to become acquainted with them.

Business #2

Over the past three years, these problems have become so frequent and troubling that many of your fellow employees have collected actual memos, emails, and other media documenting the behavior. Many of your colleagues have tried to talk with your boss or get him to reconsider his behavior, but your boss is so adverse to criticism that anyone who does this is routinely demoted, “let go” on some technicality, or transferred to another company branch.

Your colleagues are deeply concerned about the unethical, discriminatory, and potentially illegal nature of your boss’s behavior and the negative effect it could have on the company. They are considering reporting the boss’s behavior to HR or even to your company’s executives. One day a few of them are talking to you about their concerns. Another employee overhears the discussion and accuses your colleagues of wanting your boss to fail. Here is an important question to consider at this point: Do your colleagues want your boss to fail or do they have legitimate concerns about your boss’s lack of ethics[1], his incompetence, and his potentially illegal behavior? (I will refer to this trifecta of problems henceforth as inappropriate behavior.) Furthermore, do they have an obligation to do something about such behavior?

Reflecting on the Difficult Boss Scenario

If we reflect on the Difficult Boss Scenario, what we understand immediately is that whether his employees want him to fail is beside the point because the boss is engaging in inappropriate behavior that harms both individuals and the company. It may even be the case that some of the employees have rude or jerky attitudes towards the boss. This is still beside the point, however, because the Difficult Boss is engaging in inappropriate behavior, and his behavior is consistently wrong, no matter the attitudes of other people. Inappropriate behavior does not suddenly become appropriate because of the attitude someone holds towards you. For instance, if you steal someone’s stuff, this inappropriate behavior is not justified because the person has a bad attitude towards you. Or, for example, punching someone in the face is not justified because the person has a bad attitude towards you.

In the same way, the boss’s inappropriate behavior does not suddenly become appropriate because of the bad attitudes people hold towards him. There is no moral or ethical system that excuses unethical behavior because other people are being rude. Even when we must defend ourselves because, for instance, someone attacks us physically or slanders our name, we are still required to do so ethically. For instance, we are not permitted ethically to defend ourselves from slander by slandering other people or, as an extreme example, blowing up their house.

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And we are not permitted to defend ourselves from someone punching us in the face by, for example, assassinating their spouse. In the same way, the Difficult Boss may not act in any way he chooses because some of this employees have a bad attitude.

In regards to our Difficult Boss Scenario, It is also certainly true that employees can become disgruntled with a boss and engage in sabotaging behavior that makes his or her life extremely difficult. However, in our Difficult Boss scenario, it is important to note that raising concerns about unethical and potentially illegal activity is not sabotaging the Difficult Boss. When his employees raise such concerns, they are right to do so because their boss consistently engages in in appropriate behavior for a boss (or anyone) and does so in a way that harms both his employees and the company. Furthermore, he is actively ignoring or retaliating against those who rightfully raise these concerns to him.

And while no boss is perfect, and likely every boss in the history of the world has failed to fulfill his duties in some way, such behavior becomes especially problematic when a boss 1) fails to learn from his mistakes; 2) acts consistently in unethical and potentially illegal ways; and 3) is hostile to advice or critique from his subordinates or colleagues.

The more a boss consistently demonstrates problems with 1, 2, and 3, the more his employees have a right and an obligation to speak out about it in some way. After all, if they do not speak out, they will become complicit in their boss’ unethical and illegal activity.

We certainly aren’t responsible to call out every single instance of unethical behavior we see in the world. That would be intrusive and moralistic. We are, however, responsible to call out inappropriate behavior that consistently occurs within our personal domain (like our home, neighborhood, work, politics), especially when the inappropriate behavior entails harm to other people, and especially when it is perpetrated by someone more powerful upon those that are less powerful.[2]When we fail to speak out about such behavior, we have failed to prevent it and the harm that comes from it when we might have done so. At this point, we become complicit in the behavior.

Back to Politics

I explored the Difficult Boss Scenario because I want to relate it back to the question I mentioned at the beginning of the post: “Do critics of President Trump want him to fail no matter what?” We are in a better position now to see why this question is irrelevant. As I stipulated at the beginning of this post, it is certainly true that some people do have bad attitudes towards the President and want him to fail no matter what. That, however, is beside the point because the question is whether the President regularly and consistently engages in inappropriate behavior. If he does, then we (meaning voting U.S. citizens) have a responsibility to speak out about it, and in fact, we become complicit in such inappropriate behavior if we do not speak out about it.

I originally considered listing all the inappropriate behavior the President has engaged in over his political career. Rather than doing that, I would like to ask you to use your imagination for a minute.

Imagine that you are an outside political consultant from another country whom a bi-partisan Think Tank hired to give an objective, non-biased view of U.S. political leaders. You have a high school education and two years of college education as well. You are neither Democrat nor Republican, and you are not aware of any of the hot U.S. political issues nor any U.S. political figures.

Consultant

The Think Tank has isolated you in a room by yourself for three weeks. There is no TV, radio, or computer in the room, but it is very comfortable, and you are well-fed with all your favorite foods and snacks. You have a lovely, comfortable bed to sleep in, and you are well-compensated for your time.

During your three weeks, you are not allowed to read or listen to any news, and you are not allowed to talk to anyone other than members of the Think Tank. All you are permitted to do is read the President’s own Tweets, watch videos of him speaking at rallies and at White House conferences. You are also permitted to read transcripts of his speeches and interviews he has done with various people.

You have also been assigned to read the U.S. Constitution and to read original primary documents from the original Continental Congresses in which the Constitutional writers debated various parts of the Constitution.

Consitution

If you need background information on the information you are reading—for instance, the identity of people the President refers to or the events to which he is referring—several members of the Think Tank are permitted to answer your questions with basic factual responses only.

Lastly, you also have a dossier on the the President’s life, which has been compiled by the bi-partisan Think Tank. It contains basic facts about the President’s early years, his education, his marriages, his business ventures, and several scandals associated with the President, as well as several notable successes. At the end of the three weeks, the Think Tank asks you to rate the President on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 low and 10 high) on the following ten criteria. They also tell you that they have ten other people in ten other rooms just like you, and they ask you to write a written statement providing consistent evidence from the President’s own Tweets and speeches that clearly support the ratings you have given for the criterion below so that you can justify your claims to the other consultants [3] The Think Tank wants to gauge the overall impression of the consultants.

Criteria:

#1: The President consistently shows that he has a strong grasp of the US Constitution and that he is willing to be held accountable by other branches of the government.

#2: The President shows a consistent effort to listen to experts in various political, social, and medical matters (especially in areas where he lacks expertise) and to allow their expertise to inform his presidential policies.

#3: The President shows a consistent effort to work with people from other parties and to listen to the concerns of all U.S. citizens.

#4: The President is open to constructive criticism and shows a consistent desire to learn from his mistakes.

#5: The President is willing to work with and be held accountable by a variety of news outlets of different political persuasions.[4]

#6: The President consistently shows respect for the dignity of all human beings.

#7: The President operates from a clear and apparent set of ethical principles that aim at both his good and the good of everyone in the U.S., and his life conduct has consistently demonstrated high ethical standards.

#8: The President consistent communicates in a way that demonstrates clear, evidence-based, critical thinking.

#9: The President shows a willingness to consider other people’s points of view.

#10: The President refrains from speech that could be construed as prejudiced, racially motivated, or influenced by derogatory views about women.

What Would Outside Consultants Conclude? I would ask you to consider that, given the above conditions and the above criteria, it would be difficult for any outside consultant to give the President a passing grade for presidential competence or to give consistent evidence from his own speeches and tweets to support a passing grade. (I would also ask you to consider that the above criteria are the minimum standard for presidential competence. That is, if a president cannot receive a passing grade on these criteria, he lacks basic presidential competence.)

White House

And if that is the case, which I think it is, then people have a right and even an obligation to speak out about the President, like employees have an obligation to hold the Difficult Boss accountable. Whether they love him or want him to fail is completely besides the point because his behavior is inappropriate. His inappropriate behavior is made worse by the fact that the President is, arguably, the most (or one of the most) powerful people in the world, and his inappropriate actions are inflicted on folks with much less (or even no) power.

Some Rejoinders

There are some common rejoinders I hear to such concerns, which I would like to address in closing:

The President is bad, but his opponents are worse.

This may or may not be true, but I would like to point out that either way, it is a false dichotomy. It is not as though we only have two choices: either vote for the President or his opponents. We have another choice: demand ethical, humane politics worthy of all of us by holding all our leaders accountable, whether they belong to our party or not. The current Republican and Democratic parties (as they conduct themselves now) are a recent development. Political parties change over time in response to people’s demands. We must demand better by holding all leaders accountable, whether they are in our party or not.

All political leaders are corrupt. That’s just how the world is.

This is a cop-out. Very little about the world is given to us, and most of what we see around us in the world today is a result of our collective thoughts and actions. You already know this on some level because you know that the world is radically different today than it was two hundred, a hundred, or even fifty years ago, and these changes have occurred because of human intervention in the world.

The world changes when we decide it must change. If we want better, more competent, more ethical leaders, we must decide together that we deserve them and want them and then act on this decision. One of the ways we do this is by acting courageously and holding all our leaders accountable, whether they belong to our party or not. If, on the other hand, we continually say, “That’s the way the world is”, we will keep thinking and acting in the same old way, and we will get the same old world and leaders we have now.

It’s naive to think we can hold leaders to high ethical standards.

I would suggest it is naive to believe we cannot hold them to such standards and shows a lack of consideration of historical movements likes the abolition and suffrage movement; the civil rights and independence movements lead by Martin Luther King Jr. and Ghandi; and the anti-apartheid movements in South Africa, as well as the impeachment trials of Nixon an Clinton in the U.S.

I don’t care about the ethics. I just want the economy to be strong.

I think folks who say things like this want to be economically stable and able to provide for their family. That is perfectly reasonable. What is not reasonable is to adopt a code that goes something like this: “Any political action is acceptable as long as it makes the economy strong.” If we adopt this principle, it means that the President (or anyone else) can harm people, including you or your family, or the country, in any way they like as long as it makes the economy strong. I don’t think you want people to harm you or your family to strengthen the economy.

Because of that we must also take a stand that it is also not permissible to harm others to strengthen the economy. And that means we must hold everyone, including the President, accountable. Our desire for a strong economy cannot take precedent over other values.

I am a Christian, so I must vote for Trump

Please know that there are Christians all over the US (including myself) who are deeply committed to their faith and who have voted for someone other than the President. You can read about this here and here.

People who criticize Donald Trump are so hypocritical. They never point out the faults in their own party’s leaders.

This may or may not be true. (It certainly is true in some cases.) This, however, is irrelevant. The point now is that you have a choice today to act with integrity and avoid hypocrisy. I do, too. My goal is to hold all leaders accountable, no matter their party. I hope that’s your goal, too.

 To do this, we must

1) Hold all our leaders accountable to consistent standards that apply to any leader and not make exceptions for the leaders we like.

2) Stop, drop, and roll out of partisan politics. Just like there are people all over the political spectrum who have good insight into education, medicine, sports, and business, there are people all along the political spectrum have wisdom and insight into political matters, and we can learn from each other. And in fact, if we do not learn from each other, we keep thinking the same old things and repeat the same old mistakes.

3) We must commit to living according to a clear ethical code, one of the most important tenets of which should be this: “Be kind. Treat others how you want to be treated. Don’t enable inappropriate behavior in leaders.”

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End Notes

[1] When I use the word ethics in this post, I refer to the principles that guide our conduct to help us aim for a higher good both for ourselves and others. One of the most common ethical principles is “Treat others how you want to be treated.” Most businesses attempt to operate by a code of ethics. (There is a whole philosophical discipline called business ethics that studies this matter.)

It is very wise for businesses to do so, not only because it helps them be better businesses but because it helps them avoid whistle blower complaints, human rights violations, environmental contamination, and expensive lawsuits. Two of the most common ethical standards ethical businesses follow are these: 1) Maximize quality pleasure and minimize pain for the most people. (This is the standard of utilitarian ethics.) 2) Treat people as an end in themselves and not merely as a means to some other end (this is the standard of deontological ethics).

If a business fails to conduct itself according to ethical principles, it might follow this rule for conduct: “Do whatever you have to in order to make the most money.” If you would like to read a story about a business that failed to adhere to ethical conduct and instead made its sole goal making money, you might like (or lament) reading about the Ford Pinto fiasco. You can read an article about it at this link: https://philosophia.uncg.edu/phi361-matteson/module-1-why-does-business-need-ethics/case-the-ford-pinto/

[2]Most religions and ethical systems advocate that we have a special duty to defend those who can’t defend themselves or whose ability to defend themselves is drastically diminished by the power of the people harming them. So, for example, both the Old Testament and the New Testament in the Bible are especially concerned about people who are harmed by unjust rulers, mainly because the people harmed in this situation often have so little recourse to protect themselves.

[3] If you are concerned that the objective observers in this scenario are too strongly influenced by the country they grew up in, especially if it is too different from the U.S., imagine that the objective observers are all the adult children of U.S. medical workers that worked in other countries. The parents grew up in the U.S. and were educated in U.S. schools but were almost completely apolitical because they were so focused on their medial practice.

Their children (now the adult objective observers hired as consultants) grew up in a variety of countries—both European and non-European, first and third-world countries, and were home-educated with a variety of home school materials used in both public and private U.S. schools. They have lived in countries that were socialist, communist, and capitalist. For their history and government curriculum, they mainly read primary historical sources and the Constitution. They have had little to no exposure to television or news sources.

[4] A press that can investigate powerful leaders and hold them accountable is one of the only tools we have to hold powerful people accountable for the harm they do to less powerful people. A powerful leader, for example, can intimidate and control branches of the government. It is very hard for him to maintain total control over all the media outlets, none of which are beholden to or funded by him.

 

2 thoughts on “Do Critics of the President Want Him to Fail No Matter What? (Is This the Right Question?)”

  1. This is a brilliantly composed post, Shelly, in two senses of the word! The bipartisan nature of US politics certainly appears to cloud judgement from an outsider’s perspective. That’s not to say the UK is any better! Maybe we all hold on to our established identities and belief patterns too tightly, rather than engaging universal ethics. It seems like there is fear-based judgement going on. If I had a wish for the world it would be a release from paranoia, so that we can see possibilities instead.

    1. Ali, I really appreciate it that you enjoyed this post! I actually had fun writing it because I loved developing the Difficult Boss and Outside Consultant thought experiments. A lot of philosophers use thought experiments in their articles, and I thought, “Why not use them for a post about politics?” Sometimes I feel like I should stop writing about the President and politics, but I feel like we have collectively lost our blooming minds about politics in the U.S. I am sure it feels that way sometimes in the UK, too. You are so right that we are really acting out of fear. And I know my blog posts won’t change everything. But, I feel like if maybe even just one or two folks read them and start to think about politics a little bit differently, it is worth it. And it is exactly as you say: We have got to start practicing ethics–not holding onto our political party like our life depended on it. All of this is to say that I appreciate your kind words so much. And I will probably keep writing about politics along with all my other subjects, too.

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