Sunday, April 30, 2017

An Ethical Analysis of DJT’s First 100 Days

As has been widely covered in the news media, yesterday was the 100th day since the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States of America. What can be said about these 100 days from the standpoint of ethics and religious faith?
One of my good friends from way back recently sent me an email with this candid statement: “I do wish you were a bit less hard on the Right & Republicans, but I realize we are all partial.”
Here is part of my response:
To the best of my ability, I write what I do because of my Christian faith not because of any political affiliation. And if I am partial, it is, I hope, partiality to the teachings of Jesus. If I am hard on the Right & Republicans it is because of what seems to me to be their words and/or actions that contradict the teaching (and the spirit or Spirit) of Jesus.
It is in that vein that I have sought to make an ethical analysis of DJT’s first 100 days in office—and on May 12 I am scheduled to give a talk and lead a discussion on that topic at the regular meeting of a group known as Provocateurs and Peacemakers. (Here is the link to a promo for that meeting.)  

Obviously, I can’t write in 600 words here all that I will have from 60 to 90 minutes to present on May 12, so I have selected only a few points that I plan to emphasize in my upcoming (and as yet unfinished) talk.
There are many specific questionable ethical statements/actions of DJT that could be mentioned, but here I will just indicate some of the general or catch-all issues:
1) In the realm of personal ethics, DJT’s propensity for telling falsehoods is a major problem. From his statements on Day 2 about the size of the inauguration crowd, outright lies or misleading statements have been numerous, and troubling, throughout his first 100 days in office.
2) DJT’s (and his children’s) use of his (their) position to make money for the Trump family also seems highly unethical. His (their) trips almost every weekend to his privately owned resort and his conducting official business and entertaining heads of other nations there further raises serious ethical questions.
3) This month, DJT’s launching Tomahawk missiles against a Syrian air base and dropping a MOAB on Afghanistan as a show of power is ethically questionable and potentially dangerous. Those bombings had little apparent effect in Syria or Afghanistan. Their use, however, perhaps encourages Kim Jong-un to use his weapons against the U.S. before missiles or bombs are preemptively used against North Korea.
4) There are also ethical questions about several other matters: for example, his proposed budget, his support of repealing the ACA without a suitable replacement, and his proposed ban on visitors from Muslim countries and refusal to accept refugees from Syria.
5) There are also problems with his various actions that dismantle protection of the environment. In the long term, failure to protect the environment may be one his greatest ethical errors.
From what DJT has said and done in these past 100 days, it is hard to be hopeful that things will get better in the months and years ahead. But there has, thankfully, been softening of some positions which seemed to be ethically questionable.
My main hope is that the widespread resistance to and protests against the many unethical positions of DJT will continue, and will become even more effective. 


  1. When I read your comments I wondered to myself if it might be an example of a liberal mind is failing to understand conservative thinking. The following comments refer to “morality” which I suggest shares some of the same meanings as “ethics.”

    Jonathan Haidt in his book The Righteous Mind makes the point that liberals don’t understand the conservatives’ understanding of morality because they base their morality on different parameters.

    Conservatives base their morality on six types of considerations or value judgments: care/harm, liberty/oppression, fairness/cheating, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, and sanctity/degradation.

    Liberals base their morality on three areas: care/harm, liberty/oppression, and fairness/cheating.

    Haidt says this gives conservatives an advantage when campaigning for votes because they can appeal to their supporters in six ways and liberals can appeal to only three.

    1. I think Haidt misunderstands the liberal conscience. I think his six categories are generally valid, but I think liberals use all six categories, just not quite the same way as conservatives. As a liberal I have loyalty to all humankind, and am deeply offended by the way Trump denigrates large swaths of humanity. I have the utmost respect for the authority of facts, and am deeply offended by the way Trump denigrates large swaths of facts. I confess the sanctity of God's creation, and am deeply offended by Trump's plans to badly degrade our water, air, land and food supplies.

      Watching all the protest marches since Inauguration Day I have the feeling that many liberals are just rediscovering some half-forgotten areas of their sense of the sacred. I was frustrated with Haidt's book when I read it, and am even more so now. Even as I am with many liberal politicians who seem to have forgotten exactly as Haidt accuses.

    2. Thanks for your good reply to Haidt, Craig. I fully agree with your assessment.

      I do appreciate Clif posting the information about "The Righteous Mind" (2012), which I read (at least partially) when it was fairly new but don't remember much of. (And, sadly, I inadvertently lost the notes I had made when I was reading the book.)

  2. Poor DJT is in a terrible spot. If he keeps his campaign promises, along with his ongoing, self-promoting, triumphalistic, braggadocio, he will commit many unethical actions against people here and around the world. I’m thinking of refugees, Mexicans expected to pay for a wall, treatment of Muslims, a tax system that will mainly benefit large real estate developers and others of the nation’s wealthiest, a health care system that trims back and possibly removes all coverage from people with pre-existing conditions, reversals of environmental progress, etc.

    If he DOESN’T “build the wall,” repeal the ACA, punish our trade partners, and turn his other claims into reality, he will be adding to his many falsehoods. Only the falseness of his claims could make his actions ethical—and indeed, it in the falsehoods of DJT that I place my greatest hopes for his presidency.

    1. Wow! Thanks, Fred, for your penetrating analysis of DJT's presidency. It is a sad state of affairs if our best hope for an ethical outcome is based on DJT's misleading or false statements/promises--but you may well be right.

  3. Unfortunately, we'll never know if DJT's change of opinion on an issue is a change of heart or attitude or simply a realization on his part that he has something more to gain by making the change.

    On the surface, some might think firing National Security Advisor Michael Flynn was an ethical act, however, I highly doubt DJT disagreed with what Flynn did. It seems more likely that Trump understood that if he didn't fire Flynn, it would make him look bad...and DJT can't have that.

    1. Thanks for your comments, David.

      In looking for positive ethical actions, I was thinking about including DJT's firing of Flynn. But, as you suggest, that was probably done for something other than (positive) ethical reasons.

  4. Thinking Friend Eric Dollard in Chicago shares these comments:

    "Thanks, Leroy, for your always astute observations.

    "I would not be one to accuse Mr Trump of expertise in moral philosophy; he strikes me as being rather amoral. He will say or do anything to get what he wants as long as he can get away with it.

    "He is not dumb, but he seems to be intellectually lazy; he does not seem interested in studying complicated issues in depth. He is not a rigid ideologue, so he can be flexible and practical when the occasion suits him.

    "He is a master, however, at image projection. And he has projected an image of himself as someone who is tough and decisive with easy, obvious answers to difficult problems. Many people around the world want a leader who is tough and decisive and they have them with Recep Erdogan in Turkey, Vladimir Putin in Russia, Victor Orban in Hungary, or Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines. While these leaders may be strong and decisive, their policies are often disastrous. Mr. Trump, I fear, will be no exception."

    1. Eric, as usual, you have made substantial, thoughtful comments, and I appreciate what you wrote.

      But I have trouble with your use of the word "amoral." While agree that it does not seem that DJT gives much thought to what is or is not ethical--and in that sense perhaps he is amoral--there are consequences to much of what he says/does--or at least proposes--that seems to have or will have negative consequences, thus making those statements/actions immoral. So I don't know if we should let him off the hook by saying that he is just amoral.

  5. Thinking Friend Keith Herron in St. Louis gave me permission to share these comments sent in an email yesterday:

    "You did not mention the possible connections with the Russian government. If half what is currently being investigated turns out to be true, will we impeach him as a traitor? This is the last thing Americans should hope for, but when an independent investigation is carried out, as will be needed, this will bring up concerns that will be difficult, but necessary to confront."

  6. Esteemed Thinking Friend Glenn Hinson gave permission to post the following comments here:

    "I agree with all of the points you make, Leroy.

    "One irony on the climate issue was brought to my attention yesterday: The rising of the oceans may soon inundate Mar-a-Lago. I guess Trump would find some alternate reality to avoid that one, but I agree with you that Climate Change is the most critical issue for the future of humankind. Is it a Christian ethical issue? If we believe God cares for the creation as well as for humanity, it certainly is."

  7. Here are strong words (unedited) from a Thinking Friend whom I do not know personally but who grew up in the same county I did in rural northwest Missouri:

    "Good luck finding anything in any way ethical about Trump. His allegiance is to any action he can take as president to increase his brand's bottom line only. He is a misogynistic racist lying cowardly bully that will say whatever he needs to say to keep himself supported by his cadre of alt-right idiots and the people that perhaps naively swallow their line of hate--unfortunately supported by some people claiming to be religious--seems a travesty to me."

  8. Here are significant, and fairly lengthy, comments from Thinking Friend Michael Olmsted in Springfield, Mo.

    "As a young and inexperienced pastor it did not take me long to discover that there were individuals in the church who played the role 'Christian' but their actions, words, and moral orientation had nothing to do with the Christ who calls us and empowers us, by his Spirit, to serve Him. Through the years, the most vehement responses to any of my sermons seemed to always come when I spoke to issues of social justice, compassion for the downtrodden, and racial prejudice.

    "When it involves the poor ... countless times I have been told, 'If they would go to work they wouldn't be hungry.' Consequently, during this last election I was horrified to see so much support for a man who was driven by his ego, reminding us of HIS business successes and wealth, crude in his language about women, people with disabilities and immigrants who have become citizens of the U.S.

    "DJT played the faith card but denied the Christian faith by his attitudes and words. What he believes is his choice ... what he does affects the lives of real people who continue to suffer in a nation of plenty, a nation that claims to be Christian. He was supported by numerous church leaders who talked about DJT as if he were some kind of God-appointed deliverer, our only hope against the evil candidate from the other side.

    "So, I see the first 100 days as more of the same. Problems are not solved. Average people are not being helped. Instead, we are assaulted with the same petty tweets, the same empty rhetoric about greatness and success. The swamp has not been drained ... instead, a host of new and bigger alligators has been let loose! Presidential orders and proposed legislation have not changed Washington or given the common people any tangible hope.

    "BUT ... in the present disarray and ugliness there is hope. This is not the first time our marvelous democracy his faced the darkness. The story of America is improbable, if not amazing. Against all odds and in spite of flawed leaders we have picked up the shattered remnants of good, put failure behind us, and rediscovered our better dreams.

    "I have witnessed the grace of God in Christ produce miracles in individuals and societies. My concern is not the first 100 days, but what will happen over the next four years. I pray that we will find our way to goodness again and rediscover what it means to offer freedom to all. I want to be part of that movement, listening for the voice of God above the selfish din, and helping those who seem to have lost hope."

  9. Local Thinking Friend Bob Southard sent me the following suggestions of what I might also include in my talk (and permission to post them here):

    "Other questions I would have are 1) putting unethical leaders in place like Bannon, Flynn, etc.

    "2) his Russian connections during the campaign (since they are being investigated, I am not alone.)

    "3) his immigration issues...dreamer deportations, etc.,

    "4) his budget cuts of children in contrast to the amount of money the government is spending to protect his own child.

    "It seems there could be some related issues like Media treatment, not revealing his taxes, cutting social programs and environmental programs to build military. giving tax breaks loaded toward the rich, etc.

    "One hope could be he is climbing up the learning curve and seems to be getting it that there are complex issues and it requires leading instead of reacting, listening to advisors instead of just spewing tweets, working with congress, etc.
    He is learning and he seems to realize he needs to learn how to do this better."

  10. Ethics? Not in DC. Not either party. But at least the current President is reversing, by executive action, some of the unethical actions we have been living with from the previous President. Maybe that is the best we can hope for out of DC.

    Christian? Don't see that in DC either. I would hate to pin my beliefs and actions on anything that happens in DC. All I see is partisan politics (maybe like in the days of Jesus - Herodians, Pharisees, Sadducee, Romans, and a few minor groups thrown in). The Red Letters would certainly never lead one toward any of our politics or politicians. (In fact, I can only think of one ethical President in our national history - and most scoff at him.)