Ethics is a complex topic, so complex that it is often broken down into separate subdivisions – business ethics, medical ethics, management ethics, even – and in my experience this is almost oxymoronic – media ethics.
And even with ethical issues so sub-divided, a search of ethics textbooks found only one with fewer than 300 pages. Many ranged to 400, 500, even 700 pages or more. So ethical considerations can get complicated.
Especially when the subtleties of ethical decision-making are made a morally-complicated place like the White House.
Still, in the frequently-expressed opinions of 2 former White House ethicists, Richard Painter and Norman Eisen, one a Republican from George W. Bush’s Presidency, the other a Democrat from Barack Obama’s, there has never been an Administration so ethically-challenged as President Donald Trump’s.
What has these guys and so many less-credentialed observers so upset?…Well, let me count just a few of the ways.
First off there is the issue covered in the Constitution under the term “emoluments.” This one is simple and easy to understand. It basically says, officers of the US government should make no public decisions which yield them private profits.
Not only is this concept clear in theory, there are 2 easily definable steps officials can take to obey it: divesting and recusing. Divesting means giving up ownership of things that public decisions can make more profitable. Recusing means, taking yourself out of any decision-making loop that might produce benefits for properties from which you have not divested yourself.
Suffice it to say, officials of the Trump Administration, from the Boss on down, have not been particularly rigorous in giving up their money-making properties, and show little sign of stepping back from job-related choices that impact personal benefits.
And this is just the beginning. American government is always about majorities and minorities whose relations are supposed to be ethically sound. No one expects in Ins and the Outs to share opinions, but they are supposed to share facts. So far, at least, the Democratic Outs complain that Trump Insiders refuse to file required reports, or answer polite questions about what they’re doing. When asked about the justice of these complaints by journalists, the White House response seems to verify them…as one spokesperson for the Department of Human Services put it to our guest today, ““We are not confirming or commenting … at this time.”
Justin Elliott is an investigative reporter for Pro Publica. His recent work has concentrated on issues of government regulation, especially anti-trust enforcement policies, and workplace issues.