Ethics Without Indoctrination
When Are Our Actions Morally Praiseworthy?

The Lost Art of Morality in Politics: Trump vs. Clinton

Get Out and Hold Your Nose, and then Vote!

Here’s the good news. Our long national nightmare is over tomorrow. Tomorrow I can wash off the muck of the presidential campaign and go back to watching true reality TV rather than the one which has played out since June 2015 when Donald Trump announced his candidacy for President.

Here’s a view of the campaign from my ethical perspective. Donald Trump practices the politics of incivility. His has waged a campaign of divisiveness by pitting one group against another. Trump has made disparaging comments about Mexicans. He is guilty of Islamophobia and painting all Syrian refugees with a broad brush. His sexist comments have become fodder for social media and cable talk shows.

Trump even tried to defend his sexist comments by comparing them to Bill Clinton’s sexual exploits. Trump says his actions were of words only – locker room banter -- while Clinton’s actions had occurred and should be taken more seriously. The problem is Trump is relying on the concept of moral relativism in comparing the two. But, if something is wrong, it’s wrong, and should not be judged as relatively less wrong than something someone else said or did.

By now most people realize that Trump has a narcissistic personality disorder. It’s all about him, all the time. His feelings get hurt at the drop of a hat. He blames others for his own failings. He is unapologetic when pressed on tasteless statements made about others.

Is Trump a trustworthy person? Hardly. He’s been involved in thousands of lawsuits filed by contractors over the past three decades for unpaid work. How can he say with a straight face that he is the champion of the working class and will protect middle class jobs? 

Is Trump a believable person? I suppose so if you are naïve enough to accept his statement that he will Make America Great Again “big league,” whatever that means.

I find it ironic that Trump recently promised to propose a package of ethics reforms to make our government honest again. It’s delusional for Trump to believe he is qualified to make promises on matters of ethics given the empty ones he has made to contractors and students of Trump University?

As for Hillary Clinton, an analysis of newly released State Department records shows that about 55 percent of the private individuals who met or had private phone conversations while Clinton was secretary of state were donors to the Clinton Foundation. This is a blatant conflict of interest even if, as she says, it never influenced her decisions. In politics perception is reality and the mere appearance of a conflict is enough to question the trustworthiness of Clinton.

Using one’s public position to enhance private wealth is troubling. WikiLeaks email dumps of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s private email account indicate she met or spoke to representatives of at least 15 companies and organizations that paid Bill Clinton for speaking engagements during her tenure as secretary of state. CNN reported back in February 2016 that Hillary and Bill Clinton combined to earn more than $153 million in paid speeches from 2001 until Hillary launched her presidential campaign. This is a new spin on the TV game show, “Who Wants to be a Millionaire.”

Another problem for Hillary is she practices the politics of hypocrisy. She tends to say one thing in public communication and another in private. In one dump of a speech on April 24, 2013, Clinton is quoted as saying “But if everybody’s watching, you know, all of the back-room discussions and the deals, you know, then people get a little nervous, to say the least. So, you need both a public and a private position.”

This statement crystallizes why the public is fed up with politicians. How can we trust a politician that adheres to a philosophy of deception? Perhaps this explains why in a December 2015 Gallup poll people rated the honesty and ethics of members of Congress at 8 percent, just above lobbyists and tied with car salespeople and telemarketers. Politicians are not principled people – they lack integrity. You never know whether to believe what politicians say and whether their actions will match their words.

I am reminded of Thomas Jefferson’s notion of there being a “moral sense” that defines a person’s true nature. A moral sense is one’s conscience. Jefferson believed each of us is endowed with a sense of right and wrong. Jefferson wrote about the need for a foundation of moral behavior – respect for the persons and rights of others. Respect is not an ethical value we attribute to Donald Trump. He respects only that which enhances his self-image and self-worth.

Jefferson never believed there was one code for morality for a public, and another for a private man.  Clinton’s differentiation of a public versus private persona speaks to the inherent conflict Jefferson believed would occur if one’s sense of right versus wrong were not consistent in all arenas.

We, the people, have lost faith in our elected officials to make decisions that improve our economic circumstances and provide for a better quality of life. Some of us believe it would be better if the next president does nothing. No decision is better than one that doesn’t advance the public welfare. In this respect, we should remind the next president and future Congressional leaders of the guiding principle for physicians: First, do no harm.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on November 7, 2016. Dr. Mintz is Professor Emeritus from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He also blogs at