Ethics Schmethics!

Not long after the Republicans in the dark of night, prior to the opening of the new session, eliminated the independent Office of Congressional Ethics they knuckled under to immense pressure to rescind the move. It would have placed the responsibility for determining ethical and non-ethical practices in the hands of the Congress itself. But despite the reversal this attempt sends a clear message to the world: ethics simply don’t matter; they just get in the way of what we want to do. It isn’t so much that the independent group was doing its “due diligence” and watching the hen-house like a fox (who eats only naughty hens) and that now the fox will be dismissed. It’s the principle of the thing, and “taking it back,” or “having your fingers crossed” does not alter the fact that this is what the group wants to do! The horse is out of the barn and we now know exactly what it look like!

As a nervous electorate waits to see what sorts of mayhem the new president will bring with him and worries that his choices for Cabinet members begin to look more and more like a F.B.I. “Most Wanted” list, now we hear that the Republican Congress would prefer to not have anyone hold its feet to the fire and make sure that they play by the rules. None of us is quite certain what those rules are, of course, but it is reassuring that there are some (somewhere) and that someone every now and again will still be ready to raise a red flag when a Congressman or a Congresswoman commit an egregious act of some sort.

We live in an age of ethical relativism. The standard question when ethical questions are raised is “who’s to say?” This applies not only to the Congress, but to the country at large. The notion that there are things that are simply right or simply wrong has pretty much disappeared behind the smokescreen of doubt and self-assertion. Thus, it makes no sense to wonder what sorts of principles are applied to those who sit in Congress and waste the taxpayers’ money. But the notion that there are still some restraints on their otherwise unbridled graft and greed, vague though the restraints may be, is somehow reassuring.

I have always argued that there are ethical principles that cut across cultures and apply to all individuals as well. Most people agree without realizing what this implies. When an atrocious act is committed — like date rape or domestic violence — we don’t simply say “that’s not the way we do things here in Sacramento.” We say, “Dammit! That’s wrong and someone should be punished.” Despite our rejection of abstract ethical principles, most feel that somewhere a line must be drawn. I fully agree, though I think there’s more to it than that.

The ethical principles of which I speak have to do with such things as respect for persons — all persons — and fairness. These are principles that form the warp and woof of every religion in the world and they form the background for the ethics of such thinkers as Immanuel Kant as well. They may not be openly accepted by everyone, but they provide a base on which to construct a dialogue with other people here in this country and elsewhere in the world. We can always ask “Why? and wonder if a particular act in faraway India (such as Sati), or in the darkest parts of Africa (such as clitoridectomies) are wrong —  even if those who practice such things are convinced that they are not. Dialogue is possible at the very least.

But we now have the governing body in this country saying, loud and clear, ethics be damned — though they would have us believe they had their fingers crossed. They don’t want anyone, fox or otherwise, watching the henhouse. They would prefer to keep an eye on it themselves. On the contrary, I would argue that effective or not, there must be a body assigned to the specific duty of watching what the hell the hens are up to. Keeping an eye on it themselves pretty much guarantees that they will be up to no good and no one will hear about it until it is too late. It’s good to know that enough people were so outraged by this vote that it was rescinded almost immediately. Let’s hope those same folks aren’t too busy texting their friends or checking Facebook to cry out when the next outrage issues forth from Washington.

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20 thoughts on “Ethics Schmethics!

  1. And, let’s not forget the insider trading rules that were put in after “60 Minutes” aired the story about the significant increase in wealth of Congressional reps and senators when the leave office relative to when they came in. This move may have been one of the stupidest moves I have ever witnessed. The GOP has tried to walk it back, but they met in secret without Democrats.

    I don’t care what party a representative or senator is, if the position is stained by unethical or illegal behavior, the incumbent must be held accountable if guilty. Ethics may not matter to these representatives, but they should. There is too much money involved for it them not to be important.

  2. Reblogged this on Filosofa's Word and commented:
    “True freedom requires the rule of law and justice, and a judicial system in which the rights of some are not secured by the denial of rights to others.” – Jonathan Sacks
    Yesterday I wrote a post about the devious, underhanded efforts of House Republicans to dismantle the independent Office of Congressional Ethics on Monday night. Though unsuccessful by the end of Tuesday, their attempt speaks volumes about their own ‘ethics’ and what we might be able to expect during the next two years. As so often happens, fellow-blogger Hugh Curtler has penned a post on the same topic, but from, as he says, a more abstract point of view. Frankly, I like his post better than mine and I think it is well worth sharing. Please take a moment to read Hugh’s post and drop him a comment to let him know what you think. Thank you, Hugh, for a great post and for unspoken permission to share!

  3. Yours: “But despite the reversal this attempt sends a clear message to the world: ethics simply don’t matter; they just get in the way of what we want to do.”

    President Elect Trump signaled that THIS was NOT a priority for his incoming Administration, and almost immediately the Topic was dropped from the Agenda. But I hear no Thanks to him for that, which I think is somewhat biased on the part of my fellow detractors of his election (I am MORE than a mere detractor to the HRC Campaign, rest assured). We may well find that this will come up again in short order, and will find another elaboration among the Republican held Congress, unsurprisingly for all the reasons you offer.

    As yet, I think it’s a Mistake to corner with criticism yet undeserved this new Administration. I’m of a kind to Allow actions to speak for themselves, and rather take lightly the Words of others as mostly a kind of Posture, which everyone has a right to. Honesty, from first to last is not only over-rated, but naive both inter-personally and regards one’s own self-understanding. We are ALL delusional, to greater or lesser degrees. Fact.

    The truest distinction I make between the HRC and Trump paradigms is that I KNOW with certainty what HRC was Up To, and what were the likely results, having a whole cadre of supporters on the Inside whose Actions and Results over the last decade were and are perfectly observable and rationally explicable on the Policy level (at least). Whereas Trump is a Wild Card, almost entirely…with the exception of his egotistical infatuations worn on his cuff and lapel. Let’s pray that Good Advice in his Circles prevails (if there is such available at that Level) and that his ego may be persuaded to pursue the kind of workable ‘ethic’ which his rhetoric portrayed earlier, i.e., Corporate Responsibility to American Workers, bringing Jobs back under pain of heavy taxation; detente with Russia; withdrawal of foreign financial military support….in short: Nationalism capable of checking the Corporatization of Culture the Globe over. A faint hope, indeed, but a glimmer on the most important issues of our Age which HRC didn’t even attempt to address. It’s why she Legitimately lost, and sensible people know that.

    • Dear Being Quest,

      I simply can’t abide by any man who brags on how he can grab women’s body parts with impunity because of who he is.At 60 years of age, he knew better. And so, I will not be jumping on your band wagon. And no, no woman including HRC or Mrs. Trump should be held accountable for their husband’s philandering.

      I’m not buying the kool-aid, Gronda

      • You are justified in your Contempt. The Distinction between HRC and Trump on this level is simple this: Trump did not have a hand in the destruction of the most prosperous and Progressive country of Africa: Libya. Enough said.

    • Surely, we have sound evidence to claim to KNOW what Trump its up to — given his run at the office and his subsequent rantings — not to mention the choices for his cabinet! This is not to defend Hillary’s past mistakes, but I see her as less of a threat to the country not to say the planet!

      • Fair enough. His Cabinet pics are nothing to praise. Personally understood,, Americans will have the kind of Leadership that they deserve.

      • Possibly so. But Hillary won nearly 3 million votes more than her opponent, so I don’t think we can tar the entire citizenry with the same brush. Many Americans are getting what they deserve; the rest will have to suffer through somehow.

  4. THIS is a woman without any scruple, without any moral ‘ethic’, and no conscience. An extreme statement, no question. But she does not belong to herself, and acts as a mere element of those to whom she is beholden. This is common course in politics. These people seem one thing, but R another.

    • And you prefer Trump because he is what he seems to be? Even though what he seems to be is a thin-skinned narcissist who may be just a bit paranoid. You trust this man with the nuclear codes? I am a bit surprised, I admit.

      • No. I don’t prefer him over Sanders or Stein, who were MY choices. The First was effectively Robbed of the Nomination by the DNC and their System Operators, chief among them being Clinton, who for all intents and purposes, THREW the election to Trump despite all the clearly misleading rhetoric on her inevitable win. I would as much vote for the likes of Trump or Clinton as soon as I would slit my own throat knowing full well what the very probable outcome would be. But, if I HAD to take the argument once made, say by Chomsky, to “hold my nose” and vote for the lesser of two evils, it would have been Trump…that much I can admit.

  5. Another voice of reason type of post. Thank you Hugh! I was extremely encouraged by the outcry of our citizens regarding this awful move by house republicans. I believe there are enough of us paying attention because of this awful election that these responses will become normal. Hoping it will save Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid too.

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