A Philosopher's Blog

Truth, Loyalty & Trump

Posted in Ethics, Law, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on May 12, 2017
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While the first hundred (or so) days of a president’s reign is something of an arbitrary mark, Trump seems to have ignited more controversy and firestorms than most presidents. Since Lincoln’s election lead to the Civil War, he still leads here—but Trump is, perhaps, just getting warmed up.

The most recent incident in the Trump reign is the firing of FBI Director James Comey. The narrative of why Comey was fired has served as yet another paradigm example of the nature of the Trump reign. The initial reason given was that Comey was fired for how he handled the Clinton email scandal. This story would convince only the most deluded—Trump and his fellows had praised Comey for his role in crashing Hillary’s chance of being elected. Trump’s minions also deployed to assert that Comey was fired because he had lost the confidence of the people at the FBI. This, like most assertions originating from the Trump regime, seems to be untrue. Trump himself seems to have presented what might be a real reason for Comey being fired: “When I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.’ ” These claims are contrary to the reasons advanced by his minions; the claim that he decided to “just do it” is contrary to the earlier narrative that Trump had acted on the advice of others.

There is also reason to believe that Comey’s refusal to pledge personal loyalty to Trump at a dinner. Public officials, at least in the ideal, pledge their loyalty to the Constitution and not to specific individuals. Comey did promise to always be honest, apparently leading Trump to ask him to pledge “honest loyalty” which could be something that just emerged from Trump’s mouth rather than an actual thing. Trump seems rather worried that Comey might have recorded conversations with him; at least Trump is threatening Comey about such hypothetical tapes on Twitter.

When writing about the Trump reign, I feel as if I am writing about a fictional universe—what happens in Trump space seems to be stuff of bad alternative reality fiction. However, it is quite real—and thus needs to be addressed.

Starting on the surface, the Comey episode provides (more) objective evidence that the Trump regime engages in the untrue. As noted above, Trump’s minions presented one narrative about the firing that was quickly contradicted by Trump. Since all these claims cannot be true, a plausible explanation is that either Trump’s minions were lying or Trump was. Alternatively, those involved might have believed what they were saying. In this case, they would not be lying—although at least some of them would have said untrue things. This is because a lie requires that the liar be aware that what they are asserting is not true; merely being in error about the facts is not sufficient to make a person a liar.

Digging a bit deeper, Trump’s request for a pledge of loyalty seems to reveal his view of how the government should work—loyalty should be to Trump rather than to the Constitution. This is consistent with how Trump operates in the business world and the value he places on loyalty is well known.

While loyalty is generally a virtue, the United States professes to be a country that follows the rule of law and that places the constitution on the metaphorical throne. That is, public officials pledge their loyalty (as public officials) to the constitution and not to the person who happens to be president. This principle of loyalty to the constitution is critical to the rule of law in the United States. If Trump did, in fact, expect Comey to pledge loyalty to him, Trump was attacking a basic foundation of American democracy and our core political philosophy.

This is not to say that officials should lack all personal loyalty; just that their loyalty as public officials should be first and foremost to the Constitution. It could be argued that Trump was merely asking for an acceptable level of professional loyalty or that he was asking Comey to pledge his loyalty to the Constitution. While not impossible, it seems unlikely that Trump would ask for either of those things.

Comey’s unwillingness to pledge loyalty to Trump points to another likely reason for his firing. Trump presumably hoped that a loyal Comey would drop the investigation into Russian involvement with the Trump campaign. It seems likely that when it became clear that Comey was not going to let the matter go away, Trump fired him. The Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov engaged in a bit of wit about the Comey firing, asking reporters if Comey was fired and then responding with “You’re kidding, you’re kidding,” when the answer was given.

While some have claimed that Trump has created a constitutional crisis, this is clearly not the case. As others have pointed out, Trump has the authority to fire the director of the FBI for any reason or no reason. As such, Trump has not exceeded his constitutional powers in this matter. At the very least, the firing created “bad optics” and certainly created the impression that Trump fired Comey because Trump has something to hide. Since the Republican controlled congress seems to be generally unconcerned with the matter, Trump might be able to ride out the current storm and get an FBI director confirmed who will pledge loyalty to him and do to the investigation what Putin allegedly does to his political opponents. However, there are some Republicans who are concerned about the matter and they might be willing to work with Democrats and keep the investigation alive. It might turn out that Trump is innocent of all wrongdoing and that his angry blundering about was just that—angry blundering about rather than an effort to conceal the truth. Only a proper investigation will reveal the answer; unless the Russians decide to spill the vodka.

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Crime & the Economy

Posted in Law, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on May 27, 2011
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While the causes of crime are no doubt many and varied, common wisdom holds that there is a connection between crime and economic conditions. More specifically, it is often claimed that poor economic conditions lead to more crime. This, of course, seems sensible enough. After all, people who are short of money might well turn to crime out of desperation.

Since the mainstream economy is still not doing well, it would seem reasonable to expect an uptick in crime. Interestingly enough, the FBI recently reported that violent crime has decreased by 5.5% and property crimes have declined by 2.8%. This, of course, seems to indicate that the alleged causal connection between poor economic conditions and crime might not hold true. Before rejecting the alleged link, it seems reasonable to consider the matter in more detail. After all, the FBI’s statistics is for crime across the country and the overall decline is consistent with actual increases in some areas of the country.

In fact, there are areas in which crime has increased. The Northeast has actually seen an 8.3% increase in murders as well as rather small increases in forcible rapes (up 1.4%) and aggravated assaults (up .7%). Not surprisingly, certain cities are also suffering from higher than average crime rates.

The data indicates that the cities most plagued by crime have established histories of decline and poverty. This is hardly surprising, given that these cities have consistently suffered from crime. While these crime rates have been a legitimate matter of concern, they might also provide a picture of things to come.

While overall crime is down despite the economic downturn, one obvious concern is that if the downturn persists then there will be new places with established histories of decline and poverty. This will most likely result in an increase in crime. Another factor, exacerbated by the both the economic situation and the new focus on reducing the public sector is that police resources are decreasing. Should the economic woes become entrenched, this will (as noted above) most likely result in an increase in crime. It will also mean less tax income which will mean even less police resources to combat the crime generated by the economic situation. This certainly gives us yet another reason to work at restoring the economy.

Naturally, economic conditions are not the only factors involved in crime. Even when the economy has been doing great, crime still remains. Of course, even when the economy is doing great, zones of poverty and decline still exist and are almost always zones of high crime. If nothing is done, we can expect that these zones will expand and that new ones will appear.

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Creating Terrorists

Posted in Ethics, Law, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on November 30, 2010
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Domestic terrorism in the United States is rather rare and, as such, it is hardly a shock that the arrest of Mohamed Osman Mohamud has gotten a lot of attention. The folks who have been backing the massive anti-terror machine can point to this one arrest and feel vindicated in their devotion to security.

I am, of course, glad that Mohamed Osman Mohamud was stopped before he could actually harm anyone. However, reading about the situation made me wonder whether he would have ended up in this plot without the active involvement of the FBI.

Based on the information currently available, Mohamed Osman Mohamud seems to have been the only actual terrorist involved in the plot. After all, the FBI provided him with the fake bomb and there has been no mention of anyone else being arrested. The background given for him (he drank beer, liked hip hop, and was reported as not being particularly devout) does not seem to fit that of someone who would mastermind a plot. As such, I do wonder how much the FBI actually motivated and guided him to the point where he was there to receive the fake bomb from the FBI. In short, I wonder how much the FBI had a hand in recruiting and shaping him into being a terrorist.

Obviously, he did make the choice to go along with the plot and hence is accountable for his choices. However, it is worth wondering whether he would have become a terrorist without the intervention of the FBI. That is, did they create the very terrorist that they arrested?

It is, of course, a reasonable and ethical tactic for law enforcement agents to pose as criminals and terrorists in order to gather information and make arrests. However, there are both ethical and practical concerns in regards to how much of a role such agents should take in urging people to commit crimes or acts of terror in order to gain information or to put people in situations in which they can be arrested.

On the one hand, if the person would not have committed such an act but for the involvement of law enforcement, then it would seem reasonable to hold the law enforcement personnel morally accountable. After all, they helped make the person into a criminal and if they had left the person alone, then the crime would not have been committed. As such, they would seem to be accessories to the crime.

Also, law enforcement should not be about creating criminals to arrest, it should be aimed at deterring crime and arresting those who chose to become criminals. To use an analogy, doctors should cure patients who are sick. To make a patient sick and then claim an accomplishment by curing the person would clearly be unethical.

On the other hand, it can be argued that law enforcement needs to be proactive. They cannot wait until they learn of a plot or, even worse, for a bomb to go off. They have to go out and seek potential terrorists and see if they would be willing to become real terrorists. That way they can guide their evolution from potential terrorist to actual terrorist and then arrest the person. It is not quite as good as having precognition of a crime (as in Minority Report), but it is still rather useful to be able to actualize the criminal and thus protect society from the criminal they helped actualize. Otherwise, a potential terrorist could become an actual terrorist with an actual bomb (not a fake supplied by the FBI).

Since this method works so well in the case of terrorists, it should clearly be expanded to include other crimes as well. For example, law enforcement agents should start operating in public schools and urge kids to use and sell drugs. They could assist the kids in setting up drug operations, motivate them, guide them and then supply them with fake drugs. At that point, they could arrest the kids and keep the schools safe. If this works, then they could expand to other crimes as well. This pre-criminal approach could revolutionize law enforcement.

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