A Philosopher's Blog

Truth, Loyalty & Trump

Posted in Ethics, Law, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on May 12, 2017

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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A More Amenable Russia

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on July 6, 2009

Our one time Cold War super enemy, Russia, is now more amenable. While Russia did get a bid more chummy after the fall of the Berlin wall, they showed signs recently of wanting to get back into the super power game. However, the latest change is that Russia seems to want to be our friend once again.

One possible reason for this the the Obama charm offensive. Obama has said that he wants to reset the relations with the Russians and he has been showing the world that he really wants to make friends. The Russians might sincerely want to be part of this circle of friends or they might have decided that this would be an excellent opportunity to take advantage of  America’s new friendliness. That is, perhaps they are cleverly exploiting what some might see as a naive approach to foreign policy.

Another possible reason is that the Russian economy is hurting. They are facing a double threat. First, the world ecomomy is doing poorly in general. Secondly, oil prices have dropped and Russia gets much of its export money from oil. Interestingly, Russia’s beligerence seems directly proportional to its wealth. While the US is hurting is well, the end of the Cold War and recent economic events make it clear that the US economy is stronger and more resilient that the Russian economy. Of course, all economies have a breaking point-something we should be well aware of.

Playing nice with Russia is actually advantageous to us. We have to deal with Iran, Iraq, North Korea, China, Afghanistan, numerous terrorists groups and other problems. Having Russia not being a problem would be a significant help. Having Russia on our side from time to time would be even better.

While the US and Russia are often at odds, we do have many common interests. Neither the US nor Russia want North Korea starting up a war. Neither country wants Iran to get out of hand. Both countries would like Afghanistan to be stable (although I’m sure the Russians would like to see us bleed a bit more-they certainly remember who helped make them bleed badly there in the 1980s). As such, it makes good sense to play well with Russia. Of course, once the price of oil goes back up and their economy is better, they might decide they want to have a try at the Cold War revival games once more.

While Obama’s trip to Moscow is getting news coverage, it is losing out to Michael Jackson. Of course, that is the way of the news media-it has to give people what they want to see rather than what is truly significant.

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