Landschlacht, Switzerland, 5 January 2017
Sometimes I believe that there is hope for us simple humans.
I am not so sure.
Been reading lately of the US Republican Party seeking to dismantle or at least disable the US House Committee on Ethics.
It has many functions, but they all revolve around the standards of ethical conduct for members of the House.
Under this authority, it:
- Agrees on a set of rules that regulate what behavior is considered ethical for members (rules relating to gifts, travel, campaign activities, treatment of staff, conflicts of interest, etc., are typical)
- Conducts investigations into whether members have violated these standards
- Makes recommendations to the whole House on what action, if any, should be taken as a result of the investigations (e.g. censure, expulsion from the House, or nothing if the member is found not to be violating a rule)
- Provides advice to members before they (the members) take action, so as to avoid uncertainty over ethical culpability.
The House Ethics Committee has often received criticism.
In response to criticism, the House created the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), an independent non-partisan entity established to monitor ethical conduct in the House.
On January 2, 2017, one day before the 115th US Congress was scheduled to convene for its first session, the House Republican majority voted 119–74 to effectively place the OCE under direct control of the House Ethics Committee, making any subsequent reviews of possible violations of criminal law by Congressional members dependent upon approval following referral to the Ethics Committee itself, or to federal law enforcement agencies.
The new rules would have prevented the OCE from independently releasing public statements on pending or completed investigations.
Ethics Committee chair Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) defended the action on the rules amendment saying it “builds upon and strengthens the existing Office of Congressional Ethics by maintaining its primary area of focus of accepting and reviewing complaints from the public and referring them, if appropriate, to the Committee on Ethics.”
House Republicans reversed their plan to gut the OCE less than 24 hours after the initial vote, under bipartisan pressure from Representatives, their constituents and the President-Elect, Donald Trump.
In addition to negative Trump tweets, criticism was widespread, including from Judical Watch, the Project on Government Oversight, former Representative Bob Ney (R-OH), who was convicted of receiving bribes, and Jack Abramoff, the lobbyist who provided such bribes.
“The Office of Congressional Ethics is no model operation.
Democrats as well as Republicans have chafed at what some of them see as its occasional overzealousness and disregard for due process.
Had House Republicans called for a bipartisan and transparent review of its role and tactics, they might not have encountered all that much resistance.
But that´s not what happened.
In a secretive closed doors meeting late Monday, before the first official day of the new Congress, the House Republican Conference voted to diminish the office´s power and independence.
This was dark-of-night, no-prying-eyes stuff, done over the objections of Paul Ryan, the House Speaker, who could sense how disastrously it could play in the media.
…I´m not disputing the election results or Republicans´ right – heck, their obligation – to seize the reins of leadership.
I´m arguing against the shamelessness of what they just tried to do with the ethics office.” (Frank Bruni, International New York Times, 5 January 2017)
Trevor Noah, of Comedy Central´s The Daily Show, responded to the GOP´s move appropriately by asking:
How can you trust someone who wants to remove ethics from their behaviour?
Let´s be blunt here.
Many people feel that Donald Trump is unfit for the job of US President.
His defenders accuse the folks who view the future with sickening uncertainty of wanting Mr. Trump to fail.
I cannot speak for others, but I don´t wish for Mr. Trump to fail.
I truly hope that he can justify the faith so many Americans placed on him to improve their lives.
I want him to act Presidential.
I want those who represent the people to serve those people to the best of their ability.
But what I want doesn´t seem to correlate with what I am seeing.
I lose faith in Donald Trump´s ability to lead a country when he speaks his mind on Twitter yet avoids press conferences.
I lose faith in his ability to represent the needs of all Americans when he fills his cabinet with billionaires responsible for helping finance his election, billionaires that lack both experience and compassion for those they are supposed to assist.
I lose faith in American democracy when the public vote matters less than the Electoral College vote.
I lose faith in the wisdom of Americans who trust rheotric over facts, image over substance.
I lose faith in the security of the world in American hands when I view the urban violence and senseless racism so evident on display.
I lose faith when I see a President who views the administration of government similar to the running of a company, who views diplomacy as The Art of the Deal rather than with the intelligence and empathy a Head of State should possess.
Many years ago I answered an ad looking for sales personnel who would be willing to go door-to-door selling magazine subscriptions throughout southern Ontario.
I had sold things before…shoes in a shoe store, theatre tickets over the phone…and I remember there were moments I had to wrestle with my conscience over the recommended methods to get people to part with their hard-earned cash.
The shoe store criticised me for taking so much time on individual customers to try and keep each one happy.
Get a sale fast and move onto the next customer.
The theatre sales management had a script we were to follow word for word regardless of the circumstance.
Above: National Arts Centre, Ottawa, Canada
I was criticised for going off-script when an elderly lady told me she would no longer be buying theatre season tickets as she had just lost her husband.
I quit the magazine subscription business when I was asked to sell magazines to a lower-income family who, by the state of their house, seemed to be struggling to meet their basic living costs.
When I see this upcoming administration I see a government that feels the film The Wolf of Wall Street is its appropriate role model and I feel the same sense of wrongness that I felt when I experimented with being a sales person.
And it is a feeling not forgotten, for in my part-time job as a Starbucks barista in St. Gallen I again internally struggle when I am asked to hard sell the latest promotions.
I ask the appropriate questions only when I sense a true desire from the customer for what I have to offer.
But it seems to me that most folks simply want to have a cup of coffee in peace and I respect that.
Call me odd if you will, but I want leaders to be role models one can respect and emulate.
I want leaders to be morally superior than me, who can be trusted to always do the right thing.
“Donald Trump rightly reprimanded House Republicans on Tuesday for their move to disembowel the Office of Congressional Ethics, but let´s not be duped or dumb.
This was like a crackhead dad fuming at his kids for smoking a little weed.
The House Republicans´ conduct hardly measured up to Donald´s, which obviously encouraged it.
When Republicans look at Donald, here´s what they see:
- A Presidential candidate who broke with decades of precedent by refusing to release his tax returns and thus shine a light on his conflicts of interest…
- A President-Elect who has yet to spell out how he would eliminate those conflicts – and who has, instead, repeatedly reminded reporters and voters that he is under no explicit legal obligation to eliminate them at all…
- A plutocrat whose children have toggled back and forth between his government activities and his corporate interests, raising questions about the separation of the two…
Is it any wonder that House Republicans felt OK about trying to slip free of some of their own ethical shackles, no matter how ugly the optics?
The story here isn´t what, specifically, they attempted to do….
It is the tone that Trump has set and the culture that he is creating.
Trump operates with an in-your-face defiance…
Trump puts his own desires and comfort first…
Trump demonstrated little sense of fidelity to what he promised voters and even less concern about appearances.” (Frank Bruni)
The wolf pack has been formed.
The wolf pack is hungry.
The wolf pack doesn´t care about you feel about it.
Sources: Wikipedia / International New York Times, 5 January 2017