Over the last two years, I’ve written scores of blogs about the ethics of writing. I didn’t succumb to the temptation of writing about the ethics of writing about Trump. I struggled with writing something with the words “ethics” and “Trump” in the same sentence. So I demurred, until now. His new role—Virus-Fighter-in-Chief—is a call to action. Talk about community spread!
Our verbally incontinent president does not write; he tweets, which rarely equates to actual writing. It’s more like nonverbal incontinence. In what might have been a national test of America’s credulity, the White House had this to say about his writing: “The president is a best-selling author and deeply gifted orator who packs arenas and has a meticulous and carefully honed method for writing his speeches.” That sentence was written by Hogan Gidley, his White House speechwriter. He elaborated, a trait often seen in the White House. “Whether it be at a rally, a manufacturing plant opening, or the State of the Union. What the American people hear is 100 percent President Trump’s own words.” There are apparently no polls asking whether anyone in America believes this.
There is evidence (a trigger word in the Oval Office) that Trump wrote a letter about the Coronavirus pandemic to his dear friend, North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, expressing his willingness to help the North battle the Coronavirus. We know that because North Korea said he did. The White House confirmed that Mr. Trump had sent Mr. Kim a letter, but did not comment on its specifics. We don’t know who actually wrote the letter, but the White House confirmed, “Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim have repeatedly touted their unusual relationship. They exchanged a number of personal letters before and after their first summit in Singapore in 2018, and at one point Mr. Trump said he and Mr. Kim had fallen ‘in love.’”
Other than tweets ascribed to him, some of which were actually written by him, there is little in print to assess the ethics of Trump’s writing. We have the TV to thank for exhibiting him verbally. We can only hope his writing has ethical norms not present when he ad-libs on Fox & Friends.
I have a form I use to test my students’ ethical compliance in writing. I’ll modify it to assess ethical compliance in Trump’s known writings. If anyone can find original writing by Trump, use this form to grade his ethical compliance.
- List all ethical norms visible in Trump’s writing.
- Identify written attempts at empathy in Trump’s writing.
- Check for signifier-words that absorb rather than emit meaning.
- Is he careful not to impose himself upon other people, by saying, “Listen to me, or die”?
- Is there clarity between right and wrong in Trump’s written attempts at communication?
- Cite examples where Trump did not use words, data or ideas of others without attribution.
- Does Trump comply with the standard research writing formula—Know the literature—Comprehend the literature—Apply—Analyze—Synthesize—Evaluate?
- Point out places in Trump’s writing where he reflects public trust, core values, honesty, full disclosure, and social responsibility.
- Whether abstractly or directly, cite admissions about Trump’s off-the-job attempts at ethical compliance and fair dealing with constituents, the media, and opposition leaders.
- Are there elements in Trump’s writings that differentiate between his personal ethics and the ethics of the White House?
- Cite specific examples where Trump, regardless of individual values, or personal business interests, makes the right best-interest-of-the-people decisions.
- Identify specific opportunities where Trump has taken care in writing about current and former White House aides, cabinet officers, and members of the national intelligence agency in respectful terms.
- Identify specific words or phrases that confirm Trump’s attempts to avoid bullying, discrimination, belittling, mocking, or other unprofessional actions.
- Point out language used by Trump that is clearly true.
- Look for language that unquestionably guards against excluding others based on gender, race, national original, religion, age, physical ability, or sexual orientation.
Lots of luck with that.
I am an author and a part-time lawyer with a focus on ethics and professional discipline. I teach creative writing and ethics to law students at Arizona State University. Read my bio.
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