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Inside Politics: Integrity in politics: Oxymoron or obligation?

Most professions have ethics codes that define standards of conduct and quality. Honorable professions ungrudgingly adhere to such codes, with commitment befitting the intelligence, preparation, expertise, care, and integrity expected by those the profession serves.

Ethics codes typically have several facets. One prescribes the due diligence necessary to produce outcomes, products or services. Standards are based on known methodologies for achieving and verifying quality outcomes.

Another facet demands fair acknowledgement and reward of all involved in idea generation and project accomplishment. Professionals are also prohibited from obstructing others seeking similar accomplishments. Instead codes generally encourage collaboration and even mentorship. This accelerates accomplishment of goals to the betterment of mankind, while growing and uplifting the profession itself.

A fine line separates competitiveness between professional teams and the overall profession’s moral obligation to humanity’s common good derived from the profession at large.

It gets more complicated in our capitalistic, nationalistic and politicized world. Each of these societal characteristics promotes individual advantages ahead of rival entities. This is despite a clear, virtually universal moral code that supposedly places duties to humanity above profit, nationalism (tribalism), or political philosophy.

Fortunately, there are notable historic examples of humans rising above mercenary, tribal, and metaphysical competition. Lamentably, such altruism and solidarity is somewhat rare. It does happen on a modest scale when the tug of empathy or clear community benefit mobilizes highly motivated individuals or groups to clear barriers and overcome inertia.

More often, crises devolve to catastrophic disasters or existential threats before genuinely selfless collaboration occurs. However, catastrophe can still be exacerbated if those at risk choose instead to exploit the cold calculus of rivalry. Historically that choice has often produced universal detriment instead of common benefit.

Civilization functions poorly if key individuals, enterprises, institutions, and elected- or appointed-officials aren’t trustworthy. Since political parties are the gateway to elected office and leadership of many key institutions, they also bear huge burdens of responsibility for ethical behavior in government and other organizations they insinuate themselves into. Although many Americans display apathy toward government and politics in general, they are conspicuously intolerant of ethical lapses.

Interesting national examples of that assertion have played out recently, and for years in Idaho.

GOP disdain for congressional integrity enforcement was on full display last week. Behind closed doors, Republicans overwhelmingly chose gutting ethical oversight as their highest priority target for the maiden outing of their shiny new all-red-government juggernaut. A funny thing happened to the supercharged Orkian political battlewagon on the way to the Capitol Building. The intake manifold got clogged with rotten tomatoes and spoiled cabbage hurled by wary elephants, suspicious donkeys and recently kicked newshounds.

Startled by the unexpected public reaction, GOP politicians tugged their accidentally minced body parts from the gears of their siege machine and fled the media’s klieg lights murmuring “It wasn’t’ me.”

Meanwhile, encouraging, if somewhat sotto voce (not to be confused with Sotomayor) strains of Miserere mei, Deus, resonated from Supreme Court Justice Robert’s office for failing to recuse himself from further participation in the Life Technologies Corp. vs. Promega Corp case. Apparently his stock portfolio contained a conflict of interest he’d forgotten about. Whether that’s an honest whoops daisy or not, he deserves acknowledgement for belatedly doing the right thing, even though he’d already presided over oral arguments several weeks ago. Nonetheless, it suggests flawed disclosure tracking and inadequate fail-safe protocols for such a high government official.

Hmm. Do you see any goose / gander implications there for PEOTUS?

Let’s consider Idaho rather than taking that tangent.

Risk of a rotten produce blizzard clogging the carburetor of Idaho’s candy-apple-red-government Hummer may be increasing. The string of competency and integrity bloopers emanating from Idaho’s Treasurer Office has finally earned Ron Crane a sell-by date. Democrat “We told you so’s” are fueling brisk earplug sales in Idaho’s Capital. The slogan promises to reverberate through the 2018 election. It’d make a great bumper sticker. Or how ‘bout a billboard scandal collage featuring Correction Corporation of America, Q-West contracts, Phil Hart, John McGee, Monty Pearce, Jack Noble, Idaho Fish and Game controversies, etc.

If that’s not enough, in 2012 and 2015 Idaho earned overall D- integrity ratings from The Center for Public Integrity. This included F ratings for State Civil Service Management, Ethics Enforcement Agencies, State Pension Fund Management, Executive Accountability, Legislative Accountability, and Judicial Accountability. Remaining ratings were D- for Public Access to Information, D+ for Political Financing, Procurement, and Lobbying Disclosure, B for Electoral Oversight and Internal Auditing. State Budget Processes earned the only A.

Predictably the F for Ethics Enforcement Agencies was coupled with a national ranking of 49th.

It bears repeating that if you’re dissatisfied with Idaho governance, you are by default dissatisfied with Idaho’s GOP. Why? Because they’ve had a power lock on Idaho government for decades.

Democrats have attempted to collaborate with the GOP to improve Idaho’s ethics oversight and enforcement framework. That outreach hasn’t been reciprocated.

In South Dakota, another GOP-controlled state, the electorate took matters into their own hands, passing an ethics reform initiative. But guess what? Their legislature wants to overturn the initiative.

Do you see a scarlet pattern emerging?

Idaho desperately needs stronger ethics oversight and enforcement. Mandatory disclosure of financial involvements by candidates for elective or appointed office is a good starting point. Conflict of interest regulations in Idaho’s Ethics in Government Manual should also be bolstered to mandate recusal of elected officials from writing, influencing (positively or negatively) or voting on legislation for which they have conflicts of interest.

Other View: Donald Trump's not backing down on anything. Ever.

Donald Trump took questions from the media Wednesday for the first time since he was elected president on Nov. 8. And he quickly put to rest the idea that his rapidly approaching presidency would fundamentally change his tone, style or basic approach to issues and the media.


- Trump — through a lawyer — said he would not put his assets in a blind trust, the traditional way in which presidents wall off their private interests from their public obligations. Trump was also quick to note that as president it is impossible for him to, legally speaking, have a conflict of interest and, therefore, any steps he takes to separate his business interests from his presidency were above and beyond the call of duty. (This was a similar line of logic used by Trump’s lawyer to explain how he would deal with the Emoluments clause.)

- Trump refused to offer a timetable for the release of his tax returns. He insisted that the only people who care about his tax returns are reporters. (Not true!) As evidence that no one cares about his tax returns, Trump offered this: “I won.”

- Given the chance to condemn Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump did not. Instead, he said it was an “asset” that Putin allegedly likes him. When asked directly about the Russian hacking of the election, Trump acknowledged it was probably Russia — which is further than he has gone before — but quickly pivoted to emphasize that Putin wouldn’t be doing these sorts of things under a Trump administration.

- Trump began his news conference with somewhat surprising words of praise for the media and their discernment in not publishing allegations in a Russia dossier. (BuzzFeed did publish the full dossier, even though the allegations are unsubstantiated and have not been corroborated by any major news organization to date.) But, by the end of the news conference, Trump was back to his old, media-hating self; he shouted down CNN’s Jim Acosta, who repeatedly tried to ask him a question — eventually telling Acosta that he was “fake news.”

Those four examples — and those were only the four that immediately sprang to mind — make very clear that Trump has absolutely no plan to pivot when he assumes the presidency. He is who he is. There is no Trump but Trump.

I’ve long believed that talk of a pivot or an unveiling of a “more presidential” Trump, which has been a nonstop subject since it became clear Trump would be the Republican presidential nominee last spring, is an absolute misjudgment not only of Trump but of what his many victories over the past 18 months have taught him.

Ask yourself this: How many 70-year-old men fundamentally change their personality? How about 70-year-old men who have been extremely successful? Is there a number less than zero?

That was true even before Trump started to win primaries and caucuses over the course of 2016. What his primary win taught him was that he was right and the “Republican brain trust” was wrong. What his general election victory taught him was that he was right and that everyone in the political class—elected officials, consultants, the media—was wrong. Why the hell would Trump change his approach to politics and policy after the year he has had? The simple answer is he wouldn’t.

For Trump, the ends justify the means. In winning, he showed that everything from tax returns to blind trusts to cordial relations with the media were immaterial to regular people. “How can it be bad/wrong if I won?” is the Trump thought on, well, everything. His news conference on Wednesday proved that basic belief won’t be changing when the president-elect becomes the president in nine days.