Quantcast
Connect with us

House impeachment inquiry may help restore the political and social norms that Trump flouts

Published

on

- Commentary

President Donald Trump regularly uses blatant violations of long-established social and political norms to signal his “authenticity” to supporters.

Asking foreign countries to investigate and deliver dirt on his political opponents, which prompted an impeachment inquiry in the U.S. House of Representatives, is the most recent example in a long string of norm-shattering behaviors. Other examples of flouting the standards of his presidential office include defending white nationalists, attacking prisoners of war, abusing the use of emergency powers, personally criticizing federal judges and much more.

ADVERTISEMENT

Norms are perceptions or beliefs about what we understand the rules for acceptable behavior to be. They are powerful predictors of behavior. By openly broadcasting his anomalous actions and views, Trump is shifting public attitudes about what is deemed appropriate – not only in politics, but also in society.

However, based on my research on institutional corruption, ethical decision-making and the power of professional norms, I know norms can be shifted – even reversed – by activities like the House’s impeachment inquiry.

The power of norms

Norms are crucial in understanding how people succumb to unethical influences. We often decide what to do in a situation by first looking at what others are doing.

For example, if a financial adviser starts working in an institution in which her managers and leaders condone unethical practices that put profits over clients, she will understand the norm in that environment to be “self-interest first.” It then becomes perfectly appropriate, and even desirable, for that adviser to succumb to conflicts of interest and neglect or even defraud clients in the pursuit of profits.

Such behavior was evident in financial crises in the U.S. and more recently in Australia, which I examined for the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Financial Services Industry.

ADVERTISEMENT

And institutional norms, once set, can be incredibly persistent.

My recent research shows that requiring advisers to disclose conflicts of interest – the ways they would profit from their advice – doesn’t work if the company’s norms put self-interest first. In fact, disclosure in these instances can actually make things worse by leading to more biased advice.

However, if the institutional norm was to put “clients first,” disclosure improved the quality of advice.

ADVERTISEMENT

How norms shift

Fortunately, Americans draw on many sources of information to perceive norms, not just the president’s deeds and tweets.

The behavior of other people, mass media and laws all factor into how we think about norms – good or bad – and can influence norm shifts.

ADVERTISEMENT

For example, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage in 2015, a survey of norms and attitudes revealed that Americans perceived stronger and increasing public support for gay marriage after the ruling. This shift in perceived norms occurred in spite of the fact that personal attitudes toward gay marriage did not immediately change.

These shifts matter because norms can actually change our minds over time. A more recent 2019 study found that the Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage ultimately changed attitudes as well as norms, resulting in a reduced anti-gay bias in many parts of the country.

Re-establishing ethical norms

Although people select which news sources and peers to pay attention to, it is hard to ignore the behavior of the president. That’s why pursuing Trump’s impeachment, regardless of whether it is successful or not, is necessary to give a clear, authoritative legal signal of what is unacceptable behavior.

ADVERTISEMENT

Of course, re-establishing the norms that have been broken over the past few years will take more than the actions of the political party that opposes the president. The voices of Republicans are also important. But so far, their general silence has only strengthened Trump’s ability to break down norms.

Research on obedience and conformity show that all it takes is one dissenting voice to speak out against authority to inspire others to do the same.

If more whistleblowers, Republicans and members of the administration speak up, the ethical, social and political norms that Trump has broken may start to regain their vitality.

[ Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter. ]The Conversation

ADVERTISEMENT

By Sunita Sah, Associate Professor of Management and Organizations, Cornell University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Report typos and corrections to: [email protected].
READ COMMENTS - JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Continue Reading

Commentary

Here are six hints that baby Jesus stories were added much later to early Christian legends

Published

on

The wonder-filled birth story of the baby Jesus was centuries in the making.

Picture a creche with baby Jesus in a manger and shepherds and angels and three kings and a star over the stable roof. We think of this traditional scene as representing the Christmas story, but it actually mixes elements from two different nativity stories in the Bible, one in Matthew and one in Luke, with a few embellishments that got added in later centuries. What was the historical kernel? Most likely we will never know, because it appears that the Bible’s nativity stories are themselves highly-embellished late add-ons to the Gospels.

Continue Reading

Breaking Banner

Congress must weigh Trump’s poisonous narcissism — as well as his corruption: Yale psychiatrist

Published

on

On Thursday, leading psychiatrists and I, along with more than 650 other mental health professionals, submitted a “Petition to the Judiciary Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives,” to include our statement on the psychological dangers of the president. It reads: “We are speaking out at this time because … as the time of possible impeachment approaches, Donald Trump has the real potential to become ever more dangerous, a threat to the safety of our nation.” We believe we have an ethical obligation to warn of the danger that Mr. Trump poses as the impeachment process proceeds and have offered ourselves for consultation.

Continue Reading
 

Commentary

Mueller Report Redux: Bill Barr is about to undercut a report on the origins of the Trump-Kremlin investigation

Published

on

Here we go again. A respected Justice official has spent months in an investigation into possible wrongdoing at the start of what became the special counsel’s probe, only to have Atty. Gen. William P. Barr moving to counter the results even before they are published.

The official this time is the Justice Department’s inspector general, Michael Horowitz, but according to news reports, Barr is maneuvering behind the scenes to counter central conclusions that there was nothing major amiss in the start of the investigation of all-things-Russia.

Yes, from the bits and pieces that have emerged, a lower-level lawyer changed an email after the fact to bolster a particular argument towards getting approval from the secret FISA investigatory court, but the report concludes that it did not alter the outcome. Overall, Horowitz is expected to say in the report, while one could question judgments made along the way by top brass at the FBI, the call to launch an investigation was totally kosher. In other words, no “witch hunt,” as charged by Donald Trump and his team of defenders.

Continue Reading