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Politics

Impeachment Inquiry May Help Restore Political & Social Norms True Flouts

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

by Sunita Sah, Cornell University

(The Conversation) — 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 .

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.

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.

Diplomats testify during the first public impeachment hearing on Nov. 13. Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool Photo

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.

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.

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.

Sunita Sah is Associate Professor of Management and Organizations at Cornell University.

The Conversation publishes knowledge-based journalism that is responsible, ethical and supported by evidence from academics and researchers in order to inform public debate with facts, clarity and insight into society’s biggest problems.


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Politics

White House Gift Shop Selling Coronavirus Commemorative Coins

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White House Gift Shop Selling Coronavirus Commemorative Coins

WASHINGTON, DC (TMZ) — The White House Gift Shop is hawking some odd memorabilia … a coronavirus commemorative coin no one asked for.

The COVID-19 coin features the names of President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence … and it depicts an empty presidential podium on one side, and a graphic of the novel coronavirus above the world on the other side.

The coin also shouts out the rest of the COVID-19 task force … with smaller printed names for Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Surgeon General Dr. Jerome AdamsDr. Deborah Birx and Dr. Anthony Fauci.

The collector’s item is emblazoned with tons of slogans … including “Together We FOUGHT The UNSEEN Enemy,” “Everday HEROES Suited Up,” and “Everyday CITIZENS Did Their Part.”

The White House Gift Shop is already taking pre-orders for the coin … and the price is slashed from $125 down to $100. The store, which is privately run and only loosely related to the actual White House, claims proceeds will be donated to hospitals.

The COVID-19 coin is the 11th in the gift shop’s “Historic Moments” collection, which also commemorates Trump’s meetings with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

So, at least the coronavirus coin is in … good company.

Trump's Coin Collection

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Politics

Trump Thinks Armed Michigan Protesters Are ‘Very Good People’

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Trump Thinks Armed Michigan Protesters Are 'Very Good People'

MICHIGAN (TMZ) — President Trump has found another group of “very good people” … the gun-toting right-wing extremists who stormed the Michigan statehouse to protest coronavirus restrictions.

Trump is strongly supporting the heavily-armed protesters … he says they are very good, very angry people who deserve a seat at the table with Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

Mind you, Michigan does not meet the very same federal guidelines for reopening that the President and his coronavirus task force announced last month.

Trump tweeted out his support of the rifle-clad protesters and tried to shift the onus on Whitmer, saying … “The Governor of Michigan should give a little, and put out the fire. These are very good people, but they are angry.”

POTUS added … “They want their lives back again, safely! See them, talk to them, make a deal.”

The protesters are up in arms over the fact Gov. Whitmer extended the state’s emergency stay-at-home order until the end of May.

Of course, Trump started the battle cry for the “liberation” of several states — including Michigan — just hours after he laid out the federal guidelines. He, at least, said reopening should be done slowly and smartly … based on data.

That’s apparently out the window.

It has to be said … Trump’s comments about the Michigan protesters are reminiscent of the Charlottesville rioters, who he called very fine people.

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Health

Trump’s Own Officials Depended on WHO. Then He Turned Against It.

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Trump’s Own Officials Depended on WHO to Fight Coronavirus. Then He Turned Against It.

As President Donald Trump publicly bashed the World Health Organization over its response to the coronavirus pandemic last week, American aid officials tried to delicately sidestep the political tensions, internal documents shared with ProPublica show.

And Trump’s campaign upended weeks of partnership between his own administration and the WHO, which provides advice and support for health officials in developing countries. The U.S. Agency for International Development had chosen to funnel much of its pandemic response through the WHO.

Even as they dealt with the fallout of Trump’s decision to cut off WHO funding, his administration leaned on it for expert advice.

“Given the political dynamics, I do not recommend reference to WHO here or below,” wrote one U.S. Agency for International Development career official in a comment on a draft report about how emergency funding would be spent. “Recommend deleting.”

The April 10 comment on the document prompted a rebuttal a few days later from another career official, one of many who argued that the WHO’s role in the health crisis should not be caught up in a political spat.

“It’s actually important to reference WHO standards during this type of emergency pandemic response – even with current political dynamics,” wrote the official, who argued for leaving in the mention of the WHO. It’s unclear which wording made it into the final version of the document.

A redacted image of comments left on a USAID draft document suggesting omitting a reference to the WHO.

The exchange was just one example of the angst that spread throughout USAID as it became clear that Trump would follow through with his April 10 threat to cut off WHO funding, and it was indicative of efforts by officials to downplay the role of an important public health partner. Just a few days later, on Tuesday, Trump paused all U.S. funding for the WHO, upending crucial plans for containing the virus in developing countries and bolstering China’s narrative that it is stepping into the traditional U.S. role of global leader.

Interviews with current and former U.S. officials and the internal documents and communications show that despite Trump’s recent disparagement of the WHO, his administration was for weeks relying heavily on its expertise and global reach to fight the pandemic. And in a public relations battle between China and the U.S. over global leadership, American diplomats and aid officials have cited robust U.S. funding of the WHO as a key supporting argument.

The WHO’s expertise is a critical resource for developing countries that lack their own strong public health sectors, said Jeremy Konyndyk, a former USAID official during the Obama administration. Cutting the WHO out of funding means the U.S. is eliminating its own ability to control the pandemic in those countries, he said.

“If you want to try and fight a public health crisis in a developing country without the WHO, you are lost from the outset,” Konyndyk said.

Particularly in conflict zones where the U.S. has limited or no reach, such as Syria, Yemen and Libya, working with the WHO is crucial, one U.S. official said on the condition of anonymity.

Just one day after Trump’s announcement, on Wednesday, WHO staff held a presentation for USAID’s Global Health Bureau on health care in conflict settings, according to a description of the meeting seen by ProPublica.

USAID, the State Department and the White House did not respond to requests for comment. The WHO referred ProPublica to comments on Wednesday by its director general, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, saying that his organization hopes the U.S. will continue to be a “generous friend” and that his agency “works to improve the health of many of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.”

The State Department and USAID turned to the WHO soon after the agencies received nearly $1.3 billion in new funding from Congress to address the pandemic in March. That funding had few strings attached, meaning officials could disburse it largely as they saw fit and did not have to channel it through the WHO or any other specific entity.

In a March memo outlining the administration’s global pandemic response, obtained by ProPublica, officials wrote that the U.S. would work “in close coordination with” the WHO. Several strategy elements mentioned the WHO.

In a March 31 public statement, the State Department highlighted U.S. assistance to the WHO, boasting that the agency’s “broad-based effort would not be possible without U.S. support.” The statement made repeated swipes at China, comparing U.S. funding of multilateral organizations to China’s much lower contributions.

That view was also reflected in an internal document dated April 13 and titled “Countering People’s Republic of China (PRC) Propaganda on Health and Humanitarian Aid.” It cited “critical support” from the U.S. to “the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the World Food Program and dozens of other organizations.”

Internal State Department guidance sent in early April, with diplomatic talking points about U.S. assistance, encouraged “Ministries of Health to reach out to the local WHO representative and other local partners to inquire about laboratory test kits, reagents, and supplies, laboratory supplies, and test kit availability in your region.”

The guidance also served as an endorsement of the WHO’s unique capabilities. “WHO uses existing agreements and its vast network of procurement mechanisms to purchase tests on behalf of countries that cannot afford them,” it said.

The U.S. quickly funneled nearly $700,000 each to Morocco and Iraq via the WHO last month. In response to a White House query this week, USAID officials compiled information on several grants they had made to the WHO that were supporting coronavirus relief and detection efforts in South Africa, India, Angola and elsewhere, according to a spreadsheet seen by ProPublica.

U.S. officials working on the response said they now worry about how they can help countries if they can’t channel the assistance via the WHO.

“For several countries, the WHO is the only way we can help them,” one official said. “We know nothing about anyone else who’s operating there.”

The significant U.S. reliance on the WHO in the Middle East prompted officials in the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs to write a memo to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warning of the consequences of a funding halt. The memo, a draft version of which was seen by ProPublica, warned of undermining the global response to the pandemic, threatening American lives, and ceding ground to China.

Indeed, Trump officials have been preoccupied with the idea that China is winning the global PR battle. On Thursday morning, White House, State Department, USAID and Pentagon officials held a conference call to discuss the issue, focusing on the Middle East. Several diplomats in the region said that talking points against China gain little traction in their countries, according to someone with knowledge of the call.

Privately, USAID officials acknowledge that China is well ahead of the U.S. in pushing the narrative that it is the leading humanitarian actor responding to the pandemic, according to meeting notes and emails seen by ProPublica.

One U.S. embassy in North Africa reported to officials in Washington this week that the Chinese had until recently avoided bashing the U.S. in favor of boosting their own donations of medical equipment. There was one exception, they noted: The Chinese took the opportunity to highlight the U.S. decision to halt funding to the WHO.

Do you have access to information about the U.S. government response to the coronavirus that should be public? Email yeganeh.torbati@propublica.org. Here’s how to send tips and documents to ProPublica securely.

ProPublica is an independent, nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism with moral force. We dig deep into important issues, shining a light on abuses of power and betrayals of public trust. Follow on Twitter at @ProPublica 

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