Business ethics vs. political ethics

I think it’s fair to say that the GOP presidential nominee has said, oh, a few things that would have sunk the candidacy of a politician.

But that’s the point of his candidacy, right? That he’s “not a politician”, he “tells it like it is”.


Why not threaten to sue your political opponents?

Or just imprison them directly?

Why not explain paying no taxes as “good business”?

Why not shrug at the evidence that your “charity” is a sham?

Why bother paying your bills if you don’t have to?

The slurs, name-calling, selfishness, rage, policy ignorance all just sit there, for much of the electorate making no difference whatsoever to their opinion of Trump.

The mental category that some people put Trump into is “businessman” (I have used a gendered noun here deliberately). I think it’s clear to see that a big chunk of the public holds this category to completely different ethical standards than the rest of society.

It’s not that people have wildly different expectations for how a businessperson and a politician will behave. Neither the slick Wall Street type or the shady D.C. type seems to be held in particularly high regard. The difference is the standard against which the expectations are judged. An amoral politician is a scandal; an amoral businessperson is normal.

Take the evidence. A tactic that Trump has used increasingly often this year is to hear a charge leveled against him, and immediately use precisely the same words to describe an opponent. Forget for a moment any discrepancy in the validity of the charge between the two sides. The tactic works because of the ethics gap.

Most business schools have some nod to “business ethics” in the curriculum. What does the sorry tale of this election say about the state of that field in the eyes of the public? That a businessperson can stand on a debate stage and with a straight face describe actions that would be considered scandalous for a typical candidate as “good business”—and have both allies and enemies respond, well, yeah?

Trump’s dealings and methods would never have faced public scrutiny had he not made it this far in this election. Where does the explanation lie? I think it can be found in the fact that society has pathetically low expectations for what constitutes acceptable business conduct. I think that is a disgrace.

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