White House Ethics and Its Effect on American Institutional Ideals

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Abstract

The policy of the White House often ultimately determines the vector of the state policies. However, due to the principles of separation of powers principle, political neutrality, and social equity, the United States managed to maintain political balance during the Trump presidency. For the most part, this was the merit of the White House apparatus, who disagreed with the incumbent President’s policies. This paper presents how the President and the White House’s policies affect key government institutions and international relations.

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White House policies must comply with ethical standards and practices, protect the population’s rights, and meet their needs. However, today, there are still apparent contradictions between the President and his staff’s actions. The President’s policies are not always reasonable and fair enough to be implemented by the staff members without violating ethical principles and values. This paper will address how unprofessional and unethical practices originating in the White House can be harmful to the established institutional ideals of Rule of Law, Separation of Powers, Free Press, Public Health, and International Relations. A Hypothesis o the paper is that White House ethics directly affect institutional ideals and international relations.

Professionalism and Ethics

Unlike political appointees and elected politicians, public servants adhere to the values that protect the common good. At the same time, public servants act in exceptional circumstances. They are subject to the influence of multidirectional forces, namely the public, whose interests they should protect, and the leadership (Box, 2015). Most civil servants’ problems stem from the fact that their leaders have a political background or connections and tend to use their official position to resolve personal issues. Therefore, to be professional and maintain ethical behavior, civil servants may sometimes refuse to obey orders from ‘above.’

Civil servants’ professionalism is determined by qualities like merit, impartiality, competence, self-awareness, esteem, reputation, responsibility, and self-policing (Lewis & Gilman, 2005). Noteworthy, society applies higher standards to civil servants than to elected politicians and political appointees (Box, 2015). In particular, public servants’ actions are regulated not only by the Constitution or state laws but also by codes of ethics and multiple job prescriptions. Further, the public servants should respect values, show virtues, observe principles and duties, and possess wise judgment. Since public servants’ services are intended for the vast public, their real compliance with the declared values is felt more sharply. Trade unions usually form codes of ethics, which are a set of values to be fulfilled. If a union notices public servants’ non-observance of professional codes of ethics, it can cause strong public condemnation.

Therefore, even though the White House staff are directly subordinate to the President, their responsibility is to protect citizens’ rights and freedoms under the US Constitution (Pfiffner, 2019). Another duty is implementing programs that will benefit society in the area in which public servants work, namely health, education, or defense. If a staff member or a career appointee strongly disagrees with a particular decision, they have several options for action (Pfiffner, 2019). The first is to refer to the leadership – for example, to the President, try to argue and explain points that cause disagreement. If a discussion is impossible, and the issue concerns human rights or critical state policies or decisions, a public servant can resort to leaks of information. However, an employee who made such a decision may expect retribution.

Besides, a staff member can resort to slow-downing order execution. Donald Trump’s assistants had to resort to this practice quite often. Remarkably, this behavior is the latest alternative before resignation or open disobedience. During his tenure, President Trump has attempted to pursue a series of policies that White House staff members saw as harmful to the economy, foreign policy, or US citizens. In particular, Trump intended to ban the issuance of visas to all citizens of predominantly Muslim countries. Further, Trump had the intention to break the free-trade agreement with South Korea and withdraw from NAFTA, a trade deal with Mexica and Canada (Pfiffner, 2019). He introduced a ban on transgender people’s admission to the US army and suggested separating migrant children and parents on the southern border.

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Donald Trump intended to eliminate the program to support electric vehicles’ production and other programs related to climate change since he does not recognize global warming. He also wanted to close the program preventing missile strikes from North Korea by removing the equipment from South Korea (Pfiffner, 2019). In all mentioned cases, the White House staff managed to prevent, slow-down, or draw public attention to the President’s malicious decisions. The most famous case was the resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis after Trump decided to withdraw troops from Syria and Afghanistan. Since Trump’s listed rulings could significantly damage the institutional ideals and the United States’ future, White House staff members’ decisions to slow-down some orders were fair and well-reasoned.

The Rule of Law

The rule of law in the United States reflects the authority of the law in society and the balance between freedom and order. Maintaining such a balance is not easy; therefore, an independent judiciary needs support from the media and the public (Cordy, 2019). The White House upholds the rule of law by respecting the Constitution and the laws. Equally important is the White House international policy since America is one of the international arena’s key players. The rule of law must underlie all Presidents’ decisions (Box, 2015). But in practice, White House staff members can play a decisive role in implementing public policy. Therefore, they should express professional values fundamental to the rule of law (Box, 2015). Professionalism presupposes such qualities as impartiality, competence, self-awareness, responsibility, and judgment.

Under different presidents, White House policies differed in striking ways. Under the Trump presidency, the need for checks and balances of ethical misconduct became a priority but was challenging to achieve (Pfiffner, 2019). The President aggravated the situation by putting pressure on his subordinates and limiting the press entrance to the White House. Therefore, Trump barred the press from becoming a source of unbiased critics of the government’s actions (Jones & West, 2017). The public usually condemns the unethical practices of elect politicians but is still quite lenient with politicians’ significant mistakes.

Actions of well-known political figures that can undermine the authority of social institutions. In particular, Trump’s constant attacks on journalists and the free press have likely preserved a relatively low current trust level in media (Jones & West, 2017). Besides, Trump’s irresponsible and aggressive public statements on social media lead to public unrest and protests (Jones & West, 2017). Moreover, public figures’ reckless behavior seriously threatens the state’s international relations and may lead to diplomatic ties severing. Simultaneously, the introduction of unethical practices at the level of laws undermines the very justice system, which is based on equity and protection of human rights (Waldron, 2005). Finally, unethical practices, performed for a long time, can span a distortion of institutional ideals and lead to outrage, protests, and mass disapproval of politician behavior by voters.

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Public Health

The history of the US healthcare system development had several milestones, namely the growth of scientific knowledge about the sources of diseases and public responsibility growth. Only in the middle of the twenties century, the state took on the responsibility of providing sanitation, immunization, education, and personal health services. Since the health sector is concerned with ensuring the well-being of the population, health workers share values related to maintaining public trust. In particular, staff must meet professional standards and cope with racial prejudice, bureaucratic inertia, and tunnel vision (Jennings, 2020). It is necessary to ensure that health workers’ behavior is consistent with the ideals of society.

Therefore, the principles of autonomy, benevolence, and social justice should be observed to maintain public health at the proper level (Warren, 2020). The social values laid down in the mid-20th century led to the creation of federal programs for disease control, research, and epidemiology. Unfortunately, in the course of research related to COVID-19, it was found that the epidemic affected vulnerable populations the most. Therefore, today the White House and the state must support society by financing and protecting the programs targeting the most unprotected groups.

Free Press

Unfortunately, the White House’s press policy has turned sharply negative with a new President’s arrival. In particular, Trump did everything to prevent journalists from fulfilling their duty to cover and analyze government actions (Jones & West, 2017). The White House has become the worst critic and enemy of the media instead of being a traditional pillar of its support. The freedom of the press guarantees an opportunity to share information and opinions through various media freely. Freedom of the press is protected by the First Amendment, in contrast to the right for newsgathering, spelled out in several laws passed in the 1960s-1970s. Consequently, the media’s ability to cover the government’s work is not entrenched as firmly as freedom of speech. This situation creates problems for democracy since public trust and government control rests on objective and critical press coverage of its work.

According to the Espionage Act, the media cannot publish classified information of state importance when publishing various leaks. Besides, the press must observe the principle of truthfulness when covering the work of the government. Simultaneously, the media has obligations to provide truthful and balanced information based on facts and verified sources (Butler, 2018). Therefore, if free media publish false information, slander, or hold back facts, distorting the truth, they violate the ethical laws of journalism. Besides, in some cases, for example, when publishing leaks or ‘lie’, the media can become the subject of legal proceedings, which today is a painful practice for many publications due to funding cuts.

Separation of Powers

The Founders of the United States proposed the separation of powers to prevent the concentration of power and the emergence of tyranny. Therefore, power was divided into three branches – legislative, represented by Congress, executive, represented by the White House and its apparatus, and judicial (Jacobs, 2019). The separation of powers is enshrined in the Constitution since it is the basis of any statehood existence. Besides, the separation of powers supports the implementation of ethical principles by public servants, as it creates the preconditions for cross-checking. After a series of scandalous Trump policies implemented or slowed-down by the White House staff, a proposal was made to delegate broader powers to the federal agencies (Jacobs, 2019). In particular, it was suggested that if federal agencies had more overlapping functions and cross-checks, this would strengthen the separation of powers.

Minimizing Unethical Practices by Implementing Public Service Values

The history of US statehood formation has gone through many stages that revealed fundamental problems concerning the executive branch. One of the main issues was politicians’ desire to satisfy personal ambitions, hiding behind party politics’ values. Therefore, the principle of political neutrality was developed to avoid abuse of power. This principle implies that public professionals should carry out their work without regard to elected politicians’ requirements or preferences (Box, 2015). Later, in the mid-1970s, the principle of social equity was introduced, which guaranteed fairness for everyone who interacted with the government.

Compliance with these principles protects public servants from political retaliation and other consequences such as dismissal. As mentioned above, the public servants’ principal value is professionalism, which implies compliance with many laws, rules, and ethical standards. When public servants act to minimize unethical practices, they change history by keeping politicians from making unforgivable mistakes. Therefore, today, ordinary public servants are the most reliable source of justice, compliance with the law, and human rights protection.

Conclusion

Thus, evidence was presented that White House ethics directly affect institutional ideals and international relations. However, despite the corrupting effect that unethical White House actions have on the executive branch’s image, the principles of social equity and political neutrality guarantee the relative safety of ordinary employees who oppose politicians. Unfortunately, free press and public healthcare institutions do not have the same protections. Therefore, the idea of giving more powers to federal agencies is highly reasonable. Its implementation will strengthen the principle of the separation of powers and protect the state from policies with which most of its citizens may disagree.

References

Box, R. C. (2015). Public service values. Routledge.

Butler, P. (2018). A free press: boisterous watchdog of democracy. SAIS Review of International Affairs, 38(2), 15-22.

Cordy, R. J. (2019). The interdependent relationship of a free press and an independent judiciary in a constitutional democracy. BCL Review, 60(5), 1-7.

Jacobs, S. B. (2019). The statutory separation of powers. The Yale Law Journal, 12(3), 378-444.

Jennings, B. (2020). Ethics codes and reflective practice in public health. Journal of Public Health, 42(1), 188-193.

Jones, R. A., & West, S. R. (2017). The fragility of the free American press. North West University Law Review, 112(3), 567-596.

Lewis, C. W., & Gilman, S. C. (2005). The ethics challenge in public service: A problem-solving guide. John Wiley & Sons.

Pfiffner, J. P. (2019). Public administration ethics in the age of Trump. SSRN, 8(1), 1-15.

Warren, R. C. (2020). Enhancing the health of African Americans using a public health ethics lens. American Journal of Health Studies, 35(2), 164-173.

Waldron, J. (2005). Torture and positive law: jurisprudence for the White House. Columbia Law Review, 105(6), 1681-1750.

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DemoEssays. 2022. "White House Ethics and Its Effect on American Institutional Ideals." February 21, 2022. https://demoessays.com/white-house-ethics-and-its-effect-on-american-institutional-ideals/.

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DemoEssays. "White House Ethics and Its Effect on American Institutional Ideals." February 21, 2022. https://demoessays.com/white-house-ethics-and-its-effect-on-american-institutional-ideals/.