Moral Fact Check: What Trump Got Morally Wrong at His Rally

President Trump was in Melbourne, Florida for a campaign-style rally on February 18th. Here is the video:

Based on the transcript provided by Vox, I’ll provide a brief recounting of some of what Trump said, along with the moral facts that support or contradict his statements.

Mr. Trump suggested that the central question of ethics, “How should I live?”, is not answered by fake news.

We are not going to let the fake news tell us what to do, how to live, or what to believe. We are free and independent people and we will make our own choices.

Mr. Trump is correct. Fake news does not answer the question, “How should I live?” The answer to this question is determined by the moral facts, and we discover them not via newspapers – whether real or fake – but via moral reasoning.

Mr. Trump praised the practice of requiring the removal of two protections per every additional protection.

We’ve just issued a new order which requires that for every one new regulation, two old regulations must be eliminated.

This practice is only morally permissible when the protections that are removed are ineffective for their protective purpose, or are otherwise impermissible in themselves. Imagine, by analogy, an order which requires that for every one new prisoner, two prisoners must be released. As stated, this rule is too broad in order to be morally permissible. In order to be morally permissible, the rule must specify that the released prisoners (or the eliminated protections) ought to be released (or eliminated) for independent, moral reasons.

Mr. Trump expressed affection for uncritical support.

I saw this man on TV just now, you. I just saw him on television. He said I love Trump. Let Trump do what he has to do. That’s my guy right there. Come here. Come here. No, I just. I’m coming in. That’s okay.

In fact, letting someone act without criticism is incompatible with loving them. As the succeeding New York Times reported, Mr. Trump restored the bust of Winston Churchill in the oval office. In a 1939 interview with The New Statesman, here is what Churchill had to say about criticism:

“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body; it calls attention to the development of an unhealthy state of things. If it is heeded in time, danger may be averted; if it is suppressed, a fatal distemper may develop.”

Partly for this reason, Immanuel Kant was wise to write about friendship that, “from a moral point of view it is, of course, a duty for one of the friends to point out the other’s faults to him; this is in the other’s best interests and is therefore a duty of love” (Metaphysics of Morals, 6:470, translated by Mary Gregor).

Mr. Trump implied that concern for physical safety is sufficient to justify the avoidance of a very small risk.

And I’ve taken decisive action to keep radical Islamic terrorist the hell out of our country. So you probably read where we want to enforce the laws as existing. And so we signed an order a couple of weeks ago, and it was taken over by a court originally by a judge and then a — yes, it’s very sad. The reason is for protection and safety. So the statute is so plain and so clear.

Here’s the bottom line. We’ve got to keep our country safe. You look at what’s happening. We’ve got to keep our country safe. You look at what’s happening in Germany, you look at what’s happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe this. Sweden. They took in large numbers. They’re having problems like they never thought possible. You look at what’s happening in Brussels. You look at what’s happening all over the world. Take a look at Nice. Take a look at Paris. We’ve allowed thousands and thousands of people into our country and there was no way to vet those people. There was no documentation. There was no nothing. So we’re going to keep our country safe.

Very often, doing the right thing involves taking on risks, and partly because of this, fulfilling our moral obligations can be difficult. Thomas Aquinas writes as follows about the virtue of fortitude:

“[I]t belongs to the virtue of fortitude to guard the will against being withdrawn from the good of reason through fear of bodily evil. Now it behooves one to hold firmly the good of reason against every evil whatsoever, since no bodily good is equivalent to the good of the reason. Hence fortitude of soul must be that which binds the will firmly to the good of reason in face of the greatest evils: because he that stands firm against great things, will in consequence stand firm against less things, but not conversely” (Summa Theologica, II.II, Question 123).

Of course, taking in a limited number of refugees and immigrants poses very little risk at all – so how much more is it our moral obligation to do so!

Mr. Trump makes ethical concern fundamentally self-regarding.

We want people that can cherish us and the traditions of our country. We want people that are going to be great for our country. We don’t want people with bad, bad ideas. We don’t want that.

In fact, ethical concern is essentially other-regarding. Both Mr. Trump, who professes to be a follower of Jesus, and anyone who wants the United States to be operated according to Judeo-Christian values, should pay heed to this teaching of Jesus:

“What reward do you get if you love only those who love you? Why, even tax-collectors do that! And if you are friendly only to your friends, are you doing anything out of the ordinary? Even the Gentiles do that! Therefore, be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (The Gospel According to Matthew, 5:46-48).

What obligates us to help refugees is that they are fleeing death and destruction, not that they are fleeing death and destruction and they love us.

Mr. Trump commends moving beyond identities constituted by a set of values, to identities constituted by flag and country.

Let us move past the differences of party and find a new loyalty rooted deeply in our country. We are all brothers and all sisters. We share one home. One destiny and one glorious American flag. We are united together by history and by providence. We will make America strong again. I promise. We will make America proud again. We will make America safe again. And we will make America great again. Greater than ever before.

In fact, moral norms override norms deriving from historically contingent nationalistic commitments. So, insofar as “differences of party” track differences in people’s fundamental moral values and commitments, Mr. Trump’s suggestion contravenes the demands of morality.