"Barack Obama signing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act at the White House" by Pete Souza is licensed under CC0 Public Domain (via Wikimedia Commons)

For the moment, Republicans are setting aside their seven-year effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.  A slew of bills failed in the Senate, and now President Trump and the Republican majority in Congress plan on turning to tax reform.  But doubtless, before long we’ll be hearing about the Affordable Care Act again. Not only do conservatives despise it, but even Democrats think it needs work. What I’d most like conservatives to rethink, during this interim peace, is their opposition to the individual mandate.

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"Edward Snowden at Upper Canada College, World Affairs Conference 2015" by RogerSheaffe is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 (via Wikimedia Commons)

James Comey, former Director of the FBI, recently testified in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee regarding conversations that he had with President Trump. The public knew some of the details from these conversations before Comey’s testimony, because he had written down his recollections in memos, and portions of these memos were leaked to the press. We now know that Comey himself was responsible for leaking the memos. He reportedly did so to force the Department of Justice to appoint a special prosecutor. It turned out that his gamble was successful, as Robert Mueller was appointed special prosecutor to lead the investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.

After the testimony, President Trump blasted Comey as a Leaker. He tweeted, “Despite so many false statements and lies, total and complete vindication…and WOW, Comey is a leaker!” Trump later tweeted that Comey’s leaking was “Very ‘cowardly!’” Trump’s antipathy towards leaking makes sense against the background of the unprecedented number of leaks occurring during his term in office. It seems as if there is a new leak every day. Given the politically damaging nature of these leaks, supporters of the president have been quick to condemn them as endangering national security, and to call for prosecutions of these leakers. Just recently, NSA contractor Reality Winner was charged under the Espionage Act for leaking classified materials to the press. However, it is worth remembering that, during the election campaign, then-candidate Trump praised Wikileaks on numerous occasions for its release of the hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee.

A cynical reading of this recent chain of events suggests that the stance that government figures take towards the ethics of leaking is purely motivated by politics. Leaking is good when it damages a political opponent. Leaking is bad when it damages a political ally.  Sadly, this may be a true analysis of politicians’ shifting stances towards leakers. However, it does not answer the underlying question as to whether leaking can ever be morally permissible and, if it can be, under what circumstances might it be?

Approaches may differ, but I think it is reasonable to ask this question in a way that assumes that government leaking requires special justification. This is for two reasons. First, the leaking of classified information is almost always a violation of federal law. Leaking classified information violates the Espionage Act, which sets out penalties of imprisonment for individuals who disclose classified information to those not entitled to receive it. As a general moral rule, individuals ought to obey all laws, unless a special justification exists for their violation. General conformity to the law ensures an order and stability necessary to the safety, security, and well-being of the nation. More specifically, the Espionage Act is intended to protect the nation’s security. Leaking classified information to the press risks our nation’s intelligence operations by potentially exposing our sources and methods to hostile foreign governments.

Second, as Stephen L. Carter of Bloomberg points out, “leakers are liars,” and there is a strong moral presumption against lying. Carter provides a succinct explanation: “The leaker goes to work every day and implicitly tells colleagues, ‘You can trust me with Secret A.’ Then the leaker, on further consideration, decides to share Secret A with the world. The next day the leaker goes back to work and says, ‘You can trust me with Secret B.’ But it’s a lie. The leaker cannot be trusted.”

The strong presumption against lying flows from the idea that morality requires that we do not make an exception of ourselves in our actions. We generally want and expect others to tell us the truth; we have no right ourselves, then, to be cavalier with the truth when speaking with others. Lying may sometimes be justified, but it requires strong reasons in its favor.

Ethical leaking might be required to meet two standards: (A) the leak is intended to achieve a public good that overrides the moral presumption lying and law-breaking, or (B) leaking is the only viable option to achieving this public good. What public good does leaking often promote? Defenders of leaks often argue that leaking reveals information that the public needs to know to hold their leaders accountable for wrongdoing. Famous leaker Edward Snowden, for example, revealed information concerning the surveillance capabilities of the National Security Agency (NSA); it is arguable that the public needed to know this information to have an informed debate on the acceptable limits of government surveillance and its relation to freedom and security.

Since leaking often involves lying and breaking the law, it must be considered whether other options exist, besides leaking, to promote the public good at issue. Government figures who criticize leakers often claim that they have avenues within the government to protest wrong-doing. Supporters of Snowden’s actions pointed out, however, that legal means to expose the NSA’s surveillance programs were not open to him because, as a contractor, he did not have the same whistleblower protections as do government employees and because NSA’s programs were considered completely legal by the US government at the time. Leaking appeared to be his only viable option for making the information public.

Each act of leaking appears to require a difficult moral calculation. How much damage will my leaking do to the efforts of the national security team? How important is it for the public to know this classified information? How likely is it that I could achieve my goals through legal means within the government system? Though a moral presumption against leaking may exist—you shouldn’t leak classified information for just any old reason—leaking in the context of an unaccountable government engaged in serious wrongdoing has been justified in the past, and I expect we will see many instances in the future where government leaks will be justified.

"Barry Goldwater Statuary Hall" by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 (via Wikimedia Commons)

The September/October 1964 issue of Fact magazine was dedicated to the then Republican nominee for president, Barry Goldwater, and his fitness for office. One of the founders of Fact, Ralph Ginzburg, had sent out a survey to over 12,000 psychiatrists asking a single question: “Do you believe Barry Goldwater is psychologically fit to serve as President of the United States?” Only about 2,400 responses were received, and about half of the responses indicated that Goldwater was not psychologically fit to be president. The headline of that issue of Fact read: “1,189 Psychiatrists Say Goldwater is Psychologically Unfit to be President!”

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""Vote No TrumpCare and the Unaffordable Care Act"-ACA rally at Congressman Lance's Office in Flemington, NJ" by John Flores is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 (via Flickr)

Last week, the House of Representatives passed the American Health Care Act 217-213, which will effectively repeal the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) if the bill makes it to President Trump’s desk. The bill, nicknamed Trumpcare, was passed without a score from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), meaning that the true costs of the bill remain uncertain. Estimates from the New York Times based on the CBO score for an earlier version show that the bill will cause around 24 million Americans to lose healthcare. The bill has been amended since the earlier version, which was pulled after only 17 percent of Americans supported the bill, but much of the bill remains that same as the one that lacked support.

March participants on the National Mall. All photos by Conner Gordon.

On a day that ironically, or appropriately, broke temperature records, over 200,000 people flocked to the nation’s capital to participate in The People’s Climate March. The march date coincided with President Trump’s 100th day in office, often considered a landmark in every presidency. However, President Trump was not present to observe the massive demonstration, but instead held rallies in support of his presidency in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Regardless of Trump, the People’s Climate March aimed to send a bigger message about the importance of environmental protection and climate action. However, like any large protest, the motivations and perspectives of individuals participating differed.

"Science March Maastricht at Wycker Brugstraat" by Lars Willighagen is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (via Wikimedia Commons)

A worldwide march in favor of science was successfully carried out on April 22. It was convoked by a wide range of groups, to be held on Earth Day. The initiative came out as a result of major concerns over President Donald Trump’s policies, which include the disbanding of the Environmental Protection Agency, budget cuts in scientific research, and the elimination of scientists’ roles as advisors in the government.

The march was allegedly non-partisan. But, there are plenty of reasons to think otherwise. Critics of the march have seen it as leftist ideology masquerading as legitimate scientific activity. If, indeed, the march is more about politics and less about science, then that should be of concern to the scientific community.

Make no mistake: President Trump is no friend of science. His populist style appeals to unverified claims (or, as it is now called, “post-truth”), the very antithesis of any scientific procedure. His strongest base of supporters is made up of climate change deniers, creationists and anti-intellectualists who see no significance in scientific activity.

These people, however, need to be brought to the light of science. Some of these people may initially understand the importance of scientific activity, but ultimately become disappointed with scientists, because they seem them as too far to the left. They do have a point. To some extent, science has been hijacked by leftist ideology. If the scientific establishment wants to regain the trust of ordinary folks, then it must do a better job of purging its ideological bias.

Take, for instance, the choice of the day for the march. It was celebrated on Earth Day, an obvious appeal to the importance of discussions on climate change. No serious scientist would disagree that, indeed, global warming is a problem. But, what must be done about it is much more open to discussion. Scientists such as Matt Ridley and Bjorn Lomborg have long acknowledged that global warming is a problem, but at the same time, reasonably argue that short-term initiatives on carbon emission reduction (such the Paris Agreement) are far more harmful for the welfare of humanity. Fossil fuels do contribute to global warming, but they save lots of lives, especially in the developing world.

Sure, something must be done, but reducing economic growth, for the time being, is not a rational solution. A more reasonable alternative, as Lomborg has long proposed, is to invest in research in order to find more efficient ways of developing clean energy without reducing economic growth. Solar panels are not enough. The prospect of nuclear power is much more promising in this regard. Yet, for some strange reason, most ecological groups oppose it, and the scientific establishment does not seem to care. This plays into the right-wing narrative that so-called “science” is more about ideology than about facts.  

Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of people who went to the march in favor of science have a stand that goes far beyond the mere scientific facts on global warming. They make the unwarranted leap from scientific facts to a defense of leftist environmental policy. This is no way to bring Trump’s supporters to the light of science.

Global warming is not the only area where leftist ideology masquerades as science. Take evolutionary theory. Sure, Bible-quoting Creationists feel more at home at a Trump rally than at a scientific lecture on some college campus. And, of course, it is easy to mock people who believe the world is only 6,000 years old and want intelligent design to be taught in public schools. But, unfortunately, the scientific establishment fails to oppose other types of Creationists, the so-called “Creationists of the Mind” (the term was created by scientist Robert Kurzban). This brand of Creationists is made up of leftists who, for some strange reason, believe that Darwinism applies to the body, but not to the mind. They oppose evolutionary psychology on the grounds that it is racist, sexist and an intellectual tool to justify capitalism’s status quo. These Creationists of the Mind were the instigators of the firing of Larry Summers from the presidency of Harvard University, simply because he argued that in some areas of intellectual achievement, women are at a natural disadvantage (as evolutionary psychology claims). This bias in opposing one type of Creationism, but not the other, again plays into the right-wing narrative that the scientific establishment pays more attention to ideology than to facts.

Or, take GMOs. Humans have been genetically modifying organisms for at least 10,000 years. Now, thanks to impressive advances in genetics, we have the technology to do so even more efficiently. It is not hyperbole to claim that GMOs have the potential to solve the problem of world hunger once and for all. And yet, the scientific establishment is too timid to fully embrace GMO research and strongly refute those environmentalists who oppose these technologies (although it must be acknowledged that more than 100 Nobel laureates recently signed a letter defending GMOs).

The recent march in favor of science on Earth Day tried to build the narrative that anti-science is exclusively right-wing. That is clearly not the case. Alex Berezow and Hank Campbell make an extensive argument exposing the fallacies of the anti-scientific left, in their acclaimed book Science Left Behind. The scientific establishment should take note. Science is worth marching for. But, when that march becomes more of a ruse to propagate leftist ideology, it is ethically objectionable. Science needs all the support it can get, and it needs to persuade people to abandon their anti-scientific view of the world. But, when the scientific establishment is itself sequestered by some people who seem to care more about ideology than about facts, it fails in its attempt to bring the likes of Creationists and climate change deniers, to the light of science.

"Border USA Mexico" by Gordon Hyde is licensed under CC0 Public Domain (via Wikimedia Commons)

In California, farm owners took a big gamble without knowing it: they voted for Donald Trump. Now, in lieu of receiving a cutback in taxes and regulations, they are at risk of losing their labor force. Thus, their profits might take a hit too, if there are not enough hands to gather the harvest. The danger President Trump poses to California farmers is that, contrary to farm owners’ predictions, he appears to be following through on his campaign promise to curb illegal immigration – and the amount of illegal immigrants in the United States – through mass deportations. The reason why California farmers’ labor force might end up in Trump’s crosshairs is because an estimated 70% of California farmworkers are residing and working in the country illegally. However, it is not just farm owners who would be affected by deportations, but also the local, state, and national economies, which have come to rely on the workers’ spending and manpower.

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"Meeting with President of the Supreme Court Vyacheslav Lebedev" by the Kremlin is licensed under Creative Commons (via Google Images)

For the second year in a row, Indiana legislators have introduced and advanced a bill that aims to raise the consumer taxes on cigarettes. In the nation, Indiana ranks 37th for the price of a pack of cigarettes, with the tax on a pack of cigarettes at less than $1. Though during the 2016 General Assembly a bill that targeted cigarettes and gasoline did not pass, H.B. 1578 is on track to make it to the governor’s table. Not only does H.B. 1578 raise cigarette taxes by $1.50, but it also aims to raise the minimum smoking age from 18 to 21. Though nobody advocates for the harmful side effects that cigarettes cause to personal and community health, what are the ethics of increasing taxes on a consumer product that is used more heavily by the poor?

"Mike Pence and Karen Pence walking the parade route" by Pvt. Gabriel Silva is licensed under CC0 Public Domain (via Wikimedia Commons)

On March 28th, a Washington Post profile on Mike Pence’s wife, Karen Pence, emphasized the closeness in their marriage by reiterating a controversial policy of theirs: Mike Pence does not eat alone with any woman besides Karen, nor does he attend any event that has alcohol present without her. While some laud this commitment to honoring and protecting his marriage, others have voiced concerns about the practicality of following such a rule and fairly performing the roles of his professional position.

Screen Capture from "Complicit - SNL" by Saturday Night Live (via Youtube)

Since the general election, the popular comedy show, Saturday Night Live, has had a Trump-themed segment every week. These segments are not just about Trump himself, but also poke fun at many of his family members, including his wife and children. Though Alec Baldwin has played a recurring Donald Trump and Cecily Strong often plays Melania Trump, Scarlett Johansson impersonated Ivanka Trump during the March 12 show. The skit, which took the form of a fragrance ad, portrayed Ivanka as complicit in her father’s wrongdoings. Though many found the skit to be hilarious and accurate, and even feminists applauded the portrayal of Ivanka, is it fair to assert that Ivanka is in part responsible for the actions of her father? Does Ivanka have a greater responsibility for the actions of her father because they negatively affect women?