• Christopher McHale

Our Urgent Need For Ethical Reform



The previous president plowed through the guard rails protecting our Constitution and painted gray areas with his own personal logo. My reoccurring thought during the rough years of his presidency was we need serious ethics reform of the Executive Branch.


His presidency was scattered, unfocused and undisciplined. We survived. I think. But another smarter, ambitious, insidious personality could exploit weak ethics to destroy our democracy.


The Congressional Effort to reform Executive Branch ethics is wrapped into the For The People voting rights act. But Republicans see voting rights as a last stand. Efforts to insure Americans vote are a lethal blow to the minority rule tactics of Republicans.


Voting Rights block their preferred corridor to power. The hard work of creating and pitching policy is less attractive than the performative politics of the current generation of Republicans.

Getting the For The People Act through the Senate might be impossible. Where does that leave the push for the reform of presidential ethics written into the bill?


Elizabeth Williamson, writing in the New York Times, identified the ethical reforms written into the For The People Act.

  • Major party candidates for president and vice president would have to release 10 years’ worth of personal and business tax returns.

  • The president’s and vice president’s exemption from executive branch conflict-of-interest rules would end. Presidents would be required to place personal financial holdings in a blind trust or limit them to assets that pose no conflict.

  • Federal spending at businesses owned or controlled by the president, vice president, cabinet or their family members would be tightly controlled.

  • To guard against a president pressuring appointees to interfere in government proceedings involving the president, it would require political appointees to turn such matters over to career staff.

  • The act also addresses the Trump administration’s open flouting of ethics laws already on the books, by granting more power to enforcement bodies like the Office of Government Ethics.


Trump left behind a template for how an authoritarian gains power and damages our democracy. As his term fades so does the urgency for ethics reform. The critical lesson from the Trump presidency is we cannot rely on tradition and character to protect our democracy. The need for ethical laws to defend our democracy grows as a new generation of authoritarians take aim at higher office.

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