President Donald Trump regularly uses blatant violations of long-established social and political norms to signal his “authenticity” to his supporters.
Asking foreign countries to investigate and denounce political opponents, which sparked an impeachment inquiry in the United States House of Representatives, is the most recent example of a long line of conflict-breaking behavior. standards. Other examples of disregarding the standards of his presidential office include defending white nationalists, attacking prisoners of war, misuse of emergency powers, personal criticism of federal judges, and more.
Norms are perceptions or beliefs about what we understand to be the rules of acceptable behavior. They are powerful predictors of behavior. By openly publicizing his anomalous actions and opinions, Trump is changing public attitudes about what is deemed appropriate – not only in politics, but also in society.
However, based on my research into institutional corruption, ethical decision-making, and the power of professional standards, I know that standards can be changed – even reversed – through activities like the House impeachment inquiry.
The power of standards
Standards are crucial to understanding how people succumb to unethical influences. We often decide what to do in a situation by looking first at what others are doing.
For example, if a financial advisor starts working at an institution where its managers and executives tolerate unethical practices that put profits before clients, she will understand that the norm in this environment is “self-interest.” personal first â. It then becomes entirely appropriate, even desirable, for this advisor to succumb to conflicts of interest and neglect or even defraud his clients for the sake of profit.
Such behavior was evident during the financial crises in the United States and more recently in Australia, which I reviewed for the Royal Commission on Misconduct in the Financial Services Industry.
And institutional standards, once established, can be incredibly persistent.
My recent research shows that requiring advisors to disclose conflicts of interest – how they would benefit from their advice – doesn’t work if company standards put self-interest first. In fact, the disclosure in these cases can actually make matters worse by leading to more biased advice.
However, while the institutional standard was to put âclientsâ first, disclosure improved the quality of advice.
How standards change
Fortunately, Americans rely on many sources of information to perceive the standards, not just the President’s actions and tweets.
The behavior of others, the mass media, and the law all influence how we think about standards – good or bad – and can influence changes in norms.
For example, when the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage in 2015, a norms and attitudes survey found Americans perceived stronger and growing public support for same-sex marriage after the ruling. This shift in perceived norms occurred despite the fact that personal attitudes toward same-sex marriage did not immediately change.
These changes are important because standards can actually change our minds over time. A more recent 2019 study found that the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage ultimately changed attitudes as well as norms, leading to a reduction in anti-gay stigma in many parts of the country.
Restore ethical standards
Although people choose which information sources and peers to pay attention to, it is difficult to ignore the president’s behavior. This is why the continued impeachment of Trump, whether successful or not, is necessary to give a clear and authoritative legal signal about what is unacceptable behavior.
Of course, restoring the norms that have been shattered in recent years will take more than the actions of the political party that opposes the president. The voices of Republicans are also important. But so far their general silence has only strengthened Trump’s ability to break standards.
Research on obedience and conformity shows that it only takes a dissenting voice to speak out against authority and inspire others to do the same.
If more whistleblowers, Republicans and members of the administration speak up, the ethical, social and political standards Trump broke may begin to regain their vitality.[ Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversationâs newsletter. ]