U05: December 869, 2016

In late 2016, regardless of your political views, most Americans held one thing in common.  They were tired of hearing about the election.  They wanted it to be over already.  No one could have predicted it would still be the lead news story in 2019.  Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of this story is the ethical climate’s influence on ethical decision making.  Let’s look at the ethical climate in the Trump campaign in 2016, specifically that meeting about Russian adoption (Ballhaus, 2019).  While there are some multi-cultural components here, I will examine the ethical climate by using the lens of small groups and crisis.

There are many small groups to look at in this scenario.  I have chosen to examine the small group who decided to attend the meeting with another small group of Russians; Hope Hicks, the communications director for the Trump election campaign, Paul Manafort, the campaign director, and family members of the Trump family; Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, Ivanka Trump, and Jared Kushner.  A small group is a collection of more than two people and less than 30 or even 20 (PSU, 2019).  The characteristics of a small group include working on a specific task, in this case it was winning an election (PSU, 2019).  Small groups are typically more democratic, but this may not be the case with this group (PSU, 2019).  Certainly they all had to agree on attending this meeting.  With that said, Jared and Ivanka arrived late and Jared left early.  It’s unclear how democratic this group was.  Was the Trump tower an appropriate meting place?   Certainly they had access to a multitude of appropriate meeting places.  The last characteristic of a small group is cohesion (PSU, 2019).  This may be plain to see since most of the members are family members.  It’s possible the group was too cohesive and prone to groupthink (PSU, 2019).  An example of this includes Hope Hicks attempting to perform the role of critical evaluator, which is one of many ways to prevent groupthink (PSU, 2019).  She was concerned in 2017 how bad this meeting looked and wanted to disclose emails regarding the meeting (Ballhaus, 2019).  She was advised to not leak the damaging emails and instead release a statement that the meeting was about Russian adoption (Ballhaus, 2019).  She went along with the false narrative (Ballhaus, 2019).

This may qualify as a crisis.  One critical event in this situation is the Trump tower meeting.  This is important and has value to people since it involves election integrity (PSU, 2019).   One critical decision needed to be made in 2017 regarding whether or not to release the emails.  It was decided to keep them secret (Ballhaus, 2019).  Was there a better solution?  Were there different ways to handle it?  There are many grey areas here.  They could have not said anything at all, for example.  The decision was somewhat timely.  There was a time element which included trying to make a decision before a news organization found out, but there was not an immediate response needed.  In fact, many months transpired between the event and a decision regarding the emails.  The last part of a crisis as it relates to ethics, is disaster or catastrophe (PSU, 2019).  This may be a bit of a stretch.  The disaster in this case is primarily limited to damage to the Trump campaign and perhaps by extension, the United States government.

The ethical climate could best be described as company profit.  On its face, company profit may seem like a perfect fit for a group who is primarily members of the Trump family.  Trump is a name and a brand associated with successful businesses.  Using Victor and Cullens ethical work climate we must first look into the ethical criteria.  In this group, doing what was best for oneself is the easiest one to find examples for.  This is called egoism (PSU, 2019).  They were looking for information about their opponent, Hillary Clinton, from a group from Russia.  This would have helped them win the election.  You may argue that winning the election at all costs is what is good for everyone and if so, this would be called benevolence (PSU, 2019).  There are many principles this group would need to adhere to.  Abiding by the law, including campaigning, would have been considerations.  However, it is unclear if they willfully knew exactly what they were getting into.  The loci of analysis includes individual, local, and cosmopolitan, with respective perspectives of oneself, stakeholders, and society (PSU, 2019).  In this case, the local view was likely dominant.  The benefit of winning the election would benefit the stakeholders.  Perhaps if the meeting was to discover a cure for cancer, you could argue it was cosmopolitan.  No single person in this group would benefit more than another.  When you combine egoism through the stakeholder perspective, you get the ethical climate of company profit (PSU, 2019).


Ballhaus, R. (2019, April 18). Trump Urged Aide to Draft Statement That Trump Tower Meeting Was ‘About Russian Adoption’ Retrieved from https://www.wsj.com/livecoverage/mueller-report-release-latest-news/card/1555608548

PSU. (2019). PSY 833: L10 Crises. Retrieved from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1963919/modules/items/25808510

PSU. (2019). PSY 833: L11 Small Groups. Retrieved from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1963919/modules/items/25808523

PSU. (2019). PSY 833: L13 Ethical Climate. Retrieved from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1963919/modules/items/25808544

One Comment

  1. Nicholas White-O'Neal April 21, 2019 at 10:50 PM #

    Hi Matthew,

    The Trump Administration is definitely one we can dissect when it pertains to ethical leadership, or lack thereof. Just like with any other organization, the problems begin at the top. I enjoyed the breakdown of the meeting with the Russians in the context of small groups. Another thing I’d add is his consistent conflict of interests. Countries from Saudi Arabia to Malaysia to China have provided business to Trump in the form of hotel stays, special events, rental of office space, and the provision of valuable trademarks, among many other transactions that represent not only conflicts of interest but violations of the constitution’s prohibition on emoluments, meaning profit or gain, from foreign governments. The federal government, by allowing President Trump to hold an illegal lease for his Washington, D.C. hotel, and states like Maine, which paid for officials to stay in the president’s hotel, have also provided him with constitutionally prohibited benefits. We can refer to the APA’s 3.06 Conflict of Interest, which while used for psychologists can also be applied to other leadership situations (APA, 2010):

    Psychologists refrain from taking on a professional role when personal, scientific, professional, legal, financial, or other interests or relationships could reasonably be expected to (1) impair their objectivity, competence, or effectiveness in performing their functions as psychologists or (2) expose the person or organization with whom the professional relationship exists to harm or exploitation.

    While it would take all day to list the other unethical acts from this administration, I find the conflict of interest examples to be the most glaring.



    American Psychological Association. (2010, June 1). Ethical principles of psychologists and code of conduct: Including 2010 amendments. (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/ethics/code/

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