Donald Trump, the Wedding Planner and the Runaway Trolley

Trump, who is known to reward loyalty, has made a number of terrible appointments for which the only justification for selection is personal loyalty. Loyalty is a desirable quality when making personnel choices. It does not, however, confer the ability to manage large, complex government enterprises absent any qualifying experience, training, and skill set.

One of his recent appointments is that of Lynne Patton to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s New York and New Jersey office. Ms Patton is reported to have organized Eric Trump’s wedding and Trump golf tournaments, but I have seen nothing to qualify her to manage a large piece of the HUD enterprise.

It occurs to me that Trump’s behavior would be easy to predict in the ethics thought experiment of the runaway trolley. It goes like this:

There is a runaway trolley barreling down the railway tracks. Ahead, on the tracks, there are five people tied up and unable to move. The trolley is headed straight for them. You are standing some distance off in the train yard, next to a lever. If you pull this lever, the trolley will switch to a different set of tracks. However, you notice that there is one person on the side track. You have two options:

  • Do nothing, and the trolley kills the five people on the main track.
  • Pull the lever, diverting the trolley onto the side track where it will kill one person.

Which is the most ethical choice?

Imagine Trump in control of the track lever. Imagine the group of five as at risk Americans. Now imagine the person on the side track as a Trump loyalist.

Which is the Trump choice?

We must rapidly begin [applause], we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

Martin Luther King, Jr.
4 April 1967
“Beyond Vietnam”