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OpinionColumnistsDan Janison

Joe Biden easily could make himself look like 'Mr. Ethics' if he beats Donald Trump

President Donald Trump's conduct led to his impeachment

President Donald Trump's conduct led to his impeachment in the Democratic-led House last winter. Raising the bar on ethics should be easy for Joe Biden if he wins. Credit: Getty Images/Win McNamee

U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan on Tuesday rejected the Justice Department’s unusual argument in its effort to defend President Donald Trump in a personal defamation lawsuit. The fact that Trump & Co. tried this gambit at all shows how entitled the president feels regarding official privileges.

If Joe Biden beats Trump in next week's election, the veteran Democrat gets a chance to look like a reformer. Trump's constant chafing against the simplest ethical restraints could be a hidden gift to whoever succeeds him. The next president, taking office in either 2021 or 2025, will need only to restore common-sense distinctions between personal and government business to look like a paragon of good government.

Trump's loose standards on this front make it clear why he, his adult sons and his campaign aides cling so fiercely to their embellished narrative of how Biden's son Hunter used his family name for business purposes overseas.

If only more people believed in the significance of the Hunter Biden story — no matter what the facts show — it would compensate for Trump's own issues with self-dealing.

If his father wins, political associates of the new president will want Hunter Biden kept at a visible distance from the White House. First-family nepotism will be instantly out of fashion.

In the 1996 presidential race, Sen. Bob Dole, frustrated that GOP allegations of opponent President Bill Clinton's wrongdoing weren't catching fire on time, exclaimed: "Where's the outrage?" It didn't work for him. This year, outrage is in plentiful supply on many fronts.

On Monday night, Trump used the White House South Lawn to host a self-boosting preelection ceremony marking the swearing-in of his third appointee to the Supreme Court, Amy Coney Barrett. Over the summer, Trump took the unorthodox step of giving his Republican National Convention address from the same site.

Trump's more dubious orders could be rescinded easily. On Monday, the head of an advisory council on federal pay, who Trump appointed, quit his job to protest a recent executive order that eliminates civil service protections for key federal employees.

"I have concluded that as a matter of conscience, I can no longer serve him or his Administration," Federal Salary Council chairman Ron Sanders announced, calling the order nothing more than a political-loyalty test.

Also Monday, a senior Trump appointee rescinded a federal regulation aimed at shielding the editorial independence of the Voice of America and other U.S.-funded media outlets. VOA has declined to reflect Trump's more unhinged rhetoric about the "China virus" and reported on Vice President Mike Pence's refusal to wear a mask.

For years Trump aides have openly defied the Hatch Act, aimed at keeping government employees from using their jobs for partisan purposes. Many policy speeches and presentations in the executive branch cannot be distinguished from political promotions and attack ads.

Under the circumstances, obeying the Hatch Act would not be a pathbreaking step, just a return to standard practice.

Besting Trump on integrity issues demands no political initiative. Any president could refrain from negotiating political favors from foreign governments.

Or let independent investigations take their course. Or tell obvious truths in a massive health crisis. In fact, most elected officials in America would find these "reforms" easy to enact.