As I walked the backwoods this morning with my wonderful two dogs, my mind started to wander—as it tends to do on most days. It’s a great way to decompress and expand the mind. Sometimes I think about how lucky I am to live out here in the Pacific Northwest, and I count my blessings. Other times though, politics has a way of interfering with my solitude. And since 2016, the current President of the United States is the usual culprit. But please, don’t tell him this … it’s what he wants us all to do.
But this morning, what I thought mostly about was whether we as a country have actually hit rock bottom yet with this President. Sadly, it doesn’t appear that way. In fact, every day, as we sink further into oblivion, the lines between what is legal and what is simply unethical or wrong, continues to become more blurry by the minute.
And it came to me that Donald Trump has conducted himself this way for most of his adult life. Somehow, he’s escaped being charged with anything illegal all of these years, even though he’s edged ever so close. I’ve come to the conclusion that he has surrounded himself with lawyers who are basically there to tell him whether the actions he wants to take are illegal, or are simply wrong and immoral. We now know that unethical behavior by this President is the standard operating procedure. As long as he won’t go to jail for it, it seems like nothing is off limits.
So here are just a few things I’ve thought about, where those blurred lines of illegality and unethical behavior are out there for all of us to see.
First, we’ve learned just over the last day or so that Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, had planned a trip to Ukraine to find some information on former Vice President Joe Biden and Biden’s son Hunter, who had a business relationship with an oligarch there. While there is no evidence of wrongdoing, it didn’t stop Rudy from trying to initiate an investigation.
To me, and many other like-minded individuals, this seems like a blatant attempt to try to find dirt on a political rival. In a banana republic, this is the way things are done. In the United States though? Before Trump, it what have been unheard of. Now, of course, nothing shocks us.
Thankfully, Rudy has decided to cancel the trip. Evidently, public pressure surrounding the prospective trip may have actually worked. But just the idea that he would even consider such a trip boggles the mind—especially since we just had a nearly two-year investigation into this kind of thing.
But an even more critical question is this: would it have been illegal for him to take the trip to find dirt on Biden? Again, it depends on who you ask. In the Mueller Report, Donald Trump Jr. was cleared of wrongdoing when it came to whether he received anything of value from wanting to find dirt on Hillary from the Russians. This relates to campaign finance law regulations, and I’ll be the first to tell you that I’m no lawyer, nor am I an expert on such a thing. It’s a part of the law that’s hard to interpret, and it’s also tough to prove wrongdoing.
But here’s a much easier question to answer: Would it have been unethical and wrong for Rudy to take such a trip? Of course, it would have been. Previous presidents–although we’ve had our share of scoundrels–, would have known better. This is not democracy in action. This is dictatorial and autocratic behavior, unbecoming of anyone who is supposed to be the leader of our free world. But again, whether this would have been illegal or not is just another grey area that this President always seems to exploit.
In a Vox article about the proposed trip, Tim Meyer, and international law expert at Vanderbilt University told the Washington Post, the trip set a shocking precedent. “This is the first instance of which I am aware in which a private lawyer for the president of the United States has, in his own words, ‘meddled’ in an international criminal investigation of a third party to politically benefit the President.”
Pretty strong words from Mr. Meyer. But what I did not see in his quote, was that it would have been illegal. What he did say was that it was a ‘shocking’ precedent. Again, for the millionth time … precedence, norms, and ethics mean nothing to this President. He flaunts our Constitution like no other in our history.
How about another example? Is it right for a president to lie to the American people over 10,000 times? An emphatic no, of course. But is it illegal? Probably not, in a criminal sense that is. But in an impeachment proceeding? Perhaps.
In Article One of Richard Nixon’s impeachment, Section Eight dealt with the President making false or misleading public statements to deceive the people of the United States. We see this daily from the current President. But does it rise to the level of impeachment? Again, there’s that grey area.
There are other examples of course. Ivanka and Jared Kushner, the President’s daughter and son-in-law, are unpaid advisors with prominent offices in the West Wing. All signs point to both of them still conducting personal business while there. Not long ago, Kushner was able to secure financing for the troubled skyscraper at 666 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. There have been rumors that Qatar, and perhaps even Saudi Arabia may have played a part in some of that financing. With Kushner playing such a huge role in Middle Eastern affairs, would it be that far fetched?
Is any of this illegal? Once again, it’s not clear. Is it wrong or unethical for the President’s daughter and son-in-law to be playing such a prominent role in White House affairs and conducting business at the same time? You know the answer. I’m tired of repeating it.
Oh, and by the way … has it not been reported that Kushner could not even qualify for a proper security clearance and that the President intervened and approved it anyway? I give up.
Bottom line: Why are they there, and where’s the outrage?
I think I’ve made my point … at least I hope I have. We’re in such dangerous waters these days. This President’s actions in office will require future congresses to take a new look at all of our laws surrounding elections, campaigns, nepotism, security clearances, emoluments, obstruction of justice, subpoena authority, and separation of powers … to name but a few. It wouldn’t be the first time of course. After Watergate, Congress did enact new laws trying to tighten up statutes in some of those areas. With this President, however, we’ve hit the mother-load.
Sadly, I feel the American public has yet to grasp the full gravity of what it means to have this kind of President at the helm. We still don’t have protests in the streets. There’s a lot of outrage on social media and the like, but nothing that would indicate a groundswell of support to remove him from office. Perhaps that will change in the future. Investigations are continuing from the Democrats, and subpoenas are flying out the door … only to be obstructed and blocked at every turn.
I’m waiting for that inflection moment. That moment where the public has had enough, and Washington D.C. becomes what it was during the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights struggle: a place where we demand change—non-violently of course.
Back then, Nixon hated those protestors. He wanted them arrested and prosecuted. But you know what? He noticed them nonetheless. How could he not? But … we’re not there—at least not yet. Many are calling what we are now experiencing in Washington as a Constitutional crisis. I’m not sure about that.
Whatever you want to call it, it’s not normal. Nothing about this presidency is. So far, our Constitution is holding … by a thread. How much longer do we have?