There’s a lot of talk going on these days about whether one action or another was illegal, or “just” violates a norm or whatever.
It struck me after listening to one of these particularly tedious discussions that there are a couple of terms that aren’t being talked about much, though I think both would resonate with most Americans. What about right and wrong?
Isn’t it entirely possible that some things haven’t been written into the millions of pages of case law because, as a society, we have universally considered them wrong, that we just didn’t think an actual law against them was necessary?
There is no law against swearing like a sailor at a public rally or using language so foul that it has to be bleeped on national television. Deep down, we still know that it’s wrong.
There is no law against bragging about sexual exploits or laughing about humiliating people over whom you have power — like walking into the dressing room and ogling teenage girls because you “own” the pageant. Deep down, we still know that it’s wrong.
There’s no law against carving out a lot of “administrative expenses” to line the pockets of family members when you are collecting money that you claim is for charity. We still know it’s wrong.
It turns out there is no law that requires a president to divest himself of business interests to ensure he doesn’t use the office for personal profit. It’s still wrong.
There is also no law against a president taking a holiday to a property he owns every single weekend and letting the taxpayers pick up a multimillion dollar tab for each and every one of them. But we know it’s wrong.
Now, there’s discussion about whether or not the power of the president to issue pardons to those convicted of crimes extends to pardons for family members or even himself. It turns out there may just be a “general assumption” that this would be unacceptable, and there is no actual law against it.
It does raise the question of how, in the absence of anything to prevent it, it wouldn’t be possible for an American president to silence the press, order the execution of opponents or declare himself a king and issue himself a pardon should there be any pesky legal consequences.
It seems so far-fetched as to be unthinkable that it would actually happen. But then, a lot of unthinkable things have happened in the last year. But everything is still OK because, after all, we know right from wrong.