Today, my friends, I am in a foul mood.
I was flipping channels last night, as I often do these days while watching a hockey game, and I happened to land on CNN’s Chris Cuomo’s show. Cuomo is, of course, a member of that famous Democratic family from the State of New York, but he also happens to be a lawyer, a former prosecutor and a well-known media personality both on radio and television. And you may also know that he appears four nights a week in the 9pm timeslot on CNN, immediately following Anderson Cooper’s show.
During my ADHD inspired channel flipping last night, I just happened to “land” on Cuomo’s interview with one of Donald Trump’s many “personal attorneys”. This guy was saying, of course, that Trump broke no laws in his dealings with the Russians before, during or after the Presidential Election of 2016. And Cuomo was going nuts, as he often does, which provides for great political entertainment.
So, says the lawyer, Trump is completely vindicated and its now time for the country (meaning the United States) to move on. Mueller has reported to the Attorney General of the United States that he (Mueller) could not find enough evidence to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Trump was guilty of collusion or cooperating with a foreign power during the election campaign. As a result, Trump could not be charged because there was no reasonable expectation of a conviction. However, Mueller did detail at least two ways in which Russia attempted to influence the 2016 election in Trump’s favour. So….. there was Russian interference on Trump’s behalf during the election – Mueller just couldn’t prove Russian/Trump cooperation, beyond a reasonable doubt.
On the question of whether Trump was guilty of obstruction of justice, the Attorney General William Barr said, “no conclusion was reached within the Special counsel, saying that while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him”. What must we confer from this?
Well, says Trump’s lawyer, none of this matters, because the President wasn’t charged with a crime, and without charges, no laws were broken, and if no laws were broken, we’re all good, right? Let’s move on folks. Nothing to see here.
Well, to me, it sounds all too familiar. It also makes me question what some people have come to embrace as acceptable and proper political behaviour both here at home in Canada and in the United States.
The Canadian question – Regarding the SNC-Lavalin scandal, are we to accept that because no laws were broken by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, his senior staff in the Prime Minister’s Office, or senior officials in the Privy Council Office or the Department of Justice, that all of the political and business behaviour surrounding this saga was, and still is, acceptable?
The American question – Regarding Mueller’s investigation into Trump’s possible involvement with a foreign power to influence the 2016 Presidential election, are we to assume that because no laws were broken by Trump himself that all the political and business behaviour surrounding this saga was, and still is, acceptable? Never mind that seven of Trump’s senior campaign officials are either in jail or heading to jail because of their crimes which were clearly committed during, and because of their involvement in, the election in question.
The big question for me, with respect to both the questionable political and business activities in Canada and the United States is simply this – Is the new moral and ethical standard for political behaviour the same as it is for the legal standard? If you don’t get caught, and you are not charged with a crime, is it now OK to practice unethical and underhanded political behaviour?
According to Trump’s lawyer the answer is yes. We should now accept that if you are never charged and/or convicted of a felony offence in the United States, any and all political and business practices are golden, including Trump’s.
Using this logic, Trump’s lawyer would argue the same on Trudeau’s behalf. No laws were broken during the SNC saga; therefore, all behaviours are acceptable. Never mind that two senior Ministers have resigned in protest of the Government of Canada’s interference in the judicial system; never mind that Gerry Butts, the PMs best friend and Principal Secretary, resigned while swearing he did nothing wrong; never mind that Michael Wernick, the Clerk of the Privy Council and Canada’s most senior Civil Servant resigned while swearing he did nothing wrong either. Trudeau’s political practices, and his government’s acceptance of SNC’s business practices are golden, because no laws were broken. Or so would Trump’s lawyer argue on Trudeau’s behalf.
Has this become the new standard for acceptable political behaviour here in Canada and the United States?
Using this standard, it becomes acceptable political behaviour for every elected politician in both countries to lie to the electorate on every issue and policy put forward. If lying isn’t against the law, and a politician can’t be charged with breaking a law for lying, are we to accept that this is OK?
And oh, by the way, spending limits during election campaigns are now “out the window”, if we don’t get caught, of course. Because now, a candidate for office can overspend to his heart’s content, and if he doesn’t get caught no laws were broken, right? And if no laws were broken, it’s now time to just move on, because there’s nothing to see here, folks.
And how about on a personal level? Using this new political standard for everyday behaviour, would child abuse and/or spousal abuse become acceptable behaviour, because if we don’t get caught, no laws were broken? And if no laws were broken, we’re golden?
I know this is a completely ludicrous argument, and I could go on here, but I will refrain. However, I’m hoping you get my point, which is this……..
We have a criminal and civil justice system in the Western World, and we do assuredly live by a set of written rules. And the rules are simple. We are expected to live within the guidelines set out by those legal rules, and if we break the rules, we are punished. We have a system of Federal, Provincial, State and/or municipal police forces in place to ensure the peace, and we have a host of prosecutors ready, willing and able to bring each and every one of us to justice if we break the law.
But in Western democracies we also have elected politicians to whom we give our trust; and we have always held our politicians to a higher moral standard, and rightly so. We have an unwritten social contract with those politicians, and that contract goes something like this.
We, the electorate, pay our taxes, and in return you, the politicians who run the show, are given an enormous amount of power over the people you govern. And because we, the electorate, give you this power, you, the politician, will live your life by the same rules as the rest of us, but with a higher moral purpose than the average Joe. You, the politician, are not above the law, but to whom much is given, much is expected…………….. and so on.
You, the politician, will not lie to me, the voter. You will not steal from me, the voter. You will always protect my best interests. You will treat me fairly and with respect, no matter the place I live, the religion I practice, the colour of my skin, my income level, my sexual orientation, and so on. But above all else, you are an elected representative that I have elected to represent and protect my interests, and because of that, I expect bigger and better things from you.
I expect you, the politician, to tell me the full story. When you don’t tell me the full story, we have a free press/media in place, and the media also has an obligation to the people. If politicians won’t tell the full story, it’s the media’s job to tell that story. Very much like politicians, the media has a social contract with you and me.
Up until now, our crazy system has, for the most part, worked. Politicians, to whom we give our trust, make the rules, and we call those rules “the law”. Our judicial system which includes our police services and our Court systems, enforce those laws. The media has always played an important role by informing you and I of what’s going on within government and out. And you and I go about our business, felling secure in our lives and believing in the system as best we can. We live in a democracy, and in democracies governments inform the people.
But now, in Canada and the United States, we have two Government leaders who are telling us that the rules have changed. We are being told that we must accept the new political reality.
If no laws were broken, and nobody has been charged and/or convicted, it’s now acceptable to behave however you want. If you don’t like it, just suck it up.
Is this our new political standard of behaviour?
I don’t know about you folks, but I’m still in that foul mood. I don’t know this morning if I should be thankful to Chris Cuomo for planting this question in my head. But thankful or not, it has given me a lot to ponder.
But the power surrounding this issue/topic is not found in the question my friends. The real power will be found in the answers that you and I provide. Will we collectively say, “no way”, we will not accept this new reality? Or will this become just another “shoulder shrug”, meaning let’s move on. Nothing to see here folks………