Accountability flows from intent, and intent flows from language. Donald Trump uses language in a way that is at least disconnected and often in contradiction to whatever he may have intended. This is already a problem for the nation. It soon may become a problem for law enforcement.
When all you have to go by is words, it’s important that the words have the same meaning for the accused as the accuser. Donald Trump doesn’t use words to mean anything. He chooses his words to express and elicit an emotional response. It got him elected president of the United States, and it likely may help him avoid impeachment.
Proving Trump did it (whatever “it” turns out to be) might be Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s easier task. But that’s not enough to gain a criminal conviction in this case. Mueller must prove he did it “with corrupt intent.”
Our legal system makes allowance for those who are culpable but not cogent. The insane get special protections. The inane may also.
Not to give the man too much credit, but by his influence, we may finally be seeing the exhaustion of certain principles born of the Enlightenment Age that have long since lost their social utility.
Credit Roger Ailes and Fox News for getting the ball rolling. He saw that so-called objective reporting was offensive and inaccurate to nearly half the population of America. A more “enlightened” student of this bifurcation might have attributed the chasm to confirmation bias — we tend to believe those who confirm what we already believe — but there’s no money to be made there.
Ailes took the talk-radio wave of angry conservative men, added blonde women in short skirts for visual interest, and brought the same concept to television. Like its radio forebears, it’s buttressed and built upon a certain audience profile. Anger is a good starting point, or fear. That must be accompanied by a certain malleability — some might call it gullibility — that television preachers learned to exploit decades ago.
Those selling ointments, gold, and other miracle cures began underwriting the effort. Ailes and his advertisers exploited the gap that always exists between what is true and that which has not been disproven. If nobody can say with certainty that you just told a lie, then it must be true — or true enough.
Nothing about the future is disprovable, because it hasn’t happened yet. Just because no self-respecting scientist believes the earth’s warming trends will be quickly reversed, that doesn’t make it so. A meteor could strike the Sahara Desert tomorrow, kicking up enough sand to cool the planet for a decade. Or some mad scientist might reveal that global warming was all part of his evil scheme before jumping off a bridge. Or aliens could bring us a secret remedy.
It could happen. You never know.
Fudging the future is easy. Reshaping the past takes more effort, but it’s done all the time. Interrogation causes a sudden loss of recall in certain people, but a memory lapse is not disprovable. How can we be sure something lost is not being hidden? We can’t. “Beyond doubt” is a high legal bar. The strongest hunch is not a certainty, no matter how we talk about it.
And nothing gets talked about more than President Donald J. Trump. That’s a fact — you can look it up. Is he hiding something? Or has he just misplaced everything that matters?
If there’s not a thought in his head, only impulses that he follows, then how can the law touch him? How do you convict a man without convictions? Deprive any of us of our character and our moral compass and where would we be? We’d float between the past and the future, unable to learn any lesson or raise any resolve.
We’d be “in the moment” — but not in a good way. Others might deem us “troubled,” but we’d be oblivious of the trouble ourselves. Indeed, we’d be innocent, in a quasi-legal and emotional sense — having not yet reached what Catholics call the “age of accountability.” How do those who cannot recognize their confinement differ from those who feel free?
Don Kahle (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.