Two Things True: Trump Is Unethical and Has Poor Character, But Hauling Trump To Court Is Bad for America

Author’s note – I hope readers can process this column as how I see things. You may disagree, and that is fine, and I hope it does not affect friendships. The point of this series is using examples to refute “all or nothing,” “sloganeering,” or “tribal” thinking that puts you all in. I believe public discourse that is not personal, and makes points in between A and B , is too rare in the modern world. Thus I am stepping out of the trench into the inevitable hail of bullets.

Two Things Can Be True, at least from my perspective:

  • Donald Trump is unethical, has poor character, and has done things that can be criminally prosecuted
  • Taking ex-presidents to court without a very high bar, especially presidential candidates, is a scary precedent that is a another big step towards losing our fragile Republic

Let’s get the basics out of the way. I am not a Trump fan. I attended county and district GOP conventions in 2016 with the express purpose to stop his nomination. I supported other candidates monetarily and publicly in 2016 and 2024. The “Trump vs Biden” lesser harm question is not on the docket in this space today. For now, let’s see how history informs us about current events, as it usually does.

Julius Caesar crossing the Rubicon

Everyone has heard that “Caesar crossed the Rubicon” and there was no going back. It precipitated a civil war that made Caesar dictator, ended the Republic, and eventually set up his great-nephew Augustus as the first Roman Emperor. The Roman Republic was the godfather of our 250 year old form of government. It had citizen voting, a functioning Senate, and separation of powers…. And then it was over.

Tons of history and built up tension caused Caesar to make that fateful decision. But a very large and immediate reason was fear of being hauled to court. Over the previous decades societal norms had been broken and political enemies would drag their opponents to court. Caesar offered a deal to the Senate that he would give up his army and generalship if they would not prosecute him for “crimes” in the courts. The Senate said no. In Rome at the time, consuls (like our presidents) and generals (proconsuls) were immune from prosecution while serving. Caesar was an “ex -president” and wanted to run again, and not be hung up in court. He didn’t get his deal, and as they say, the rest is history.

Trump is not Caesar and I am not predicting any “hot war” or dictatorship so please please don’t take that as my point. Everyone knows who Trump is. He is an adulterer, a wild exaggerator, narcissist, and constantly makes you shake your head. I am sure some of his antics are by the book illegal.

But….. What bar should we need to apply before taking the norm shattering step of taking a presidential level person to court. Do any of these apply?

  1. A New York DA runs for office promising to prosecute Trump. He then has to do the unprecedented legal gyration of using an “unspecified” federal election crime to promote the hush money bad records state misdemeanor to a felony. Nobody has been prosecuted with that combination. The judge, a Biden donor, tells the jury they don’t even have to agree with what the federal crime was.
  2. Trump failed to use proper care with confidential documents. A Special Counsel found Biden did similar things, but his memory is too poor to hold him liable.
  3. Trump exaggerated real estate valuations. So do thousands of people every day.
  4. Trump tried to “steal” the election. In Georgia, this amounts to a phone call,and a slate of “fake electors” in Georgia. For the federal case, its lots of pressure / phone calls / and January 6.

I dismiss the first three out of hand as nowhere close to rising to the level that would break the precedent of prosecuting a presidential candidate.

Also I think the Georgia case is overblown. If you listen to the entire phone call it is really a nothing burger. There was no threat or even any serious follow up. Some Southern states sent “alternate” or “fake” electors to DC in the aftermath of Reconstruction due to contesting the election procedures.

January 6 was an abomination and nothing like it ever needs to happen again. Thus the larger “election theft” federal trial is the only one I personally would green light, and even then with caution. And please don’t read that I condone any of those other misdeeds – they are bad behavior and show poor character. But…. taking an active presidential candidate to court over them?

All of us are criminals but for the grace of the local DA and US Attorney. There are over 60,000 pages of US Laws, and most states have tens of thousands also. There is no way you are following all of those. We rely on cultural norms and common sense to decide who to prosecute. Trump was targeted very specifically.

When high stakes politics are involved, we should be extremely careful. But it is too late – the proverbial Rubicon has been crossed. A similar breaking of norms has already happened with “cheap” impeachment – it seems now to be a yearly sport on both sides. Will it be good in the future when DAs from opposite parties routinely pursue national candidates as a “normal” part of our political process?

Two things can be true. Trump may be among the most unethical and poor character presidential candidates in generations. But prosecuting him for things that aren’t absolute slam dunks where 80% of the country would agree on? That is playing with fire, eerily similar to the blaze that consumed the first grand Republic of history.

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