My wife has some strong opinions about things, and some of them she raises over and over again. One (of the many) with which I agree is that trust plays a fundamental role in how we feel about our leaders. We trust some leaders, and we don’t trust others. If we trust a leader, we assume that some action is legitimately justified. If we don’t trust a leader, that same action can be nefarious or a sign of incompetence. I’ll come back to something more contemporary in a minute, but let’s start with Obama and Bush.
George Bush worked very hard to make it clear that our conflict with terrorists is not a conflict with Islam. He specifically said that Islam is a religion of peace, and was careful in his words to avoid linking terrorists with Islam. He was not criticized for this, at least not any time that I know of. Obama, on the other hand, received floods of criticism for refusing to apply the “Islamic” or “Muslim” label to terrorists. The people I’m talking about clearly trusted Bush, and trusted that he was doing the right thing in the “War on Terror,” but didn’t trust Obama, so the same actions were viewed differently.
From an Obama supporter’s side, we saw floods of criticism against Bush’s drone program, and targeted assassinations of people without due process. Liberals (me included) hated this, and maybe even saw it as evidence of a war crime committed by President Bush. But there were ten times more drone strikes during Obama’s time in office than there were during Bush’s time in office. There were certainly Obama supporters (me included) who didn’t love this, but my personal view was that it had to have some merit, or Obama wouldn’t go that way. Because I trust him, and his judgement.
Now to the more contemporary topic. I think this same different standard is why many who assumed Hillary Clinton’s guilt, and demanded excessive proof if they were ever possibly going to believe she was innocent, now assume Trump’s innocence and demand excessive proof if they are ever going to conclude that he is guilty. There are some examples of pretty equivalent situations (not perfectly equivalent, but a little close). After the attack on Benghazi, Clinton met with family members of the people killed in the attack. Some of these people reported that Clinton told them that the attack wasn’t organized terrorism, but was a spontaneous thing that emerged from a protest over an offensive video. Clinton denies saying this, and some of the people at the meeting corroborate her account, yet those who dislike Clinton are so sure that she lied, purposefully (I’m not clear to what end, but OK). Folks like me appreciate that memories aren’t all that good, and that we often remember things differently from how they happened, and I’m comfortable understanding that I don’t know what happened in that meeting, and I’m not sure I care either way.
But Trump…well him I don’t trust. So when James Comey says that it felt like an order when Trump told him, “I hope you can let this go” (in reference to the investigation of Michael Flynn), I am inclined to believe that Trump really was trying to pressure Comey. I’m drawing this conclusion with only limited evidence, but it would take a lot of evidence to the contrary for me to think otherwise. I know that’s not fair. It didn’t take any evidence for me to give Clinton the benefit of the doubt, but it takes a lot for me to give it to Trump. I just don’t trust him.
I think it’s important that we recognize this, and probably even that we fight against it. So how do I fight against it when it comes to Trump. Well, that’s not easy, but I can fall short of advocating punishment. I can, for instance, be convinced that Trump was trying to pressure Comey, but not favor articles of impeachment for obstruction of justice. It’s similar to being pretty sure that OJ Simpson killed his wife, but, at the same time, recognizing that he was legitimately found not guilty based on the criteria established in our justice system. We can separate legally guilty from morally guilty, and know that every once and awhile, those things aren’t in agreement. So do I think Trump is guilty? I think he probably is, but can I try to compromise and say that the burden of proof is on the prosecution? I think I can live with that…but I still don’t trust the guy at all.