There’s a controversy surrounding speed cameras in Britain that has a lot of people upset. Many are angry in principle that they are used too much. I find the complaints of such people rather peculiar. It’s the kind of complaint the complainers probably do not want examined too closely. Nor would I be surprised to discover that most of them consider themselves to be law abiding citizens.
When pressed, what they typically mean by “law abiding” they will defend with something predictably mundane, usually that they don’t “go around robbing banks,” or something. That is the point in which careful examination of what they really mean by “law abiding” ought to be, if handled correctly, doubly embarrassing for them. “So,” the canny interlocutor might begin, “you think it’s okay for you to operate a one metric tonne motor vehicle at unsafe speeds in the interest of saving a couple of minutes while endangering the lives of other motorists, pedestrians and animals, but far be it for anyone to think you would ever economically inconvenience the same billionaires who raped the world economy in 2007 and got away with it! That’s the moral line you distinctly draw in the sand, is it?”
This is the kind of imbalanced, poorly conceived, inconsistent attitude many have toward the notion of “things that are against the law.” When we think of ourselves as law abiding we often don’t know what we mean by it, despite the odd fact that we actually think we do. Add to that the unquestionable reality that the law is sometimes shockingly immoral. For example, in the United States it used to be against the law to give aid, comfort and sanctuary to runaway slaves.
So when Donald Trump openly commits a crime, such as inviting the Chinese to dig up dirt on Joe Biden, we are shocked that a significant number of Americans don’t have a problem with it. Did he not break the law? Are you not horrified by that? Aren’t we all law abiding citizens? After all, we don’t go around robbing banks.
I think, in this regard, Leon Panetta, the former secretary of defense to Barack Obama, may have been on to something. Panetta told CNN, “I think what I’m seeing here is more like a ‘Bonnie and Clyde strategy,’ the more you violate the law – the more you rob banks – the more you become a folk hero to those who support you.”
The truth of the matter is that we are not as law abiding as we think we are. For many of us the law is a thing that is important only when it is in our best interest, so it ought to come as no surprise to us when many in government think the same way. All too often lawbreakers become folk heroes. Therefore we ought not to be shocked when Donald Trump breaks a law and his supporters are fine with it. All we need to do is remember that it makes no difference what Trump or his supporters think, it only matters what the law says. The law says Donald Trump is in violation of it, and it’s good enough that the Congress is going to impeach him on that account.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.