When nominations are treated as jury trials

Sam Smith – Imagine a news account that began, “Barack Obama has denied stories that he once laid in a Moscow hotel bed watching two prostitutes urinate.”

If you can’t imagine this, it’s because nothing you know about Obama would suggest that it is true. While it is always possible that you have been deluded, the overwhelming probability is that one’s differences with Obama would continue to be based on politics rather than prostitution.

The fact that this topic has been raised concerning Donald Trump doesn’t prove that it is true either, but illustrates that the character of Trump is such that it seems reasonable to consider it. And should it be proved untrue, that merely exonerates him in this instance. It is not evidence, for example, that he should be president or would be a good one.

Similarly, we can continue to argue whether Jeff Sessions, after hours of attempted exculpatory testimony before a Senate committee, is in fact as prejudiced as his record would suggest. But what is

unarguable is that there are tons of lawyers who could have been nominated for Attorney General for whom the question wouldn’t even arise.

From Watergate to Clarence Thomas to innumerable other nomination hearings, we – guided by the media – have come to regard many moral decisions not by wise human judgement but by the standards of a jury trial. If the accused can not be found guilty, they are innocent. Thus legal innocence has too often become the standard for judging high officials rather than, say, honor, decency or achievement.

We hardly talk seriously of the latter anymore.

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