I have a very smart dog.
People often think they want a smart dog–the kind that fetches slippers or does backflips or rescues Timmy from a well. The reality of smart dogs is a little different. Sure, they can learn anything, but they also have a lot of opinions. A less smart animal almost always says “yes” when it can. A smart dog, on the other hand, has the ability to weigh the pros and cons of “yes.”
My dog knows the rules. No jumping on people. Come when called. Sit and wait for permission to eat dinner. Sometimes, though, she tests those rules. She lunges to eat her food without my OK. She jumps up on me, excited. I let her know that these things are unacceptable, and she tows the line…at least, until it comes into her head to test the rules again.
When the dog tests me, she is doing what smart dogs will always do: making sure the rules still apply. It’s a completely natural thing for her to do. If I let her get away with it and allow her to develop behavioral problems, that’s on me. She isn’t a bad dog in this scenario–I’m a bad owner.
I was reminded of this relationship yesterday morning when I checked the news and saw my social media page. Trump has declared that he has the power to pardon himself. That he cannot obstruct justice, because essentially, he is justice. Many of my friends are calling this the uncrossable line. This moment, right here, is where democracy dies.
I am also concerned. When someone is above the law in a society, that society is no longer a society of laws. It is, instead, a society of man–it is an autocracy.
But this is not the uncrossable line. This is a test.
Trump is not my dog, who is one of my favorite creatures and composed entirely of goodness and light. But in this latest episode of political drama, he occupies her role as tester of rules. As with my dog, this is a natural and expected thing. There will always be Trumps, Nixons, and McCarthys within any society. They will test the rules. They will attempt to push boundaries. The lust for power is part of human nature: it will always be with us.
I suspect the reason so many of my friends are concerned is the same reason I am concerned, at least subconsciously. We can sense that America is a mighty oak tree with rot at her heart. The kind of tree that looks too mighty to fall even while fungi eat away its core. The rot progresses until even an weak push can topple it.
It is America’s job to inform the power-hungry that the rules still apply. If we fail to do that, that failure is on us as a nation, not Trump. If we fail this test–a mild test executed by an inept and unfit president–we were already too weak for this type of democratic republic. We are too weak for anything but the government we will get.
If enough of our country is rotten, the healthy bits can’t save us. We stand or fall as a nation. It is why we cannot give up on vast swaths of people within this country, no matter how angry their actions make us. It is why we must continue to fight to change hearts and minds–that is, if it’s not too late already.
I hope our country is still strong enough. I am far less confident in that outcome than I would like to be.