Are Guilt and Innocence That Hard To Keep Straight?

Let’s talk about guilt and innocence in America, since it seems like some people have forgotten how they work. If you’re accused of wrongdoing, you have a choice:

You can admit it or be convicted of it, at which point your guilt has been settled, and all that’s left to decide is your punishment, what to do about it. You can apologize, make excuses, beg forgiveness, try to make a deal, etc. But your guilt is settled. If you were accused of theft, for instance, it’s settled that you thieved. If being guilty of that wrongdoing disqualifies you for a job, you’re out.

Or you can deny it and demand your day in court (legal court or the court of public opinion). In this case, it becomes the responsibility of your accuser to come forward and face you with the charges and any evidence they have. In the meantime, you are innocent until proven guilty. The right to face your accuser speedily is a fundamental right in America because until you can do that, accusations just hanging around without hard evidence damage your reputation without giving you a way to fight back against them.

If I go around telling all your friends that you stole money from me, but I run away every time you try to confront me and demand evidence and details, there’s nothing you can do except to keep stating your innocence while the rumors build. If I’m rich enough to pay 5, 10, 20, or 100 other people to falsely accuse you of stealing, but none of us come forward and press charges or show specific evidence you can fight, many people will believe it on the “where there’s smoke there’s fire” principle. You won’t be able to do anything about it, even though you’re still innocent. In theory, you can press defamation charges, but that’s tricky. It’s expensive, and you have to be able to show not only that you didn’t do it, but that the charges harmed you, usually financially. If you’re a politician, you would have to prove that they cost you an election. Difficult. And all the time that you’re doing that, you’re keeping the rumors stirred up. In almost all cases, people who are accused decide it’s not worth it. When someone like James Woods does, it doesn’t earn him much love.

Weinstein, Schwarzenegger, Franken, Hastert (note the bipartisanship): accused, admitted it or were convicted, and judged and treated accordingly. Roy Moore: accused, denies it, and the accusers are dodging and refusing to face him or to let the evidence be judged (the yearbook, their Exhibit A, was such an obvious fraud that the owner had to change her story and admit she wrote a lot of it herself), because they hoped the accusations alone would torpedo his campaign. He’s still innocent until proven guilty, and Alabamans (Alabamians?) fortunately still understand that.

You can base your vote on whatever you want, of course. Many votes get cast for the better-looking candidate. You can vote against a man because you don’t like his ties. But I don’t think many people who take their vote seriously want to be manipulated by hit-jobs which appear a few weeks before the election with unprovable allegations and then fade away as soon as it’s over.

Al Franken shouldn’t have agreed to resign, by the way. What he did was stupid and creepy, but he was a stupid and creepy comedian at the time, not a US senator. It shouldn’t be a career-destroyer (unless there’s worse that I haven’t heard about). He should have to let the women he creeped on line up and slap him one after the other, apologize to them, and then go on with his life. He only agreed to resign because Democrats were trying to sucker Republicans into a trade: Franken resigns and Moore drops out. But Moore isn’t an idiot, and Republicans aren’t suckers since Trump reintroduced them to their spines. Franken was already being pushed out by his female colleagues anyway, so there was nothing to gain by taking the deal. I expect after Moore wins Tuesday, Franken will have a change of heart and decide to stay, because he’s a weasel. He should stay and keep being the embarassment he has been since he was elected, until Minnesotans vote him out in shame.