The "clean hands doctrine" is a simple one based on the most basic rule of human conduct: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It is a guiding principle in the law of equity based on the concept of fairness that a civil court applies when the application of law is inadequate to resolve a matter. If a person comes to court seeking equitable relief or to present a defense based on equity, that person cannot have acted in a manner that violates basic equitable principles. One must come to the court with clean hands to successfully claim equitable relief. Dirty hands will not be rewarded in a court of equity.
When a candidate for public office seeks your vote, should that man or woman come to you with hands that are reasonably clean? We live in an imperfect world, and humans are flawed. It is not realistic to expect perfection in those aspiring to hold public office, but we have a sitting president with hands drenched in mud. His hands are the dirtiest of any person to hold the highest office in the land, to be our commander in chief, to lead the free world, and to hold lives in those soiled hands. He wants reelection in 2020 as he continues to divide us through the ugly call of racism. From his Central Park Five ads, his leading role in birtherism to Charlottesville, brown-skinned people seeking entry into our country in held cages, dog whistles at rallies, and statements to the press that catch the ear of any white nationalist, we know Donald Trump as a man who stokes fear among those who see him as their savior from a changing America.
The 2020 presidential election will be another exercise in lies, Russian interference, false equivalency, conflation, false accusations against whoever his Democratic opponent is, outrageous tweets aimed to distract from real news he doesn’t like, and it will be worse than 2016. This time he will do it all from a podium with the presidential seal. He has Attorney General William Barr, who will protect him at every turn, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has destroyed the Republican Party to confirm judges who will in turn destroy the federal courts. Are there any clean hands left in the ruins of the Republican Party? It is doubtful, as one cannot remain silent as Trump tramples the Constitution and blatantly appeals to the racists among us and then claim clean hands.
America has led the post-World War II international order because, although we are not perfect, other nations perceived us as having the cleanest hands in the international community. Not anymore. Former allies do not recognize us as Trump courts the autocrats of the world and threatens to drag the world into a darkness we thought would never return. We are a nation that rips children from their parents and then mistreats them in the cruelest of ways. Threats of mass immigration raids are used as a campaign tool. We are a nation that ignores the murder of a journalist, one of ours, by a foreign nation with a shrug of a shoulder.
People of color, transgender men and women, the rest of the LGBTQ community, and women are less safe in the United States since Donald Trump became president through an Electoral College win. For the first time since Roe v. Wade, a woman’s right to choose is in real jeopardy. Trump knows he will never win the popular vote in 2020, but the Electoral College can return him to office and keep him out of the reach of the federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York. He will stoke the fears of white rural America and divide us according to where we live. Urban America is somehow not the “real” America. Urban votes have been diluted, and rural America could not care less. Voter suppression worked in 2016, and we can be sure 2020 will be a replay on steroids. He will tell any lie and invoke the degree of fear necessary to get those red states to give him the Electoral College again. A win is a win.
Trump is not usually a long game player, but he is going to use his media fight with the "squad," Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley, and Ilhan Omar, to force his Democratic opponent into tweets and sound bites that will enrage his base and frighten independents on the edge into his camp.
Robert Mueller will give his testimony to Congress soon. We will clearly see the dirty hands of Donald Trump, but will enough of us be listening and will enough of us care to impeach him? Will enough of his supporters be convinced his hands are too dirty for a second term? Ultimately, each voter must determine for himself or herself how dirty a president’s hands can be.
Susan SurfTone is a musician, former FBI agent, and regular contributor to The Advocate.