Who among us hasn’t broken the law in some respect? Very few of us, I imagine. Most likely, those who have committed no infraction haven’t done much with their lives yet.
Government regulations affect every aspect of our lives, even though the pace of adding new regulations has decreased somewhat recently. In 2016, there were approximately 46,074 pages detailing federal law and 176,420 pages of regulations associated with those laws. This total doesn’t include any local laws and regulations generated from within your state, county, or city. We are expected to obey them all automatically.
Do you know them all? Of course not—it’s impossible. From fixing bothersome boggy spots in your lawn to how and what you use to kill pesky insects to wearing seat belts and obeying speed limits to how you can defend yourself, the list of regulations is almost endless. Do you know how many were added in the last 24 hours that you are supposed to know about and obey? Probably not. Neither do I.
The problem gets much worse if you dare risk your resources and open a business, and it becomes exponentially worse if you manage to be successful at that business. For instance, my wife and I run several businesses. Despite having attorneys and membership in multiple industry associations, we are still surprised on occasion to find out about new laws and associated regulations. It’s already in force and is directly affecting our business—and we didn’t even know about it! It is very difficult to stay on top of all the new rules that come out while you’re trying to run your business.
With all this in mind, it’s likely that during this past week, you unknowingly broke some law or regulation. If you’re a business owner, it’s almost a given. There are just too many rules and regulations to follow: hiring procedures, record-keeping, environmental laws. It is impossible to know and obey everything asked of us as citizens, whether we are employees or employers. So while some people break laws intentionally, most of us break them unknowingly.
Now imagine that a competitor (or someone who just doesn’t like you) hired a group of people to dig into your personal and business past—every detail, leaving no stone unturned—with the intent to discredit and prosecute you. Even if you had done your best to do everything in your life legally, they very likely will find something. If they are then successful at finding a friendly media outlet to voice their findings, you’re in trouble. You may not even have enough money to legally defend yourself.
How is this different from what is happening to many today? It’s not. A prominent example is Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report. When it was becoming clear that Democrats might not find what they were hoping for, they started preparing to dig into President Trump’s entire 73-year past. Their goal was to find a broken law in any aspect of his business or personal life to discredit him.
Trump has been in business all over the world, including being involved in some very large projects. He has a fleet of attorneys to help him obey the laws and regulations. But just as for each of us, if a competitor looks hard enough, they will find something.
This type of attack is dangerous, and not just to individual citizens and their reputations and livelihoods. It is dangerous to our republic. Given the state of our laws and regulations, and since all of us have a skeleton or two in our closet (whether we know it or not), who in their right minds would subject themselves to public service, understanding that all those unknown skeletons will be dragged into the street and used to beat us? It isn’t a pleasant prospect, so good people we need may choose not to serve.
In the past, the concept of mens rea was a bedrock principle of our criminal justice system. That term means that in most cases, you are guilty only if you knowingly committed a crime. Unfortunately, that seems to be less and less applicable. Regardless of the truthfulness of an accusation, lives and businesses are ruined almost instantly.
As a country, we would be wise to step back, look at what is going on, and consider where it might lead us. We should spend our time trying to determine which laws and regulations we really need so it doesn’t take a fleet of attorneys to keep us out of trouble.