Of all people, Stephen B. Young, author of the book “Moral Capitalism,” should understand the difference between the illegal and the unethical (“President’s discretion is spacious,” Oct. 13). While the president may have wide discretion under the law to “seek information from foreign sources” for “American decisionmaking,” using that discretion to seek dirt on his political opponent is unethical by any standard. We impeach presidents for “high crimes,” the legal definition of which is: “a crime of infamous nature contrary to public morality but not technically constituting a felony.” While President Donald Trump’s Ukraine call might not have been a felony, it clearly violated core public values such as competing fairly and doing to others what you would want them do to you. Allowing this “high crime” to go unpunished not only would disregard Congress’ constitutional duty; it would damage our public moral fabric.
Thomas Fisher, St. Paul
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It would be prudent for Young to remember that many advisers listening in on that fateful phone call to Ukraine’s head of state were “alarmed” by its unlawfulness, and that the recording was placed on a restricted-access special server reserved for just this kind of awfulness.
It is irrelevant whether the “whistleblower” felt “contempt” for the president or was “act[ing] on hearsay.” His or her complaint was judged on whether it was an “urgent” matter and contained verified allegations that the president had used his office for personal gain. The questions now at hand are simply these: Did this actually happen, and is it impeachable conduct? The whistleblower went to great pains to interview many who had actual, firsthand knowledge of what had been said, and the White House transcript itself confirmed most of it. Young employs the usual techniques of someone on the ropes: attack the accuser, refuse to look into the facts and denounce the entire process.
It is also important to acknowledge here that Trump has been trashing his own security and investigative agencies. The FBI and CIA had already looked into the Biden accusations and had given them a clean bill of health. Thus, the message Trump has conveyed to Ukraine, China and probably other countries is that they should manufacture some dirt about Biden, without regard to the truth of it. Unlike Americans who want to win “fair and square,” Trump cheats by asking for foreign government help in our elections. It is widely known that he cheats at golf, he cheats in business, and he has now been caught cheating in an election. The second whistleblower has direct knowledge that confirmed the truth of the accusations. Trump should be toast; we’ll see.
Mary McLeod, St. Paul
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In his commentary questioning impeaching Trump, Young invokes agency law. The president is an agent of we the people, acting on our behalf to do what he believes is best for our country. Young rightly points out that agents have wide discretion to act as they think best, and this is particularly true when the president engages in foreign policy. It is highly problematic to remove a president for acting in a way many think is unwise.
Fair point, but it leaves out a critical limit. Agents also have a duty of loyalty. They can’t put their own interests first, and if they do, they break the law as well as a deep moral principle. If Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate the Bidens in order to advance his own interest in re-election, that blatantly violates his duty of loyalty to the American people. Defenders of the president will argue that he didn’t do that, which deserves to be explored. But there is enough evidence to justify an inquiry.
Young knows agency law well. But the duty of loyalty is agency 101. I teach it in one of the first sessions of my introduction to business associations law. Young mentions loyalty once in passing, but the entire article acts as if there is no conflict of interest, so that in the language of agency law this is a matter of care, not loyalty. Yet the president’s apparent self-interest is obviously at the heart of this debate. I am disappointed that Young chose to ignore it while basing his article on agency law principles.
Brett McDonnell, Minneapolis
The writer is the Dorsey & Whitney Chair at the University of Minnesota Law School.
‘THE GIANTS BEFORE US’
There are some impressive people working today to repair past harms
There are many quiet heroes today who are working in a grassroots way to heal the harm done by the monuments left us from the last century’s “culture giants’ ” disasters (“Who were the giants before us?” Opinion Exchange, Oct. 13). The Hoover Dam destroyed the ecology of the Colorado River and left the West more bereft of water than ever. The interstate highway system with all its concrete (the second-largest-polluting industry) and the fuel emissions it promoted — well, we know what happened to the atmosphere.
Now people are quietly learning how to work with nature, rather than just exploiting it. Farmers like Gabe Brown and Allen Williams, who are farming to regenerate the land and heal the climate, soil scientists like Elaine Ingham and Christine Jones, are examples of today’s humble heroes who are experimenting to find solutions for rebuilding, rather than conquering, the natural world.
I wonder if the Oct. 13 commentary’s author, Victor Davis Hanson, knows about the richness of current literature, so much of it exploring our natural and human connections and the value of diversity of every kind: “The Overstory” by Richard Powers, about living with trees; Jesmyn Ward bringing us into African-American experience; our local Lesley Nneka Arimah’s astonishingly imaginative writing about being a Kenyan-American immigrant; Louise Erdrich. And our kids in school are learning so much more than just “information,” through projects, experiments and presentations, as well as by reading today’s writers.
Of course culture change is frightening, but we need to breathe deep and learn more about it, because it is happening despite divisive public backlash and nostalgia for nature-conquering heroes of the past.
Helen Gilbert, Minneapolis
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There are many counterexamples to Hanson’s commentary looking back on past accomplishments with rose-colored glasses, but one particularly apt one is the Interstate 35W bridge collapse and reconstruction.
The “giants before us” who built the original bridge left it possible for a failure in one part to cause the collapse of the entire structure. Maybe some regulators, whom Hanson complains about, could have helped prevent so much tragedy.
When the bridge was rebuilt, the task was completed under budget and ahead of schedule. With truly heroic efforts, the new bridge was completed in less than a year, while the original took three years to build.
Hanson speaks of our ancestors being bold and fearless, but “reckless” would be a better word. Almost 100 people died building the Hoover Dam. Maybe 1,000 died building the transcontinental railroad. Would Hanson have us go back to having such disregard for human life?
Paul Shriver, Minneapolis
Not all old white men …
I’m confused. I thought all of the ills of society were brought on by old white men, yet three members of the so-called Squad — including U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota — have just endorsed an old white man for president (“Omar gives her support to Sanders,” Oct. 17).
Jean Jenderko, Eden Prairie
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