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Are the walls finally closing in? Trump’s Remark to Pence that he was being “too honest”

Many in the Democrat News-media Colluders (hereafter the DNC) are thrilled that the Jack Smith indictment alleges that VP Mike Pence has stated that when he declined to follow Trump’s request (or instruction) not to certify the election, Trump told him that “you are too honest”.  The interpretation that Smith and the DNC prefer is that Trump wanted Pence to do something dishonest, something he did not really have the power to do, that is, to illegally violate the relevant Electoral Count Act.  For the umpteenth time, the DNC is certain they’ve got him this time: “The walls are closing in!  The walls are closing in!” 

Unfortunately, as in most of the previous hoaxes and exaggerations over the past 6 years, the case is not so clear.  It is true that the Smith-DNC interpretation is one possible interpretation of Trump’s request to Pence.  Unfortunately, however, for the DNC, which has, apparently forgotten that words have multiple meanings, there are others.

The Collins Dictionary distinguishes three main subcategories, each of which admits of numerous subcategories, for “honest,” 1.) trustworthy, 2.) open, and 3.) genuine.  Since it is impossible to list all of these here only the most important for present purposes are given here.  Three of the subcategories under “trustworthy” are, reliable, scrupulous, and high-minded.  Three of the subcategories under “open” are plain, straightforward, and upfront.  Two of the subcategories under “genuine” are straight and authentic (which latter can just mean pure).  Thesaurus.com lists a plethora of possible synonyms for “honest” but some of them are straightforward and plain.   Yourdictionary.com lists several meanings for “honest” but two of them are being-what-it-seems and pure

Smith and the DNC would like to interpret the word “honest” to mean truthful or lawful (in accord with the law), and those are possible interpretations in some contexts.  However, to say of someone that they are “too honest” can also mean that they are too high-minded, too straightforward or too pure.  In brief, to say of someone that they are too honest might, in colloquial terms, simply to say that they are being too pure or too high-minded … and there is no legal requirement that one be high-minded or pure.  Thus, the point might simple be to tell the person that they don’t realize that since we are in a fight with unscrupulous people one can’t afford to be a “boy scout.” One has to push the limits.

Further, there is ample reason to believe that Pence had the right, so to speak, to “push the limits” in the present case.   As the WSJ reports, lawmakers after 2020 felt moved to clarify the relevant Electoral Count Act” after the disagreements about Pence’s rights in the 2020 election.  Unfortunately, for Smith and the DNC, if lawmakers felt compelled to clarify the Electoral Count Act after the rancor of the 2020 election, then it is obvious that the Electoral Count Act in 2020 was not clear enough.  As ProtectingDemocracy.org puts it:

As the nation learned in January 2021, the statute was badly in need of an update. It included antiquated and ambiguous language, and failed to offer clear guidance on key aspects of the process of counting electoral votes and resolving related disputes — weaknesses that rendered the statute open to misunderstanding or exploitation, and risked the peaceful transitions of power that have been a hallmark of our democracy.

That is, the fault was with the law as written in 2020, not with Trump’s understanding of it.

But if the law was not clear enough to them as written at the time then it was not entirely clear what Pence could or could not do.  Even the Brookings Institute admits that there were “ambiguities in the almost 150-year-old Electoral Count Act (ECA) that in part governs the roles of Congress and the Vice President” at the time.  But if there were ambiguities in that Act at the time then it was not entirely clear at the time what Pence could or could not legitimately do.  And if it was not entirely clear at the time what Pence could or could not legitimately do then it would not be illegal for Trump to urge Pence, so to speak, to “push the envelope.”  In brief, Trump felt that Pence was playing by the Queensbury rules whereas Trump believed he was, so to speak, in a knife fight in an alley with unscrupulous people.  And why should Trump not think that?  Trump has been subjected to one hoax after another perpetrated by his political opponents since he first took office in January 2016.

The DNC should surely understand what it means to push the limit on the laws and the constitution because they try to get away with it so often themselves.  To take just one of many possible examples, consider the time when Biden admitted that he does not have the power to cancel massive amounts of student debt but then went ahead and did it anyway because it was politically useful to him – and got struck down 6 – 3 by the Supreme Court. 

            In summary, the word “honest” does not, as Smith and the DNC might wish, have a transparent univocal meaning.  Like most English words it can take a multiplicity of meanings depending on the context.  In the case at hand, Trump’s remark to Pence that he is “being too honest” does not necessarily mean that he wants Pence to lie, do something immoral, or, more importantly, break the law.   Trump’s remark may just mean that he thinks Pence is being too pure, to much of a “boy scout”.   Further, Trump was justified in urging Pence to push the limits on the interpretation of the Electoral Count Act because it was at that time “ambiguous”.  That’s why legislators needed to rewrite it in a clearer way.

Trump’s remark to Pence that he was being too honest does not convict Trump of any obviously immoral or illegal behavior.  This is not surprising.   Events in the real world, as opposed to Sociology 101 or a meeting of the DNC, are far too complex to be nailed down by such word games.  The English language is far too supple and nuanced to convict someone of illegality by a simplistic mechanical reading of a word or sentence. 

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Richard McDonough

Richard Michael McDonough, American philosophy educator. Achievements include production of original interpretation of Wittgenstein’s logical-metaphysical system, original application Kantian Copernican Revolution to philosophy of language; significant interdisciplinary work logic, linguistics, psychology & philosophy. Member Australasian Debating Federation (honorary life, adjudicator since 1991), Phi Kappa Phi.

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One Comment

  1. Great points. The article makes it clear that the meaning of “too honest” may not be a call to lie but may simply mean Pence is too much of a goody goody.

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