As Americans, we love games. We worship sports, we submerge ourselves in video games, we avidly watch singing and dancing competitions on tv and have even made cooking into a contest as well (considering the obesity in America, shouldn’t we try to add Eating as an Olympic sport, we’d devour the competition!). In fact, the most watched television shows each year are competitions or games (in 2012, the top three highest rated shows that year were The Superbowl, American Idol and The Voice).
The iPhone and iPad have made it so that people never need to leave their games behind no matter where they go. Most states sponsor lottery games and “games of chance” on the internet is big business. We have an Indy 500 and a Forbes 500 so whether you drive race cars or are wealthy enough to own a dozen of them, there’s a competition for you!
We love games! We understand games, we like the affirmation of the simple concept of winners and losers and in the end, it is indeed about whether you win or lose, how you play the game is irrelevant (ask any corporation or Wall Street player).
The coverage of the George Zimmerman trial has recently been wallpapered each day across the cable news stations. In watching what one can endure of this inundation (a murder case with overarching racial issues is important but should not absolve “news” stations from covering other important stories), seeing the defense and prosecution lawyers as well as the pundits on the news channels only accentuates that even when it comes to a murder trial, it’s all just another game…one that we apparently find entertaining but not troubling that game playing should determine justice.
Our legal system has become so arcane and complex, with well intentioned rules and protocol intended to shepherd a decision towards the truth. However, just like our politics, it has also become just another game to manipulate and win, not a search for truth and an application of justice.
Many of the accolades that the defense lawyers have received in the Zimmerman case are based on what competitive “players” they are in this trial game and how their ploys and strategies undermine the prosecution of their client.
Perhaps others have seen it but what is constantly missing from the discussions of the lawyers/pundits on cable news is any remark about ethics, morality or justice having any place in the playing of the legal game. These types may give lip service to justice and Constitutional protections but the core of their commentary is about playing the game and winning.
One would be hard pressed to see a discussion of any depth by the law punditry on the honesty or truth of a strategy or tactic, just how “effective” it may be. What comes across is that they regard truth and justice as secondary, being the winner of the game is what’s primary.
In an ideal American criminal court system, trials would be strictly about a search for truth and justice. It is disappointing that anyone who might claim that is how our system operates today, would be called “naive” but that’s what accepting the bleed of gaming into the legal system has wrought.
Most people know that two basic tenets of our criminal legal system are that people are innocent until proven guilty and that they must be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Sensible and important pillars of a great justice system to prevent abuse of power and the proliferation of injustice. The problem is that for defense attorneys, trials are all about establishing doubt…whether that doubt is legitimate or not. Certainly, every defendant deserves the best defense possible but extending that concept to deceiving a jury seems far past the intent of that principle, it’s more of an attempt to exploit the weak points of fairness in a legal structure.
Someone accused of a crime could be in fact innocent or guilty and in order to take away the rights and freedom…and even the life of a citizen, the state should indeed be required to meet a high burden of proof to do so. There are prosecutors who have abused their position, withheld evidence or presented false testimony just to “win” and convict innocent people. It’s likely that innocent people have suffered the death penalty. Placing the most importance on winning instead of justice can come first for either side of the courtroom.
We don’t want to lose these protective aspects of our legal system but the issue that’s now part of the package deal is, doesn’t it undermine the goal of justice and the sense of the people in this country that our legal system really provides justice?
And it’s hardly a level playing field.
Those with money can pay for the top gamers (lawyers) to win their case and even be celebrated for doing so in the face of obvious guilt (“If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit…or if a murderer pretends it doesn’t fit, same thing, okay?”)? Meanwhile, those who don’t have wealth behind them are more likely to lose when represented by court-appointed attorneys who may have little time or resources to mount the most expansive and “creative” defense for them.
The defense or prosecution may justifiably focus solely on those facts that support their theory as to what truly occurred from their point of view. That’s not game playing, that’s fulfilling their role as a representative for the client or citizens they represent. Since trials have become more game-like though, sliming a victim of a crime, manufacturing doubts that even their client wasn’t alleging, trying to use obscure legal precedents to keep relevant truths from being presented to a jury, etc., have all become accepted as standards of our legal system.
This American phenomenon, this living blob that has engulfed most areas of Americans society was summed up perfectly by Vince Lombardi many years ago, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”
We have seen this as the way things are in our democracy as well.
Republicans have been playing their games with politics in DC and in various states at the same time. In North Carolina and Texas, Republican majorities in the state legislatures have moved quickly to de facto end most abortions in their states. The majority of people in Texas and North Carolina wouldn’t support their extreme and anti-Constitutional views so they couldn’t come straight out and say what they were doing or use the normal legislative process to accomplish their oppressive goals…that’s not how you win.
Instead, they brazenly lie about how their anti-abortion bills are about “protecting the health of women”. In North Carolina, they snuck anti-abortion amendments into an anti-Sharia law bill that had already been approved. In Texas, after being thwarted in his first sneaky attempt, Rick Perry has called a second special session to game the system and force an unpopular and extremist religious belief upon all Texans (in this bill, even women who have been raped or are victims of incest would be outlawed from choosing an abortion).
Whether it’s ALEC, the Kochs, the Tea Party, whoever it may be on the right who wants to win at all costs, whoever it is cares more about winning the game than anything or anyone else, the lives of those who aren’t on their team are meaningless and unworthy of their concern. The damage they do to our system or society is irrelevant to them. All that matters is that they win.
The problem with making everything into a game, especially our system of justice and our system of democracy is that those with the most power and resources are more likely to win and those with the least are likely to lose. Justice and democracy are the fabric of our society, there are of course competitive aspects of both but those aspects are not what social compacts are about.
If corrupted and degraded into nothing more than games, our legal system and our political system lose their true purposes and no matter who wins in the future, it is our society that ultimately loses.