The box within the box

By Ashley Bean Thornton

I am not surprised that Donald Trump paid $130,000 in hush Money to Stormy Daniels. Although, honestly, I don’t know why he bothered. His loyal supporters don’t seem to be worried much by his attitudes and actions toward women – or at least it doesn’t bother them enough to make them withdraw their votes. I’m not saying that to be especially critical. I know a lot of people felt basically the same way about Bill Clinton and who knows how many presidents before him.

I am not enough of a legal scholar to know whether what Trump did was technically against the law or not. And even if it was, I don’t know whether that can be proven in court or not. I don’t know what it will do to his political future if he is found guilty. Honestly, I don’t know if this is a legit case where he is being treated like anyone else would be treated or, as his supporters claim, some kind of political retribution. That’s not what I really care most about either.

When I was working at Baylor, one of my jobs was supervisory training. As a part of our basic supervisory course we used to bring in the General Counsel from Baylor, a wonderful man named Charlie Beckenhauer who has since, sadly, passed away. His role in our training was to help our new supervisors stay out of legal hot water. We talked about all kinds of things from hiring discrimination to harassment.

In every session I ever saw Charlie lead (and I saw more than a few) he would draw a large rectangle on the whiteboard. The edges of the rectangle would be solid lines. Then he would draw another, smaller rectangle inside the first rectangle. The edges of this smaller rectangle would be dashed lines. First, he would point to the outside, solid, rectangle and he would say, “This is the law. Sometimes I have long conversations with supervisors about whether this or that is against the law – whether they will be crossing this line if they ask a woman if she plans to get pregnant, or if they ask a candidate how old he is.” Then he would point to the smaller rectangle with the dashed line. “We should not be having conversations about whether you will be crossing the solid line. Whether you will be breaking the law. You should be staying inside of this line. You should not even be getting close to the edge.” “If you stay inside this box,” he would say, thumping the smaller, dashed box for emphasis, “You will never need to have a conversation with me.”

I always thought that was such a smart lesson.

What makes me sad about this whole Trump indictment mess is that I wish we could count on our elected leaders – all our leaders from both parties – to stay inside the box with the dashed lines. I think we voters have gotten too lax about tolerating behavior in our elected officials that is too close to the edge of legality.


  1. Mike Morrison on April 7, 2023 at 10:35 am

    Charlie was indeed a smart man but, much more importantly he was a fine man.

  2. Stephen Smajstrla on April 10, 2023 at 5:12 pm

    This showed up in my feed again, but with my comment gone(?), so I will try again…

    You don’t appear to understand the appeal of Trump to a wide swath of those *willing* to support him (as opposed to the “loyal supporters” trope which is heavily pushed by major media, and which you appear to accept).

    “Loyal supporters don’t seem worried by…” his attitudes towards women… -Ok, no. Many do cringe. Trump is a consummate transactionalist. (What’s the real basis of his marriage to Melania, afterall?). And, Stormy Daniels is also a transactionalist. Why else would she sleep with The Donald, but to get ahead somehow? She got burned and bitter when he DIDN’T put her on The Apprentice (if she even believed that ever) and thus later extorted him.

    His lawyer later paid (not illegal to pay hush $). And then she DIDN’T keep her end of said deal. Ok. Transactional people (tricks and whores) doing transactional things.

    Anyway, this is all interpersonally gross, but what it doesn’t warrant is thirty-four (34) felony indictments. (Extrapolated from one possible root misdemeanor action, already dismissed and past limitation.)

    One DOESN’T have to be a “Trump supporter” to see this as political retribution, or an abuse of the justice system. Esp during primary season. Esp as the next court date (on this round of charges) is timed for almost a year out.

    Anyway, as I said before, Trump polls weaker against Biden than DeSantis. This (intentionally-ridiculous set of charges) appears designed by the Dems to give attention/energy to Trump during the primaries to propel him to the nom, so he can be defeated in the general. You appeared to scoff at that idea in my last comment, but I think that was a hasty dismissal. I believe that angle will be proven correct. This is hardball politics, which is why I urged you to reconsider wasting your time on wishful naivetés such as “the box within the box”. That’s an honorable sentiment for an HR meeting, but just not how top-level power politics works, or much aligning with those drawn to such.

    • ashleythornton on April 16, 2023 at 10:26 am

      I think I do understand the difference between people who vote for Trump and “Loyal Supporters” — that’s why I said “Loyal Supporters” instead of “people who vote for Trump.” I understand that there are people who vote for him who don’t condone his behavior. I do think there are also “Loyal Supporters” who are on some continuum from not caring what he does, to actively admiring it. I think those “Loyal Supporters” would have voted for him whether they knew about Stormy Daniels or not.

      My point in writing was not to say whether I thought he was the victim of political retribution — let’s say he is. My point is not to say what he did was illegal — let’s say it’s not.

      My point is that if he hadn’t danced so close to the line between legal and illegal — none of us would even be talking about it.

      He shouldn’t have gotten that close to the line to start with. None of our elected leaders should. We should be able to expect better than that.

      I am not willing to agree with — “Well, that’s just the way they are, they all do it. That’s just hard ball politics.” I think we should expect better. We may not always be able to get better — I am not quite as naive as you might think — but I think we should expect better. I think we have a right to be aggravated when our supposed “leaders” get so close to the line that it becomes a distraction.

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