Is the System Broken?

“May you live in interesting times,” is said to be an ancient Chinese curse. While there’s no documented proof of the Chinese origin, one could say we are cursed to live in such a time in American politics.

With the acquittal of President Trump by the Senate last week, people who wanted to see him convicted are crying foul and claim the system doesn’t work. However, Trump supporters thought the system worked just fine.

Go back several months and it was Trump supports who emphatically said the impeachment vote in Congress showed the system didn’t work. Of course, the Democrats felt the process in Congress worked exactly as our founding fathers intended.

We see instances of similar divides continually. When O.J. Simpson was acquitted (the glove didn’t fit) in the deaths of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman many people said it was a travesty of justice because of the seeming mountain of evidence against him. Others praised the decision for a variety of reasons.

Many years later the tables were turned when George Zimmerman was acquitted in the death of Trayvon Martin. There was public outrage by many Americans but there were also plenty of George Zimmerman supporters.

How can groups of people see things so differently? As is so often the case, viewpoints are split along racial lines, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, political parties and other groups.

The problem is, we can’t judge the system simply based on the decisions it hands down. The Supreme Court isn’t only right when it votes the way you or I think it should. And, it’s not wrong when it goes against how you or I see the facts. If that were the case then you and I, without all the facts, legal background and constitutional knowledge, would be the final arbiters of good and bad, right and wrong, not the Supreme Court.

Our system of justice, including recent political proceedings, is flawed because it was created by flawed human beings. And it gets more flawed because imperfect, biased human beings ultimately render the decisions.

No matter what any judge, jury, attorney or politician may claim, biases do come into play in every decision. There’s no such thing as an impartial juror because, by definition, you’re not even aware of your hidden biases. This is why many outwardly good, well-meaning people, are shocked when someone points out what they said or did was somewhat racist, homophobic or misogynistic. They didn’t intend to be and they had no idea what they said or did was offensive. Do you think that reality stops with elected officials or jurors? Of course not!

There was no better example of status quo bias than the recent senate decision on President Trump. This was the third time in American history that a president stood trial in the senate after being impeached by congress. In those three instances there were a total of seven charges brought up against those presidents (Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton, Donald Trump). In all that time only one person ever voted against his or her party’s president to convict. That’s 1 vote out of 223 possible votes cast from senators whose party president was on trial.

The fact that republican Senator Mitt Romney voted against his party to convict Donald Trump is hailed by Democrats as some sort of victory. However, you can also easily conclude the whole process is clearly partisan. It’s not designed to get to the truth because if it was there would certainly be a more diverse vote than the strictly party line voting we’ve seen in each case.


A few votes the other way last week and the anger at the system would be flipped. The same goes for many Supreme Court decisions. And this blog post would be just as relevant!

As noted earlier, our justice system was created by flawed people and decisions within that framework are handed down by flawed people. Compound that with the reality that we have an addiction to being right. How do we change it? The first step is to acknowledge we have a problem. While our current system may be the best devised so far, we should always look for ways to improve it with one goal – getting to the truth.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. An author, international trainer, coach and consultant, he’s one of only 20 people in the world personally trained by Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., the most cited living social psychologist on the planet on the science of ethical influence and persuasion.

Brian’s book, Influence PEOPLE: Powerful Everyday Opportunities to Persuade that are Lasting and Ethical, was a top 10 selling Amazon book in several insurance categories and top 50 in sales & selling. His LinkedIn Learning courses on sales and coaching have been viewed by more than 90,000 people around the world!

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