Pettifoggery

“Pettifoggery” is the word that floated into my consciousness as I perused the morning’s news about the whistleblower, especially a story about a phone call between the occupant of the oval office and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

HIM: “Hey, can we do something about this whistleblower complaint, can we work something out?”

HER : “Yes, you can tell your people to obey the law.”

In his world, everything is—always has been—negotiable, and he keeps a coterie of loyal lawyers close at hand to facilitate negotiations.

So many in our business and lawyering communities live—have always lived—in a world where everything is negotiable. Spinnable. Obeying “the law” is not a concept they understand as most citizens do. For them, “the law” is a set of pliable parameters that they fiddle with to the benefit of their clients and personal bottom line. Businesspersons congratulate themselves for finding clever ways of circumventing tax laws and government regulations of all kinds. Lawyers (okay, “not all lawyers”; got it) care little for determinations of actual culpability or liability. Blame is their game. If you can’t prove your client innocent, just sow doubts about the reliability of witnesses who say he’s guilty. Spin it and spin it and spin it again until we’re all so dizzy we just want to get off the ride.

Pettifoggery. My 1941 edition of Roget’s Thesaurus includes the word under four separate entries: sophistry, deception, litigious, dishonourable.

Sadly, we live in a world where pettifoggers rule. Unless we can bring them back into the clarity of arcane concepts such as “obey the law.”

 

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