How far will Toyota be pushed? Watch this case closely.

The conventional wisdom is that what is happening to Toyota now is just another round of Chicago thug politics, this time to humble, then humiliate, maybe even bankrupt, the Government’s chief competitor in the domestic auto market.

Objective? A giant one-card fits all card check for Toyota? Welcome 35.000 new members.

I’m not sure, and I suspect neither does Toyota.

What we do know is that Toyota is the most respected car company in the US. Loyalty to the brand is exceeded only by Democrats when someone waves a stack of Benjamins in front of their eyes.

Moreover, Toyota still plays by sets of rules long since discarded in the United States. I lived and wored in the Japanese corporate culture some years ago, and while it has changed, in its innermost circles I’m willing to wager it has not. No Skilling-sans and Fastow-sans there, thank you. Ikimashoo?

Toyota will bow and humble itself publicly so long as there are back channels to fix the problems, which, again, most agree have been blown way out of proportion to reality. But now the government is leaking stories of back room skulduggery by Toyota, while suddenly every media outlet has a lead Toyota-tragedy story to set the theater for this week’s hearings in Washington…and they are threatening to turn the case into a criminal matter.

The moment the federal government steps forward with criminal charges against any corporate Toyota official or entity, all bets are off. Toyota’s options are many (you can list them yourselves). from closing up shop entirely on a day’s notice, to the most massive legal and media pushback ever seen in this country.

For you see, if the government goes criminal, they’d better by God be able to prove it, and not just in that smarmy hair-splitting way lawyers tend to do when trying to parse paragraph 12 (c)(1) of the regs.

If the government places Toyota’s honor on the table it will only come off that table in one of two ways.