Destroying our rule of law culture

After firing Michael Flynn as national security advisor for lying, Trump said Flynn had been “treated very unfairly.” Flynn was then indicted for lying to the FBI (this came out of the Mueller investigation). He pled guilty, twice, and was awaiting sentencing. Now the Department of Justice has dropped all charges. An unprecedented action so bizarre it leaves responsible legal observers dumbfounded with outrage.

Boot-licking Attorney General Barr did this to serve his master Trump and his vendetta trying to discredit Mueller. Giving Flynn a free pass is a frontal assault on the principle of impartial justice. Coming on top of the political interference with Roger Stone’s sentencing, it’s Barr’s DOJ now thoroughly discredited.

(Trump could have simply pardoned Flynn. But having Barr do the dirty work lets Trump paint it as somehow discrediting Mueller.)

Rule of law is a foundational precept of this democracy. Rule of law, not of men; with government accountable to citizens. A departure from most of human history when autocrats were laws unto themselves. “L’etat c’est moi,” said Louis XIV. Laws were only for the peasants.

Changing that meant laws even rulers had to obey. That’s what we think we have in America. We do have a Constitution, and many thousands of pages of other laws. But that’s actually not enough. China too has a Constitution; it even guarantees freedom of speech. What’s lacking in China is a cultural norm obliging the powers-that-be to respect the law. So China has laws, but not rule-of-law as we understand those words. As in Louis XIV’s France, China’s laws are just tools for the rulers to control the peasants.

Ordinary people have little choice about obeying laws. But who will enforce them against a president if he chooses the attitude of Louis XIV?

There’s that cockeyed Justice Department memo saying a president can’t be indicted (which nothing in the Constitution actually supports). Its theory is that for a president the only sanction is impeachment. And now we’ve seen that for this president impeachment is no constraint at all either. Certainly he himself took that lesson.

So what is there left to make him law-abiding? Only his self-restraint, his personal buy-in to the mentioned cultural norm of respect for rule of law. And actually, throughout all our past history, that ethos prevailed. We’ve had presidents better and worse than others, but our rule-of-law culture was always strong enough to restrain them. To make them restrain themselves.

But this president? Not this sociopath who respects nothing but his own exalted view of himself, who believes he is all-powerful, or should be.

Trump (through his toady Barr) took Flynn off the hook simply because he could. No president with an iota of regard for the principle of rule of law, not men, would ever have imagined doing such a thing. Cultural norms? Civic propriety? Those are for wimps, for losers.

Trump is methodically, with no compunction, hammering down this nation’s foundational principles. There is nothing to stop him — except, for now, the fear of election defeat. And his besotted cultists won’t let a little thing like rule-of-law give them pause. Once re-elected, nothing whatsoever will restrain him.

 

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