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Approving Trump’s Assault on the Rule of Law?

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This piece will be appearing in newspapers in my very conservative district (VA–06).

In the wake of the pardon of the unrepentant former Sheriff, Joe Arpaio, there’s no need to mince words: Donald Trump is engaged in an assault upon the rule of law entirely unprecedented in the history of the American presidency.

As with so many things these days, I am stumped on how to understand the approximately one-third of the American electorate – judging from the approval they express to pollsters – who seem to be OK with that. And, in this case as in so many others, there seem to be three possible explanations.

1) Perhaps some of these American citizens simply do not see what’s happening.

Perhaps because of the “news” they consume, they haven’t been exposed to the lengthening sequence of actions the President has taken:

  • to undermine the independence of the judiciary;
  • to demand from the Director of the FBI loyalty to him personally rather than to the agency’s crucial (and crucially independent) law-enforcement mission;
  • to attempt, through a whole swath of actions, to kill an important and entirely legitimate investigation being conducted by the Special Prosecutor (a man with an impeccable reputation for integrity);
  • to enrich himself in violation of the emoluments clause of the Constitution;
  • and now to overturn the conviction of an ally of his who was found to systematically violated the constitutional rights of American citizens and then to have refused to obey the lawful order of a federal judge that he desist from such practices.

(Other such examples could be given.)

It’s hard for me to envision how anyone paying attention could have missed all that headline news. But perhaps if one gets one’s “news” from Fox, one might not have gotten the picture.

2) Perhaps some people are aware of the information, but don’t understand what it signifies.

People have complained for years that American schools have fallen down on the job of giving their students an adequate education in what used to be called “civics.” So maybe we’ve got a lot of citizens now who have no concept of the basic American value of “the rule of law,” and/or have no notion of how vital that fundamental idea has been to giving Americans as benign a history –as much liberty and as much security – as we have had for the past two-plus centuries.

Maybe they don’t recognize how unprecedented so many of Trump’s attacks on the rule of law have been.

Maybe they have so little background in human history that they have no idea of the nightmares that many peoples around the world have been compelled to live through, over the centuries, when they were governed by rulers for whom the “law” was not a check to limit on how they could wield their powers but rather a weapon for them to use to maintain their domination.

So maybe these Trump supporters have no idea of how an assault on the American rule of law threatens our well-being, and dangerously advances the force of evil in our nation.

3) Perhaps there are some who do see what’s happening, and who do understand how dark are its implications, but who willingly embrace the darkness.

It is nice to believe that everyone wants what’s good, and rejects “evil,” and that people differ only on how the “good society” is best achieved. But history shows that some people are enamored of evil, and turn values upside down.

For example, although we are born with an allegiance to life, the fascists of Spain in the 1930s used to toast to Death (Vive la mort!). And, in America now, we have fascistic groups rising among us, brandishing the symbols of Nazism, and singing the praises of President Trump.

This fascistic element may be rising in numbers, and it is certainly rising in visibility. (Neo-Nazis have long been present in America, but until now they were always way out on a politically irrelevant fringe.) For such people, the kind of thuggish and brutal regime that previous generations of Americans regarded as the epitome of evil – and fought a world war to destroy–  is something to admire. (They’d love to see such a regime take over in the United States.)

(Apparently, the neo-Nazis that came to Charlottesville bore pictures celebrating not only Hitler, but also the Syrian leader Bashar al Assad – not despite the fact that he’s killed more than a half million of his countrymen to maintain his power, but because he had the “toughness” to be so ruthless.)

I doubt that third group is very large. Which would be for the best, as there’s no obvious cure for that kind of pathology.

But for those who don’t see, and for those who do see but don’t understand the stakes, remedies should be possible. That is, good remedies would be possible for those who are willing to learn.