There is something happening. Something that people really don’t want to face up to. An ugly truth that we must confront.
The fact is that the United States has elected someone who truly does not care about the rule of law. This is something about Trump that became clear during the primary season, and it is the one thing that really sets him apart from other Republicans. Trump doesn’t even pretend to care about civic virtues. He has never extolled the values of democracy, freedom, law, and the Constitution in general. He has never said anything good about these important American principles because he does not care about them.
And that’s incredibly unusual in American politics. Even the politicians whose ideas I strongly disagree with—such as Ted Cruz or Rand Paul—genuinely care about law and the Constitution. They are fundamental American ideals to refer to. Sure, they can be used as the basis for controversial policies and political strategies, but the simple fact remains that they were present. Think back to Mitt Romney, who was mocked for his pastoral homilies to the virtues of American goodness, and about the blessing that was our law and Constitution. It was funny, but it underscored the fact that Romney at least cared about the rule of law as an idea. Even George Bush cared about it—the White House Counsel’s office would write memos describing that torture was legal. Even though many Americans saw this as appalling, the Bush administration at least acknowledge the importance of the law. If they wanted to do something immoral or controversial, they had to at least justify it in the context of the law. Because the law, the Constitution, and our civic norms are foundational American principles.
Trump is a complete aberration here, and an incredibly dangerous one.
He has waged a war on the free press and media, accusing any unfavorable reporting as “fake news.” He has refused to resolve his countless conflicts of interest. He has issued wide-reaching executive orders that undermine American values. He has brought along with him the neo-nazi Steve Bannon to infiltrate the White House as well. And both have no respect for the office, this nation, or any of its principles.
Law is not something that just happens; It cannot simply run on its own. A legal system can only exist if the people in charge of it actually care about it. Historically, Democracy has successfully fostered a process wherein the people in charge of its institutions have respect for the rule of law. They are bound by it at both an institutional level, but morally as well. However, this doesn’t work if you elect people who simply don’t care. If the people in charge of the police, the military, or the other organs of state power simply do not care about the rule of law, then the rule of law no longer matters. There is nothing a judge or a legislature can do. Many Americans don’t seem to recognize the magnitude of the extraordinary danger that now stares them in the face.
The wolves are in the house. We have had a process set up for centuries that aimed to keep the wolves out. But we let them in. And now we must get them out.