You might remember a time when “Above The Law” was simply the title of a "B" Steven Segal film. Unfortunately, today the phrase has returned to prominence in a broad sense to define the basis for a national crisis. What is being discussed today in the media is whether in principle the President of the United States, or specifically in practice Donald Trump, is above the law and by association so are his underlings and compadres in crime, through his power of the pardon.
In principle, the law is the law. As written it applies to everyone, but in practice it is subject to selective enforcement. When the people being investigated for crimes are the very same people who are conducting the investigation, then the system is failing us. When investigators have a personal interest in the outcome of the investigation and are aligned with the suspect in motive, then the system is failing us. When was the last time that you can remember a police officer being convicted and sentenced for excessive violence or for the killing of an unarmed suspect or a prisoner during arrest or transport? Probably never. Police are investigated by police and represented by police and put through a system that needs the support of the police to function. As any fraternal order of police or police union will assert, there will be consequences, so the system succumbs to politics and circles the wagons in the interest of self-preservation.
In politics, anyone but the most naive schoolchild knows that legal consequences in the form of jail time never follow the criminal misdeeds of a United States President. As in the case of the police, a resignation is about all that will happen. The former President will go on to a quiet life of retirement writing a book while waiting for the day when his misdeeds are all but forgotten and he can assume a revered position among those who supported his actions in their mutual cause.
Checks and balances have become a mere philosophic ideal, a fiction as practical as laws and law enforcement if the system is policing itself. If the chief executive, the President, sits at the top of the investigative chain of justice, and has the power to hire and fire the very persons who are investigating him, and if discovered to be criminally liable can end an investigation or pardon convicted associates, then the system needs to undergo a major overhaul to reflect that no one is above the law. If the interests of congress are aligned with a criminal President for self-preservation, we need to change how the system must work to provide equal justice. Politics cannot be allowed to determine justice.
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Now the GOP find themselves in a quagmire, a Sophie’s Choice, with no predictable outcome. Facing the midterm elections, they must decide whether they will sacrifice principle or practicality, all the while quite unsure which is which. On the one hand, they can support Trump in the hopes of getting Trump’s voters while on the other hand they can deplore Trump’s undeniable criminal complicity and distance themselves from the corruption surrounding him and his team, and by osmosis his congressional supporters whether through past actions or inaction. Political expediency is their only guide as these congressional leaders cower in Trump’s shadow, looking for guidance from the constituency they supposedly lead.
Let’s agree that Trump is motivated exclusively by personal profit and congress is similarly motivated by economic prosperity or national profits. The historical record is very clear. The profit motive is their bond and their applied salve for the nation, and so the dilemma. Is congress going to seek votes with the promise of economic prosperity by maintaining a Trump alignment or will they seek votes by distancing from Trump’s corruption and demonstrating some late semblance of civic integrity and moral certainty in the face of the inevitable descent of a failed President into the swamp of his own creation? When it is finally determined that Trump has been conspiring all along with the Russians against our democratic process, and to be certain the GOP knows in their heart of hearts that he has, who among the GOP can say that they were on the right side of history? Can they execute a reversal now and still remain in office or should they wait until after the midterm elections and if they still hold office after the smoke clears, try to put on a dignified face and demand his resignation?