Recently I attended the MHPC luncheon at which Tom Fitton, Head of Judicial Watch, was the guest. As he spoke, it occurred to me that saying we are ‘a nation of laws’ needs a modifier, and that would be ‘from time to time.’ Or if you prefer, ‘when we feel like it.’
Having laws on the books is one thing; administering them, obeying them, and enforcing them is an entirely different concern. And these are the things that matter; not having the laws on the books.
It became apparent as Tom spoke that when it comes to the latter aspects, we are anything but a nation of laws. In fact we are just the opposite.
You may recall that the President, who would be King currently reigning over the United States, came into office on the heels of an unusual public statement by his Senior Advisor, Valerie Jarrett. Most prior presidents said they were ready to lead, serve or govern. But in the climate of today’s imperial ‘administration,’ such old-fashioned ideas are passé.
“Given the daunting challenges that we face, it is important that President-elect Obama is prepared to really take power and begin to rule day one,” Jarrett, then Co-Chair of the Obama Transition Team told Tom Brokaw.
My understanding of how America came to be is that colonists from England who arrived on these shores grew tired of the heavy-handed rule imposed on them from afar by King George III. The King was the ruler in all things, and the colonists were ‘subjects’ or commoners, which is to say an underclass in the broadest sense. The only privileges and ‘rights’ they enjoyed were those ‘granted’ to them by the Crown, and they could be revoked on a whim. To those who angered or displeased the King, or those in his court, ‘justice’, such as it was, was meted out by decree.
The worst part is that the King was not elected, and so did not ‘represent’ the subjects. He ascended to the throne through the rules of Royal lineage, and reigned for life. (To say he ‘served’ for life would be an outrageous abuse of that concept.) His authority included presiding over the Church of England, in addition to all his other powers.
So the colonists, as expressed in the Declaration of Independence, envisioned a new nation that would be governed according to a set of laws enacted by the people, through their elected representatives, who would serve at the pleasure of the people. As they saw it, they would be ruled by laws that everyone would be able to see, rather than ruled by a man…the King…who could simply make up things as he went along to suit his fancy. There was no authority that could challenge the Crown’s decisions or rules.
So ‘came the revolution,’ to make a long story short, followed by the development of a Constitution of the new United States. Both embody the principles that we are ‘self-governing,’ and that elected officials serve at the pleasure of the free and equal people. We were to become a nation ruled by laws, not Kings, which is to say ‘man.’ And each of us was to be ‘equal before the law.’
Yet, here we are hundreds of years later, and we have more laws than any one person can get their arms around, along with innumerable regulations that derive from these laws.
We hear frequently from the political class that we are, in fact, ‘a nation of laws, and not of men.’ Our elected ruling class reminds us of this, most often when it serves their specific purpose, and hardly ever otherwise. One could easily argue that we are anything but a nation of laws.
Why? Because taking care that the laws be faithfully executed as the oaths of office require involves judgment at every step. For example:
- Does the alleged violation of law warrant further investigation?
- If so, what resources should be applied, and to what end?
- Once the investigation is complete, does it portray a violation worthy of indictment?
- If so, should a grand jury be impaneled?
- If a grand jury is impaneled, do their findings warrant the proposed indictment?
- If indictment is warranted, is it worthy of prosecution?
- If so, who should prosecution be directed at, and what charges and penalties should be involved?
- Should plea bargaining or other special considerations be invoked?
- Etc, etc, etc…..
There is much here to hold the interest of legal scholars, academics, intellectuals and the commentariat. You might be reminded of something I heard years ago: lawyers are in the business of prolonging conflict for fun and profit.
As I thought about this, I realized that every time judgment is involved, character comes into play, along with moral relativism. And when character comes into play, compromise of principles does as well; influence, peddling and corruption are all but unavoidable. And the weaker and more self-interested those involved are, the worse it becomes, until the concept no longer holds.
Which is to say that we are not, strictly speaking, ruled by law, but by men.
Fitton talked about the power residing in Congressional Committee chairmanships. I perceived that we are not ruled by a single King, but by hundreds of Kings ruling over a hierarchical mesh of nested Kingdoms. The Cabinet Secretaries; major quasi-governmental entities (FHA, FNMA, etc); Congressional Committees and Sub-committees; and the innumerable politically appointed second, third and fourth tier organizational heads all have Kingdoms where they rule with essential autonomy, largely unaccountable to the public or anyone else.
Think the IRS, TSA, the VHA, the GSA and many others in the news in recent years. The glut of those who ‘reign’ with arrogance and impunity should strike fear into the hearts of all who believe in the founding fathers and the principles they espoused as they framed the basis of our new nation.
When there was only one King, the problem was pretty easy to identify, characterize and strategize against.
But what do you do when there are hundreds of kings and kingdoms reigning over us simultaneously? How do you conduct a revolution against that?
Is it any wonder that Donald Trump has become a phenomenon? And that the terms ‘rule of law’ and ‘public servant’ are fighting over their rightful place on the ash-heap of history?