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Trump’s cavalier grasp on the rule of law

Updated: May 8, 2022

Take a bill from your wallet or purse. If it’s a $1, you can probably buy a convenience store coffee. A $5 might get you lunch, a sawbuck can purchase half a tank of gas, and so on. But take a moment to consider what you’re holding in your hand. You might say it’s a piece of paper. (Technically it’s a mix of cotton and linen, but whatever).

But it’s not a piece of paper.

It’s an act of faith.

That’s the reason that bill is worth something. In reality it is just a piece of paper, but it’s a piece of paper backed up by the United States government. That means you can expect to work and be paid in a currency that will be universally accepted for goods and services. The reason that works is that we’re all in on it. We have faith the government represents us all, and that, despite a sometimes patchy record, it will enforce the rules (laws) that we, collectively, have agreed upon through those we elected to represent us.

That’s the way the founding fathers set things up. We’d just disentangled ourselves from King George III and the rule of a man. A nation of laws, not men, was the formula to ensure we wouldn’t find ourselves ruled by the whims of a single individual.

Today that formula, and our faith in it, is being tested.

The founding fathers established a system of checks and balances, one that specifically delegated to Congress the power to impeach a president whose actions could be construed to constitute “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” The transcript, released by the White House, of President Trump’s telephone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, on the face of it, implies just such “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

President Trump personally ordered his staff to freeze more than $391 million in aid to Ukraine in the days before his phone call with Zelensky, administration officials have said. Then, according to the transcript, Trump asks Zelensky to do him a favor by investigating Hunter Biden, the son of his potential rival in the 2020 election.

Yet, despite the appearance of a quid pro quo, we have a President who has essentially declared that Congress has no authority to investigate whether he has committed an impeachable crime.

University of North Carolina Law professor Michael Gerhardt, who wrote a book on impeachment, told an L.A. Times reporter, “For a president to urge a foreign leader to investigate a political rival is a clear instance of impeachable misconduct. The framers believed such self-dealing was the essence of corruption and invented impeachment to get rid of it.”

Congress not only has a right, it has an obligation to determine whether the evidence is sufficient to justify articles of impeachment. But Trump has called that Congress, composed of the elected representatives of the American people, a “kangaroo court” and refused to cooperate in any way with the impeachment inquiry. Being President doesn’t place Trump above the law or allow him to defy the branch of government the Constitution charged with the responsibility of holding him accountable.

This same President, snatching a term Joseph Stalin used to describe political rivals, calls the media the “enemy of the people” and all news except that favorable to him “fake news.” He does this in an attempt to undermine the free press, which the framers of our system of laws considered so essential to a functioning democracy that they protected it in the First Amendment to the Constitution.

He undercuts the bureaucracy that supports our system of government by calling it the “deep state,” implying some sort of dark conspiracy with no evidence to justify such reckless and disrespectful condemnation.

Trump’s self-serving, heedless and increasingly rash behavior undermines faith in our nation at home and abroad. It is the kind of behavior the rule of law is intended to protect us from. It’s a breach of faith.

As we said at the outset, without faith, money is only a piece of paper.

The same can be said of our Constitution.

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