Bob Franken


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I think we can agree that we as a country give lip service to the concept of the rule of law. Unfortunately, what we actually have is a rule of lawyers. The stated ideal is literally chiseled in marble over the entrance to the Supreme Court — “Equal Justice Under Law.” Lofty. Or it would be if it wasn’t largely a lie in the United States.
Nevertheless, that’s the argument these days from those who contend that President Donald Trump should be removed from office to prove that “no man is above the law,” which is part of the same lie. Almost always, someone can avoid appropriate punishment for the most egregious misdeeds if he or she has enough money. It takes a ton of it to afford the exorbitant fees of attorneys whose ultimate skill is getting the wealthy but guilty client off by unleashing an impenetrable legal smokescreen. It is true that you and I are not above the law — in fact, we can get crushed by it. But for those lucky enough to have the resources (meaning huge bank accounts) to pay for all those billable hours, punishment for even the most abhorrent violations can be deflected.
For the most devious corporations, which created failed products or services because of negligence, profit-mongering or worse, whatever fine that might be assessed is just a cost of doing business. So when debating about whether or not President Trump is getting away with whatever he gets away with, he’s certainly not the only one who disproves that “no man is above the law.” Just like “rule of law” it is a phony platitude in the United States.

Another one is “balance of power,” that constitutional fiction that claims the three branches of the U.S. government are equal. Those “checks and balances” are supposed to wall off abuse by one government institution over another. The claim is that they protect against a president becoming an autocrat by making the executive answerable to the other branches.
Now we have a Congress where half — the House of Representatives — is controlled by the opposition. As expected, the opposition opposes. Also as expected, the Democrats are taking advantage of their new majority by exercising the right to investigate all things remotely questionable about Donald Trump and his associates, and subpoenaing every relevant record and witness. All that is how it was envisioned by the founders. Except what they possibly did not envision is a president who just refuses to go along with the anti-tyranny program.
President Trump makes no bones about it: “We’re fighting all the subpoenas,” he told reporters, “These aren’t, like, impartial people.” Never mind that the guys who were designing the rules weren’t figuring that an opposition would be impartial, just that each branch would restrain the other branches. That would include congressional oversight over the executive and his or her administration.
But wait, you say; the word “oversight” doesn’t appear in the Constitution. That is what the Trump lawyers are arguing, that oversight is not part of the legislative scheme. In one court filing, they cite a Supreme Court decision from 1880 that found there is no “express power” for congressional oversight. What they fail to mention is that the Supremes overruled themselves in 1927. Congress has the clearly “implied” power of oversight. That’s a bit eye-glazing, but Trump’s lawyers knew it and concocted a phony-baloney argument to support their client.
The point really is to run out the clock, to so clog the legal system with lawyering that it potentially can’t override the president’s unlawful actions until after the election. And if POTUS can defy clear congressional power, what guarantee is there that he would obey judicial orders? The rule of law would be replaced with the rule of Trump. That’s called a dictatorship.

© 2019 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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