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For the Sake of the Rule of Law, We Must Indict Trump

3 min read

I’ve been of two minds about whether it’s better for the country to put Trump on trial for his crimes, or to leave it to history to call him to account. I’m not going to rehash all the arguments for and against, but after watching today’s events and listening to TRMS tonight, I’ve come to the conclusion that it will be more damaging to the country if we do not force Trump to take responsibility for his actions in a court of law.

The immediate triggering event was the revelation that Trump has now reached out to a third Republican officeholder, the Speaker of the Pennsylvania House, to get him to help overturn a legitimate election and keep Trump in office. This follows similar attempts in Georgia and Michigan. When the Georgian governor and secretary of state told Trump they had no legal authority to do what he wanted, he denounced them publicly and called them traitors. When the Michigan secretary of state said the same, armed protestors showed up at her home to threaten her (and Trump has said nothing about that). No word yet on what fate awaits the PA Speaker — though, while he did tell Trump he had no right to replace the electors, he did sign, along with about 60 other PA Republicans, a letter to the state’s Congressional delegation urging them to challenge their electors on Jan 6th.

These are federal felonies, as Rachel’s guest Andrew Wiseman (one of the Mueller prosecutors) pointed out — interfering or attempt to interfere in a federal election. I suspect there are also PA and GA and MI statutes as well, plus subornation, abuse of office, and other crimes. (IANAL).

So right here is a reason to haul Trump into court and subject him to legal penalties. By his words and actions, and by his refusal to speak out as his high office demands, he is encouraging rule of force and fear and intimidation as replacements for the rule of law. Trump is trying to create a condition where whoever has the loudest mouth, the biggest stick, and the largest number of thugs at his command — all things Trump aspires to — will beat out someone with the better legal and rational and factual case.

This is not so much a case of fantasy trumps reality. It is brutality trumps reality. Fantasy at least tries to invent a coherent even if unrealistic universe. Brutality doesn’t care if its fantasy is realistic or feasible or coherent. All it wants is the biggest stick.

So that’s the first reason to indict Trump — that he wants brutality to have a veto over the rule of law. He has to be held accountable for that.

The second point is that the rule of law is just one of many rules necessary in a modern civilized world. There are rules of evidence, rules of reason, rules of science. There is even the simple rule of courtesy. Trump has attacked all of these, mainly because these rules stand in the way — as they are supposed to — of letting him whatever he feels like doing. He wants to be a sadist, a racist, a misogynist. He wants money and attention and respect that he is not entitled to under the rules. He has to be held accountable for that.

Third, his contempt for the rules — in the debate with Hillary he congratulated himself for finding ways around the tax rules — is a large part of what his base likes about him. They too chafe under the rules of a civilized society, but before Trump they mostly grumbled about them. Now they openly break them, citing Trump as their motive and justification. So obvious and necessary a rule as wearing a mask in public has become a test of where one stands on Trump, because it’s a rule and Trump tells his cult they don’t have to follow the rules. He has to be held accountable for that.

The rule of law provides that persons given high office take on high responsibility, and that they will be accountable for the misuse of that office. Fiat justicia, ruat caelum — let justice be done, though the heavens fall.

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