Thanks to new duties at work, my time for posting on this site has grown sparse. And I would prefer not to spend that precious time repeating myself here. But as someone who worked on the prosecution side of violent crime cases, and who has spent his career concerned about problems of crime and violence, I heard something yesterday that I could not let pass without a comment. I will hope to make such responses rare.
At a time when violence is erupting around the country, crimes rates are increasing, and tensions between law enforcement and citizens are a subject of another national conversation, there has never been a more important time in contemporary America for political leadership that understands the delicate balance between liberty and order under constitutional government. It was therefore a moment worthy of maniacal laughter when white-shoed wine salesman Donald Trump announced to the world that he is (gulp) the “law and order candidate.” Yes, just days after telling us that he would protect “Article XII” of the Constitution (of course, there is no Article XII), and offering yet another bizarre compliment to yet another brutal dictator, The Guy In The Hat once again reminded us that he understands neither “law” nor “order.”
You cannot be the candidate of law and order if you appear to accept, even encourage, private violence at a political rally, and say publicly that you wish you could punch a protestor in the face, and long for the good old days when you could beat up protestors without consequence. (See prior post here.)
You cannot be the candidate of law and order if you offer to pay the legal fees of a people who engage in unlawful violence.
You cannot be the candidate of law and order if you do not understand the role of courts in American government, such as when you insist that Supreme Court Justices conduct investigations of your general election opponent. (See prior post here.)
You cannot be the candidate of law and order if you habitually file meritless lawsuits, which clog our judicial system and undermine the ability of judges and courts to administer justice in worthy cases.
You cannot be the candidate of law and order if you question the integrity and fairness of distinguished federal judges based solely on their race.
You cannot be the candidate of law and order if you boast publicly about receiving the endorsement of a man convicted and sentenced to prison for raping a teenager, approvingly calling him a “tough guy,” or if you talk about inviting a boxing promoter who has a lengthy criminal history, including a history of violence, to speak at your nominating convention.
You cannot be the candidate of law and order if you threaten a free press with the expansion of libel laws.
You cannot be the candidate of law and order if, in a Nation whose laws presuppose and protect religious pluralism and religious tolerance, you threaten to forbid entry to people based solely on the god they worship, and mock other candidates for their practice of minority religions.
You cannot be the candidate of law and order if you threaten to indiscriminately kill the families of terrorists.
You cannot be the candidate of law and order if you have authoritarian tendencies that, combined with ignorance of constitutional government, threaten the separation of powers.
Whatever Trump’s other virtues or vices may be, I know of no credible prosecutor who would look at Trump’s record and identify him as a “law and order” guy. Those of us who spent significant parts of our careers working in the law enforcement community, making sure that violent criminals were caught and seriously punished, have endeavored to secure some understanding of how and why “law and order” is important in a free society that values liberty and justice under a written Constitution of limited and enumerated powers. Trump lacks any such understanding.
Law empowers and it restrains. “Law and order”- and when we speak of order, we intend something tolerable, within which both liberty and justice can flourish – requires appreciating what law allows government to do, and what it forbids government from doing. It means respecting rights, particular those of dissenters and those with minority viewpoints, while urging respect for lawfully constituted authority and institutions. It means, in Madisonian terms, controlling the people while also controlling the government. “Law and order” requires balance, not belligerence.
When Trump says he is for “law and order,” he likely means nothing of the sort. Trump equates violence with toughness, belligerence and raw aggression with strength. To Trump, prudence and restraint are tantamount to weakness. But brute force is not “law and order.” And prudence and restraint are indispensable virtues in governing a tolerably ordered society pursuant to the rule of law.
So, Trump the “law and order candidate”? It’s a hilarious notion. Except, there is a real (indeed, very good) chance he could win this election. And it’s not so funny anymore.