Democracy is a fragile system — we’re finding out just how fragile, in the age of Trump. Concepts integral to a functioning democracy, like the “rule of law” turn out to depend in large measure upon people in power honoring them. Al Capone eventually went to jail for tax evasion; he didn’t shoot his way out of the courtroom. Richard Nixon ultimately resigned rather than defy the orders of a judge. What would we have done if he hadn’t?
Stephen Bates, now a journalism school professor but formerly a lawyer on the staff of the Whitewater independent counsel, thinks we should not push Trump to a similar point. We know ahead of time that Trump has no regard for the rule of law. In fact, defying norms that presidents before him have honored seems to be a core part of his persona and a trait that his fervent supporters most like. If I’m reading the article correctly, Bates thinks that since we already know Trump would not honor a subpoena, we shouldn’t present one and create a crisis from which democracy might not be able to extricate itself.
I get the point, but I don’t love the argument. Insisting on the rule of law only when the opponent agrees ahead of time to play nice doesn’t seem like much of a standard at all.
I have no illusions that any Republicans in Congress will acquit themselves the way some brave Republicans did in the Nixon era. And, none of us yet know what Mueller has. Still, I’m hoping that if there are substantive charges to be brought or connections to me made between the Trump campaign and Russia, that we go forward and make them. Otherwise we’re using Trump’s laughable standard with Putin: “he says he didn’t do it, so what can I do?”