In celebrating July 4, we should recommit ourselves to the promise of America. We cannot lose our way from the foundational premise that we are a country of laws, applied equally, with integrity.
In a recent report in Real Clear Politics, Florida Gov. and Republican presidential candidate Ron Desantis took aim at the Department of Justice with a plan to “tear down and rebuild” the federal justice system. The announcement of the Desantis plan coincided with former President Donald Trump’s once-unthinkable arraignment on charges including an extraordinary 31 counts under the seldom-used Espionage Act of 1917. Desantis’ intention: restore a law-enforcement mission “more in line with what the founding fathers envisioned.“
Our second president and founding father John Adams correctly asserted that a government of laws would set America apart in protecting freedom, and that “if there be no other law in the kingdom but the will of a prince, there is no such thing as liberty.”
Our country has historically distinguished itself by understanding that the whim of one in power is not “rule of law” and personal liberties are protected, regardless of whose. It is key to apply laws equally. Recently, we have strayed from this principle and allowed government to, seemingly, rule for the interests of a few.
This has become today’s America.
Whether one thinks the Trump indictment was a stunt or substantive, the bigger issue is the eroding trust in government and further division in the electorate. An ABC/IPSOS poll found that four in five Republicans consider the charges politically motivated, but just 16% of Democrats consider the same.
Amazingly, Adams predicted that such hyper-polarization would ultimately displace law-based government in favor of the law of the jungle.
“The whole state, divided into two factions… the laws, instead of being permanent, and affording constant protection to the lives, liberties, and properties of the citizens, will be alternately the sport of contending factions, and mere vibrations of a pendulum.“
Perhaps the fulfillment of Adam’s prognostication began with the scorched-earth of once-civil judicial selections to achieve political goals. Or with escalating abuses by special prosecutors like Lawrence Walsh, when he unleashed an indictment implicating incumbent Republican President George H.W. Bush days before the 1992 election, or with Kenneth Starr driving an impeachment of Democratic President Bill Clinton that centered on lying about an infidelity. Or, most recently, with the phony (based upon the findings of the Durham report) Russia collusion investigation, driven by a few with Trump derangement syndrome, resulting in a complete devaluation of the impeachment process.
Contrast endless investigations and indictments of Trump against the seeming whitewashing of Hillary’s potential more serious secrecy breaches and recently developing Biden scandals. Also contrast rioters and protesters threatening Supreme Court justices getting off scot-free, while pro-lifers pestering at clinics are harassed and arrested, and parents are targeted as “domestic terrorists” for questioning school boards on transgender policy.
In this ever-downward cycle, no one seems safe, whether because of deprivation of the right of free expression or access to online platforms, employment opportunities or freedom itself. Government’s unmatched resources are brought down on regular, everyday citizens with divergent views.
The spiral must stop, but the question is how.
Adams advocated robust checks and balances. He also constantly preached the indispensability of ethics: “When public virtue is gone… the republic is lost in essence, though it may still exist in form.”
Ethical renewal was also central in Special Counsel John Durham’s report laying bare the DOJ’s and FBI’s “Russia collusion” misdeeds. He said, “Ultimately… meeting [the agencies’] responsibilities comes down to the integrity of the people who take an oath to follow the guidelines and policies currently in place.
How far we’ve come from Republican congressional leaders informing Richard Nixon that his own party could no longer support him due to Watergate. Imagine current Democrat leaders telling Joe Biden how a Trump indictment would break political protocol and be ruinously divisive and potentially dangerous for progressives in a future GOP administration.
A refocus of the DOJ is all well and good. However, we must also demand the rediscovery of public virtue and integrity in all action taken by our institutions. The commitment to the rule of law needs to overcome the scoring of political points. The Durham report and the endless double standard in place underscore the need for integrity if we are to remain a “government of laws” and preserve America as the last, best hope on Earth.
Edward J. Pozzuoli is the president of the law firm Tripp Scott, based in Fort Lauderdale, and hosts the podcast “Politics & Sunshine.” (MH)