Michael Lind: Does Anyone in America Believe In the Rule of Law?





[Michael Lind is Policy Director of the Economic Growth Program at the New America Foundation.]

Different ideas about the rule of law in the United States and a certain nation in Latin America were explained to me once by a distinguished professor of law from that country. "In your country, the Constitution and the laws are considered to be binding," he told me with an ironic smile. "In my country, they are considered to be ... aspirations."

Further evidence, if any is needed, that the 21st century U.S. is degenerating into a banana republic can be found from the increasingly casual attitude toward the law that is displayed all across the American political spectrum. Liberals, conservatives and centrists, it seems, all agree that laws are aspirations, not commands. Individuals should be free to selectively disobey laws of which they personally disapprove. What is more, there seems to be a consensus that the American nation as a whole has no obligation to obey the system of international laws that the U.S., more than any other nation, spent much of the 20th century attempting to promote....

..[T]he defenders of lawlessness on the part of individuals or the nation as a whole can make a case for an exception to the rule that laws ought to be obeyed until they are changed. Yes, the defenders of Julian Assange might say, it is wrong to declassify government documents -- but WikiLeaks lets the public know more about decision-making in American foreign policy, and that's a good thing. Yes, progressives might argue, illegal immigration is undesirable -- but illegal immigrants' violation of U.S. laws is outweighed by the improvement in their lives (to say nothing of the benefits for the Democratic Party if the amnestied law-breakers vote for the Democrats)....

The problem with this kind of reasoning is that if too many good reasons are found to justify refusals to obey or enforce too many laws, respect for the system of laws as a whole will erode....



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