Due Process

Lewis H. Lapham in Lapham’s Quarterly:

To pick up on almost any story in the news these days—political, financial, sexual, or environmental—is to be informed in the opening monologue that the rule of law is vanished from the face of the American earth. So sayeth President Donald J. Trump, eight or nine times a day to his 47 million followers on Twitter. So sayeth also the plurality of expert witnesses in the court of principled opinion (media pundit, Never Trumper, think-tank sage, hashtag inspector of souls) testifying to the sad loss of America’s democracy, a once upon a time “government of laws and not of men.” The funeral orations make a woeful noise unto the Lord, but it’s not clear the orators know what their words mean or how reliable are their powers of observation. The American earth groans under the weight of legal bureaucracy, the body politic so judiciously enwrapped and embalmed in rules, regulations, requirements, codes, and commandments that it bears comparison to the glorified mummy of a once upon a time great king in Egypt. Senior statesmen and tenured Harvard professors say the rule of law has been missing for three generations, ever since President Richard Nixon’s bagmen removed it from a safe at the Watergate. If so, who can be expected to know what it looks like if and when it shows up with the ambulance at the scene of a crime? Does it come dressed as a man or a woman? Blue eyes and sweet smile riding a white horse? Black uniform, steel helmet, armed with assault rifle? Or maybe the rule of law isn’t lost but misplaced. Left under a chair on Capitol Hill, in a display case at the Smithsonian, scouting locations for Clint Eastwood’s next movie.

…Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980 to restore America to its rightful place “where someone can always get rich,” his attitude and agenda not unlike Donald Trump’s, and by 1984 everywhere in the society, money was seen to be the hero with a thousand faces, greed the creative frenzy from which all blessings flow. What was billed as the Reagan Revolution and the dawn of a new Morning in America united the many and various parties of the right (conservative, neoconservative, libertarian, reactionary, evangelical, the Ku Klux Klan, and the Koch brothers) under one flag of transcendent and absolute truth—money ennobles rich people, making them healthy, wealthy, and wise; money corrupts poor people, making them lazy, ignorant, and sick. The doctrine of enlightened selfishness rebranded as neoliberalism has remained in power in Washington for the past thirty years. The separation of values treasured by a capitalist economy from those cherished by a democratic society has resulted in the accumulation of more laws limiting the freedom of persons, fewer laws restraining the license of property, the letting fall into disrepair of nearly all the infrastructure (roads, schools, rivers) that provides the citizenry with the ways and means of its common enterprise.

More here.