It is July, 2008. A question has been sliding around in my head, like a puck in an air hockey game, since the morning after election day in November, 2000: “Is it possible in today’s political climate to apply the rule of law to the powerful?” If it is not, then this nation is only a structure of power-relationships that adapts to the exigencies of subterfuge and force. I say ‘only’ because all nations and institutions operate to some degree by subterfuge and force – this is universal – but it is possible for the focused force of governance to be guided by the generalized force of a populace in agreement with principles of law. In the United States of America that generally accepted principle of law is the Constitution and its amendments. All questions of conflict are to ultimately depend on the rules of order contained in those few pages, a few thousands of words, that on their face are remarkably clear of meaning even today.
My question was excited many years ago in the 1960s (Vietnam), again in the 70s (Watergate), in the 80s (Iran-contra), in the 90s (Clinton impeachment) and by other less lofty events occurring across those years. But, it seemed that, as unsatisfying as a result might be, at least some form of honorable outcome partially appended to these events. When the 2000 election was so plainly criminally manipulated (the observant could see that the morning after) and then sustained by the Supreme Court; when an illegal government is seated and begins to operate immediately like a criminal enterprise, that is, solely by subterfuge and force; when inhibition is not the inhibition of law, but only the inhibition of opportunity; then, my question takes on its present urgency.
A more specific question spins off of the first. “Has the Bush-Cheney administration so corrupted the process of decision making and the rule of law that we cannot recover?” The ultimate guiding and inhibiting power is ‘the generalized force of a populace in agreement on the principles of law.’ This is, when functioning, powerful, overwhelming and seemingly imperturbable. It is, when in disarray, (nearly) impossible to reconstruct without social, economic and political catastrophe (known almost euphemistically as ‘revolution’). I am reminded of cleaning my house: I cannot get it really clean in a way that sticks unless I pull everything down and completely rearrange; even if it goes back to basically the same design. However, in the case of my house, there are very few competing interests and I can make a design that is both highly functional and stable. If a nation has a revolution, it courts great danger: for a time raw force dominates. It is like throwing a thousand-sided die on which “governance by democratic rule of law” is on only one side and “governance by despot”, “fascist governance”, etc, are hundreds of the sides.