September 19, 2019 | Reading Time: 3 minutes

Face It: Trump Is above the Law

He will be until the Democrats act to limit his power.

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I think we need to prepare ourselves for the unthinkable: that this president is above the law. Indeed, that any Republican president is above the law. We need to prepare ourselves to cast doubt on any public official who idolizes the rule of law but who can’t or won’t hold a historically weak president accountable for his many high crimes. 

I think we need to prepare ourselves to accept as fact that there are two kinds of justice in this country. This isn’t a belief. This isn’t a hunch. This isn’t a feeling. The evidence is overwhelming if you’re paying attention. There’s one kind of justice for you and for me and for everyone we know. And then there’s one kind of justice for the very rich and the very powerful. I know what I’m suggesting. And yes, it’s hard to accept. I’m suggesting that equality isn’t just fictional. I’m suggesting that equality is a con. (I don’t think I really believe that, but the evidence is so overwhelming that continuing to believe in equality before the law is starting to feel like unhealthy self-delusion.) 

Continuing to believe in equality before the law is starting to feel like unhealthy self-delusion.

Our system not only fails to protect the public from billionaire pedophiles, amoral business leaders, predatory bankers, and malicious pharmaceutical firms. It fails to protect democracy itself from a nihilist executive ready to burn everything down, including his own house, if that’s what it takes to “win.” Indeed, our system not only fails to protect the innocent; it congratulates the guilty! It’s no wonder we are losing faith in ourselves. What’s an American creed when the heretics are giving the homily? 

The House Democrats are trying to focus the public’s attention on the president’s crimes—at least 10 instances of obstruction of justice are outlined in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report to the Congress—but they are flailing. I’m not sure why.

The Republican Party remains united behind Donald Trump. It also had a gigantic right-wing media apparatus that keeps Trump voters in line, and that bends the press corps toward its preferred topics and perspectives. And then there’s the president himself. His vision of his office is boundaryless. So much so that he grants privilege to underlings when there’s no legal basis for granting it. But any executive’s power is limited only to the extent that other constitutional powers are willing to limit it. 

Which brings me back to the Democrats. I see their struggle to hold a criminal president accountable as part of the larger struggles of liberalism. By that, I don’t mean to invoke a leftist complaint of “neoliberalism.” I don’t mean to invoke a conservative complaint of “cultural Marxism.” (Pish.) I do mean, however, to invoke a moral complaint. The Democrats face creeping totalitarian, but are behaving as if the last thing they should do is act like it’s wrong much less offer a remedy steeped civic virtue. Either Trump is above the law or he’s not. If not, they must act with the courage of their professed convictions or reveal themselves for the charlatans they are.

Lewandowski is a flyspeck of insignificance, but the Democrats won’t hold him in contempt.

Allow me to rephrase. Half of the Democrats are behaving amorally.

The other half, including House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, does appear to understand the imperative of moving forward with the committee’s impeachment inquiry even if it does not result in Trump’s removal from office. The other half does seem to understand the political risks of doing so, even accepting Democratic House loses to do the right thing. I think that trade-off, to the degree that it’s real, is a pivot point between the liberalism of the last century and the liberalism of this one. 

Trump’s former spokesman, Corey Lewandowski, testified Wednesday with contempt not just for members of the Congress but for popular sovereignty, for equality before the law and for the common good. Lewandowski is a thug’s thug. Yet the Democrats are ready to turn the other cheek instead of kicking over the money changers’ tables with the fury of the righteous. Lewandowski is a flyspeck of insignificance, but the Democrats won’t act. How can they possibly impeach this president? I don’t know.

But I do know more than politics is on the line.

Our democratic faith is, too.

—John Stoehr

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.


  1. Burgs on July 30, 2021 at 7:54 am

    I think one potential issue is that the congress members pushing hard for impeachment are absolutely not the same ones who will surely suffer from the electoral fallout. We’re in between a horrible rock and a terrible hard-place. I wish I had an answer.

    Another massive issue is the courts dragging their feet to actually enforce any subpoenas. Trump just sues, and the entire system just lurches to a halt. The legal issues seem obvious, what are the courts doing to help enforce the law?

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