No western culture without the rule of law

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The major news events of the past few weeks (and longer, frankly), have a common theme: Our culture matters. And we’re losing our grip on it.

I don’t just mean American culture; I mean western culture — that which has produced Greek philosophy, Roman political theory, the French approach to diplomacy, the magnificent British legal system, and so much more.

One of the west’s greatest contributions to human governance is the idea of the rule of law. defines it as “the principle that all people and institutions are subject to and accountable to law that is fairly applied and enforced.”

Any culture grounded in liberty and limited government is dependent upon citizens who voluntarily abide by the law, and most do. Additionally, most citizens of western nations believe in their systems and expect them to work. At least historically, we have also believed that those we have elected to represent us believed in those systems a well.

Increasingly, however, it is apparent that we have a class of elites who no longer believe in the systems of governance that have made our nations strong, powerful and adaptable. They no longer hold to the values that the rest of us thought we shared. They do not believe that they are subject to the same rules or the same laws. They act with audacity and impunity, and when we dare to object, they are indignant.

And, oh, are we objecting.

Great Britain just dealt a body blow to the European Union by voting democratically to leave it. Free trade is peachy, but a majority of British citizens object to their laws being handed down to them by unelected bureaucrats in Brussels. They resent their industries being crippled by an incessant barrage of regulations. And they are irate that a literal handful of politicians have opened Europe’s borders to literally millions of unscreened people, some unknown number of whom are terrorists and criminals ripping European cities apart with bombs, gun rampages, beheadings, rapes and other physical assaults.

Thus was there Brexit. Britain said, “Enough.”

We are seeing similar sentiments in the United States, and they are bipartisan. Democrat presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has shocked the political establishment with his popularity among voters that heir apparent Hillary Clinton assumed would be hers for the plucking. Sanders has capitalized on left-wing voters’ widespread discontent with income inequality, political corruption, revolving-door lobbying and crony capitalism.

On the right, newcomer, brash reality TV star and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is already in the history books for his having knocked out 16 other GOP candidates. Trump, too, is a product of voter outrage; in his case, outrage with a GOP-controlled Congress that cannot muster the will to rein in government bloat, a federal deficit of $19 trillion and the ongoing culture wars.

How does our government respond to the rising tide of anti-elitist populism? By refusing to press charges against Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

The circumstances of this decision are nothing less than a flagrant rejection of the rule of law, and at the highest levels of government. Consider just a few points:

1. All attorneys are bound by the Model Code of Professional Responsibility, which prohibits conduct that creates even just “the appearance of impropriety.” Loretta Lynch, the attorney general of the United States, certainly knows this. But she met with Bill Clinton, alone, while his wife was the subject of a pending FBI investigation. This was not some casual conversation at a beltway cocktail party. It was a deliberate, carefully orchestrated conversation on a private airplane. That is not the mere appearance of impropriety, it is impropriety.

2. Lynch protested that they just discussed “grandchildren and golf.” That is implausible. But who cares? Days later, FBI Director James Comey, right on cue, announces that there will be no prosecution of Hillary Clinton.

3. In his public statement, Comey effectively admitted that Clinton actually violated federal law by using an unsecure email system for classified government materials, thus subjecting top-secret information to hackers and foreign agents. We already know that she deleted tens of thousands of nonpersonal emails. And now we know that she lied about it. But Comey demurred, Clinton really didn’t intend to hurt the U.S. government, she was just “extremely careless.”

4. Except that the statute doesn’t require “intent;” it only requires “gross negligence.” What does “gross negligence” mean, you ask? “Extreme carelessness” is a pretty good definition.

5. Here’s the worst part: Comey further stated, “To be clear, this is not to suggest that in similar circumstances, a person who engaged in this activity would face no consequences. To the contrary, those individuals are often subject to security or administrative sanctions. But that is not what we are deciding now.”

Translation: “Anyone else would be prosecuted. But not Hillary Clinton.” Comey is speaking in an easily decrypted code. This decision was preordained. The fix was in.

That the government could hand down a decision like this, amidst the phenomena of Trump, Sanders and Brexit; and that Clinton could dare to invoke Martin Luther King Jr. in her legal “victory,” means that these people are even more divorced from reality and more dissociated from the public mood than I thought possible.

Clearly, they are confident that there will be no reckoning. But undermining the rule of law does not always grease the wheels of the politically connected the way they think it does. Voters are already irate. If Hillary Clinton thinks that a public statement of her wrongful actions, coupled with an admission that anyone else would be prosecuted, means that Americans will catapult her into the White House, she’s smoking crack.

We want our culture back. And that starts by electing someone who understands that the law applies to us all — not just “the little people.”

Laura Hollis

Laura Hollis

Laura Hollis is a syndicated columnist and teaches courses in business law and entrepreneurship at Notre Dame Law School. Read here previous columns here.