Rule of Law

This past weekend, I watched a conservative legal scholar [who supported the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court] list the legal reasons why Trump should be impeached and convicted. At present, more than five hundred legal scholars from all across the nation have also signed documents in support of impeachment on detailed legal grounds.

So why does something like at least 40% of the American population oppose impeachment when there’s a considerable legal consensus that the President’s acts and behavior meet the legal tests of impeachment.

Many of those people, including the President, claim that the Democrats are trying to “undo” the election and take power. That’s not only untrue, but nonsense. Even if Trump were to be impeached, his successor is Vice President Pence, who is a right-wing, evangelical Christian far more conservative than Trump. Making him President will actually make things worse and harder for the Democrats and liberals.

No… I’d submit that the reason many people don’t want Trump impeached is because at heart they don’t believe in either actual government by the people or the rule of law.

They want what they want and think Trump will either give it to them or keep the Democrats from enforcing the laws. They believe, despite the progress we’ve made in cleaning up the environment over the past forty years, that environmental laws don’t do that much good and hurt them. They would rather have tens of millions of people breathing air that literally kills them over time so that these non-believers in law and science can make more money or get paid in industries that destroy the environment and the health of the poorest of Americans.

They believe that equal rights for all people under all circumstances go too far. And if you think that’s far-fetched, just consider what happened in the South after Reconstruction was abandoned – the rights granted to former slaves by the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendment were essentially abrogated by the southern states for a century. And in terms of redlining and financial discrimination, the North wasn’t that much better.

We’re still seeing police discrimination against minorities, despite laws that require equality. All Americans are either immigrants or the descendants of immigrants, but the majority of Trump Republicans want to cut off the opportunities that our ancestors had, and the Trump administration is accommodating them, often violating the law in doing so.

Trump’s even said that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and get away with it. And if that’s not disrespect for the law, I don’t know what is… well, except for saying that the President is above the law, which is exactly the way in which Trump has behaved.

We’re supposed to be a nation of laws. That was what was supposed to make us better. But Trump and his supporters are claiming that the laws don’t apply to them.

And what happens if everyone decides to follow that example? Is political tribalism important enough to tear the country apart? We’re still paying for the last time a chunk of the union decided that economic gain outweighed rights, rights for everyone, not just rights for white males.

Outdoors

Back in the middle of the previous century [and writing that makes me feel even older than I am] my parents were firm, possibly tyrannical if compared to the relaxed (and sometimes non-existent) parenting of families today. Television viewing [the only screen time then available] was essentially non-existent, and, outside of school hours, time spent on homework or athletics, and family events, during daylight hours and even twilight we were to be outside. By the time we were teenagers, the rules were somewhat modified to allow one other exemption from the “outside” requirement – work, either unpaid or paid.

Today, I seldom see children outside, even on weekends, and we live in an area that gets neither excessive heat nor cold. We had a foot of snow this past weekend, and the only one in the entire neighborhood who was sledding was our visiting granddaughter. I didn’t even see sled tracks or snowmen. I know there are children here. I see them every school day at the school bus stops, but playing outside? Almost never.

The new “indoor” life isn’t good for children, especially for their vision. A recent study showed that by junior high school, today 40% of U.S. children are near-sighted and need corrective lenses, up from 20% fifty years ago. That’s a doubling of nearsightedness in two generations. This isn’t a world-wide trend. It’s a U.S. trend.

According to 2017 Pentagon data, 71% of Americans in the 17-24 age group are not qualified to join the military primarily because of one of three reasons: (1) poor health [mainly obesity]; (2) lack of physical fitness; (3) lack of reading skills.

Kids don’t play outside as much anymore, and according to the researchers behind the study, that lack of outdoor activity, combined with excessive screen time, is the major cause of the increase in near-sightedness.

Certainly, one reason why many parents don’t let their children play outside is fear, fear of violence, kidnapping, and other mayhem, but the U.S. is actually far safer now for children[except possibly in inner city areas] than it was in the middle of the last century.

No matter what anyone claims, most screen time doesn’t teach reading and comprehension skills, and it reduces physical fitness… and excessive screen time certainly degrades vision.

All of which are a major reason why today’s children are looking at shorter and unhealthier lives.

Abuse of Power

The way the impeachment hearings are going, it appears likely that the House of Representatives will impeach Trump on a largely party-line vote, and the Senate will refuse to convict him of the charges, and 35-40% of the electorate will declare their boy vindicated. As Trump himself declared years ago, he could kill someone and get away with it, and his supporters are so angry with the “elite establishment” that they will excuse any and all abuses of power on his part.

Trump’s latest abuse, however, is another, and different, example of the unraveling of law, order, and the structure of government. Navy Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher was acquitted of murder in the stabbing death of an Islamic State militant captive but convicted of posing with the corpse while in Iraq. As a result of the court martial, Gallagher was demoted from chief petty officer to a first class petty officer. Trump unilaterally overruled the judicial proceeding and restored Gallagher’s rank this month.

Gallagher also faced a Naval SEAL review board to determine whether he should remain in the elite force. Trump then tweeted that he would not allow the Navy to strip Gallagher of his SEAL status. In response, the Secretary of the Navy declared that a tweet was not an order. Abruptly, the Secretary of Defense requested the resignation of the Navy Secretary and stated that Gallagher would be allowed to retire almost immediately as a chief petty officer and as a SEAL, exactly what Trump wanted.

Speaking as a former Naval officer, I’m quite confident that Gallagher was guilty as charged, and quite possibly in fact did some of what he was charged with and acquitted of. Senior military officers are incredibly reluctant to bring charges against service members, especially members of elite units, unless the evidence is overwhelmingly convincing.

But not only did Trump interfere in the Gallagher case, but he also pardoned Army First Lieutenant Clint Lorance, convicted of second degree murder in the death of three Afghans and Army Major Mathew Golsteyn, who faced murder charges for a similar crime.

Former Marine Corps Commandant, retired General Charles Krulak, stated that Trump’s actions amounted to circumventing the military legal system and that the president’s intervention “relinquishes the United States’ moral high ground. Disregard for the law undermines our national security by reducing combat effectiveness, increasing the risks to our troops, hindering cooperation with allies, alienating populations whose support the United States needs in the struggle against terrorism, and providing a propaganda tool for extremists who wish to do us harm.” [Military Times, 11/21/2019]

Trump’s interference in the military justice system for a political end is just another example of how Trump will trash anything, including the law, that interferes with his desires and political ambitions. Interfering in the workings of the law, whether military or civilian, is definitely a high crime, but I doubt that Republicans will see it that way, although I am certain that, had Barrack Obama done something like that, he would have been impeached in a Republican minute.

What ever happened to that Republican emphasis on law and order? Or does it only apply to women and minorities?

Freedoms and Rights

What almost no political figure will say publicly is something that should be as self-evident as the “inalienable rights” so beloved by the Founding Fathers: Not all freedoms are the same.

There are, in theory, two general categories of freedoms. The first category holds those freedoms or rights whose expression physically and economically harms no others, provided one doesn’t carry them to extremes. The second category includes those rights whose exercise can and often does harm others.

The problem is that, as with anything, human beings are good at carrying things to extremes.

Your belief and worship of a different god, or no god, harms no one [if you use belief to justify harm to others, it’s a different story]. What gender or sexual or non-sexual self-identity you express harms no one. What clothes you wear harms no one [provided those clothes are not designed to physically harm others]. What opinions you express harm no one [but using those opinions to put others out of business, incite riots, or public uprisings goes beyond the freedom of speech and self-expression].

Your freedom to fire a gun can in fact harm others. So can dumping sewage into the stream that runs through your property. Your freedom to smoke in enclosed spaces definitely harms others. Your right to drive or fly aircraft or use heavy equipment is limited because you can definitely harm or kill others.

In more lands than not throughout history, freedom of religion or freedom from religion did not exist. All too often, there was, in effect, a mandate of what religion was or was not allowed. More than a few countries, until recently, effectively had sumptuary customs or laws that limited who could wear what garb. And censorship in some form exists in all too many lands.

Part of the freedom problem is, as noted above, that all too many human beings carry their freedoms to extremes. They not only want to worship as they please, but also want to force others to worship in the same way, “for their own good,” as well as to enshrine their religious values in law. They tell lies and partial truths for their own benefit, claiming that they should be able to do so because they have freedom of speech. Men have historically generally claimed that their rights superseded those of women, and that women did not have the right to sexual and reproductive freedom – and men used, and often still do, the law to restrict that freedom, while effectively granting themselves rights women did and do not have.

The other part of the freedom problem is that to function societies need sets of rules that people will abide by, because without accepted laws, societies disintegrate into anarchy. Those in power in society always structure those laws in a way that reflects their beliefs, usually maximizes their freedoms, and restricts the freedoms of others – even those freedoms that seldom harm others.

Representative governments were designed to come up with laws acceptable to all, but that structure is fraying across the world as people use technology to associate with just those who share the same values. The more they do so, the more each group rejects the others, and demonizes not only “the other,” but also the diminishing number of moderates, and the more they struggle to impose their values on others.

And that may well be how our vaunted technology destroys us… and our freedoms.

If Trump Is So Innocent…

Why is he keeping everyone he can from testifying? Why is he threatening and denigrating lifetime federal employees and decorated military officers with impeccable and honorable records? Why is he trying to keep his tax records out of the hands of public prosecutors?

The Republicans are trying to claim that Democrats don’t have testimony from enough people with “first-hand” contact with Trump, but at the same time, Trump is doing everything possible to keep as many of those individuals as possible from testifying before Congress.

What’s occurring on the Republican side doesn’t look like honorable individuals trying to get the truth out. It looks like a Mafia gangster using every stratagem possible in the law book, and some that are anything but legal [threatening witnesses, directly or indirectly, is a crime], to keep the truth from coming out.

Supposedly, if one is innocent, truth is the best defense, yet while Trump complains and calls the impeachment hearings a hoax and claims he’s innocent, he’s doing everything possible to keep whatever happened from coming out or being investigated.

What amazes me is how many people, particularly his supporters, don’t see this, and don’t want to. Their attitude is similar to an old sculpture my grandmother had with three monkeys in a row. Under the monkeys was the inscription: Hear No Evil; See No Evil; Speak No Evil. The first monkey has his hands over his eyes; the second over his eyes, the third over his mouth.

And, in a perverse way, that seems to fit Trump and the Republicans at this point. They don’t want to hear, see, or speak of Trump’s evil.