A Government of Laws, Not of Men

June 7, 2018

I had an opinion piece in yesterday’s Brunswick Times Record.  It concerns Trump’s claim that he could pardon himself — or rather with unsatisfactory reactions to that claim.

“As has been stated by numerous legal scholars, I have the absolute right to PARDON myself, but why would I do that when I have done nothing wrong?” So said Donald Trump in a jaw-dropping tweet at 5:35 a.m. on June 4. That’s an astonishing claim.

My practice is to pay as little attention as possible to what Donald J. Trump says because what he says is consistently untrue and cruel, often both. But I do make it a practice to notice what others say when Trump lies or crudely demeans. I look to members of Congress, and to business and civic leaders to set a tone for the nation. I look to them to uphold norms of truthfulness, decency and civic virtue. Too often these days I’m disappointed and dismayed.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), a constitutional lawyer, was asked by a reporter if he agreed with the president that the president could pardon himself. Eighteen seconds of silence followed before Cruz said “That is not a constitutional issue I’ve studied.”

This claim by Trump is not, fundamentally, a matter for lawyers to settle. It is not a question that requires a law degree or careful study of precedents and the text of the Constitution. This question goes right to the heart of what we, the American people, committed ourselves to in declaring independence from Great Britain in 1776. This is a matter around which all citizens of this nation should today unite simply and clearly.

We are establishing “a government of laws, not of men,” John Adams said. It is a phrase that has been repeated thousands of times: in 4th of July speeches and in moments of political crisis. No one is above the law. No man is a law unto himself. In the pledge of allegiance we all promise over and over again “liberty and justice for all.” That doesn’t permit exceptions for tyrants or presidents – or anyone.

Maine Independent Senator Angus King called the claim “troubling because the implication is that a president can never be held to account.” “Troubling? I hoped I would hear a stronger denunciation, something like “False” or “Unacceptable.”

Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins, waffled even worse, saying that ‘self pardoning’ would be a “tremendous abuse” of Trump’s authority, as well as “remarkably unwise.” That statement from our senior senator seems to accept that a president could pardon himself. Say it ain’t so.

I look to our two Senators, our two Representatives, our Governor and everyone who is running for election or re-election next week to firmly and proudly declare that no man or woman is above the law, that no man or woman can distort the law for his or her own purposes, that we are a government of laws not of men.

This is the fundamental proposition of which Abraham Lincoln reminded a torn and weary nation when he called us “a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” — equally subject to the law.

Doug Bennett is a Topsham resident

About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
This entry was posted in Governance, Politics and Policy, Responsibility and Ethics and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to A Government of Laws, Not of Men

  1. Pingback: A Government of Laws, Not of Men – What is Republican Governance?

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