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Laid Bare: the Façade of US Institutions

Prague.

The spectacles of the week–whether the sham hearings of the Senate judiciary committee, the 45* show at the United Nations, or the game of 3-Card Monte being played with the DOJ–expose once again that power not restrained by law is a menace, and that law is usually a tool to legitimize raw use of power.

For anyone really looking, the unprincipled naked exertion of power is evident, and the civics lesson mythology of U.S. governance has been slain. The prosecutor the GOP Senators hid behind came from the same Maricopa County, AZ as the lawless racist Sheriff that 45* pardoned. The GOP show rather than mollifying agitates.

Is law a process or a result? While the pathetic Dems wasted their time on process, they let the nominee of the hook on substance. Where the GOP controls the process, they will get their result. It’s about numbers, not truth, and dollars, not principles. “Law not served by power is an illusion; but power not ruled by law is a menace.” The first half of Justice Arthur Goldberg’s quote is often left out, but the reality of both clauses now lay bare.

The two-party system is a ruse. Losing is actually winning. Consider this: for all the Dems whining, their Senators do have the power to subpoena witnesses and hold a public hearing to get at the truth of the matter. Why do they not use that power to question Mark Judge and others under oath? Is it all just a show?

Hypocrisy abounds as incentives are perverted by the limitless supply of, and demands for, money in politics. Note how due process, federalism, and so many civic and jingoistic phrases are employed in favor of power and patriotism, and in wholly inconsistent ways by entrusted actors. Principle is absent.

The angry nominee invoked his prosecutor mother in a plea for the application of common sense. Ok, who has greater motivation to lie, accuser or accused? Based on your life experience, which gender is more honest? Common sense will have us believe women. Why do those in power hate women? How can they still sell their patriarchal politics of resentment when most voters are women?

The keyword of the speech at the UN by 45* was “sovereignty”. The architect of his foreign policy is John Bolton, who while US representative to the UN called for its destruction. When is sovereignty shorthand for impunity? For war profiteering?

Expecting ill-prepared people to decipher the media spin cycle is a recipe for authoritarian subjugation. The so-called liberal New York Times refers to right wing extremist jurists as “social conservatives”. They are more aptly “reactionary”. The mainstream press equates sovereignty with virtue. Separation of powers, checks and balances, democracy, and free and fair elections are rolled out as truisms. War is security. What can we do?

If we want a well-informed citizenry, then school civics curriculum should require these courses: Corporatocracy versus democracy: theory and practice; Critical thinking, media literacy and the perversion of language; Why should I believe it? In whose interest?; War: who profits?; Responsible energy policy: Protecting our planet; Power and privilege: the challenge of accountability, not impunity; The rule of law in theory and practice; Social change movements and history: how real change happens; Civil disobedience: when is breaking the law a moral obligation?

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William A. Cohn, professor of jurisprudence at New York University and lecturer on law, ethics and critical thinking at the University of New York in Prague, is the author of Led Astray: Legal and Moral Blowback from the Global War on Terror (Routledge, 2017).

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