Until 2016, I had confidence that there was such a thing as “the rule of law.” I knew that the law did not protect Black people and has not throughout history, but I had confidence that there were laws that no person, not even the most wealthy, could escape. I would hear the phrase “nobody is above the law” and rest easier. So I of course balked when, after the former president was elected in 2016, Stephen Miller, one of his aides, said on national television that as president, any decision the former president made as concerned national security “will not be questioned.” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2017/02/13/stephen-millers-audacious-controversial-declaration-trumps-national-security-actions-will-not-be-questioned/) And the former president declared – more than once – that as president, the constitution allowed him to do “whatever I want.” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/07/23/trump-falsely-tells-auditorium-full-teens-constitution-gives-him-right-do-whatever-i-want/)
While the remarks bothered me, I did not put much stock in them. We were told, after all, “a nation of laws,” meaning that “the law” would not allow corrupt politicians to have their way. I believed that our judicial system was set up in such a way as to protect the country, even if that same system did not protect many of the people who comprise the country.
But I was wrong. The confidence I had in the judicial system as it relates to politicians was misplaced. “The law” actually protects them, much as qualified immunity protects corrupt and violent police officers.
Former president Richard Nixon felt much the same way. In speaking about some of the things he had done which raised eyebrows and questions, he waved off the questions that he was fielding as defied set law to get his way. “When the president does it,” he said, “it’s not illegal.”( https://www.chicagotribune.com/opinion/ct-xpm-2014-02-13-sns-201402121600-tms-cthomastq-b-a20140213-20140213-story.html)
We see people serving in Congress – leading important committees, no less – who have been accused of everything from lying to sexual impropriety to financial crimes – and they do not worry. They know that as members of Congress, they cannot be sued or held responsible for things they say on the House or Senate floor; they are protected under the Speech and Debate Clause in Article 1 of the US Constitution. (https://www.mtsu.edu/first-amendment/article/1021/speech-and-debate-clause) Lawmakers benefit from “Sovereign Immunity,” meaning they cannot be sued while in office. And we have learned that a “sitting president” cannot be indicted while in office for any crimes he or she may have committed. (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-russia-indictment-explainer/can-a-sitting-u-s-president-face-criminal-charges-idUSKCN1QF1D3)
I have frankly been stunned by the shabbiness of this American judicial system. It is maddening and disgusting that politicians – those who make laws and policies for the rest of us – are allowed by law to get away with so much, while the masses of people who live in this country and who elect them too often cannot get justice for their missteps. The inequity between the “haves” and “have nots” in this country is profound, and with all that the country is going through now that its foundational and structural weaknesses are showing. Back in the day when women wore slips to prevent anyone from seeing through her dress and skirt, there were times when the slip would hang below the hemline of the dress, and we would say, “your slip is showing.” It seems that unjust provisions were put into place, and still exist, to prevent Americans from seeing through the fabric of this government. America’s slip is showing.
I am angry that the institutions that I thought were supposed to make this country better than those countries which they criticized, seem impotent, and powerless, in this march toward authoritarianism. Why hasn’t the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), for instance, called out and taken licenses away from media outlets that have been spreading what has proven to be lies about the 2020 election? I thought there was a standard of honesty that television and radio had to follow. And why did a man who cast a vote in the name of his deceased mother get probation, while a Black woman, on parole, voted after being advised that she could, was sentenced to five years in prison? (https://www.aclu.org/issues/voting-rights/fighting-voter-suppression/crystal-mason-thought-she-had-right-vote-texas) In 2022 the Texas Supreme Court ruled that her case must be revisited, but the issue is what is wrong with a judicial system that would pave the way for such a conviction when the man who openly cast a fraudulent vote was given sentenced to five-year probation? (https://www.cnn.com/2021/05/03/politics/pennsylvania-probation-illegal-ballot-trump-2020/index.html) and another woman who voted in the name of her dead mother avoided jail and was sentenced to two years probation? (https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/arizona/articles/2022-04-29/scottsdale-woman-avoids-jail-for-voting-dead-moms-ballot)
I should have known. I think I have wanted to believe in the “rightness” of the American judicial system, even though, as a Black woman, I have seen the system destroy the concept of justice and equal protection under the law. From the days of enslavement, Black people have endured a justice system that has, for the most part, refused to impart justice, but for some reason, I wanted and perhaps needed to believe that at least when it came to saving and protecting the government, the American justice system would do all it could to protect the country so many in power say they love.
What is going on is not an anomaly; the system is working exactly as it was intended to do, protecting the rights of wealthy, white men. (I say that because wealthy Black men have often been called out and arrested when they have tried to do what they have seen their white colleagues do.) (https://money.cnn.com/2016/07/14/news/economy/wealthy-blacks-racial-profiling/index.html) (https://www.phillytrib.com/commentary/michaelcoard/coard-racist-cops-racially-profile-wealthy-black-man-at-home/article_3bd7fc25-79b7-5d2e-9062-2b82232e8de6.html) I think that these wealthy politicians walk around with a smirk, not unlike the smirk I saw on the face of Derek Chauvin as he knelt on the neck of George Floyd, killing him.
The façade of political superiority is falling down. America’s slip …is showing.
A candid observation…