Lest we forget, the current United States was at first a series of colonial territories owned and governed by England and English law.
England itself did not become a democracy until after the successful American Revolution. Until then, England had been essentially a monarchy both in state and foreign affairs. Under that system of government one person, the unelected king (and, at times, the queen), with the help of a large body of officials and administrators, made the executive and main administrative decisions for the country. The law was, essentially, what the king and monarchy said it was.
The democratic government chosen by the new Americans, and established through the cost of thousands of lives lost in physical battles, was new on the scene. Modeled here first by the Iroquois Confederation and several other native American configurations, the experiment in American democracy---still going on---depended on creating and following a new legal system which did not depend on privileged monarchical interests, but on the interests of regular citizens. But old habits, particularly those tied to money and property, die very hard deaths.
So though democracy in the U.S. is based on the common law—i.e., citizen-based law-- the interests of the monied and propertied among us won’t go away, and they keep bubbling up no matter how much society progresses in other spheres of endeavor. As Thomas Paine said in 1779, ‘here, in America, the king is not the Law, the Law is King.’
Well, not quite, at least, not yet.
So because of his continued garrulous displays of wealth, reputation and out-sized personality, some just chimeras, Donald Trump has not previously been held down by the idea that ‘the Law is king.’ He has gotten away with much more than any of the other millions of American citizens could have under U.S. law, and has never been held to account. It was as if there were different sets of laws---one for the common man, and one for the monied folk like Trump (although he regularly claimed much more than he actually had).
Now comes the municipal indictments out of New York for essentially cheating the tax man and breaking federal election law. He may show up for arraignment in a New York court this week—or he may not. He will be charged, regardless. However, this particular indictment will not end his current quixotic campaign to be re-elected POTUS in 2024, since there is no law connected to that case which prevents him from running for the presidency. He could even be convicted in this case, and still run for, and possibly (though, not probably) win the American presidency as a convicted felon. The law is king, indeed.
For those still hoping to see Mr. Trump being taken into Rikers Island Prison (or its equivalent), the case to watch isn’t Stormy Daniels-New York one, but the federal documents case now being investigated by the FBI. If that case gets to an indictment and conviction of Mr. Trump (all very likely), he will not get to ever serve as POTUS or in any other elected office in the U.S. That is the promise of the Disqualification Section of the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Within the coming days or months, we will know whether the attorney general’s special prosecutor will announce a federal indictment in that case. If so, America may be treated to a real “perp” walk, arrest and trial, and a conviction (a weak case will not be brought forward) that requires prison time. It may then look like banana republic-time in a real sense (to the rest of the world) , but at minimum, it may finally indicate that after some three hundred years, America did finally achieve the level called “the Law is King”
Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.
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