War, politics, and law

I'm starting to see the phrase _rule of law_ in connection with Robert Mueller's investigation into doings of the 2016 presidential election campaign. The idea that rule of law applies to presidential elections seems a little humorous to me. We all recognize that politics and law intersect, overlap, perhaps even slosh around together, like the contents of our sewage pipes when we flush the toilet. It's all unseen and you don't have to think about it. But then someone says 'we have to remember the rule of law here.' Then you think about it.

The campaign we witnessed and endured in 2016 returned us to the early days of our republic. You felt you were back in 1800, the first true presidential election campaign in our country's history. One difference between 1800 and 2016 is that in 1800, politicians did not pretend that law ruled their actions. A second difference is that the security state did not exist. A third difference is that political parties, as we now know them, did not exist.

The first two differences concern us here. The Justice Department harbors the FBI, a key domestic component of the security state. The Justice Department also administers the nation's legal system. The security state wants to know whether a foreign power interfered in our nation's presidential election, and if so, how. When the Justice Department does anything, especially related to the president, you witness a lot of people in Washington flap their gums about rule of law. These are people who, on a normal day at work, never think about the subject.

When you want to bring down a president, though, rule of law is a useful thing to have on your side. People can't argue with you, when you thump the table and point to a barn full of precedents to backstop everything you do. What good are those law books, if not to help you practice politics as you like? Call the president a strongman, but at least he does not pretend rule of law matters to him. He hires lawyers because he's fighting people who use legal weapons in a political battle.

If Rod Rosenstein says he wants to defend rule of law, less power to him. When the deputy attorney general slings his legal findings and fecal matter at the president, what doesn't stick at the White House gates may stick somewhere else. You cannot tell outcomes for these battles in advance. You can only watch, and cheer for your team. But for God's sake, as we watch these two teams engage each other in Washington's favorite game, we should not pretend that rule books can guide us, or that their sanctity needs protection. Rule books specify a batter's strike zone, or what counts as a completed pass. Political warfare does not operate according to rules.

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