Monday, May 28, 2012

The Rule of Law

The United States is the first country to be founded, from the ground up, on the rule of law.  Other countries, such as England, have flirted with the rule of law and have finally come around to seeing the light, but they just pasted that rule on top of an existing feudal framework which still allows some autocratic privileges to remain, rotting in the body politic.
Americans have prided themselves on this fact, even while fighting a rearguard action against the forces of oligarchy and autocracy as they whittle away at our hard won protections and civil rights.
But the worst thing we do to those protections is self inflicted, and could be easily fixed.
Blame some of these observations on my white suburban upbringing, where everything was peaceful, cops were our friends, protecting us from the forces of darkness and evil, and obeying the law was something you did because it was just the right thing to do.
Americans have complained for years about the lack of respect for the law, it is a big fear mongering item in the right wing playbook.  But there is some validity to the observation that many Americans just pay lip service to the law and will do just about anything they can get away with while nobody is looking.
I have a private theory as to why that may be, at least in part.
What is the closest contact most Americans have with the law?  It is one’s city government.  Specifically, that would be the Library, City Hall (where they issue permits, etc.) and the local police department (whether city or county).
There are two issues which I think have an impact on how Americans see the law.
First is the city government as a whole.  There are, if one reads the news with an eye out for it, plenty of examples of corrupt local government.  City officials acting with impunity in ways that often violate well known strictures of law which are often known to people through word of mouth.  This breeds contempt for the law through association with the corrupt officials who write and pass that law.
Second, is the police department.
I see two disturbing trends.  One I’ve seen develop since I was a kid and the other is more obvious in the press today than its been in the past.
First, the press is publicizing more and more examples of police brutality.  Of police acting contrary to the law and basically, getting away with it.  Even with more and more people carrying cell phones, the situation isn’t getting better - the cops are just confiscating the cell phones and charging folks with violating wire tapping laws!
Uh, yeah, wiretapping.  Like recording the sound of a video is exactly like wiretapping your phone.
The other is traffic law enforcement.  Yep, that’s the local cop riding around town in his police cruiser, handing around tickets for traffic violations.  Before I go on, think about this:  
When was the last time you got a ticket from a cop on the beat for an illegal lane change?  Not using your blinker when turning?  Or maybe following too closely to the car in front of you?
Or was the last ticket you got issued by a speed camera?  Or a red light camera?  Or a cop sitting there with a laser gun or watching a stop sign?
Do cops even cruise looking for violators anymore?  I think they just sit at traffic lights or stop signs, or sit just over the hill with that laser or radar gun waiting to nail you for speeding.
Meanwhile, folks are riding around, cutting others off, not using turn signals, tailgating the slow folks, making right turns on red without stopping and other dangerous activities with no cops watching, and nobody giving out tickets for that bad behavior.
So all those people behaving badly behind the wheel begin to get the notion that they can violate the law with impunity, as long as they slow down for the speed camera and stop at lights with cameras.
Maybe it’s just me, but I see more and more folks on the road behaving like jackasses, doing things they’d never in the world do to you to your face, and I’ve almost never seen a cop pull someone over for it.
I have seen cops ignore red light runners - more than once, and that was before widespread red light cameras here.
I think that these combined trends are damaging to Americans’ view of their government, their distrust for government and their growing disrespect for the rule of law.
The fact that the Republican Party is trying hard to get the 1% out of paying taxes isn’t helping, either.

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