For a Nation of Laws, We Sure Don't Like to Hold Leaders Accountable

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The United States is good at many things. Holding current or former presidents accountable for crimes isn't among them. I can understand why many on the left obsess about the possibility of Donald Trump going to prison. But that doesn't mean I expect it to happen. If it didn't happen with crimes as serious as those committed by Dick Cheney, it seems unlikely to happen with Trump. When it comes to our former presidents, we don't seem to want accountability.

We like to believe that we are "a nation of laws," and we love to talk about how nobody is "above the law." Does anybody believe that? I know many of us would like to believe it, but can we? How many police officers have been above the law? How many celebrities? How many elected officials? Too many. On all counts, far too many.

I agree that nobody should be above the law, but this is a case where our desires aren't reflected by our reality. Lots of things should be but aren't.

As satisfying as it would be to see Trump in prison, there are a couple of things that would make me feel even better. I'd like to see evidence of some learning on our part. Some of our neighbors got carried away and put a monster in the White House. How did this happen, and how can we prevent it from happening again? It would be great to see evidence that we'd learned something from this.

I'd also like to see Congress pass some meaningful legislation to prevent a future Trump. We have some strong anti-democratic impulses. Some of our neighbors want a dictator. We need adequate safeguards to protect us from the next power-hungry authoritarian. If we can't prevent them from taking office, we need to make it easier to limit their power. Presidents aren't supposed to be kings, and we aren't supposed to want kings.

Those who say nothing will happen because of how divided we are have a point. I'm not sure that is the main reason nothing will happen, though. The power of the presidency keeps expanding. It has expanded under both parties. Both parties complain about it only when they are out of power. And the voters of either party don't seem to mind too much.

I used to think that we'd fix this problem once it was clear that we had to do so. The January 6 insurrection made it clear that we have to do so. And yet, I have heard little about the need for more safeguards. This ought to be a rare bipartisan issue, but it isn't. Both parties seem to be chasing unlimited power, increasing our vulnerability.

We learned that Congress could not remove a president even when it was clear that they needed to do so. That is a scary prospect. And it will be hard to trust our now-partisan Supreme Court to solve the next presidential crisis. If we refuse to hold former leaders accountable too, I'm not sure where that leaves us.

What does a "nation of laws" look like? How would things be different if we believed that nobody should be above the law? We'd hold criminals accountable regardless of whether we agreed with their political views. We'd accept some responsibility for allowing them to get as far as they did. When things went badly, we'd try to learn from what happened so we could do better in the future.

Image by Elias from Pixabay