When the Law Is a Drag

by Victor Davis Hanson // PJ Media

Photo via PJMedia
Photo via PJMedia

In the Ferguson disaster [1], the law was the greatest casualty. Civilization cannot long work if youths strong-arm shop owners and take what they want. Or walk down the middle of highways high on illicit drugs. Or attack police officers and seek to grab their weapons. Or fail to obey an officer’s command to halt. Or deliberately give false testimonies to authorities. Or riot, burn, and loot. Or, in the more abstract sense, simply ignore the legal findings of a grand jury; or, in critical legal theory fashion, seek to dismiss the authority of the law because it is not deemed useful to some preconceived theory of social justice. Do that and society crumbles.

In our cynicism we accept, to avoid further unrest, that no government agency will in six months prosecute the looters and burners, or charge with perjury those who brazenly lied in their depositions to authorities, or charge the companion of Michael Brown with an accessory role in strong-arm robbery, or charge the stepfather of Michael Brown for using a bullhorn to incite a crowd to riot and loot and burn [2]. We accept that because legality is becoming an abstraction, as it is in most parts of the world outside the U.S. where politics makes the law fluid and transient.

Nor can a government maintain legitimacy when it presides over lawlessness. The president of the United States on over 20 occasions [3] insisted that it would be illegal, dictatorial, and unconstitutional to contravene federal immigration law — at least when to do so was politically inexpedient. When it was not, he did just that. Now we enter the Orwellian world of a videotaped president repeatedly warning that what he would soon do would be in fact illegal. Has a U.S. president ever so frequently and fervently warned the country about the likes of himself?

What is forgotten about amnesty is that entering the U.S. illegally is not the end, but often the beginning of lawlessness. Out here in rural central California we accept a world where thousands drive [4] without insurance, licenses, and registration. Fleeing the scenes of traffic accidents earns snoozes. There is no such thing as the felony of providing false information on government affidavits or creating made-up Social Security numbers. Selling things without paying taxes and working off the books while on assistance are no longer illegal. The normative culture is lawlessness.

Amnesty, granted through a lawless presidential act, will not stop but only encourage further lawlessness. If someone has become used to ignoring a multitude of laws without consequences, there is no reason why he should suddenly cease, given that punishment for breaking the law is still considered a politically-incorrect rather than a legal act — and that even with amnesties it will still be far easier and cheaper to break than obey the law. Who will deport an illegal alien beneficiary of amnesty when he again breaks the law? Amnesty will be seen as both reactive and prophylactic, a waiver for both past and future behavior.

More disturbingly, we have engendered a strange culture of justifiable lawlessness: those who are deemed exploited in some ways are exempt from following the law; those without such victim status are subject even more to it. Executive authorities compensate for their impotence in not enforcing statutes for some by excessively enforcing them on others.

I accept that if I burn a single old grape stake that has been treated with a copper-based preservative, I will be facing huge fines by environmental protection agencies, whose zeal will not extend to nearby residents who have created illegal compounds of rental Winnebagos with jerry-rigged wiring and stop-gap sewage or who dump wet garbage [5] along the side of the road. In the old days the dumpers at least used to sift out incriminating documents with names on them; now they leave them in, without worry over the consequences.

Our bureaucrats thirst for the single infraction by the law-biding citizen who can pay — to compensate for their impotence amid endless crimes by the law-breaking who are deemed unable to pay. That idea of redistributive enforcement permeates the entire federal government.

When Americans receive that dreaded letter from the IRS in the mail, demanding that they pay additional taxes with interest — or else — they cannot act in the way the IRS now acts: ignoring government requests, losing documents, hiding emails, taking the Fifth Amendment. If Americans were to follow the lawless culture of Lois Lerner and her associates at the IRS, then the IRS and the entire system of voluntary tax-compliance would simply implode. Try the following when the IRS calls:

“Sorry, I need two more years to find those documents.”
“You never sent me that tax notice!”
“My accountant, not me, did it.”
“Oh, oh, I lost that receipt.”
“I plead the Fifth and can’t give you that information.”
“Nope, those are private communications and I won’t hand them over.”

Indeed, the problem with the Obama administration is that the government’s own bureaucracies — the IRS, VA, Secret Service, GSA, EPA, Justice and State Departments — have so serially broken their own statutes and lied about their misconduct, that it is now almost impossible to reassure Americans that they, too, cannot do what their own government sees as some sort of birthright.

The fuel of lawlessness is untruth. What amazes about President Obama is not that he occasionally misstates facts — every president has done that — but that he so serially says things that are untrue and yet he must know are so easily exposed as untrue [6]. When the president on over 20 occasions swears he cannot legally grant amnesty and then does so, or when he swears he cannot comment on an ongoing criminal case when he habitually has done just that, or when he insists that Obamacare will not result in higher premiums and deductibles or loss of doctors and health plans when it does precisely that, or when he asserts to the world that a mere demonstration over a video caused an attack on our consulate in Benghazi when he knew that it did not, or when he utters iron-clad red lines, deadlines, and step-over-lines that he knows are mythical [7] or denies he has done just that — when he does all this, then almost everything he asserts must be doubted.

We now live in an era when we expect a federal bureaucrat — whether the attorney general or the secretary of Defense or the secretary of Labor — to illegally jet on family or political business at the public expense, or the president of the United States to pick and choose which elements of the law he finds useable and therefore are to be enforced and which bothersome and therefore ignored.

For this administration, the law is a drag.

What separated the United States from a Peru or Nigeria or Mexico or Laos or Russia was the sanctity of the law, or the idea that from the highest elected officials to the least influential citizen, all were obligated to follow, according to their stations, the law. Under Obama, that sacred idea has been eroded. We live in a world of illegal immigration and amnesties, Ferguson mythologies, and alphabet government scandals, presided over by a president who not only does not tell the truth, but also seems to be saying to the public, “I say whatever I want, so get over it.”

(Artwork created using multiple elements from Shutterstock.com [8].)

Article printed from Works and Days: http://pjmedia.com/victordavishanson

URL to article: http://pjmedia.com/victordavishanson/law-is-a-drag/

URLs in this post:

[1] the Ferguson disaster: http://www.breitbart.com/InstaBlog/2014/11/28/Progressive-Media-Failed-Again-in-the-Brown-Case

[2] to riot and loot and burn: http://hotair.com/archives/2014/11/25/contrary-to-brown-family-statement-stepfather-urged-protesters-to-burn-this-b-down/

[3] on over 20 occasions: http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Government/2014/11/19/Speakers-Office-highlights-22-Times-Obama-Against-Exec-Amnesty

[4] where thousands drive: http://pjmedia.com/blog/lapd-turns-a-blind-eye-to-illegal-aliens-without-drivers-licenses/

[5] who dump wet garbage: http://pjmedia.com/victordavishanson/reading-among-the-ruins/

[6] are so easily exposed as untrue: http://pjmedia.com/victordavishanson/obama-as-chaos/

[7] that he knows are mythical: http://pjmedia.com/eddriscoll/2013/09/10/the-worst-day-in-western-diplomatic-history/

[8] Shutterstock.com: http://www.shutterstock.com 

Copyright © 2014 Works and Days. All rights reserved.


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19 thoughts on “When the Law Is a Drag”

      1. I don’t agree with your use of the term liberal to describe the opinion Joe expressed. It is a wonderful word that has been abused.

        It used to be that moderate Republicans where conservative with finances, the taxpayers money; and also liberal towards individuals to “pursue their own happiness” with the law.

        I stick with that definition, as there are good, thoughtful individuals across the landscape of America, who are democratic and liberal. There is a healthy middle ground to hold onto with both terms: conservative & liberal.

        The real elephant in this room is the Secular-Progressive movement. In my mind, Joe’s comment is S-P.

  1. Mr Hanson, I appreciate your insight into a very important matter that many have overlooked or want to overlook. That is, the lawless and unethical behaviour that many people, leaders and nations are engaging in, and they feel like there is nothing wrong with acting in this manner. It appears that this lawlessness thinking will end up ushering in a new age that we will all regret in the long run.

    It is interesting to note, that according to the bible, there will come a time when the ultimate manifestation of lawlessness will be embodied in a super villain called the anti-Christ. Perhaps we are living in an age where the infrastructure and social environment to accept someone like that is slowly gaining ground and one day people will unwillingly wake up to this unspeakable horror…

  2. Joe,

    please give a definition for the expression “seems to”, as I’m not sure if we have a common understanding.

    VDH uses that expression prior to paraphrasing Obama, in order to briefly encapsulate or summarise a main point of his article. He follows this with several references that authenticate the expression as being a valid summary of a long and involved set of problems.

    You, on the other hand, use this expression prior to making a wild accusation, with no preceeding explanation, and no references to back it up.

    Throwing accusations out so carelessly like that, you “seem like” (sorry, I used it again) a kind of nasty vagrant, that likes to prod a stick into a sleeping dog. OMG, I just did what you did! (I also implied that VDH is a dog, but dogs are lovely creatures).

    Anyway, the moral of this story is, that facile throw-away one-liners, whilst they may initially look clever, in retrospect look cheap, and they don’t help progress the discussion for everyone’s benefit.

  3. I don’t know why everyone is in such a tiz-woz about the Ferguson issue. There’s a simple solution if we are just prepared to learn from history.

    There used to be a good understanding in places like Chicago, in the old days, that some members of society were ‘untouchable’, and should not be molested by the police. The system worked very well until Elliot Ness came along and spoiled it. So now things are very confused. We don’t know who are the gangsters that should be given special treatment, and who are the normal citizens that are supposed to pay their taxes, and be compliant to the myriad laws of the 21st century state.

    So we should introduce a card carrying system for gangsters, or any criminals actually, that shows their special status. Then, when accosted by the police after a robbery, or if rioting, or even if just stopped by chance for a trivial traffic violation – they can show their card and the police will know to let them off and wave them away with a cheery smile. Simples!

    Of course, there will be some initial teething problems. Judging by the crime figures and general lawlessness, I imagine there would be a need to print and laminate tens of millions of cards, perhaps even 40 million. Knowing the government’s failures with the Obamacare website, they would find that very difficult. However, the problem can be easily solved by outsourcing it to a private company for 1/5th the projected government cost.

    A more serious problem arises if, for example, Eric Holder was to apply for a card, as he doesn’t have any criminal convictions or record of street violence, but he does clearly have a contempt for the law. The solution in this case is to have a system of referencing. So, if your gangster friends can recommend you for a card, then you too are eligible to receive one. I don’t think Eric will have any problem.

  4. Barbarity is what we are facing, thuggery now, warlords soon. Circumstances are likely to get far uglier before any improvement is possible. From what used to be a well ordered country will spring either anarchy or despotism.

  5. I have lived in this country a very long time and so, of course, I have seen and lived through a lot. I have never been so depressed about what is happening to us and it is very difficult to believe we will somehow get out of the mess we are now in.

  6. Phillip Christman

    We are “cooked”! Hitler did the same thing in the last century and got away with it for > 13 years at a horrific cost to the whole world. The good Germans did nothing to stop him. Look at what it lead to!

    History is about to repeat itself, again!. Congress is interested only in its own survival it seems. Who will step forward? I’m telling you, Obama will not back down. He is serious about “fundamentally changing America”. That’s his MEIN KAMPF moment. At this moment he is succeeding and with the MSM’s complicity.


  7. Michael Smith, M.A., History to 1000A.D. SF State U

    Obama is an affirmative-action nothing who never ran anything but his mouth, and his high-school socialist-club spiel is a joke the world sees. Donald Trump nailed it:;”He’s laughing at us .”
    We’ll be lucky he doesn’t get us all killed.

  8. I have wrestled with the headlines from Ferguson, Phoenix, Trayvon-ville and Georgetown. I thank my higher power that VDH puts into words what I struggle to find on my own sometimes. But I think one thing is clear: Our society does not allow the “racist” tag to be hung on any minority. Blacks CANNOT, by definition, be declared racist anymore than those who voted for Obama for the sole reason of his skin color can be called a racists.

  9. It is comical (or cynical) that Holder, who apparently has not read the Ferguson grand jury documents (or has and doesn’t care), would, based on his own emotion, bias, and particular world view, promise a roll-out of new procedures to end law enforcement ‘profiling’, which in theory, should require an officer to act only on facts and objective evidence, versus letting his emotion, bias, and a particular world view lead the way.

  10. I am disappointed by many of the comments I’m reading. Are these just lonely trolls who have nothing better to do with their lives than stir the pot of animosity? Is reasoned discussion about topics such as this one beyond our skills or even our desire? Has it already taken such deep root in our culture that we scoff at the very idea that we might address the rising tide of insolence and debauchery? If so, then we truly are lost, as a nation and a people, and we are only standing around the evening campfire wondering who we may have to fight at dawn.

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