Disregard for the law is America’s greatest threat

by Victor Davis Hanson // National Review Online

(Les Cunliffe/Dreamstime)
(Les Cunliffe/Dreamstime)

Barbarians at the gate usually don’t bring down once-successful civilizations. Nor does climate change. Even mass epidemics like the plague that decimated sixth-century Byzantium do not necessarily destroy a culture.

Far more dangerous are institutionalized corruption, a lack of transparency and creeping neglect of existing laws. All the German euros in the world will not save Greece if Greeks continue to dodge taxes, featherbed government and see corruption as a business model.

Even obeying so-called minor laws counts. It is no coincidence that a country where drivers routinely flout traffic laws and throw trash out the window is also a country that cooks its books and lies to its creditors. Everything from littering to speeding seems negotiable in Athens in a way not true of Munich, Zurich orLondon.

Mexico is a much naturally richer country than Greece. It is blessed with oil, precious minerals, fertile soils, long coastlines and warm weather. Hundreds of thousands of Mexican citizens should not be voting with their feet to reject their homeland for the U.S.

But Mexico also continues to be a mess because police expect bribes, property rights are iffy, and government works only for those who pay kickbacks. The result is that only north, not south, of the U.S.-Mexico border can people expect upward mobility, clean water, adequate public safety and reliable power.

In much of the Middle East and Africa, tribalism and bribery, not meritocracy, determine who gets hired and fired, wins or loses a contract, or receives or goes without public services.

Americans, too, should worry about these age-old symptoms of internal decay.

The frightening thing about disgraced IRS bureaucrat Lois Lerner’s knowledge of selective audits of groups on the basis of their politics is not just that she seemed to ignore it, but that she seemingly assumed no one would find out, or perhaps even mind. And she may well have been right. So far, no one at theIRS has shown much remorse for corrupting an honor-based system of tax compliance.

Illegal immigration has been a prominent subject in the news lately, between Donald Trump’s politically incorrect, imprecise and crass stereotyping of illegal immigrants and the shocking murder of a young San Francisco woman gratuitously gunned down in public by a Mexican citizen who had been convicted of seven felonies in the United States and had been deported five times. But the subject of illegal immigration is, above all, a matter of law enforcement.

Ultimately, no nation can continue to thrive if its government refuses to enforce its own laws. Liberal “sanctuary cities” such as San Francisco choose to ignore immigration laws. Imagine the outcry if a town in Utah or Montana arbitrarily declared that federal affirmative action or gay marriage laws were null and void within its municipal borders.

Once an immigrant has successfully broken the law by entering and residing in the U.S. illegally, there is little incentive for him to obey other laws. Increasing percentages of unnaturalized immigrants are not showing up for their immigration hearings — and those percentages are higher still for foreign nationals who have been charged with crimes.

The general public wonders why some are selectively exempt from following the law, but others are not. If federal immigration law does not apply to foreign nationals, why should building codes, zoning laws or traffic statutes apply to U.S. citizens?

Consider the immigration activists’ argument that immigration authorities should focus only on known felons and not those who only broke immigration law. This is akin to arguing that the IRSshouldn’t worry about whether everyday Americans pay their income taxes and should enforce the tax laws only against those with past instances of tax avoidance.

But why single out the poor and foreign-born? Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton once pocketed a $100,000 cattle-futures profit from a $1,000 investment, with help from an insider crony. A group of economists calculated the odds of such an unlikely return at one in 31 trillion. Clinton then trumped that windfall by failing to fully pay taxes on her commodities profits, only addressing that oversight years later.

Why did Clinton, during her tenure as secretary of state, snub government protocols by using a private email account and a private server, and then permanently deleting any emails she felt were not government-related? Clinton long ago concluded that laws in her case were to be negotiated, not obeyed.

President Obama called for higher taxes on the wealthy. But before doing so, could he at least have asked his frequent advisor on racial matters, Al Sharpton, to pay millions in back taxes and penalties?

Might the government ask that its own employees pay the more than $3 billion in collective federal back taxes that they owe, since they expect other taxpayers to keep paying their salaries?

Civilizations unwind insidiously not with a loud, explosive bang, but with a lawless whimper.


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17 thoughts on “Disregard for the law is America’s greatest threat

  1. Great T.S. Eliot plug.
    The abilities of the leading Left to lie, manipulate, flip-flip, cajole, break the law and disregard the Constitution are the stuff that we, the United States, used to identify as the moral and ethical backwardness of other countries. Now, we have city governance defying Federal law leading into the murder of a young woman. In a sad sense of irony, the Left always maintains a sundry of excuses to shift criminal accountability from the individual to a plethora of conventions, institutions, circumstances (poverty, race, education, lack of opportunity); however, in this heartbreaking scenario, the Left has no excuse and despite their vitriol are responsible for this tragedy. An egregious Immigration policy compounded with the unlawful decision of sanctuary cities encouraged by moral lapse and lack of Federal enforcement is the direct manifestation of the Left. They made this monster, their baby.

  2. Thank you for a cogent, well-reasoned article on the greatest threat to our democracy. I have little hope that our government will turn things around from this lawlessness. And given the sinful nature of us all, I just pray every day, “Come, Lord Jesus!”

  3. To legalize those who entered the country legally is to subsidize and reward lawlessness. We’ve known since the last immigration deal from the 80’s that making deals will not suffice in dealing with problem. If you legalize illegal people there is no disincentive for those still weighing their options, and still haven’t left, there will be a flood.
    Finally someone mentions that absolutely criminal return of Hillary’s in the cattle futures, the rules at the time also stipulated that the minimum initial “pay in” was $5 grand, but this is a “small law”, I guess. The same could be said for Warren, who made money flipping houses and now has railed against other people doing the same.
    To answer your question about Hillary and the e-mails, just look at her time as FLOTUS, and her “activities” regarding files and the Rose Law Firm. Or, you can just look to today and see how unfilled the Clinton presidential library is; the Clintonswill wait until their dead or close to it to release them, like all Fabians, in order to lessen the sting of their illegality and treachery. The best example of this in American history are the Venona Papers.

  4. What is missing from our national discussion on immigration is an exposure of the policies and practices of the Mexican government. Mexicans are coming to the U.S. to escape the conditions of their homeland. As VDH points out, government corruption is rampant, crime and poverty ubiquitous, and economic opportunity rare and limited. Our immigration problem is the direct result of Mexico’s failures. And our open borders serve as a relief valve for the build-up of public dissatisfaction that would otherwise threaten the government’s hold on power.

  5. Mr. Hanson

    I follow your articles since Iraq-2003 war and bought and read several of your books about Classical History, which are among my favorites being an aspirant Classicist myself.

    About Latin America I agree with you about almost everything you’ve written in this article but one point needs to be clarified.

    Despite corruption is endemic in Latin America, an inheritage of the Iberic countries style, the corruption of our days is not exactly ‘corruption’. The Lefts seized the power and make all their efforts to maintain it and that brought all the difference, a big one.

    They are not trying to govern countries like Venezuela and Brazil. Instead they are transfering money from the State to their parties. It’s a simulacrous of the famous ‘Czar Winter Palace assault’ that lefties all over the continent continually fancy they are performing.

    I live in Brazil and the differences are perceptible: they are making all efforts to make the party members to become the enriched class. All the govt programs are directed to it under the disguise of ‘making the poor improve their lifes’ the Poor being themselves.

    It’s an inverse parody of the famous Lysias case described in Xenophon, when the 30 Tyrants wanted to disposess and grab the richnesses of some wealthy Matoikos (metics). Among those which they pick for murdering and robber fancing some general accusations there were 2 poor metics to maintain the disguise of a lawful state-oriented operation.

    Here is the opposite…for each 100 party members they benefit at expenses of the State, they benefit one or two poor to miaintain the disguise of social reforms and do massive propaganda of the ‘thousands’ of poors helped.

    So, the corruption of our days is not anymore that cultural, here-and-there isolated cases. It’s organized to fit their goals. They want to dispossess the middle classes and the opposition to rule the Latin American countries as the lefts usual do: like if those countries were their leaders personnal fiefs.

    They prepared themselves for a long time. a contingencial plan and remained quite after the Berlin Wall fall. But all those ppl which were part of the govts of Eastern Europe are now in Latin America spreading turmoil and setting the countries ablaze in divisions.

  6. Abraham Lincoln agreed: In his 1838 Lyceum Speech he said children must be taught to be a) generally intelligent, b) moral and c) lovers of laws and the Constitution. Since “Progressive Retardnation Worldview” education is the antipode of this, shouldn’t its funding be outlawed? Logic and reason says, Yes!

    In other words, it should be against the law to use public funds or taxes to fund “Progressive Retardnation Worldview” pedagogy in K-12, university and PBS and NPR and PC-claptrap forced on citizens and military.

    Rather, “Tragic-Liberty Worldview” education needs be this nation’s education system. Problem solved.

  7. Who says laws are being broken? Why do you question the New Standard? If you like your truth, you can keep your truth, even if it contradicts fact and logic.

  8. Living in San Francisco for the past year has affirmed the veracity of this article by VDH for me. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, run by an Ivy leaguer enforces the parking laws in the city with a fascist zeal to the tune of collecting over $200 MILLION a year in fines. I am considering making parking fines a part of my monthly budget! But when it comes to enforcing other laws such as those relating to illegal immigrants the city’s leaders (Mayor Ed Lee and Sheriif Ross Mirkarimi), who will not accept responsibility for the foolishness of their progressive policies turn a blind eye and its citizens are murdered(Kate Steinle). We are most definitely a city that chooses what laws to enforce and what laws to ignore. The sad result of our “enlightened” leaders progressive ideologies is that our citizens are less safe.

    1. I think the reason the left wing facists who run your city flout U.S. Immigration law is because doing so serves a political purpose. To them, the Kate Steinles are just collateral damage. Once the rule of law has been is replaced by ideology, then chaos and anarchy are sure to follow.

  9. Thank you Prof Hanson on your enerring laser eye on the dangers facing democracy which is now coming under threat from those who do not see the ‘common good’ in their actions but simply a way to rule the roost their way and to hell with laws. We can see this today happening not only here in the US but in some European states as well. A grave warning.

    Seems like a great place to put in a reflection on one of arguably one of the greatest flms ever made and that is the 1966 Academy Award winner , ‘A Man For All Seasons’. It is an exceptionally relevant film for our time since it shows how some specific individuals take a dynamic stand in the face of corruption, blatant power and moral perfidy about them and reply to that with all the power of their being and refuse to submit and to stand by and support those who ‘break the law’ no matter the consequences to them.

    So do we have these individuals today wuth say a ‘Thomas More’ midnset? I am not sure. Perhaps it is ‘unfashionable’ in our day with a winner take all mentality. But if democratioc traditions are to endure, perhaps ‘unfashionability’ may have to come into play. If not the West will be in deep troulble.

  10. We are fiddling while Rome, I mean Washington , continues its burn. Immigration as our major threat to law and our future, Ha! Our own government , with the acquiescence of the voters has endangered our liberty more since 9/11 than any US administration since Lincoln, and he was fighting a insurrection. If anything frightens me, its not a lot of immigrants. The nativists of the 1850’s said much the same things of the dirty Irish. What does scare me is the national security state, which is what the Founders really were afraid of. We all live in our little Matrix like world , oblivious and uncaring about the control and influence our government has over us , as long as we can watch the big game on our 70 inch screen and indulge our most basic and base desires. They know this and continue to build the machine. When will it stop? I don’t believe a word they say. And Obama might as well be Cheney for all the resistance he has put up. Obama care, hobby lobby, Baltimore, ferguson, all a mirage , to hide the big picture, that has been ongoing since 9/12/01.

  11. The Obama administration has gone from the idealistic pablum of Hope and Change where there are no blue states and red states, only the United States, and where borrowing $5 trillion in 8 years is reckless and unpatriotic to the intransigent and deeply dishonest rogue presidency of today. Obama and his minions have striven not to live up to sublime ideals of Martin Luther King in which America was compelled to examine her conscience in order to uphold the rule of law and change an intransigent South, but have embraced Malcolm X’s lawlessness to achieve their radical Marxist agenda “by any means necessary.” The evidence is plain to see as the scandals just keep piling on one after the other, with no one ever being brought to justice.

    What has happened to our nation?

    We once prided ourselves on the rule of law. Today we simply ignore what doesn’t directly affect us, and negotiate what does. Are we just too fat, dumb, and lazy to get up, stand up and speak truth to power? It was a little over forty years ago that the mobilization of the media and the checks and balances of government forced Richard Nixon to resign the presidency in disgrace following a third-rate burglary and attempts to obstruct justice. Today, those democratic safeguards are failing.

  12. In Hernando de Soto’s “Mystery of Capital” professor de Soto clearly points to the three tenants of real prosperity (private property rights, rule of law and free markets) that create wealth, liberty and economic freedom in societies that have embraced such policies. Dr. de Soto was solicited by the Peruvian Government to identify the root causes of poverty in the indigenous peruvian population and provide policy guidance to mitigate the situation. After an exhaustive study he advised the Peruvian Government to adopt the three basic tents of capitalism. Unfortunately the bureaucratic culture as well as the culture of the populous were and are unwilling to embrace the good doctors protocol. The misanthrope in me leads me to the cynical and biased conclusion that “culture” in many cases is standing in the way of liberty,prosperity and economic freedom.

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