Yet again, the nefarious, if not criminal, activities of our one-time president are forcing the country to debate, in real time, basic beliefs that most Americans have held sacred for 250 years. While frustrating, the process of recalling those basic beliefs may be good for a country of civically illiterate and chronically detached citizens.
The question now being pondered is whether a president should be treated differently from you or me. For those who are familiar with our Constitution, the answer ought to be a case of settled law. But since we’ve pretty much exorcised the teaching of civics and/or American history from the curriculum, hardly anyone has. So the debate continues.
I happily confess to not being a lawyer. But in my ignorance, the answer seems clear and not at all debatable, at least for as long as we consider ourselves a democracy.
A fundamental principle of American democracy is that none among us has the rights of a king, that everyone from an ordinary citizen to the president must follow the law and be treated equally under the law.
Our one-time ruler, George III, considered himself to be above the law. Given that he was appointed by no less than God himself (or herself), it was beneath his God-appointed self to be subject to any legal process. He could not be sued or asked to give testimony in court.
George could do pretty much whatever he pleased without fear of repercussion. He could have shot someone on Oxford Street and still retained his gold-plated throne. A real throne — not a gold-plated toilet.
Our founders considered that concept the absolute antithesis of the sort of country they had in mind. Their Big Idea was to create a country of laws, not men. On that idea, the whole thing is built.
And there could be no place in that country for a King George, or a person who aspired to become one.
In his farewell address in 1796, the departing first president wrote the following: “The very idea of the power and the right of the people to establish government presupposes the duty of every individual to obey established government.”
So here we are, 226 years later, confronted by an ugly situation, thanks to a King George wannabe.
Personally, I think all the hand-wringing debate is unnecessary. Do we believe that the basic precept of America is still valid, or don’t we? If we do, and if the evidence proves that our ex-president is guilty of a crime against this country, then he ought to damn well be treated the same way us non-ex-presidents would be.
Okay, maybe a gold jumpsuit rather than an orange one. But no further concessions.
Martin F. Puris
One fine body…