For all the tumult surrounding Watergate, the outcome actually strengthened our political order, because it demonstrated that even the president was not above the law. Today’s announcement was a reverse-Watergate, demonstrating that open contempt for the law is no bar to the White House.
Lincoln told the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield that “the American People are much attached to their Government” and that “they would endure evils long and patiently, before they would ever think of exchanging it for another.” But “if the laws be continually despised and disregarded, if their rights to be secure in their persons and property, are held by no better tenure than the caprice of a mob, the alienation of their affections from the Government is the natural consequence.” Such alienation has been proceeding apace, with decades of Supreme Court lawlessness and of bureaucracy covering the surface of society with a network of small, complicated rules. The election to the chief magistracy of the national government of a brazen criminal who breaks the most consequential of laws without consequence threatens to accelerate that alienation beyond the point of no return.
Many of us here at NR think Trump’s election would also be a threat to the Republic, and I can’t disagree. But one of these two is going to be elected president. So the question is, whose election is more dangerous? Not more dangerous in their character or likely actions, since it might be hard to choose between Hillary’s malevolence and venality versus Trump’s frivolity and Caesarism.
Rather, the issue in November is whose election would do more to undermine the political legitimacy of our current form of government? Whose election would cause more people to reconsider the authority of the law and the routine compliance with the rules that underlies political stability?
Before today’s reverse-Watergate, it might have been plausible to judge this as a tie. Not anymore. Punishing Hillary through electoral defeat is a necessary act of civic hygiene if the rule of law is to have any chance of persisting, even in its current attenuated form.
It’s a cruel joke that the beneficiary of such an act of civic hygiene is someone as unworthy as Donald Trump. The election of a sleazy TV pitchman would certainly be an indictment of the way we pick political candidates. But the election of someone who has committed such a profound breach of trust at the highest levels of state – with impunity – calls into question the very foundation of lawful government.
Louisiana voters faced a similar choice in the 1991 gubernatorial election, only in that instance it was the common criminal who presented less of a threat to the legitimacy of the political order. So, in the spirit of that race: “Vote for the Sleazy TV Pitchman: It’s Important.”