Meadows and Jordan Attack the Rule of Law, Then Take Flight

Without warning, the monsters of illiberalism appeared out of nowhere. They stormed out of the shadows, leaped at the rule of law, and attacked it with frenzied ferocity. They howled at Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein who has remained steadfast in its defense. They tore chunks of truth away from the ongoing investigation into Russia’s illicit interference in the 2016 election. They ripped to shreds the oath they had sworn during an earlier time to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

It was a most frightful clamor of screeching, howling, and snarling about “high crimes and misdemeanors” (, along with an unbearable cacophony of other noises that seemingly rose out of the dark underworld of conspiracy theories, nativism, and a cult of personality. Then, almost as quickly as they had pounced on the nation’s unsuspecting capital, they were gone. Less than 24 hours later as the sun brightened a new day, the furious monsters had run back into the shadows from which they had come and vanished from the scene.

Now, there was only silence. The rule of law still stood—battered, bruised, but otherwise undiminished. The articles of impeachment aimed at toppling rule of law had disappeared with the illiberal beasts that had birthed that anti-republican document. On July 26, 2018, The Hill reported:

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) says he is tabling his efforts to impeach Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein after having several meetings with Republican leadership, stating that he would instead pursue contempt if the Justice Department (DOJ) does not turn over documents Congress is seeking.

“Congress,” of course, isn’t the House of Representatives and Senate, or just one of those two Houses. In this case, “Congress” refers to a minority faction on the fringes of the House Republican caucus. That faction is comprised of Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), and just a handful of others. Rather than seeking to uphold the rule of law and promote the pursuit of justice, that small group seeks to deploy any means possible to subvert Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and to discredit all who enable that investigation to proceed or who play some role in advancing it.

For now, the almost fanatical illiberal band has retreated. This time around, it stood no chance at achieving its illegitimate ambitions. But in a toxic environment of the festering ethno-nationalist populism that is corroding the nation’s institutions, dividing its people, sapping its faith in republicanism, and fueling that faction’s appetite for power at all costs, the illiberal elements behind the Rosenstein impeachment gambit could well return.

Their savage attack on the rule of law is a powerful reminder that perhaps the defining issue of the 2018 mid-term election will be whether the United States shall remain a nation of laws. As a result, far from being the quiet affair that is usually the case in off-year elections, the election of 2018 could be among the most pivotal the nation has witnessed in some time.

The struggle to establish primacy of law over ruler has been a long one. Back in 1215, the Archbishop of Canterbury drafted what became known as the Magna Carta (Avalon Project) to bring peace between England’s King John and a group of barons who had rebelled against the unpopular King’s authority. The Magna Carta proclaimed,

“We have also granted to all freemen of our kingdom, for us and our heirs forever, all the underwritten liberties, to be had and held by them and their heirs, of us and our heirs forever.”

As it turned out, “forever” proved to be remarkably short. Just three years after the Magna Carta was agreed, its guarantee of “underwritten liberties” was put to the challenge. In the first volume of his A History of the English Speaking Peoples (Barnes & Noble) Winston Churchill wrote:

In 1218 an official endeavored to upset by writ a judgment given in the county court of Lincolnshire. The victim was a great landowner, but the whole county rallied to his cause and to the “liberty sworn and granted,” stating in their protest that they acted “with him, and for him, and for ourselves, and the community of the whole realm.”

The Magna Carta was reissued by King Henry in 1225. 72 years later, his son, King Edward I renewed it. Today, the Magna Carta stands as one of history’s most extraordinary documents. Churchill explained:

Throughout the document it is implied that here is a law which is above the King and which even he must not break. This reaffirmation of a supreme law and its expression in a general charter is the great work of Magna Carta; and this alone justifies the respect in which men have held it…

Now for the first time the King himself is bound by the law… The Charter became in the process of time an enduring witness that the power of the Crown was not absolute.

In part, its writ speaks clearly through America’s Declaration of Independence (National Archives). In that landmark of history, the Thirteen British colonies proclaimed:

That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness… But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

In those ringing words, one hears the Magna Carta’s voice. One feels the power of its guarantee of “underwritten liberties.” One sees its promise of the unlimited future that is available to a fully free people.

As the Declaration of Independence’s words make clear, when institutions are failing, political leaders are lacking, or tyrants reign, it is the people who are the ultimate “guards” of the rule of law that protects their unalienable rights. In less than four months, the American people could have a referendum before them as to whether the rule of law shall remain paramount in America. At that moment, I believe that the nation’s people—native-born and immigrant, young and old, men and women, of every ethnicity and faith, and of all backgrounds—will stand together “for ourselves, and the community” of the “whole” United States, much as their counterparts in Lincolnshire did exactly eight centuries ago.

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About Don Sutherland 83 Articles
Husband. Dad. American. Believes in America on account of its Constitution, ideals, and people. Character, principle, truth, and empirical evidence matter greatly everywhere, including politics and public policy.