The spirit of the law

Every week, The Cynic staff gets together to craft an editorial. Usually we hunt out specific examples in the news that inspire us in some way. Sometimes it is a sense of revulsion at actions we see hostile to the ideals of our nation and a community of good, decent people. Sometimes it is pride in actions that have furthered those ends. And sometimes it is something entirely different. This week’s inspiration comes from a number of incidents involving the arrest of protesters and reporters covering the Republican National Convention. And, as to be expected, these arrests call into question issues of press freedoms, the rights to free speech and peaceable assembly and overreaching law-enforcement powers claimed by our government. But to condemn these actions in isolation would be a practice in redundancy – we all know why infringing upon basic innate and enumerated rights is bad and the necessity of fighting these kinds of abuses has been echoing back and forth across the nation for years now.There is an image of a larger, more disturbing picture, however – one that reveals a pattern that has emerged in this government and under this administration that is more cancerous than any single incident. Many of those arrested were charged with no crime, but rather detained and released – allowing them to be so-treated because the officers that “detained” them were able to navigate a very narrow path of technicalities on their trek to harass and disrupt non-violent demonstration – leaving many to feel simultaneously that the actions are not acceptable, and that there is nothing that can be done. This type of maneuver, in which the letter of the law is assaulted in order to circumvent its spirit, has become a favorite tool of this administration and seems to be working its way into the broader political culture. Defining water-boarding as an “enhanced interrogation technique,” the phrase “I do not recall,” the strained extensions of executive privilege practiced by this administration and numerous other condemnable actions have all been pulled off with the help of such legal sleight of hand. They are not indicative of an acute mastery over the law, but a certain contempt for it. To the actors involved in these practices – the president, law-enforcement officials and our country’s statutes are not an expression of how good people interact with their society, but adversaries to be overcome. This isn’t an attitude befitting a group tasked with running a country. This is the attitude of the common criminal. And it’s spreading – how long is it before we become a nation governed entirely by criminals? To borrow a line from President Bill Clinton – that all depends on what the meaning of the word “criminal” is.