By John P. Flannery
The thought came into my head — “the sky above the mud below.”
It was the title for a 60s study of the natives of New Guinea.
The phrase is a great and true metaphor for the distinct contrast between a platonic aspiration (“the sky”) as compared with the experience of life as it is (“the mud below”).
Almost daily some pol or public figure invokes the words, “No man is above the law.”
This phrase, a too familiar nostrum these days, has been said with such fequency, as an aggressive denial, as if we tolerate no man above the law when, plainly, all around us there are many men and groups that sail high above the law, and laws that apply to you and me.
The most transparent illustration of this failure, front and center in the news, is the imminent public trial in the U.S Senate.
We are about to fight no less than the organized crime infestation we are plagued with in our three branches of government.
First, we have a bullying chief executive who conducts himself like a common thug, an organized crime boss.
Second, we have a Republican senate that conspires to perpetuate and protect our government’s dangerous tilt to monarchical “rule” in contradiction of our constitution, law, tradition and the most minimum standards of public demeanor.
Third, the business of the senate, almost exclusivley, has not been to pass the 400 bills on its calendar from the House, but to pack our court, the third “independent” branch of our government, choosing “judges” with little experience (young is the prime asset for these lifetime appointments) and they know so little law but are chosen and elevated to the bench because they will remain loyal to this ever-developing and dystopic new world disorder.
As we focus on this national dilemma in our “representative” government, we act as if this phenomenon, “above the law,” is limited to our thief executive, Donald John Trump.
But it’s all around us, and seems worse that at any time in my life.
I’ve spent a lot of time not just in the various branches, executive (as a federal and state prosecutor), judicial (as a law clerk and lower court special justice), and legislative (in the us congress, as special counsel and a chief of staff), but also in private practice as a trial and appellate lawyer.
Is a man way above the law when he discriminates against women in pay and access to advancement?
Is a man way above the law when he pollutes because to do otherwise compromises his bottom line?
Is a man way above the law when he exploits workers?
Is a man way above the law when he allows a so-called system of justice to treat different persons unequally because of race, religion, color, whatever?
Is a man way above the law when he lies about the facts that make a real difference to people individually and the public generally?
It is a fact that justice is a coincidence of our system, not a consequence of it.
We have to fight to make the coincidence occur.
But we are wary that we can make the coincidence a habit.
We have always had this Dickensian inequity in our society ever since our original promise, found in the Declaration and Constitution, to make the nation more perfect.
Ever since 9–11, we have relaxed a discipline among our people to respect law and tradition — and perhaps each other.
Our national crisis reflects our drift and then our headlong shift to an atomized system of personal beliefs, the center premise of which, increasingly, is that it’s okay to do whatever you want, in your personal interest, perhaps even, if no one objects, to go so far as to suggest you could shoot someone in Times Square. Or blow them up in Iraq.
Seneca, my favorite roman senator, said, “I do not wonder if sometimes the gods are moved by the desire to behold great men wrestle with some calamity.”
There’s the rub.
Will we find we have great men and women to wrestle our nation back to law and justice and assure liberty to all?
This imminent Senate trial is our colosseum for the fight to restore America — if we wrestle with the calamity that daily engulfs our civilization.
“The assaults of adversity,” said Seneca, “do not weaken the spirit of a brave man.”
Aren’t we supposed to be the land of the free and the home of the brave?
Seneca said, “I am ashamed to meet a man who is ready to be beaten.” Are we ashamed at those who are beaten, give in before the fight, the trial before us?
How many of these men do we have in public life in the way of those who are prepared to fight for what’s right?
“A gladiator,” wrote Seneca, “counts it a disgrace to be matched with an inferior, and knows that to win without danger is to win without glory.”
Our danger has been growing for years before Mr. Trump, his Accidency, took his Office. He has proven himself a worthy and dangerous adversary.
But the road back to law and order begins with this Senate trial.
Commentators have made fun of the pomp and circumstance and ritual that should rightly put us all in a state of mind to appreciate that this is an historic occasion, and not just because it’s been infrequent in our nation’s history, but because what we do in this trial, and what we fail to do, will determine the future of our nation.
We will lurch forward forever wounded, or we shall begin to restore our nation to its original promise.