The sanctimonious call for “law and order” is an old Republican dog whistle. It was a prominent plank (back when Republicans had such things) of Richard Nixon’s 1968 campaign for president. But Nixon’s call for law and order was nothing more than a distraction. It wasn’t law and order he was interested in at all. He wanted an end to protests against the Vietnam war and what he came to see as the indulgent, over-promotion of the rights of black people. Law and order was the cudgel he used to beat back the hippies and the anti-war liberals and the civil rights activists who were interested in real law and order.
Nixon’s actual contempt for the law came into full view during the Watergate scandal. His need to break the law while simultaneously proclaiming the sanctity of the law was a hypocrisy he maintained throughout his presidency, and one that Republicans have taken and run with ever since. For Nixon the law was useful when it worked for him, but he broke the law whenever the law became … inconvenient.
So when Donald Trump returned to Washington on Tuesday and made a plea during the “America First Agenda Summit” for law and order and to — unbelievably — give police “the respect that they deserve,” he was employing the well-established Republican hypocrisy of using the law when it was convenient for him, in this case, to excoriate liberal protestors. The instigator of the January 6 coup attempt, where members of law enforcement were beaten and murdered, completely missed the irony of his proclamation, in time-honoured Republican style.
Trump and his Republican water-bearers care nothing for the law, as is evidenced by the number of Republicans current and past who have been indicted, jailed, accused or suspected of high crimes and misdemeanours. The pedophile Matt Gaetz comes to mind. The recently convicted Steve Bannon comes to mind. The rapist’s unindicted co-conspirator Jim Jordan comes to mind. Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Roger Stone come to mind. And so on.
Trump’s contempt for the law is why he is in so much trouble right now, why he’s surrounded by people who also have contempt for the law. Trump is a career criminal who’s never spent a second in prison. As a narcissist he has never been given any reason to believe that will change. Getting away with his crimes is a privilege he believes he’s entitled to, like his limos and his trophy wives and the adoration he attracts from his stupid, idolatrous fans.
That may be changing. Donald Trump could find out what law and order really means, now that it has come to light that he is being investigated by the Department of Justice. And he’s not going to like it.
There has been much speculation in the press and elsewhere about whether or not Trump will be indicted. The origins of these indictments are likely to be from at least one of two places: Georgia and the Department of Justice. Georgia has a clear, indictable instance of Trump (complete with audio) trying to force the Georgia Secretary of State to unlawfully create from whole cloth sufficient votes for him to win the state in 2020. The Department of Justice has everything else.
It is no longer a case of will they or won’t they — they must. Trump must be indicted. It is a necessary condition for the preservation of democracy in America. To fail to do so would be to send a message that Trump’s style of Republican politics is legal and therefore safe to practice. Republicans are like Vladimir Putin, they only respect strength and they only fear consequences that are inevitable.
It is a necessary condition that Trump be indicted, but not sufficient. We must also win in November. The coming midterm election is the most important election in American history. I’m afraid that title will pass to the 2024 election as well. It will remain true for as long as we remain in our current political and climate crisis. Meanwhile we must teach the Republicans what “law and order” really means, and Donald Trump must taste the bitter knife edge of real law and order. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.