America’s rule of law is not a power tool

America’s rule of law is not a power tool
© Getty Images

“Ours is a government of liberty, by, through and under the law. No man is above it, and no man is below it.”President Theodore Roosevelt

The rule of law is central to American democracy. Unlike dictatorships, our government cannot prosecute or imprison someone for political reasons. Anyone who violates the law is subject to prosecution, regardless of political party, personal affiliations or position of power; none of that protects a crook from the fair and just application of the law.  

The rule of law is not always perfectly implemented, but it is fundamental to our freedoms. It protects the weak from political persecution and holds the powerful in check.


In recognition of the importance of this principle, our Founding Fathers wrote into Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution that the president “shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” Yet, President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden on Trump's refusal to commit to peaceful transfer of power: 'What country are we in?' Romney: 'Unthinkable and unacceptable' to not commit to peaceful transition of power Two Louisville police officers shot amid Breonna Taylor grand jury protests MORE’s words suggest that, rather than faithfully executing the laws as he swore to do in his oath of office, he intends to politicize the law.


The president this week sternly criticized his attorney general for allowing two Republican congressmen to be charged with federal crimes before the upcoming midterm elections. One was charged with securities fraud, wire fraud and making false statements to law enforcement agents; the other was indicted for using campaign funds for personal purposes, wire fraud and falsifying records. If not for their alleged crimes, these congressmen probably would have been easily reelected.

President Trump’s words are an assault on the rule of law. No one — not a congressman, a judge, nor the president — is above the law. If the day should come when those in power are above the law, the United States will be that autocracy that our Founders worked — and fought — to avoid.  

Putting these officeholders above the law would be an unequivocal violation of President Trump’s express duty, under the Constitution, to ensure that the laws of the United States are faithfully executed. Either President Trump does not care about our constitutional democracy or he does not understand it. In either case, he would use the law as a tool to maintain his party’s position of power. With it, We the People would lose faith in our justice system, leading in turn to a loss of faith in our country.  

Further, by suggesting that the Department of Justice should not prosecute congressmen who are running for reelection because it might hurt the Republican Party’s chances in November, the president is attempting to hide material facts from voters. Certainly, the constituents of those congressmen are entitled to know if they abused their positions of power and violated laws. Indeed, it is hard to imagine any information more pertinent to whether a person should be reelected.  

Apparently President Trump's notion of democracy is the party in power can, and should, use its power to hide material facts — that is, the apparent criminal activity of candidates — from voters in order to stay in power.   

Perhaps this is not a surprise. After a federal jury found former Trump campaign chairman Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortOur Constitution is under attack by Attorney General William Barr Bannon trial date set in alleged border wall scam Conspicuous by their absence from the Republican Convention MORE guilty of eight counts of tax and bank fraud, President Trump said he was “a good man” and praised Manafort for not negotiating a plea agreement. Frankly, I am offended. I pay my taxes. I do not defraud my lenders. Every U.S. citizen who follows and respects our laws, who pays taxes, should be outraged that the president calls a convicted swindler and tax evader "a good man."

Our president expresses disdain for U.S. laws if it suits his political needs. By way of example, he has threatened Amazon with tax investigations because its owner, Jeff Bezos, also owns the Washington Post, which has criticized the president. During the Manafort trial, in an extraordinary invasion of the judicial process, President Trump tweeted contempt for the prosecutors and sympathy for Mr. Manafort. Some regarded this as jury tampering and obstruction of justice. Most recently, he suggested that the licenses of CNN and NBC, also frequent critics of the president, should be revoked.

Our country has sent brave soldiers to war to preserve America’s precious freedoms. Those freedoms mean that our government officials are not above the law, but enforce the law. Those freedoms mean that we can criticize government officials without fear of prosecution. Those freedoms mean that our right to vote is inviolate, and that right effectively is taken away when government officials would use their power to hide criminal activity from voters before they vote.

Those who truly love our country, and the freedoms it provides, should honor those brave soldiers by proclaiming, “That is not who we are; that is not what the United States of America is. And we will not tolerate such words and conduct by our president.” Most importantly, this voice must come from Republicans and other Donald Trump supporters, from whom he derives his audaciousness. The question is, do they love America’s freedoms more than they love their power?

Gary A. Garfield is the retired chairman, president and CEO of Bridgestone Americas Inc. He practiced law for 29 years and was the general counsel and chief compliance officer before leading the company.