30 May 2007

Respect the law? The law? What law?

How safe the streets of Maywood, California must be.

Protecting one form of lawbreaking may require protecting others as well. The city of Maywood in Los Angeles County declared itself a sanctuary zone for illegal aliens this year. Then it got rid of its drunk-driving checkpoints, because they were nabbing too many illegal aliens. Next, this 96 percent Latino city, almost half of whose adult population lacks a ninth-grade education, disbanded its police traffic division entirely, so that illegals wouldn't need to worry about having their cars towed for being unlicensed. – Heather McDonald

McDonald has a point there. Lawbreaking – and the protection of lawbreakers – can have a ripple effect. But does anyone suppose that a citizen of the U. S. would get such breaks?

What if twelve million of us decided to stop paying federal taxes? What if twelve million of us decided all to move to the same state and persuade that state to secede? What would this Congress – and this President – do? I mean, if you can’t round up and deport twelve million illegal immigrants it can’t be very easy to round up, prosecute and imprison twelve million legal citizens who refuse to pay their taxes. In both cases you have twelve million people who mock the law. Think of it: once 12 million break a certain body of laws, the federal government apparently has no choice but to legalize the proscribed activity. (Peoples Patriot came to the same realization about the same time I did, just last week.)

Mocking the law is what Mark D. Roberts had in mind when he wrote this posting. (H/T: The Reformed Chicks) His particular concern is immigration law, and it’s flouting by illegal immigrants, with the complicity of Congress. The law may already be a mockery. Lawlessness sometimes seems to have reached epidemic proportions. This fact, together with the fact that the present immigration laws aren’t being enforced, reminds me of a passage in Thomas Cahill’s How the Irish Saved Civilization:

We have encountered Roman law already – as a dead letter, promulgated by the emperor and circumvented, first by the powerful, then increasingly by anyone who could get away it. As the emperor’s laws become weaker, the ceremony surrounding them becomes more baroque, In the last days, the Divine One’s edict is written in gold on purple paper, received with covered hands in the fashion of a priest handling sacred vessels, held aloft for adoration by the assembled throng, who prostrate themselves before the law—and then ignore it (60, emphasis mine).

No doubt, if this bill passes there will be celebrations galore on the part of its supporters, complete with signing ceremony, and peaceful demonstrations by the formerly-illegal immigrants. The new law, like the versions before it – the versions not presently being enforced – will be held aloft like the gold-inked purple paper the Romans worshipped before ignoring so long ago.

Should we hope for enforcement? I don’t think so. This is the third amnesty – or at least near-amnesty (perhaps sub silentio amnesty) – in something like forty years.

I wonder if it’s really any use our blaming the illegal immigrant, or at least entirely. And maybe despite our justified ire, there isn’t much point in blaming this wet-noodle spined Congress either. Lawlessness runs deep in our whole nation. Really, the illegal immigrant isn’t showing much more disrespect for our laws than we seem to do.

Maybe you’re sceptical of the notion that the general population can be blamed for something like this, or at the very least that any connection can be made between the general population and the lawless behavior of some smaller segment of it (even if that smaller segment is the illegal immigrant population). But I wouldn’t be the first to make such a connection.

In People of the Lie, M. Scott Peck connects the incident at MyLai (see also this article by Phillip Biedler) to American society as a whole:

While the military may have been crashing around in Vietnam like a crazed bull, it did not get there of its own accord. The mindless beast was sent there and let loose by the United States government acting on behalf of the American people. Why? Why did we wage that war?

Basically, we fought the war because of a combination of three attitudes: (1) communism was a monolithic evil force hostile to human freedom in general and American freedom in particular; (2) it was America’s duty as the world’s most economically powerful nation to lead the opposition against communism; and (3) communism should be opposed wherever it arose by whatever means necessary.


By allowing ourselves to be easily and blatantly defrauded, we…participated in the evil of the Johnson administration. The evil…of the Johnson administration was directly conducive to the whole atmosphere of lying and manipulation and evil that pervaded our presence in Vietnam during those years. It was in this atmosphere that MyLai occurred in March 1968. Task Force Barker was hardly even aware that it had run amok that day, but, then, America was not significantly aware either in early 1968 that it too had almost unredeemably lost its bearings. (238-43)

Perhaps Dr. Peck’s connection is tenuous. It does seem a bit of a stretch, at least superficially. Can it really be that easy for a democracy to behave like that? It is popular to suppose that a democracy, even a democratic republic, simply by virtue of being democratic in form, just cannot be imperialistic amd will not eagerly wage war. (The President himself has informed us that democracies don’t wage war against each other.) I cannot at present recall the exact location, but in their book Who Killed Homer?, Victor David Hanson and John Heath make the claim that the Athenian democracy actually made it quite easy for the imperialist amibitions of the people to be translated into public policy and then military action. So I don’t think Peck was off base, even if he turns out to be wrong. (I’m not arguing that the action in Vietnam was imperialist, simply that the attitudes – or at least even a bastardization of those attitudes – of the “man on the street” can become public policy. And so, on topic, if the “man on the street” is a bit lawless, his leaders might also be; and so might some immigrants.)

We need to come to grips with the fact that, in many ways, lawlessness in our leaders (and illegal immigrants) may be a function of lawlessness in the general population, especially that segment of the general population which is hiring illegal immigrants.

Much of the lawlessness seems innocuous enough, I suppose. One might be driving on an interstate highway with a posted speed limit of 75 miles per hour only to be passed by someone drive 95. In fact, most people seem to have decided that this particular law doesn’t apply to them; and they have handy little devices in their cars to alert them to the presence of law enforcement. (Some are worse, and will ignore the posted speed limits in residential areas, putting children at risk.)

It is quite common, in the city in which I live, for people to run red lights, especially those which end a protected left turn. You can count on it that when that green arrow turns red at least three drivers will run that red light. At least. Usually it’s more like five or six. The green arrow turns red. You get a green light. But you have to wait for five or six people to run that light and make that left turn before you can proceed through an intersection which you now have a legal right to proceed through.

It’s that simple: for reasons that suit me, I will ignore the posted speed limit, or run that red light.

The illegal immigrant really does nothing that your average American driver on an interstate highway doesn’t do: we have a law which he finds inconvenient, so he breaks it. The attitude towards the law is exactly the same. Exactly the same. It’s inconvenient; so I break it. (Incidentally, I don’t; and you’re welcome to drive around with me any time.)

People who pirate music are also just as lawless as the average highway driver. The law gives to artists and the labels which produce and market their creations copyright protections. The same rights are protected for actors and others connected to the movie and television industries. We have those among us who take it upon themselves to make certain judgments about the applicability of these laws to them. Here are some typical justifications offered by music and video “pirates”:

(a) Only a low percentage of total record sales that is paid back to the artists anyway. So the only people I’m hurting are rich executives, and “they” have plenty of money already.

(b) Try before you buy, man. If I deem a downloaded album, film or piece of software useful I’ll buy it. If not, I’ll delete it. Really. You have my word.

(c) Hey, on the whole CD there are only two songs I like. I don’t see why I should buy the whole thing just for those two songs.

(d) Dude, the free spread of media stimulates the industry, man, by creating new artists and exposing new people to current artists. It’s all good, dawg.

(e) Musicians make the bulk of their money from concerts, not the deplorably low percentages of sales given to them by their recording companies. Increased exposure will result in more people going to see live music. So, in reality copyright infringement probably creates greater profits for the artists, instead of the “suits”.

(f) (My all-time favorite.) I listen to music for free on the radio. I check out movies for free at the library. This is no different.

Whatever the persuasive value of these arguments, they all have one thing in common. They all seek to explain how a law – a federal law, I might add – ought not apply to them. There exists a law which they find inconvenient, so they break it. (I know a couple of these people. They object strenuously to illegal immigration; and they don’t care about the illegal immigrant’s excuses, which are to me much easier to accept. It’s easy to understand why a poor, hungry man might steal a loaf of bread.)

The Congress, in dealing with law-breakers by making legal what they’ve done, participates in the lawlessness. But, as I’ve been saying, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that an increasingly (at least apparently) lawless population should elect relatively lawless people as their leaders.

And this lawlessness is not limited to the Congress. The courts do their share. Of course, we shouldn’t be too surprised that relatively lawless leaders will have a preference for the appointment of lawless people to the courts. (And on those occasions on which the relatively non-lawless are nominated, those who have come to accept the present lawlessness as though it were lawful put up quite the protest.)

I do my share of complaining about the Court’s claim that the 14th amendment wraps up the Bill of Rights and applies it against the states. But who started this lawlessness? In actual point of fact, the Supreme Court’s lawlessness, with respect to, say, civil rights, was rooted in the larger American society.

Take, for example, the Court’s opinion in the Civil Rights cases (109 U.S. 3 [1883]). These cases were all founded on the first and second sections of the Civil Rights Act of 1875, entitled "An Act to protect all citizens in their civil and legal rights," persuant to the enforcement clauses of the 13th and 14th amendments. Two of the cases involved denying to persons of color the accommodations and privileges of an inn or hotel; two others involved denying to individuals the privileges and accommodations of a theatre, and another the refusal by the conductor of a railroad company to allow a man’s wife to ride in the ladies' car because she was a person of African descent. The Court declared unconstitutional an act of Congress designed to secure to blacks the standing that whites had. Whites were not barred from theaters and certain railroad cars; blacks should not have been either. The next link in the chain was the heinous Plessy (163 U.S. 537 [1896])decision with it’s creation of the “separate but equal” nonsense. And so, the Court made the black man’s Constitutional gaurantee of an equal status with the white man a dead letter. But the general population (including the North) had already done that. The Court was no less lawless in the Civil Rights cases, or in Plessy, than the general population.

So, the Court is lawless; Congress is lawless. And the President? I’m not one of those who think that he is conducting an illegal war in Iraq. I could be wrong. But he did sign the recent campaign finance reform law; and he did so suspecting that it probably violated the Constitution’s protection of free speech. We know he suspected this because we know that he expressed the hope, or belief, that the Supreme Court would find the act unconstitutional. Talk about your buck-passing. One would think the President does not have a duty to inquire into the Constitutionality of a law awaiting his signature. He could have said, “I think this bill is unconstitutional, so I’m going to veto it.” But no, he passed that responsibility over to a Court he knows regularly ignores the law it is called upon to apply. Nice. Really nice.

And I’m not even going to discuss things like jury nullification or the tens (or is it hundreds) of federal programs which fly in the face of the specific and limited powers the Constitution gives to Congress, and which constitute, for the most part, simple transfers of income from those who earn to those who don’t, can’t, or just plain won’t.

And it isn’t that we’re a just a bit lawless with respect to our obedience to the law. We are also a bit lawless in our treatment of the lawless. (And I mean in addition to privileging 12 million illegal immigrants by legalizing their activity, while leaving other laws on the books which are disobeyed by millions.) We have, depending upon the crimes involved, a different standard for the rich and powerful on one hand, and the poor and powerless on the other hand. On one hand, a rich executive breaks a law and gets a prison sentence. On the other hand, twelve million poor people break a law and get “legalized”. A handful of rich kids can be treated like they are guilty until proven innocent because a poor, single, working mother says they raped her. Two border agents, who may have broken a law, end up in prison; the illegal alien (a drug smuggler at that) whose rights they arguably violated receives compensations no citizen would be entitled to. The illegal immigrant must have his rights respected by the American people; the American people need not have their rights respected by the illegal immigrant – the right to have their borders respected, specifically. And this in a society which gives lip service to the assertion that Biblical values inform our laws and our legal system. One of those values is the requirement of one law for both rich and poor – powerful and powerless – alike.

We ignore our laws. Our leaders ignore our laws. Now comes the illegal immigrant, poor, hungry, jobless, but willing to work. And what is he told by a nation full of people who to varying degrees take it upon themselves to determine which laws they will or will not obey?

“Respect our laws.”

St. Paul once asked of certain Jews of his day, “You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?” (Romans 2.23) It occurs to me that he might today ask us something like, “You who demand respect for the law, do you speed?”

Be that as it may, of course, in the end the people of a nation, however disrespectful of their laws, still have a right to say who gets in and under what conditions. I mean, there’s something to be said (not much, but something) for a man who, though he kicks his own dog, doesn’t think everyone should do so also. (The dog probably likes it too. He only has to put up with one jack ass kicking him around, not tens or hundreds.) The man's right: people shouldn’t kick his dog. But he ought to add himself to the class of people who ought not kick his dog. I wonder if illegal immigrants think they shouldn’t be robbed? I suspect they do. I’m sure they are all for the enforcement of laws other than immigration -- the way some speeders are for the enforcement of drunk driving laws. (But I digress.)

On the other hand, I could be employing the wrong analogy. Our country is our home. If I want to urinate on my carpet, that’s my business. But if you sneak into my home and urinate on my carpet I can surely object. It may seem odd that I would urinate on my carpet and object to your doing so. But it is my carpet after all. In the end I’ll either end up scrubbing that carpet myself or paying to have it done. I may not be successful in having you do the same.

Still, demand that people respect our laws would be a bit more palatable if there were a lot less apparent lawlessness on the part of many who demand respect for the law.


About Me

James Frank Solís
Former soldier (USA). Graduate-level educated. Married 26 years. Texas ex-patriate. Ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.
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