by Andy Schmookler
Remember when the Republican Party was the “law and order” party? Yet now, we have the spectacle of the two leading contenders for the Republican 2016 presidential nomination, on the very same day, speaking out in support of committing crimes.
That’s not how they put it, of course. But when Donald Trump says of the Black Lives Matter protester who was knocked to the ground and kicked and beaten at a Trump rally that "maybe he should have been roughed up” because his conduct was “disgusting,” that's what it means. Because, according to the law, we citizens do not have the right to assault our fellow citizens just because we are disgusted by their behavior. We can summon the law to remove someone who is disturbing the peace, but the conduct that Trump is defending constituted the crime of assault.
And then there’s the other Republican front-runner, Ben Carson. In an interview on ABC, when asked if he supports Donald Trump’s recommendation that the United States resume "waterboarding" (aka, torture), Carson “wouldn't rule out torturing terrorism suspects.” Carson regards ruling out torture as nothing more than “political correctness.” But it is not political correctness, it is the law. The practices Carson speaks of as serious options to consider are, in fact, clear violations both of federal statute and of international treaty obligations agreed to by the United States.
Law and order is not what you get when the government deliberately violates the law, or when a partisan aspiring to power condones a criminal attack against a fellow citizen. Back before the middle of the twentieth century, the world got to see what resulted when bullies hostile to real democracy beat and intimidate their opponents, and when a regime pursues its goals without regard to its legal and international obligations.
Law and order is a high value to true conservatives. But there’s nothing truly conservative about today’s Republican Party.
And one hardly needs any memory at all to recall the Republican Party’s traditional claim to be the party of “limited government.” It’s a refrain we hear still, especially when the “Don’t Tread on Me” Tea Partiers say what they stand for.
The Republicans still claim to want limited government when it comes to protecting the public good from the depredations of giant economic powers. But no one who advocates having the executive power of the United States violating the limitations placed upon it, with regard to torture, by law and treaty can be said to have any genuine belief in limited government.
Our founders would not have spent so much time in the Bill of Rights protecting citizens from abuses of the power of the United States government if this weren't absolutely essential. A whole catalog of such rights – such as the right against self-incrimination, the right to be secure against unreasonable searches, the right to due process – lies at the heart of the “limited government” the founders sought to create.
And here are the two men leading in the race to become the nominee of the supposed "party of limited government" arguing that threats to our security are so profound right now that government should be unshackled as it seeks to defeat the enemy. This, despite the considerable evidence that torture, in addition to being illegal and immoral, does not even increase our security.
Republicans like Trump and Carson would apparently move us back toward the very type of regime that gave European history its dungeons and star chambers—a darkness from which our founders sought to help Americans escape.
I can just picture what true conservatives – William Howard Taft, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan – would have thought about such a party of lawlessness and unchecked power.