The two-year-olds who currently dominate America’s political landscape may be riding different hobby-horses, but the common thread that runs through their various tantrums is an assault on the rule of law.
The essential difference between regimes based upon raw power and those based on the rule of law is that in the latter, the same rules apply to everyone. No one, we like to say, is “above the law.” In democratic rule-of-law regimes, partisans may contend bitterly over the wisdom or efficacy of any particular rule, but once it is enacted, like it or not, they abide by the law unless and until it is repealed or overruled.
Adherence to the rule of law is an essential condition of government legitimacy–a point that is seemingly lost on the various county clerks refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, or police officers who believe their commands are the law, to use just a couple of contemporary examples.
Closer to home, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence says he will refuse to implement the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan. In a letter to President Obama, he wrote that he would not abide by the plan “if the final rule has not demonstrably and significantly improved.”
“Improved” evidently meaning “acceptable to Mike Pence.”
If Pence and others who object to the EPA’s rule truly believe it represents a wrongful exercise of the agency’s authority, they can litigate that issue. If they win, good for them. If they lose, they have to abide by the law.
In a country with the rule of law, none of us gets to decide for ourselves which laws we will obey.