To cook up democracy, you need four essential ingredients: 1) free and fair elections, 2) freedom of expression — including freedoms of speech, the press, religion, and peaceful protest, 3) protection of equality and basic human rights, and 4) the rule of law. I’d like to talk a little bit about that fourth ingredient, the rule of law.
The rule of law means that the laws must be applied equally to everyone. No one can be above the law in a democracy, not even the president. The Constitution is the highest authority, not any person. The guilty must be convicted and the innocent must not be, regardless of their positions in society. The United States is a republic, i.e. a representative democracy, and the principle of “equality under the law” has been a central pillar of our governance since our country’s founding.
This principle is the reason why the U.S. Department of Justice is independent, rather than overseen by the President. The president is not the boss of the Justice Department, because the Justice Department needs to be free to administer the law fairly — even when the president doesn’t like it. In a legitimate democracy, the president cannot interfere with the administration of justice in any way.
This principle is also the reason why the three branches of government (the Congress, the president’s Executive Branch, and the Courts) are equal. No branch has absolute power. Instead, each has a responsibility to provide oversight of the others in a system of checks and balances.
Unfortunately, our current president doesn’t seem fully committed to this essential principle of our country and democracy. He can’t seem to hold back from trying to meddle in extremely important ongoing investigations of the Russian interference in our election and possible collusion by his campaign.
If a President attempts to violate the equal application of the law by interfering in the fair administration of justice, it is the responsibility of Congress to stop him. Congress ultimately answers to us, the voters. So we, too, have responsibility for maintaining the rule of law. We must let our representatives know that we expect them to stand up for “equality under the law” and to hold the President accountable if he interferes with appropriate investigations and enforcement of the law.
As citizens of a democracy, it is our duty to preserve and protect democracy, including all the essential “ingredients” that make real democracy possible. Now is the time to make our voices heard and demand that our members of Congress stop any attempt by the President to obstruct justice. Your grandchildren will thank you for giving them the privilege of living in a democracy.