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Right-wing “civil disobedience” distorts American revolutionary traditions and unleashes authoritarian terror

Political leaders and experts through the exhausting and chaotic lawless years of Donald Trump’s presidency have constantly reminded Americans that ours is a nation of laws, not people, which means our system is designed to govern, even by the rule of law, not by the arbitrary or fickle edicts or declarations of power of those who hold political office.

Of course, this persistent recollection was rather an expression of desperate hope to restore the rule of law against Trump’s brutal disregard of both political norms and the laws that hold civil society together. It was undoubtedly ridiculous to hear Donald Trump present himself as a “law and order” president. But then we must acknowledge that “law and order” is a code for his own authoritarian oppression, which we experienced for four years when he exposed our laws and system of control and counterbalances.

And yet, while Trump’s authoritarian lawlessness certainly inspires a desire to respect and return to the rule of law, we must recognize that important traditions and moments of key social developments, indeed progress, have been rooted in our country’s history. in a necessary defiance of the law. , most powerfully characterized by acts of civil disobedience.

Martin Luther King, jr., For example, wrote in his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail”: “One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, a one has a moral responsibility to disregard unjust laws. ”

If we never recognized the injustice of our laws, well, then women would not vote, people would still be addicted, children would still work in factories, and so on. We’ve had some pretty unfair laws and probably still have. The valorisation of the rule of law is therefore not a valorisation of the laws themselves, but a kind of social process.

It is important to understand this distinction as we look around today as we see such unbridled defiance of law.

A Maryland man kills his brother, a doctor, because he administered the COVID-19 vaccine to patients, claiming his brother killed them.

Thousands storm the Capitol on January 6, committing violence against, even murdering, police officers.

A man has made death threats against a Michigan representative who voted for the two-party infrastructure bill.

Election officials across the country have been terrorized and received death threats for holding fair and free elections.

In short, the Trump presidency and its total disregard for democracy and the rule of law have given masses of masses of Americans not only to defy the law, but to take the law into their own hands.

Indeed, Texas lawmakers, in their recent bill that effectively bans abortion, have removed the application of the law from the power of the state and placed it in the hands of individual citizens, which is the vigilance we have seen so widely across the country. effectively legitimize.

Individuals feel empowered to play the roles of judge, jury, and, indeed, laxman, as we have seen in the case of the Maryland man who was murdered, who is doctor brother. And remember when members of a Michigan militia were caught on the plan of kidnapping, questioning and executing Governor Gretchen Whitmer because they were dissatisfied with her COVID-19 restrictions aimed at protecting public health?

And let’s not forget the three white men on trial for the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, and the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse who traveled to Kenosha, formed himself as an agent of white law and order and killed three people during a Black Lives Matter protest.

These statements will speak volumes about how far our political and legal leaders will go to undermine the rule of law by allowing people to take the law into their own hands, to impose their own distorted moral codes on others, to the point of murder of others.

These are acts of disobedience, and they absolutely pervert the principles of civil disobedience that have so powerfully propelled historical social transformation.

Civil disobedience, as practiced and theorized, perhaps best known by people like Henry David Thoreua, Mahtma Gandhi, and King, has historically meant defying what protesters viewed as unjust laws; but it did not mean taking the law into one’s hands and completely refusing to acknowledge the law.

King, remember, wrote his famous letter while in prison. Thoreau wrote in his famous essay ‘Resistance to Civil Government’ (often referred to as “Civil Disobedience”), “Under a government that imprisons any unjust prisoner, the true place for a righteous man is also a prison. ”

The point is that these figures had at least enough respect for the rule of law that they admitted they had violated it and had to go to jail and face the consequences of breaking the law.

If enough people go to jail and thus express their disagreement with the law, then this will be the process that would bring about change.

They did not simply seek self-justification to impose their will on others or to terrorize others to command them through fear and violence to carry out their will.

Our nation finds itself surrendering to terrorists who are not controlled by Republican leaders and are in fact encouraged by them.

Thoreau may have gone too far when he wrote: “I am not responsible for the successful operation of the machinery of society. I’m not the son of the engineer. ”

It seems to me that there is an element of Thoreau’s thinking here that is incredibly dangerous to democracy. Democracy indeed requires that people learn how to lose and respect the functioning of the system, even helping to make it work.

I think of Al Gore, who certifies the 2000 election, which was quite possibly stolen from him, is doing what Trump could not do — to make sure democracy works.

We do not see acts of revolutionary rebellion. What we are seeing is the rise of terrorism and authoritarianism.

If Rittenhouse or Arbery’s killers are acquitted, more will be released.

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