Two from last night’s debate in particular are worth mentioning: (1) Threatening to jail your political opponent should you succeed to the job, and; (2) Smearing defense lawyers with their client’s crime.
Neither critique is new. “Lock Her Up” will be on the future K-tel greatest hits version of Trump’s campaign, and criminal defense attorneys are hardly strangers to populist condemnation (when you get a chance, thank Law & Order’s Dick Wolf for his malignant contribution to this perception).
However, threatening to jail your political opponents is a common feature of banana republics and dictatorships, and it’s sad that people feel the need to even point this out. Sad! Hillary Clinton was cleared by the justice department. People need to get over it and be less selectively outraged.
Furthermore, when Trump hauled Kathy Shelton into his shit-flinging circus, he implicitly assailed the Sixth Amendment’s guaranteed right to defense counsel in criminal trials. In 1975, Clinton was appointed defense counsel to the man Shelton accused of rape. It’s the type of job that few people want, but which is absolutely necessary in a functioning democracy.
Our Bill of Rights contains a number of counter-intuitive features that are intended to cement boundaries that can’t be breached by the whims of majorities: First Amendment freedom of speech guarantees the right of even KKK members to march in a parade; the Fourth Amendment prevents illegally obtained evidence from being used against otherwise-guilty criminals at trial, thereby serving the larger goal of keeping police forces honest; and the Sixth Amendment promises that no person will be left defenseless at trial, even rapists, murderers, and, say, Nancy Grace.
These and many other features were installed for good reasons by people who acutely understood the damage that results without such protections.
It is precisely these unpopular protections that “Make America Great,” and what made our Constitution the model for so many democratic nations. The people who assume unpopular roles within the constitutional scheme are vital and, indeed, heroes.
Which is why it’s not only ironic but dangerous that Trump marches under the banner of patriotism while he promises to govern by his angry, impulsive id, and erode these protections.
Scott Pilutik is a lawyer and Rangers fan living in New York City.