Someone is said to have made the wise observation that the genius of our founding fathers lay in creating a system of government that, in the hands of the competent, was excellent and, in the hands of the incompetent, was adequate. We are left to wonder how those same founding fathers thought our system would work in the hands of the truly awful. History is in the process of telling us that.
The miseries of the present administration threaten its continued existence. That, however, should bring no joy to the hearts of its opponents. What is at stake here is too significant for that. It is nothing less than the continued existence of the American form of democracy.
Our form of democracy is defined as a government of laws rather than people, and the present administration opposes exactly that defining principle. This administration continually asks us to ignore this country’s laws and their natural consequences in favor of a personality. That personality, in the form of the president, proposes to disregard the consequences of all criminal violations by simply pardoning anyone found guilty of those violations. If he succeeds, if he does it and those in the majority in this government allows it to go unopposed, there will be no essential difference between American government and any other dictatorship.
In the coming months, there will be many criminal charges brought, and they will pretty much consume the news. If our democracy is to survive, we must put aside all personalities and commit ourselves to the process. If the process of American democracy is preserved, then the results are at best secondary. The very first principle of that democratic process is that any person charged with a crime is innocent until proven guilty. It matters nothing whether you like the defendant or not. He or she is innocent until a jury hears the evidence and determines guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Here are some basics about which to remind yourself in the coming weeks. First, what is a grand jury? It is a process in which the prosecutor gets to present evidence that he or she thinks is sufficient to charge someone with a crime. The prosecutor presents this evidence without any input whatsoever from the person or persons the prosecutor seeks to charge. When the grand jury agrees to the issuance of an indictment, it means only that an indeterminate number of citizens agreed that, after hearing only what the prosecutor wanted them to hear, the prosecutor had presented enough evidence to justify charging the proposed defendant with a crime. What they might think after hearing the defendant’s evidence, we are not allowed to know.
Second, the prosecutor may have evidence helpful to the defendant, what is sometimes called exculpatory evidence, and it is evidence that the prosecutor must give to the defendant. The court will demand that the prosecutor give any such evidence to the defense. The court will also give the defense all the time they need to review the prosecutor’s evidence and to develop their own evidence. This will, as it should, take a great deal of time.
So all the talk of the talking heads is just that, talk. The trial of even these first charges is months away, maybe longer. Every minute of that time is confirmation that we remain a government of laws, not of personalities.