Trump’s Self-Serving Rule of Law

Jack Fleming, Opinion Editor

President Donald J. Trump’s understanding of the rule of law in American society is flawed, utterly self-serving, and superficial. During his time in office, Trump has clearly demonstrated a belief that he and his inner circle are above the law, yet simultaneously seeks to create and apply Draconian laws to immigrants and people of color. Trump’s time as a private citizen also revealed a flippant disregard for the rule of law as it related to his personal and familial financial dealings. A primary concern for Trump during his time as a private citizen and businessman was maximization of profit, even if illegal means had to be employed in order for him to achieve his financial goals. Trump’s all-consuming greed, pursuit of wealth and power, and personal belief in his own infallibility are fundamentally at odds with the rule of law in American society. The Nixonian “law and order” rhetoric Trump tends to spout at political rallies is something of a red herring he clearly believes in a selective and entirely self-serving application of the rule of law.

Political cartoon by Abby Takahashi

Comparing Trump’s unique approaches to the Central Park Five case and the domestic violence allegations against his former staffers offers insight into the president’s flawed and circumstantial application of American laws. In the case of the Central Park Five, a group of minority males accused (and later exonerated through DNA evidence) of the brutal rape and beating of a white female jogger, Trump vociferously argued that under US laws, the Central Park Five were clearly guilty and should be given an extremely severe punishment. He even took out full-page ads in various newspapers in order to influence public opinion about the case. Trump’s line of thinking here was essentially that violation of American laws demands commensurate punishment.

But when the law is applied directly to Trump and to those close to him, he is perfectly willing to argue that the laws in question are unjust or argues for “due process,” as he did with Rob Porter and David Sorensen, former White House staffers accused of domestic violence crimes. Trump’s definition of “due process,” however, seems more about immediately attempting to discredit the veracity of allegations instead of waiting for “due process” to actually occur. Indeed, Trump protested Porter’s innocence and focused on the fact that Porter denied the allegation, effectively negating the relevance of domestic violence laws. Overall, the contrast between Trump’s respective approaches to the Central Park Five case and the domestic abuse allegations leveled against his former staffers illustrates the idea that his conceptions of crime are extraordinarily malleable and circumstantial.

The New York Times investigation into the Trump family’s business practices and legally questionable approach to dodging estate taxes offers a vivid portrayal of Trump’s desire as a private citizen to constantly amass ever-greater wealth. Through both legal ways, like his reality show and even his run for president, and illegal ways, including the deliberate undervaluing of his family’s real estate assets in order to reduce taxes, Trump was hell-bent on the pursuit of wealth and fame. Nothing, including the rule of law, was allowed to interfere with this mission.

But while Trump’s words and actions are oftentimes at odds with the rule of law and he clearly has little respect for or understanding of it, it is the personal opinion of this author that the rule of law will survive the Trump presidency, a presidency that has tested it to an unprecedented degree. The American rule of law and political system of checks and balances somehow actually seems to be perfectly intact and has notably stopped Trump when his actions have crossed the line into illegal territory. Trump may complain and lash out through Twitter when the judicial branch rules against his executive actions, but his administration, following the rule of law, does abide by the decisions of the judicial branch, something that suggests the enduring power of democratic institutions. While I remain deeply concerned about the myriad ways in which Trump has undermined the rule of law in American society, I strongly feel that the rule of law is intact in American society and will survive the profound challenge that the Trump presidency has posed to it.