America and the Rule of Law, today



Americans are used to thinking that “the struggle for the rule of law” refers to the struggles of other peoples in foreign lands for the rule of law in their respective countries.

But the struggle for the rule of law, in any country, is a permanent struggle, one in which advances can be made and even consolidated, while the threat that the rule of law may be undermined, suffer defeats, and even be lost, always remains present.

The United States is no exception to this rule.

Within the last week, one of the frontiers between the rule of law and tyranny was crossed, when the President of the United States ordered the Department of Justice to conduct a criminal investigation into the investigation of those who are investigating him.

A president should never be allowed to order an investigation by the Justice Department of any kind, and least of all one of his opponents, or those who he perceives to be his opponents.  The very idea of the president ordering an investigation into the investigators into the potential crimes he and his associates may have committed is anathema to the very concepts of democracy and the rule of law.

The fact that Republicans in Congress have not cried out against this travesty is fresh evidence of how far the Republican Party and its representatives in Congress have entered down the slippery slope that leads to authoritarianism.

One characteristic  of the latter is the use of the state to harass and sanction individuals who stand in the way of the will of the authoritarian Leader.  We see this now in Turkey with Erdogan’s persecution of his opponents, in the Philippines where the president and his allies have just removed the president of the Supreme Court, and in Russia where opponents of Vladimir Putin are barred from running for office (e.g., Alexey Navalny) or even murdered with impunity (Boris Nemtsov, in 2015).

A leader who uses the apparatus of the state to harass or persecute his perceived opponents, or to block lawful processes aimed at holding government officials, the leader himself,or his associates accountable under the law, is a leader who is already traveling on the path to authoritarianism, and who has himself already manifested his authoritarian nature.

(to be continued)

The Trenchant Observer

About the Author

James Rowles
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by James Rowles (aka "The Observer"), an author and international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. Dr. Rowles is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States OAS), in Wasington, D.C., , where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, Dr. Rowles has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. Dr. Rowles speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.=LL.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, Dr. Rowles has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on some the best articles that have appeared in the blog.