Lawlessness Erodes Solidarity—and Democracy
Society can’t hold together if bad actors on the streets and at the highest levels of business and government go unpunished. It’s time to stop making excuses for them.
The subway system in the nation’s capital no longer enforces fare rules and just lets people jump the gates. Reckless drivers blaze through red lights and pedestrian crossings without any consequence. Working-class moms can’t let their kids out in their neighborhoods for fear they might get shot. Mentally ill men who assault women and kill their dogs can terrorize city parks with no accountability. Major health care corporations that openly defraud Medicare to the tune of billions of dollars suffer no serious punishment. An immoral president who foments insurrection against his own country and then steals national security secrets is continually shielded by an entire political party.
America suffers from a raft of lawlessness that is eroding social cohesion and democratic norms. From the little crimes to the big crimes, an epidemic of excuse-making by political elites allows lawlessness to run rampant while good-hearted and law-abiding citizens get played for suckers in America’s eroding social contract.
On the one side, Democratic activists excuse all sorts of violent crime in American cities as either a fiction or something people must deal with to advance an opaque notion of social justice. They simply don’t care about rising violent crime and want to change the subject to something else. On the other side, Republican activists empower a corrupt leader who actively sought to overturn an election he lost while committing myriad other criminal abuses of power. They simply don’t care that their party leader is a crook who sold out his own country. Both political parties allow tax cheats and other corporate scofflaws to operate freely and skirt regulations without legal recourse while cracking down on small businesses and individuals who make any mistake at all. Political elites simply don’t care to take on the malefactors of great wealth except in fake populist ads come election time.
To America’s ideological and political elites, the law is just something for the little people to naively believe in or a partisan cudgel for battering opponents.
The problem of course is that the rule of law and the social norms that underpin it are vital components of a free and democratic society. If Americans cannot trust one another to behave decently and honestly—and can’t rely on the authorities to enforce laws and regulations when people cross the line—then the country will continue its slide into a dysfunctional state of anger, resentment, and mutual loathing. Nothing good happens in this state of despair. People make bad decisions when they are scared and cynical about all public and private institutions. Extremist solutions gain ground as a means to address the chaos. Life in a world without effective government and the rule of law quickly becomes “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
But rather than accept this pathetic situation, it’s time for the little people to fight back and say no more excuses. Citizens must demand genuine law and order in all of our communities and at the highest levels of American industry and government. Don’t support or vote for any leader or political party that doesn’t fully believe in applying the rule of law in an equal and fair manner.
This means, local leaders need to provide their citizens with clean and safe public spaces and stop anti-social behavior in parks, subways, and on street corners. Police need to arrest people who commit violent crimes and flood neighborhoods with guns and drugs—and prosecutors need to make sure these people go to jail for a long time. Public officials need to punish corporations that defraud the government or pollute our environment or exploit workers, through heavy fines and criminal penalties for executives that allow this behavior. Federal courts need to ensure that presidents of any party don’t abuse their executive powers when taking actions not authorized by legislation, and shut down these actions until proper congressional authority is in place.
In American democracy, no one is any better than anyone else. We are all equal in the eyes of the law. But our social contract only works if Americans treat each other decently, obey the law, respect people’s individual spheres, and work cooperatively with others to improve the quality of life for everyone. It only works if public authorities uphold established laws and ensure that people at all levels of society are held responsible for their actions when they violate these rules and norms.
Critics are right: our democracy is in a fragile state. So concerned Americans, regardless of party or background, must band together to demand that street-level violence in our communities is stopped and elite lawlessness in our institutions does not go unchecked.
Accountability for all is essential to maintaining the social contract.