Aristocratic Immunity: Greenwald’s Perspective on Modern America’s Application of Law

Below is an opinion piece by ETE’s regular contributor David Darcell Hensley.


Many United States citizens are beginning to express heavy concern for their societal foundation, as issues ranging from alleged blatant voter suppression to police brutality (racially fuelled and otherwise), have become recent driving points of outrage. These phenomena leave many to question how such disdainful occurrences can be permitted in the US. The most important determinant of what can legally be permitted in the United States is the law. As many are outraged, one must question: What has become of the law in the US and how can such atrocities take place within its parameters?

The law is supposed to be one of the primary elements that hold denizens accountable for maintaining order in a society. Historically in America, the law was supposed to be a concept that applied to all men equally; in sight of the fact that not all people are equal in terms of wealth, fortune, etc. Today, many political commentators and legal experts unanimously agree that the law is not applied equally to all citizens, as there is an elite class (composed of politicians and individuals in financial institutions) that is  “immune” to US regulation, while ordinary citizens are left to suffer at the hands of an injustice administered by their leaders.

One strong proponent of the perspective mentioned above is the lawyer, political commentator and journalist, Glenn Greenwald. In his book, With Liberty and Justice for Some: How The Law is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful, Greenwald details the reign of an immunity of law from its beginning, starting with President Nixon’s Watergate scandal. During that time, we saw  political elites begin to get away with crimes that would result in serious consequences for any ordinary citizen, a concept that has continuously bled throughout American politics and even into the financial industry. An example of financial immunity can be seen in the bailout and protection of those in the banking industry in the aftermath of the 2008 housing crisis. Greenwald goes on to explain  that an aristocratic immunity is one further example of  the Obama administration’s refusal to investigate alleged war crimes committed by the Bush administration, in spite of his claims to do so during the 2008 presidential race.

During Bush’s reign in office, his administration committed internationally unlawful acts of torture, detainment and even kidnapping. According to Greenwald, these acts were in clear violation of the Geneva Conventions, The Convention Against Torture, and even the US constitution, which states:

“All treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the constitution or laws of any state contrary notwithstanding.”

Based on these pieces of legislation, the Bush administration was arguably in violation of the law, as was the Obama administration’s refusal to investigate these violations. Aside from refusing to investigate the issue, Obama’s administration even went so far as to block any investigations into the issue, according to Greenwald.

Fast forward to today, and we see sentiments of an aristocratic immunity regarding the recent charges against presidential candidate Hillary Clinton which were dropped by the FBI. In a recent article by The Guardian, FBI director James Comey clearly stated that “there [was] evidence of potential violations of the statutes,” yet there was no punishment administered to this political elite. Consequently, this further enforces the idea that there is an aristocratic privilege granted to the powerful in the United States.

While Americans are seeing influential figures and entities committing heinous crimes without consequence, we simultaneously see ordinary citizens taken advantage of, and harshly punished for similar or more petty crimes, as noted in Greenwald’s book. Additionally, the political commentator goes on to describe the privatized prison industry profiting from imprisonment.  High rates of imprisonment are supported by what Greenwald describes as a “rogue justice state”.

This “rogue justice state” is driven by factors such as mandatory minimum sentences, and an extreme effort by all recent presidential administrations (from Nixon to Clinton to Bush and to Obama) to be recognized as valiant vanguards of the law, while finding ways to excuse and protect each other when it comes to facing their own transgressions. “But surely media organizations would condemn such transgressions,” you may be thinking. Regardless, Greenwald further emphasizes that numerous media figures, such as Times Magazine’s Joe Klein in his article “Thoughts on Sentencing”, support the protection and demands of immunity for the elite few  with  political and financial power.

If Greenwald is correct, then the practice of law within the United States is no longer respectable, as it is represented as something that only applies to the powerless. If this is the case, then we are no longer discussing law, but tyranny, a concept that drove colonists to rebel against the British.

So what can the ordinary everyday American citizen do to deter an entrenching sense of lawlessness and tyranny? The first and most important step is to educate one’s self, and make that a priority. Although considerable work is required to investigate and understand one’s laws and even current events, technology allows us to be instantly updated and connected at all times. Many House and Senate committees allow users to sign up for email updates, while apps such as “Congress” can help citizens to stay up-to-date with what’s going on in Congress. It doesn’t stop at the Federal level, as one can find similar websites for their local and state governments. Social media can also be used to reach out to experts and groups (be weary of who) that can help you to better understand the legislation and leaders who pervade and influence your life.

The capability of restoring the US to the rule of Law, not an aristocracy, is completely within the hands of its  citizens, and can only truly be restored by the citizenry. The people are where political and even legislative power comes from, and only the people can decide how that power is asserted. So take the time and prioritize where understanding the laws and application of the law fits into your schedule. It’s not easy and it isn’t always “fun”, but it is what must be done if we are to see any kind of progress in the United States of America. Conclusively, men (and women) must learn and understand the law in order to protect it, for the law alone is a concept and will only react to the will of its wielders.


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