20 September 2020

Why is not good when president is above the law?

The brief answer is because of corruption. 

When you have a ruler above the law, soon, citizens will lose respect toward that law, and corruption will grow. This happens simply because of human nature.

The current levels of governmental corruption and disregard of the laws are appalling to some of my USA friends and colleague.  All I can say, it can get worse. 

As a comparison, here is how your everyday life in a corrupt dictatorship looks like. 

Every dictatorship has two sets of laws. The official one that is fully valid for anyone without money or connection, and another, the unofficial one, for everyone who has either money or connections. 

Or to put it bluntly, if you have enough money or influence you do not have to worry about laws. Any laws.  

Things that the current USA administration does breaks laws and regulations brazenly because DOJ and Senate are enabling them is another illustration of how the average government in Dictatorship functions. That is an essential part of the dictatorship. Laws do not apply to a dictator and his cronies. 

Every dictatorship has laws, they are written, and marvelous, and just. But those rules are just words on paper because society does not enforce those laws and rules. The dictator, his cronies, family, and supporters are always above the law. 

Everyone else has to be subject to both laws and whims of a protected class. Because if you are wronged by a member of the protected class, even when the law is on your side, you’re screwed.

So what that mean in everyday life?

I will describe an interaction with the police. Because for me, descriptions of the Black people's police experience are uncannily similar to the dealing with the police in a dictatorship. 

Police stop you, a traffic stop. They do not explain why, and you should not ask. If you do, you’ll get in more trouble. The way white males treat police here in the USA is the fastest way to get into serious trouble in dictatorships. If you visiting one as a tourist, keep that in mind.

So, as soon as we hit pre-puberty and venture outside the family protection we get, let me call it, tips on how to deal with the police. I got those too. Accurate explanations on how to deal with police and why I should not look at them as good guys. 

So tips. The first one was, be polite. Always offer exactly the same story, no matter how many times they ask you the same question. Do not ask why they stopped you. Do not anger them, because the last thing you wish is to be arrested. Arresting means, in the best-case scenario, serious bodily harm. 

I was lucky; I had a cousin who ended up being a police officer. So my tips included mention your cousin. Ask them do they know him. Or do they know my neighbor who just recently joined the force? That diffuses negativity and increases the chances of you being released like nothing happened. I never wondered why. It works. Mention relative or friend who is a police officer and traffic stop turns into chit-chatting.

Usually, a police officer in a dictatorship just wishes a bribe. Then a dance starts. Officer will not ask directly for money, nor a person who is stopped should offer money directly. The whole procedure is done with winks, nods, and careful passing of the folded bill. 

Because paying a police officer is illegal. But since the dictator does not respect laws, citizens skim and cheat and break rules at every opportunity they can. Laws are something to show to your neighboring country as proof of how great a country we are, and not something that citizen follow. An adult version of ‘my dad is taller than your dad.’

I’ve seen these accouters countless times, with my father, uncle, friends. The corrupt dance is familiar, and one quickly learns how to dance. It happened to me, too. As a female, I also had to endure flirting, and flirt back, no matter how gross the male police officer was. Mentioning my cousin helped things stay, let me say, polite. 

The same goes for any other governmental service in a dictatorship. If you need something from the government, you have to follow the rules and pay the bribe to the clerk.  If you do not, you do not get the permit, or documents you need. There was a code name for a bribe. A blue envelope. Blue envelope was used for business and official governmental correspondence. And as a perfect vessel to give a bribe in plain sight. All sides could say that you were just offering the requested documents. We knew the better service we needed the thicker envelope will have to be.  

As I mentioned above, you are in a better position if you have any kind of influence, any kind of connection.  If you have a friend or relative that works in government or is a police officer, then you can get away without paying. Instead, you go to that friend or relative and ask them for a favor and they either give you a document, or make a ticket disappear. Depending on the position of your relative or friend, you can make even serious charges disappear. The higher up you or your friend are in dictatorship government, you can get away with more. 

Dictators and their family members could get away even with the heinous crimes. 

You will owe the favor to your connection. And that is another layer of dictatorship societies. Government is unreliable, so to have justice or any kind of protection, join a ‘tribe’.  Depending on the ideology that stands behind the dictatorship, your ‘tribe’ might be based on family, religion, or both. 

In such societies, there is another, hidden and crooked, a structure that is more important than the official society structure. It is a power structure that stems from the dictator and his cronies and seeps down, in pecking order until it reaches the lowest of the lowest. 

In such societies, organized crimes flourish. Because if you have a family member in some kind of mafia, you’re golden. You get protection from criminals, from racketeers, from government, and from the police. Usually, because Mafia has some connection with the dictator too, helping him earn more money. 

For average Joe, it is hard to live in such societies, because foremost, you have to blend in. Accept prescribed role in society. If you deviate from that role, you can either hide the deviation or leave. In my country of origin, they call anyone who deviates from the norm crazy. And they can call you crazy for the most innocent deviation. Nothing outside the norm is allowed. 

Once I was chatting with some fellows ex-pats from dictatorship (different dictators, same ideology used as an excuse). We were discussing some lady who liked to use a bicycle to commute. Those fellows ex-pats declared that lady was crazy, because she used a bicycle instead of car, like everyone in that area of the USA. And they were serious. The habits of generations living in dictatorship leave a mark. It is hard even to realize one needs not to be part of the tribe anymore. The urge to conform, to show that one belongs to normal members of the tribe, to the majority, and thus deserves the protection of the tribe was something those people could not get rid of. They left the dictatorship, but they brought their ‘tribe’ with them.

Anyway, I objected to the declaration of a woman being crazy for using a bicycle for commuting,  because I left the dictatorship mentality behind me. I spent time with people who grew up outside dictatorships and learned that there are countries where governments work, and laws apply to everyone, including government, president, and police. But that basically marked me as an enemy to those ex-pats. And they treated me like one. 

Everyday life is way better if you can live somewhere where laws are valid for everyone, and there is no need to form a tribe to have some kind of resemblance of normal life. It is way nicer if you can ride a bike to work without being declared crazy, just because riding a bike is a rare thing in your neighborhood. 

In my country of origin, I was declared crazy too, because I liked science fiction and engineering, things that were not seen as normal for a female. I will leave to your imagination what happened to LGTBQ people or people who were in any way different than the majority (names, religion, coloration, accents, anything really.) Because that is a hidden and ultimate cost of the dictatorship. Blend in to survive. And that means giving up anything that is not a norm in your environment. 

Letting a president be above law is the first step towards dictatorship. The question is, will you allow your society to take that step?

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