As the Senate moves to an impeachment trial and America slouches into this election year, the rule of law is center stage.
Yet Donald Trump is substituting lawless thuggery for impartial justice.
The biggest immediate news is the president's killing of Qassem Suleimani. The act brings America to the brink of an illegal war with Iran without any congressional approval, in direct violation of Congress's war-making authority under the constitution.
But other presidents have disregarded Congress's war-making power, too. What makes Trump unique is the overall pattern. Almost wherever you look, he has shown utter disdain for law. Consider Trump's outing of the person who blew the whistle on his phone call to the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy tweeting just after Christmas a link to a Washington Examiner article headlined with the presumed whistleblower's name, then retweeting a supporter who named the presumed whistleblower.
Even before outing the whistleblower, Trump had whipped his followers into a lather by calling the whistleblower a "spy", guilty of "treason."
The outing not only imperils the whistleblower's safety. It violates the purpose of the Whistleblower Act, which is to protect people who alert authorities that government officials are violating the law.
It's on this deeper level that Trump's lawlessness is most corrosive. From now on, anyone aware of illegality on the part of a government official, including a president, will think twice before sounding the alarm.
Trump not only stopped the navy from possibly giving Gallagher a less-than-honorable discharge. Trump also upended the military code of justice, designed for the military to handle legal violations in its ranks, including war crimes.
Gallagher's Navy Seal accusers were themselves whistleblowers who broke the Seal's code of silence in order to stop a rogue chief. Now they face recrimination from within the ranks. From now on, any soldier who witnesses a superior officer committing possible war crimes will be more reluctant to report them.
Similarly, Trump's ongoing intrusions into the justice department (DoJ) and the FBI aren't just efforts to derail investigations of his wrongdoing. They're attacks on the system of impartial justice itself.
Trump's attorney general, William Barr, is supposed to be responsible to the American people. Instead he's become Trump's advocate. Barr even advised the White House not to turn over the whistleblower complaint to Congress.
After misleading the public on the contents of Robert Mueller's report, Barr bowed to Trump's demand that the department look into the origin of the FBI investigation that had led to the Mueller report.
And now, after the DoJ's own inspector general has found that the FBI had plenty of evidence to start its Russia inquiry -- more than 100 contacts between members of the Trump campaign and Russian agents during the 2016 campaign -- Barr refuses to be bound by the findings, and has appointed a prosecutor to launch yet another inquiry into the origins of the Russia investigation.
The deeper systemic corrosion: from now on, attorneys general won't be presumed to be administering impartial justice, and the findings of special counsels and inspectors general will have less finality and legitimacy.
Barr is part of Trump's private goon squad, along with Rudy Giuliani, chief enabler Mick Mulvaney and Trump's resident white supremacist, Stephen Miller.
Giuliani is using the authority of the presidency to mount a rogue foreign policy designed to keep Trump in power. It's double lawlessness: Giuliani is bending the law and he's accountable to no one.
Miller, meanwhile, is waging Trump's ongoing war against people legally seeking asylum in the United States featuring family separations, caged children and inhumane detention.
Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor and Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, has a new film, "Inequality for All," to be released September 27. He blogs at www.robertreich.org.
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