“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers,” Dick the Butcher declares in Shakespeare’s Henry VI.
I am a journalist, not a lawyer by training, and have had my differences with lawyers who tend to make communication with the public too complicated, who parse the meaning of every word in a statement, and use their knowledge of the law for self-serving ends. And yet in 2016, I’m learning a new appreciation for lawyers and politicians.
Almost all politicians are lawyers and many lawyers are politicians. In 2016, there has been an almost violent reaction against politicians and politics as usual. But maybe by the end of the year, we will wish for more politicians who are lawyers. Learning about the law, studying fact patterns, learning how to engage in reasoned debate, to develop arguments and sharpen them, teaches people how to think.
Donald Trump is not a lawyer, and it shows. His over-generalizations, vague statements, his refusal to tell us what he really means, suggest he is not a very disciplined thinker. His twists and turns on immigration reform indicate that he really hasn’t thought through the details of his positions at this very late date. Is he for or against mass deportation? What would that entail? Rounding up Hispanics? He doesn’t say.
And his ad hominem attacks — constant personal insults against people rather than explaining legitimate differences of opinion — are uncivil, bordering on the irrational.
My lawyer friend Bruce Johnson explains that “ad hominem arguments are inherently the weakest. When Trump refuses to debate the merits of critiques and instead dismisses them as originating from the ‘liberal media’ (or from ‘crooked Hillary’; ‘lyin’ Ted Cruz; or ‘low energy’ Jeb Bush), he abandons rational argument in favor of an ‘I’m right because I’m me and you’re wrong because you’re you’ approach.”
It’s scary — something that’s done in authoritarian societies where leaders can’t be challenged by reasoned argument and the opposition is demonized.
I never understood the so-called compliment, “he’s not a politician.” As soon as a person enters the political arena, he’s a politician. It’s a role he has chosen to play. He’s trying to get elected. For Trump to claim he’s not a politician is fraudulent.
The demonization of “politicians” is simply a rejection of our shadow selves. It’s not like politicians breathe different air or drink different water than the rest of us. They are representatives of us, our worst and best selves. We and they are all part of the same system. As Pogo warned, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
Trump is proving to be a divisive, incompetent politician who chooses not to understand the weight of his words as a presidential nominee. Or worse, maybe he does understand the weight of his words, and is deliberately spewing venom, stirring up prejudice and hatred, in a cynical strategy to “divide and conquer” the American people.
This strategy was successful in the Republican primaries. In a crowded field, he divided and conquered a plurality of Republican primaries and delegates.
And it could work in the general election, if enough voters are so disgusted that they sit out the election or vote for third party libertarian or fourth party Greens.
America is supposed to be a nation of laws, “not simply of men.” Trump would make the US a nation where men — or one white man — decides what the law is. “L’Etat, c’est moi. I am the State,” declared King Louis XIV of France in 1655. Donald Trump seems to want to take us back to that time. “Only I can fix” the problems America faces, he insists.
Old fashioned lawyers and politicians are far preferable to this despot in the making.