Importance of ‘Rule of Law’ Comes Into Focus at RNC Convention, on Campaign Trail

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to the press as he tours a troubled area in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on September 1, 2020, while John Rode (C), the former owner of the building that housed Rode's Camera Shop, holding a sign in his hand. (Almond Ngan / AFP via Getty Images)

The importance of the “rule of law” is brought to the fore on the campaign path of the RNC Convention

Trump and Biden are sparing public safety after the summer of rioting, but Catholic commentators say the issue goes deeper.

During his speech on August 27 at the conclusion of the National Convention of Republicans, President Donald Trump reiterated his views of those of his Democratic challenger Joe Biden on everything from Jobs to abortion.

But Trump also made a sharp distinction between himself and the former vice president on an issue that was typically not involved in the recent presidential election: enforcing the rule of law amid domestic unrest.

"Your vote will determine whether we protect law-abiding Americans or whether we give free rein to violent anarchists, agitators and criminals who threaten our civilians," the president said.

Trump made his comments in front of the White House, but the "People's House" was not his only backdrop. From 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. large crowds had gathered to protest Trump when he accepted his party's nomination. Some placed an image of the President under a mock guillotine, an instrument of death related to the French Revolution. Another group standing in front of St John's Episcopal Church in Lafayette Square sang, "If we don't get justice, burn it down!" Others harassed congress participants, including Senator Rand Paul and his wife, as they walked out of the event. The Kentucky Republican told the media the next day that without a police escort, "I don't think we would have survived."

"We cannot let these looters and thugs take over our cities," he added.

Summer of unrest

Trump's emphasis and the events surrounding his speech highlight a topic that emerged as a key issue less than two months before election day. Public safety concerns arise at the end of a summer marked by widespread public demonstrations in protest of police violence against black men that began with the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on Memorial Day. Although most of the protests were peaceful, law abiding, and included the participation of Catholic clergy and lay people, some have fallen into violence and destruction.

In Minneapolis, two deaths and an estimated $ 500 million property damage are linked to the civil unrest and riots following Floyd's death, which some have classified as the most devastating time of local unrest since the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Gun violence broke out in the city in Chicago, where the police were engaged in looting and rioting. Eighteen people were shot dead in a 24-hour period on May 31, making it the deadliest day in the Windy City in more than 60 years. And in Portland, Oregon, where violent clashes between protesters and law enforcement were the order of the day for more than 90 days of uninterrupted demonstration, things escalated on August 29 when a pro-Trump counter-protester was allegedly shot and killed by Michael Reinoehl, the police officer The suspect is a member of the left-wing Antifa group. Reinoehl was shot dead on September 4 when federal agents tried to arrest him.

Kenosha, Wisconsin, is the last to join the list of cities seriously affected by civil unrest. On August 23, police shot and injured Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old black man, while being arrested in connection with a domestic quarrel, which led to widespread civil unrest and property destruction across the city. In response, armed groups of civilians came on the scene, ostensibly to protect local businesses. The conflict between these groups and protesters resulted in 17-year-old Kevin Rittenhouse shooting and killing two men and injuring a third.

There are signs that the general public is growing weary of the ongoing fighting in US cities. According to a new poll by Politico-Morning Consult, public support for the Black Lives Matter movement, largely viewed as a catalyst for protests and demonstrations, has fallen by 9% to 52% since June.

And while Trump has been accused of blurring the line between peaceful protesters and violent agitators, Democrats have been criticized for failing to condemn looting and lawlessness. In the week before the RNC, the topic was not mentioned at the Democratic National Convention.

Some left-wing politicians and media outlets have feared that this trend could affect election day.

"It shows up in the poll. It shows up in focus groups," said CNN host Don Lemon on Aug. 25. "I think this is a blind spot for Democrats. I think Democrats are ignoring this problem or hoping that it is it will go away and it won't go away. "

Commercial debt

Trump has set himself the goal of capitalizing on the gentle response to riots perceived by the Democrats. During his congressional address, he repeatedly drew attention to it, pointing out that the worst looting and violence of recent times has occurred in cities with responsible Democrats.

"This problem could easily be fixed if they wanted to," Trump said of the Democrats. "We must always have law and order."

Trump also attacked Biden directly, stating that the former vice president's openness to diverting police funding and removing the bail was an "attack on public safety" and "the most dangerous aspect" of Biden's platform.

"They'll make any city look like Democrat-run Portland, Oregon," the president said. "Nobody will be safe in Biden's America."

Biden responded in kind in a speech in Pittsburgh on August 31. The President's Hope initially condemned looting, violence and property destruction as "lawlessness, plain and simple" and stated that the perpetrators should be prosecuted. Then he turned to Trump, claiming that the president could not only contain riots but also help.

"Fires are burning and we have a president who lights the flames instead of fighting the flames," said Biden, who criticized Trump for failing to condemn the actions of armed right-wing groups.

Biden also noted that riots had taken place at the president's station this summer.

"Does anyone think there will be less violence if Donald Trump is re-elected?" Biden asked, promising an America "safe four more years ago" from Trump.

Both Trump and Biden continued their public safety sparring game with visits to Kenosha. The president visited on September 1, investigating property damage and accusing Democrats of failing to seek assistance from federal law enforcement agencies anytime soon. On September 3, Biden also visited Kenosha, accusing Trump of "legitimizing a dark side of human nature" while performing at a local Lutheran church.

Although Trump has suggested making public safety an issue, recent polls show that voters have more confidence in Biden on the issue. A poll found that 47% of voters preferred Biden's leadership on this issue, compared with 39% for Trump.

Another said 42% of voters thought Biden would make America safer, compared with 35% for Trump; Meanwhile, 40% thought Biden would make America less secure, but 50% said the same thing about the incumbent operator.

At the same time, there is some evidence that voters in riot-hit swing states like Wisconsin and Minnesota may be moving in Trump's direction.

Anyway, it's a problem that both candidates are likely to remain overwhelmed in the run-up to November 3rd.

Catholic perspectives

During the summer riots, the Catholic leadership repeatedly stressed the need to combat racial injustice in America while upholding peace and the rule of law.

"The burning and looting of communities that ruin the livelihood of our neighbors does not promote the cause of racial equality and human dignity," said Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the US Bishops' Conference, in a May 31 statement.

Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland expressed a similar perspective in part of his July 24th Chapel Chat, in which he noted that riots diverted attention from George Floyd and the Racial Justice Campaign and that responding to racism with violence was a “ Accumulation of violence ”was like being angry with another. "

"We must act as citizens of this country to fight the evil of racism," said Archbishop Sample. "And we must reject violence."

In the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, which also includes Kenosha, Archbishop Jerome Listecki declared that "violence can never be the means to achieve peace and justice".

"The sins of violence, injustice, racism and hatred must be removed from our communities through mercy, protection and care for the dignity of every person, with respect for the common good and with an unwavering pursuit of equality and violence," said the Peace Archbishop issued a statement following Blake's shooting.

Some voices in society have tried to justify looting and destruction as legitimate attacks against an unjust system against blacks and other marginalized groups.

For example, NPR recently released a segment with the author of the recently published book In Defense of Looting: A Riotous History of Uncivil Action, which summarizes the book as an argument that “looting is a powerful tool to bring about real, lasting change in to bring about society. ”

Msgr. Stuart Swetland, moral theologian and President of Donnelly College in Kansas City, Kansas, rejects this argument. He says that looting, even in a case where there is an unjust distribution of goods in society, can hardly be viewed as an equitable form of remuneration as it harms innocent people "in the process and in the aftermath".

Msgr. Swetland also firmly believes that Catholics cannot use violence and looting as an excuse to write off the Racial Justice Movement in America. He says the current crisis is the result of years of neglect of significant racial differences, coupled with "highly questionable incidents of police brutality" that have "led many in our society to wonder if their lives matter to the rest of (us) is. . ”

“As Christians, we should be embarrassed that any of our brothers and sisters should even ask such a question,” he said, adding that “Catholics should proclaim publicly and loudly that black lives are important to us all and that we stand in solidarity against the injustices that people with color oppress. "

The formal naval officer and moral theologian added that in the American context "we should obey the law unless there is a grave reason or reason not to," noting that US law is constitutional Protects the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression. He also says that non-violent means of demonstration are not only morally superior, but also help bring about reconciliation and racial justice.

Deeper problem

Other Catholic thinkers stressed that America's current rule of law crisis signals a serious malaise at the deepest levels of society. "What we are seeing now looks very much like the payoff of decades of US social waste catalyzed by a pandemic and exacerbated by ideological opportunism," said Stephen White, a fellow in Catholic Studies at the Ethics in Public Policy Center in Washington.

White says the decline of key civic institutions such as local communities, churches and the family has resulted in a deficit of solidarity and benevolence that has been replaced by "confusion, alienation and fear." Historical wounds such as racism that lay beneath the surface were exposed "like jagged rocks at low tide".

"It seems to me that the dire state of our electoral policy is as much a symptom of the same situation as it is a cause," he added.

Notre Dame political theorist Patrick Deneen, quoting Saint Thomas Aquinas, says that good laws made by a legitimate authority and consistent with natural law are “just and necessary” and reinforce our natural alignment, virtuoso and act justly.

However, according to Deneen, American legal culture is based on a different understanding that aims to maximize individual freedom. So the law is seen less as an aid to thriving than as a restriction. In such a society freedom and law are in competition with each other, which leads to a gross expansion of both.

"The clash between militarized police officers and anarchists is a predictable consequence of the liberal idea of ​​freedom and justice," said Deneen, author of the best-selling book Why Liberalism Failed.

Deneen says that the restoration of true "law and order" comes not just by enforcing the information contained in the books, but only by re-committing to a legal understanding as a contribution to the common good and prosperity of every citizen, regardless from status. Education, wealth, or race.

“There can be no true order without a true law that will guide people toward human prosperity. Without an order required for man to thrive, we will likely see arbitrary law and violent public violence to enforce it – which is not true law at all. "

Register correspondent Jonathan Liedl writes from Minnesota.

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