The GOP Cares About Trump’s Civil Liberties—and No One Else’s

·5 min read
Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Getty

I have a confession: I sometimes get mistaken for—gasp!—a Republican.

It’s been happening, on and off, for the last 20 or 30 years. My former co-host of a Los Angeles radio show in the mid-1990s swears I’m “O.G. GOP.”

I’ve worked for both liberal and conservative media outlets. I voted for Bill Clinton, and later voted for George W. Bush—twice. And admittedly, my positions on a dozen issues have a rightward tilt to them.

But I’m not a Republican. I’m not a Democrat either. I just enjoy treating both parties like an 8-year-old with a broomstick and a sweet tooth treats a piñata.

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Still, growing up in the conservative San Joaquin Valley of Central California—surrounded by conservative Mexican-Americans—something about the Republican Party appealed to me. The GOP used to believe firmly in certain principles, and champion specific values. When I started paying attention to politics as a teenager in the 1980s, the GOP was the party of optimism, economic opportunity, a strong defense, law and order, free markets, small government, individual rights, love of country, and a warm welcome for immigrants. All that was music to my young ears.

Today, all that’s gone. Everything that appealed to me about the Republican Party has been corroded by the acidity of Donald Trump and his merry band of extremists. Republicans are turning themselves into pretzels to say they’re still the party of limited-government principle and rule of law, all while maintaining steadfast support of Trump through his latest embarrassing escapade.

“The politicization of our law enforcement agencies is deeply disturbing,” conservative broadcaster Megyn Kelly said on her SiriusXM radio show and podcast this week after two dozen FBI agents searched Trump’s private residence at Mar-a-Lago.

While there is still very little we know about why and how the search was conducted, initial reporting suggests the agents were looking for classified documents that Trump allegedly took home as souvenirs from the White House without permission. According to The Washington Post, some of these documents were “classified documents relating to nuclear weapons.”

Attorney General Merrick B. Garland made a very rare public statement on Thursday, in which he took the heat off the FBI agents who are being viciously smeared by Trump, right-wing commentators, and even elected GOP politicians. Saying that he won’t “stand by silently” while the agents’ integrity is challenged, Garland made clear that he personally approved the raid at Mar-a-Lago after “less intrusive” methods of securing the documents failed. He also said that he will move to make public the search warrant that led to the raid to put to rest any suggestion of impropriety.

At the risk of trying to put out this fire with gasoline, allow me to offer this reminder to my Republican friends—and I have more than my share—who seem to be struggling with blatant hypocrisy, faulty memories, and situational ethics.

Before a stampede of Republicans rush off to join the American Civil Liberties Union—an organization that, in 1981, was described as a “criminals’ lobby” by prominent Republican Ed Meese, then a senior advisor to President Ronald Reagan—I’d like to remind them who they used to be.

You “back the blue” and support law enforcement. You think cops have a really tough job and they should not be second-guessed.

You think the innocent have nothing to worry about. You think anyone suspected of a crime is guilty of that crime.

You don’t believe in the right to privacy, either in or out of the womb.

You think people should take responsibility for their actions and own up to bad decisions. You hate it when people play the victim.

You don’t put much stock in civil liberties or civil rights, as evidenced by a willingness of conservative Supreme Court justices to erode both.

You support no-knock police raids, even when they result in the loss of life for innocent Americans.

You respect law and order, above all else. You have no use for those who condone illegal activity or offer “amnesty” to lawbreakers.

You believe in accountability, and won’t tolerate excuses.

Finally, you think no one is above the law—including former presidents who ought to be investigated to the hilt for alleged wrongdoing.

Does this ring a bell, folks? What’s that? You want to plead the Fifth Amendment?

Well, no thanks to the best efforts by conservative judges, there indeed still is in this country a right against self-incrimination. So have at it.

Former President Trump availed himself of that constitutional privilege this week when he invoked the Fifth Amendment more than 400 times to avoid answering questions during a deposition in Manhattan by the New York state attorney general’s office.

Officials are investigating Trump, his family and his company for—among other things—allegedly overvaluing various real estate holdings to obtain loans with favorable terms then undervaluing those same assets to get tax breaks. Trump said in a statement that he chose to remain silent “under the rights and privileges afforded to every citizen under the United States Constitution.”

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And that’s fine! Glad to hear it. The ex-president who has–along with many other Republicans–stood in staunch opposition to civil liberties and due process for his entire public life, has suddenly discovered the value of constitutional rights.

But there’s a truth that still eludes Trump and some of his supporters. Despite the rantings of politicians who want to be “tough on crime,” there is no binary choice between defending “civil liberties” and upholding the “rule of law.”

Both of these things are essential elements of our criminal justice system. Under that system, all Americans—including former presidents—must adhere to the rule of law. Meanwhile, those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty and thus entitled to have their civil liberties protected.

Let’s hope that, when this spectacle is all over with, both parties remember that.

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