Brilliant constitutional lawyer Glenn Greenwald discusses how rule-of-law has been destroyed by wealthy elites co-opting our political and legal institutions. This 1-hour video (embedded below) contains significantly more material than what is summarized here.
Why Greenwald transitioned from law to journalism: Initially he had little interest in the political process. He was much more interested in making sure the government did not transgress the framework and limitations laid out by the Constitution. In the wake of 9/11 Greenwald began perceiving extremism and lawlessness. Greenwald sought to have a bigger impact on the broader political context – as opposed to just working on one constitutional case at a time. Hence his move to journalism.
Greenwald’s view of the law: Greenwald sees the highest purpose of law to be to restrain and restrict those in power, on behalf of people who are marginalized.
How a legal background translates into journalism: One obligation for a lawyer to be effective in persuasion, is to think rigorously and in a very structured way. That means understanding the logical premises and the foundations of what you are arguing. And it means constantly identifying the evidence upon which you are basing these assertions, so that no one has to take your word for it. Putting things together in this very transparent way and being abundant in citing sources is rarely done.
Greenwald’s journalistic evolution: When Greenwald started writing about politics, he thought he was a high end consumer of political news. He was reading the New York Times and The Atlantic and the New Yorker and all the media journals that sophisticated consumers of news read. But as a full time journalist he could speak to sources and go to original texts and speak to newsmakers – and look at the evidence firsthand. And he realized that much of what he believed was myth.
How media has changed in America: If you go back 40 or 50 years, anyone that went into journalism was likely to remain poor. They tended to be people who wanted to subvert power. They wanted to be a check on power. They wanted to empower the powerless. They wanted to expose improprieties. What has happened over the past 4 or 5 decades is that media outlets have been purchased by large corporate conglomerates. They are now highly paid employees of major corporations. People who thrive in big corporations tend to be people who are comfortable accommodating power, rather than subverting it or being provocative.
What independent journalism means for us: Independent journalism is a rejuvenation of the resurgent force to check those in power. A lot of it is driven by disposition and personality. Greenwald says that the constitutional law he practiced was representing the powerless and marginalized against the powerful. That is also the kind of journalism he wants to do.
Rule of law was to be the anchor for society – but is disappearing: The Founders anticipated differentials in outcome inequalities – such as in wealth and success. But that society of unequal outcomes was to be anchored by equality in law and politics. The rule of law was to accomplish this – by applying rules and constraints to those who needed it the most. Rule of law was intended to prevent abuse of power. This is a central requirement of a just society. The more wealth and power you have the more transparency, the most safeguards, are ultimately the intent of the law. Now we see the more powerful one is, the more free of restraint one is. Inevitably that power will be abused if it is not safeguarded with all kinds of constraints.
How law is the great equalizer: The central requirement of a just society is that the more power you have, the more checks there are. Abandonment of that principal is dangerous. Whether you think the powerful are magnanimous or malignant, it is vital to retain checks on power. That power will be abused if it is not safeguarded with constraints.
Wealth has been used to co-opt political and legal institutions: We are in danger of losing the legal and political foundation that was envisioned for this country. The idea that financial and wealth inequality would exist in the context of political and legal equality is gone because wealth has been used to co-opt the legal and political institutions. No longer do political and legal institutions exercise power over financial elites. Now the financial elites exercise power.
The turning point in the USA: Greenwald sees Ford’s pardon of Nixon as a turning point in this country away from the supremacy of rule of law and to the supremacy of man. We no longer just violate the principal of rule of law; we repudiate it.