The Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) has just published a very good article examining why respect for the law is diminishing among Americans.
Given the events of the last few months, there can be little doubt that Americans’ respect for the rule of law is dissipating, and this is happening in no small part because inconsistencies in the law are becoming obvious.
. . .
Governor Cuomo recently issued emergency orders that New Yorkers must wear face masks in public, practice social distancing, and self-quarantine when they return to New York from various high-risk states. The Governor managed to violate all three of his own rules recently on a trip to Savannah. A private citizen who behaves contrary to his own rules is merely a hypocrite. But when an elected official does so, it sends a message to the people. It tells them the official’s orders just aren’t that important.
. . .
In response to COVID-19, the government has suspended all manner of rules and regulations originally enacted for public safety. To encourage telemedicine, the Department of Health and Human Services suspended rules requiring medical professionals to have separate licenses to practice medicine in multiple states. The Food and Drug Administration relaxed regulations in order to allow companies producing COVID-19 test kits to get the kits to market faster. The Department of Transportation suspended rules limiting the number of hours truckers could drive per day so as to get products to markets faster. It’s inconsistent that the government would find it necessary to suspend rules enacted for our safety in order to make us safer. Either the suspension is not making us safer, or the suspended rules weren’t making us safe to begin with.
When the law becomes incomprehensible and inconsistent, people lose faith in both the law and government institutions that secure it. This may go a long way toward explaining the growing political animosity of the past decades. In ceasing to be a nation of laws, we have become instead a nation of lawmakers. If the law is to be king, it must speak in a clear and consistent voice. And if that can’t happen, it should say as little as possible.
There's more at the link.
Sadly, that's typical of most governments, and has been throughout history. The initial tendency for any government is to rule imperiously. "Do as I say, because I say so!" Kings and emperors were notorious for this. As democracy spread, the new style of government found it necessary to persuade people to respect the law rather than merely command it; but that wasn't too difficult if obedience to the laws was associated with receiving benefits from the government that made them. "You want roads, and sewers, and street lights, and good governance? Then you have to accept these rules and regulations along with them. They're part of the package. Rebel against them, and your towns/cities/states will become a lot less habitable."
After a while, when society grew too big, and there were simply too many people to pay attention to minor groups or problems, the unelected bureaucracy took over. Politicians were too busy attending to the broad sweep of problems to worry about how to implement solutions. Instead, they delegated that authority to faceless bureaucrats who didn't have to answer to the people for what they did.
That's how a simple legislative act like establishing the Transportation Security Administration can lead to endless delays and pettifogging bureaucracy imposed on our travel. As FEE's article points out:
TSA regulations ... restrict the size of liquid containers that may be brought on board aircraft. Passengers caught with over-sized containers are required to throw them in a trash can located at the security checkpoint. If over-sized liquids are a danger, they should be disposed of in a secure location, away from people. If they aren’t a danger, the TSA is simply wasting people’s time and causing aggravation by collecting them. The rule is inconsistent with the rule’s implementation.
Quite so. Those regulations aren't included in the law establishing the TSA. They're add-ons by faceless bureaucrats drunk with power. "Do as I say, peasant, even if it doesn't make sense, or you won't fly today!"
An even worse danger is when politics determine how the law is applied. Take St. Louis, Missouri. Rioters who are clearly breaking the law are arrested by police - and immediately released without charge by the left-wing District Attorney, who sympathizes with their position. On the other hand, the McCluskeys, who took up arms to defend their home (entirely in accordance with the provisions of Missouri law) are charged with "brandishing a weapon" by that same DA, in defiance of the law (so much and so obviously in defiance of it that the State's Attorney-General immediately moved to dismiss the charges, and the State's Governor promised to pardon the McCluskeys if necessary).
When the enforcement of laws is selective, depending on the political views of those charged with their enforcement, then the rule of law no longer applies. That's one of the primary reasons why the USA is in such turmoil today. The law is not being equally or fairly applied in far too many jurisdictions. Did the residents and businesses in the so-called "CHOP" zone in Seattle consent to be stripped of police protection, and governed by arbitrary "mob rule"? Of course they didn't - but they weren't asked for their opinion. Political correctness overruled their rights under the law.
Tragically, such policies and incidents can have only one outcome. People will take the law into their own hands, because they can't trust the authorities to administer it fairly and even-handedly. Are demonstrators approaching a neighborhood, and those living there know the law enforcement authorities will do little to protect them from extremists? Then they're going to protect themselves, by any means they deem necessary. Genuinely peaceful demonstrators will be treated the same as violent extremists, because there's no time or inclination to distinguish between them.
What's more, locals will probably obstruct any subsequent investigation, because they have to look after their own. After all, they know law enforcement authorities won't. Indeed, in some jurisdictions, investigators may turn a blind eye to defenders' transgressions. After all, when so many demonstrators are calling to "defund the police", the police know who's on which side - and they're almost certainly reluctant to crack down on their own supporters. If evidence conveniently "can't be found" to support charges, those charges will never be brought.
I fear vigilantism and "lynch law" are about to make a comeback, because in the absence of the even-handed, objective rule of law, there's little alternative.