The book focuses on what I began realizing several years ago is the crucial theme tying together most of the topics I write about: America’s two-tiered justice system – specifically, the way political and financial elites are now vested with virtually absolute immunity from the rule of law even when they are caught committing egregious crimes, while ordinary Americans are subjected to the world’s largest and one of its harshest and most merciless penal states even for trivial offenses. As a result, law has been completely perverted from what it was intended to be – the guarantor of an equal playing field which would legitimize outcome inequalities – into its precise antithesis: a weapon used by the most powerful to protect their ill-gotten gains, strengthen their unearned prerogatives, and ensure ever-expanding opportunity inequality. This is how I described that development in the book:
The law itself wields tremendous power. The legal system’s reach is unparalleled: it can deprive a person of property, liberty, even life. It may compel people to transfer their material goods to others, block them from engaging in planned actions, destroy their reputations, consign them to cages, or even inject lethal chemicals into their veins. Unequal application of the law is thus not merely unjust in theory but devastating in practice. When the law is wielded only against the powerless, it ceases to be a safeguard against injustice and becomes the primary tool of oppression.
The past decade has witnessed the most severe crimes imaginable by political and financial elites: the construction of a worldwide torture regime, domestic spying perpetrated jointly by the government and the telecom industry without the warrants required by the criminal law, an aggressive war waged on another country that killed hundreds of thousands of people, massive financial fraud that came close to collapsing the world economy and which destroyed the economic security of tens of millions, and systematic foreclosure fraud that, by design, bombarded courts with fraudulent documents in order to seize homes without legal entitlement. These are not bad policies or mere immoral acts. They are plainly criminal, and yet – due to the precepts of elite immunity which were first explicitly embraced during Ford’s pardon of Nixon — none of those crimes has produced legal punishments.
By very stark contrast, ordinary Americans are imprisoned more easily, for longer periods of time, and in greater numbers than any nation on earth. New legal classes of non-persons with no rights have been created over the last decade as well. Thus, over the same four decades that elite immunity has taken hold, the nation — namely,the same elite class that has aggressively vested itself with the right to act with impunity — has resorted to ever more merciless punishment schemes for ordinary Americans and others who are marginalized who, for multiple reasons, have very few defenses when the state targets them for punishment. While being rich and powerful has always been an advantage in the judicial system (and in all other aspects of American life), our political culture has now explicitly renounced the concept of equality of law, and it is thus now unabashedly clear that who you are is far more important than what you do.
This development isn’t just central to most of what I write. It is, I believe, driving the growing (and accurate) perception that our political institutions are wholly illegitimate. It is, as I wrote this morning at Tom Dispatch, this sense that outcome inequalities are now wholly illegitimate – as a result of this fundamental perversion of the rule of law – that is fueling the citizen anger inspirationally on display at the Occupy protests around the nation.
In the first three years after I began writing about politics, (2006-2008), I wrote one book per year, largely because significant time constraints were imposed on those books. This new book is substantially different than those for many reasons, the most important of which is that I had the luxury of really taking my time with this book. I’ve basically been writing it for the last two-and-a-half years, and was able to step back from day-to-day writing and reflect on broader themes and underlying causes that explain these developments and what really lies at their rotted roots. The greater amount of time, and a much more active editor, also meant that I was able (and at times compelled) to struggle with and then perfect literally each sentence. This was a much different, and much more gratifying, book-writing process, and I really believe that this is reflected in the book itself.
For me, there is only one reason to spend the enormous amount of time and energy required to write a book: because you really believe that the arguments you’re making should be heard but are not being heard, and the book, if it’s successful, can forcibly inject these ideas into mainstream discourse. I think there’s a growing perception, even if inchoate, that law does not serve as a legitimizing anchor to justify wealth, income and opportunity inequalities, and therefore nothing legitimizes those inequalities. They are illegitimate. The resulting anger – and rejection of the legitimacy of mainstream political institutions – is a positive force, a necessary antidote, and it’s my sincere hope that this book will accelerate that by crystallizing just how corrupted American law and justice have become.
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The book is available at Amazon, Powell’s, Barnes & Noble and most bookstores. There will be short excerpts posted in various places today and I will post the links to those here. The current event schedule for my book tour is here. For the first television interview, I’ll be on the Rachel Maddow Show tonight at roughly 9:15 p.m. to discuss the book, and will post other media appearances as they happen.
UPDATE: An excerpt from the book is now published in Salon, which examines how the Ford pardon of Nixon entrenched the modern template for corrupt elite immunity. A separate excerpt in The Huffington Post concerns the mentality leading to the extension of immunity to the nation’s most financially powerful.
UPDATE II: Truthout has posted an interview with me today that covers several of the book’s key themes; it can be read here.
In addition to the Maddow show tonight (my segment will be at 9:30 p.m.), I’ll be on for the full hour on Democracy Now tomorrow morning beginning at 8:00 a.m. (local listings and live stream here), and then on NPR’s On Point, beginning at 11:00 a.m.
UPDATE III: Here is the segment I did with Rachel Maddow this evening discussing the new book: