Mar-a-Lago Search Signals a Return to the Rule of Law | Opinion

More than 2,000 years ago, Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon River into Italy to avoid prosecution despite the fact he was likely guilty of overstepping his authority and launching unwanted wars. Thus ended the Roman Republic.

On Jan. 6, 2021, fearing loss of power and facing possible prosecution on a number of charges, including tampering with the election he lost, Donald Trump tried to end our republic. He failed.

A few other differences between these two men come to mind: Caesar was a master politician, administrator, and military general.

Trump is a buffoon with what always would have been delusions of grandeur if not for two factors: family money and an American republic weakened by Democratic obliviousness and decades of Republican cunning at the state level.

In the case of ancient Rome, no legal procedures were ever carried out. In the American republic, we're seeing what a judiciary can do when free from totalitarian influences enforced at the end of a spear.

Mar-a-Lago, Trump's tacky "winter White House," was raided by the FBI on Monday. Trump himself acknowledged the search soon after, but there was nothing the would-be president-for-life could do to prevent it—for the moment, our legal system is intact. The FBI investigators had a warrant, authorized by a judge, so in they went. Trump wasn't at home.

Out Front of Mar-a-Lago
Local law enforcement officers are seen in front of the home of former President Donald Trump at Mar-A-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, on August 9, 2022. GIORGIO VIERA/AFP via Getty Images

As of Tuesday, no one has revealed what the FBI was looking for. There are reports that they were hunting for official classified documents that should have been left behind when Trump was forced from the people's house, which he debased for four years.

There's also the possibility that the Feds were looking for evidence connected to the Jan. 6 investigation. We are still learning the specifics of Trump's role in the attempted coup and desecration of the U.S. Capitol, carried out by a group of delusional and violent rioters, rather than Caesar's best trained legions. There has been a lot of complaining in more liberal circles about the pace of Attorney General Merrick Garland's inquiry into the insurrection. Could this be a sign of life?

The government is a leaky place, so we'll probably know soon.

Republicans are screaming bloody murder and claiming political persecution and various kinds of presidential privilege, as well as plotting revenge. Republicans should be able to smell a witch hunt—just recall the endless Benghazi investigation, where Hillary Clinton was the perennial target (and don't even start on the flimsy email mishandling allegations, conveniently served up at the very end of a presidential campaign).

A lot is being made of the fact that the raid was carried out on the resignation date of that other Republican unindicted co-conspirator, President Richard Nixon. The coincidence is interesting, the circumstances quite different. Nixon resigned rather than face impeachment in the House and a trial in the Senate. He didn't want the embarrassment and it's said he didn't want to pull the country apart. Trump, having no decency, stuck around for both—twice!

If, as some are claiming, Donald Trump is receiving worse treatment than Nixon, then it could be because Trump committed crimes that are even more appalling and dangerous to our republic than Nixon's. Nixon really, really wanted to win. He pursued the racist Southern strategy to win the White House both times. And then, despite being far up in the polls, his team decided to go a step too far. With that touch of hubris that so often precedes a fall, they broke into Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate.

Whatever Nixon knew in advance, his coverup killed him.

Has Trump committed similar political seppuku? We don't yet know.

What we do know is that the raid is a solid reminder that presidents are people, too, and should be subject to the rule of law. Do something wrong and it's possible you'll get caught. And if you get caught, and the legions aren't behind you, there's at least a chance that you'll be punished.

We don't know if punishment is coming in this case, but if it is, it's not a matter of politics, it's a matter of justice.

Jason Fields is a deputy opinion editor at Newsweek, an author, and co-host of the Angry Planet podcast. TWITTER: @jasonqfields

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.