This is an epic Comment of the Day by Steve-O-in NJ, really about three in one, and since it is so long and worthy of pondering, I’m not going to be my usual verbose self in an introduction.
Here is Steve’s Comment of The Day on the post, “Saturday Night Ethics Fever, 8/27/2022: Davy Crockett, and Other Ethics Stories…”
Just a few late thoughts from a long time student of history who doesn’t like the way its pages are turning now….
I wouldn’t worry so much about the rhetoric that the President and his underlings are flinging around at this point. What I would worry about is the actions that will follow.
I thought that a lot of the rhetoric about putting supporters and members of the previous administration in jail or removing them from public life was just that, rhetoric delivered by overheated partisan journalists who ultimately don’t get to make decisions or try to make their overheated rhetoric a reality. I sneered at Jennifer Rubin, who is nothing more than a partisan hack who let Trump derangement syndrome melt her brain. I lashed back out at Leonard Pitts, who might bark viciously, but is ultimately no more than a barking partisan dog. I thought that ultimately these people were just loudmouth extremists who had been given undeserved megaphones, and their talk would ultimately go nowhere, as the Democratic Party settled into actually governing and trying to deal with the problems that this nation is facing, and they are myriad.
The thing is, the Democratic Party never really settled into governing, because governing in the nation’s best interest was not their primary goal. It has not been for probably three decades. Their primary goal has been ultimate power. A majority of the Democratic Party now really believes that this nation would be better off as a one-party state, with them as that one party. However, their failure to govern is producing some less than stellar results, and I don’t need to tell you what they are because you’ve seen them. If they continued on the path they were headed down at the beginning of this year, they would have been doomed.
However, instead of tacking to the center and trying to come up with some solutions to the real problems we face, which I won’t list because we’ve already listed them several times, they’ve decided this is the time to move to eliminate the opposition. You can say that’s silly. You can say that could never happen here. You could say this is a special case because Trump is just such a threat to make this country slip off the path it was intended to follow. However, if you said those things, you would just be fooling yourself and trying to fool those around you. The fact is that this attempt to put one’s political opponent in jail is unprecedented.
Talk of that used to be reserved for the crank leftist journals who thought they were “driving the engines of history” by pushing things further and further left. These were the same people who said that George W. Bush ought to be locked up for the war in Iraq and that his father should also have been locked up for the first Gulf War. If you look back far enough I’m sure you will also find examples of individuals saying that Ronald Reagan should have been locked up for Iran Contra, those who were not saying that he should have been bundled off to a mental institution. I haven’t gone far back enough to see if any journalists said at the time that Nixon should have been prosecuted and jailed rather than pardoned and that would have been the best course for the country, since it must be proven that no man is above the law, but it would not surprise me if it was said at the time. The American people would not have pushed Gerald Ford out of office so quickly if there hadn’t been at least an element of disappointment with his decision to grant Nixon a pardon and so close that unpleasant chapter in American history in order to facilitate moving ahead. I’d like to believe that America eventually came to a somewhat grudging consensus that that was probably the correct course. However, I do remember during the second term of George W Bush that several of the leftists who opposed him brought the Watergate question up again and said prosecuting Nixon would have been the right thing to do and maybe this time someone would prosecute this war criminal.
That idea never caught on either, and although some Europeans made noise about arresting Bush or some of his cabinet if they dared set foot in Europe, I don’t think anyone ever thought of seriously taking action except maybe that Spanish judge Baltazar Garzon, who was later thrown off the bench for at least some period of time for behaving like a crackpot attention seeker.
Putting it another way, crazy actions that would have potentially very bad consequences were once the province of crazy people who couldn’t hope to make them a reality. It was reasonable to believe that both political parties had leaders who were if not sober enough, if not wise enough, practical enough not to do crazy things.
I don’t recall any governors ever telling those who disagreed with them to simply leave their state. Andrew Cuomo was the first governor I ever heard say anything like that. I chalked it up to him being the bully that he was talking like the bully he was. Now we hear his successor and presumably closest lieutenant telling those who disagree to simply leave New York for Florida, because they are not wanted in her state. We also hear former Florida Governor Charlie Crist saying that if you are a Trump or DeSantis voter he simply does not want you as a supporter, because you are all about hate and he is all about love. I could say that it is a funny form of love that consists only of loving those you agree with. I could point out that Christ in the Bible said that there was nothing particularly meritorious about loving those you were expected to love, since tax collectors and other sinners did as much. I could get into the whole question of agape, the concept of universal love for others, but I think that would take us far afield.
Bill Clinton could not stand his Republican opponents in Congress, but he did try to work with them and get some compromise legislation like welfare reform done. Never once did he accuse those who might have agreed with the admittedly foolish Republican decision to impeach him as being bad citizens or those who should leave this nation. Obama at least made some pretense of trying to be everyone’s President, although his actions often said otherwise. He never went so far as to say that those who disagreed with him were bad citizens and should be sent elsewhere. (He did several times, while campaigning, use the rhetoric of Republicans being “the enemy.”) Each time such rhetoric has surfaced, we slipped a little further towards Americans demonizing those and hating those who didn’t think like them.
Interestingly, I never heard anyone on either side say that Bill Clinton should be locked up for his adultery and perjury that brought shame on the office of President. I also never heard anyone on either side say that Obama ought to be locked up for his incompetence. I do remember very well when Donald Trump said that Hillary belonged in jail and did not discourage his supporters from chanting “Lock her up!” However, once he was in office, Trump never took any serious step or even any tentative step toward having her “locked up.”. Now Joe, or whoever is pulling the strings behind the scenes, is seriously attempting to lock a former President up. What is more, the media and his party are pretty strongly behind him on that idea.
I don’t know how much of it is simply raw Trump hatred, but I think anyone who is not blinded by hatred would at least have the wisdom to see the danger inherent in such an action. I also think that anyone who really understands this country’s history and the role of the Constitution in it would think twice before opening this door.
For one thing, it would set a very bad precedent. Trump may be the first former-President actually prosecuted and possibly imprisoned, but I guarantee you he would not be the last. Those who have been reluctant in the past to take that step against a political rival would no longer be reluctant. Potentially, any opponent of the current administration, whichever party may be in control, could become a target for prosecution.
You would also be foolish if you think it would end with Presidents and former Presidents being targeted. If a President down the line part way through his first term sees a governor or Senator or other official who could be a potential challenger in the next election, what would stop him from sending the FBI to put together a prosecution that might or might not succeed, but that would definitely sideline that person for a period of time, like say, until that next election is over and the president is safely reelected because he did not have to face this challenger?
What would stop other party minions at the state level from taking the same steps? Several states are already safely red or safely blue, but do we want to get to the point where governors, county executives, and mayors simply lock up anyone who could challenge them, or cripple their lives with bogus prosecutions? I said once that the reason Bernie Sanders must never be nominated and never be elected as president is that he admired the Soviet system, where the leaders of a tightly controlled one party state simply locked up those who disagreed with them or who might pose a challenge. I can see now that Senator Sanders was not simply the outlying gadfly of the Democratic Party (to which he only belonged when it suited him). The slide towards tyranny and becoming exactly what we spent 40 years fighting and swearing we would never become was much more pronounced and widespread than a lot of us thought. What is more, the American people, or at least a sizable number of them, find this acceptable.
I’d like to say I don’t know why this is, and maybe I don’t know a lot of this for a fact, but, I have a pretty good guess as to the factors that have let us to this point. One of them is the elimination of character as a factor that matters with regard to candidates. Much of this country chose to look the other way when a President in office showed himself devoid of the requisite character. That in turn set the stage for a later election to become a battle between two candidates both devoid of the requisite character. Had Bill Clinton lost the support of his own party and been sent packing, then I guarantee you that we would not have seen a 2016 election that was a battle between a corrupt influence peddler and an overgrown carnival barker. It should come as no surprise that the President who followed this should be not only devoid of character, but really not care very much that he is.
Another factor is that this country and the world generally have become far more dependent on a very few communications platforms and a very few systems. I am not sure that anyone ever stopped and considered the possible consequences of that or thought back to when the federal government specifically broke up communications networks that were becoming a bit too large and a bit too much like monopolies. For the longest time, in New Jersey the Bell system was the only game in town. Then it became Bell Atlantic, then Verizon, and finally other cable and other networks entered the picture to give you some actual choice and prevent everyone simply having to be satisfied with crappy service, long waits, and sometimes simple refusal, because you actually had a choice. At this point, there is only one Google, one Facebook, one Twitter and one Amazon, and really not too much competition for any of them. To lose your access to any of the above is to make life much more difficult and in some cases too difficult to bear. That’s because many things that could have been alternatives to some of these things have faded away, because they couldn’t compete.
When I was a kid, there were still a few local independent toy stores, but the market mostly went to three or four major retailers: Lionel Kiddie City was one, Child World was another, and of course the tip top player in the field was Toys r Us. Well, the local toy stores are long gone, and those major retailers are also a thing of the past, although Toys r Us hung on much longer than the others. These days, if you want a gift for a family birthday party or whatever, you simply order it on Amazon.com and it’s there in often two days at the most. How much more difficult would things be if you lost your access? There’s now far fewer options for heading to a retailer and grabbing a gift on the same day you want to give it. It’s increasingly inconvenient to stop by a specialty retailer when you are out and about running errands: it’s Big Box stores like WlaMart or Target, or nothing. Suddenly you’re reduced to gift cards or showing up for your niece’s birthday party empty-handed, when the former makes you look like you put no thought in and the latter makes you look cheap.
At this point, if you lose your ability to tweet, lose your ability to post on Facebook, lose your access to Google, you are nowhere. This might all be well and good if the leaders of these networks were honest and unbiased. We all know they aren’t. They are really no different than the Pullman railroad becoming essentially a feudal lord of its own industry and people or John Rockefeller attempting to drive his competitors out of business so that he alone could control the production and sale of oil and oil products. Anyone who’s read the history knows that those people abused their power and it was ultimately taken from them by government intervention, which prohibited behavior like Pullman’s and insured that there would be healthy competition in business.
No one has done anything about the various web-based monopolies, and the odds are that no one is going to do anything anytime soon or even not so soon, since one party benefits from this and the leaders and owners of these networks have that as their preferred party.
The third factor is the usurpation of both political parties but especially the Democratic Party by special interests. Neither party has represented ordinary American since the days of LBJ. The Democratic Party was the party of Big labor, then it was the party of minority colors, then it was the party of feminists. The Republican Party was the party of big business and big finance. Now the Democratic Party is the party of big woke and identity politics, and the Republican Party is pretty darn close to simply being the party of Trump, with all of its eggs in that basket.
Trump may be a powerful figure with a powerful following, but even he is going to have a tough time competing with promises of free stuff, and he’s going to have a very tough time doing anything if he is in jail.
That said, many were the regimes who thought they were 100% safe once they put the opposition in jail. A lot of them— the Batistas in Cuba, the Romanovs in Russia, the Afrikaners in South Africa, and the British Empire in the colonies, plus many more— found out the hard way that that approach only gets you so far before the people you are using it on say enough is enough. You know what follows.
We also have said and are saying that kind of thing can’t happen here and won’t happen here. Those of us a little bit more well read might say that kind of thing has happened here but it belongs to the past. Does it?