Lock Donald Trump up, or don’t lock him up, but don’t tell me that “no one is above the law.” It’s one of the most ludicrous fantasies peddled by the left.
Plenty of people are “above the law.” James Clapper, who lied under oath to Congress about spying on the American people, is above the law. John Brennan, who lied about a domestic spying operation on Senate staffers, is above the law. Unlike Trump adviser Peter Navarro, Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder was never going to be handcuffed and thrown in prison for ignoring a congressional subpoena. He is above the law.
Trump’s 2016 opponent, Hillary Clinton, is also above the law. The then-secretary of state set up a private server in her home to circumvent transparency surrounding her slush fund foundation. She sent 110 emails containing marked classified information, and 36 of those emails contained secret information. Eight of the email chains contained “top secret” information. Every one of those instances was a potential felony punishable with up to 10 years in prison.
We learned all of this from James Comey, then FBI director, who noted that Clinton had been “extremely careless” in conducting her business. Comey didn’t recommend charges because, he claimed, the state couldn’t prove Clinton’s intent — even though “gross negligence,” not intent, was the only standard he needed. Gross negligence and extreme carelessness are synonyms. Comey concocted a new standard to protect Clinton because she is above the law.
When Hillary’s husband, also above the law, perjured himself under oath, Democrats argued that puritanical conservatives were only pursuing Bill because of some trumped-up charge over “sex.” Using that logic, Trump’s campaign finance charges related to Stormy Daniels’ “hush money” are also about sex. This is different because Trump is the boogeyman, and everyone knows he’s guilty of something. The important thing is getting that mug shot.
Don’t worry, though; former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says, “Everyone has the right to a trial to prove innocence.” By “everyone,” she means Republicans. And if you think this authoritarian formulation is an accident, you haven’t been paying attention. When Democrats were smearing Brett Kavanaugh as a (gang) rapist a few years back, Sen. Mazie Hirono was asked whether the then-nominee deserved the “same presumption of innocence as anyone else in America?” After all, this wasn’t about any judicial disagreement but about alleged criminal behavior. The Hawaii senator responded, “I put his denial in the context of everything that I know about him in terms of how he approaches his cases.”
In other words, if you’re a conservative, your politics are evil; and if your politics are evil, you’re probably evil. I imagine that was the rationalization used by Kamala Harris when reading obvious fabrications about Kavanaugh into the Congressional Record. It is likely the rationalization of Lois Lerner or Merrick Garland — both above the law — when they weaponized government agencies against political opponents. It is almost surely the rationalization of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg. This is what justifies the contemporary left’s increasing comfort with deploying the state to punish and destroy political enemies. For many progressives, the legal system isn’t merely a tool for criminal justice (if that) but a way to exact poetic political justice.
Despite there being perfectly sound political arguments against Trump, we have been on a hysterical journey that has taken us from accusing Trump of being a seditious actor working on the orders of an antagonistic foreign government — the most successful conspiracy theory ever spun in American politics — to indicting him on some rickety seven-year-old campaign finance violation charge. Giving a porn star “hush money” is an immorality, not an illegality. Are DAs now going to be in the business of indicting political opponents who put $130,000 on the wrong side of the ledger during a race that cost hundreds of millions of dollars? I look forward to this kind of justice being meted out equally.
Everyone knows, of course, what’s going to happen when (or if) Republicans return the favor. Cries of fascism, that’s what. When Harry Reid blew up the judicial filibuster, it was to preserve the republic. When Republicans use that very precedent for themselves, they are power-hungry partisans. When Democrats throw congressmen off subcommittees, they do it for democracy. When Republicans follow suit, they are bigots. When a Republican governor retaliates against Disney for involving itself in educational issues, it’s 1933 all over again. But when a Democrat governor punishes companies like Walgreens for their stand on abortion drugs, it is a blow against injustice. This goes on and on and on.
Not that anyone cares about double standards anymore. I’m not naive. And no one is innocent in politics. But the contemporary left’s utter and growing disdain for any semblance of limiting principles — the kind of abuse that helped Trump win the presidency in the first place — continues to do profound damage to the system. Trump is an easy target. The next target, I assure you, will be a Republican who is even “worse than Trump.” And the justifications for throwing out norms to stop them will be exactly the same.
Conservatives who contend that Democrats won’t like where the Trump arraignment leads are probably engaged in some wish-casting. Those who hold the upper hand in our major institutions aren’t too worried about short-term threats of retribution. And, anyway, progressives love Calvinball, a “system” of constantly shifting norms that rewards those most willing to use power. That’s the point.
David Harsanyi is a senior editor at The Federalist.