Political Reprisals and the Death of the Republic.

One thing I have argued in the past, long and hard, is that one thing the Republic cannot survive is the use of lawfare to “punish” political opposition, or even the appearance of doing so That’s not original with me. I got it originally from the late Jerry Pournelle (and I expect it wasn’t original with him). That’s why Ford pardoning Nixon was the right thing to do even if we were to grant him being guilty of everything he was accused of (and let’s just say I’m more than a little dubious about that). That’s why I argued to let it go when Clinton left the White House, and again when Obama left–they were out of office. Better for the nation to let it go than to give even the appearance of political reprisal through the courts.

You see, one of the cornerstones of the Republic is the peaceful transition of power from one Congress to another, from one Administration to another, from one Party to another. But allow even the appearance that those losing power will be punished by law and that goes away. The party in power then cannot afford to lose power and will, therefore, do anything they must to retain it. After all, if people think that “criminally punish your predecessors” is on the table, they can expect that to be turned around against them should they be the ones losing power.

If any of the current rhetoric goes beyond rhetoric, those in power are saying, quite clearly, that they consider such reprisals on the table and that the tables will be turned on them should they be the ones losing power in some future election.

They have to know this. So that leads to the question of why are they willing to take that risk?

I submit that they don’t see it as a risk. They know what would happen should they lose, but they don’t plan on ever losing. They’ll do whatever it takes to retain power. Just like they did whatever it took to gain it.

In which case, the political reprisals aren’t the herald of the death of the Republic.

They are its obituary.

22 thoughts on “Political Reprisals and the Death of the Republic.”

  1. IMO for some “Death Of The Republic” is a Plus because they assume that they’d be in Control of what comes after the Republic dies. 😡

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      1. The end of the Roman Republic was caused by this very thing. Legal reprisals against political rivals when they left office. Caesar crossed the Rubicon in response to the certainty that he would be tried for treason at the end of his Consular year. Which set off years of Civil War and resulted in the Empire which wad never stable due to not having an established method of power transfer.

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      2. What on your thoughts on what the people will think when they see you can get away with almost literally murder if you are connected enough? How long does the republic last then?

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        1. People in the past have asked me something similar either as a rhetorical question or an attempted “gotcha” but I’ll assume you mean it seriously and treat it as such because it is a good question. Ideally, the time to stop that is before the folk get into office. Rarely to people only become monsters once attaining political power. I submit that the old “power corrupts” adage is more a case of “the corrupt tend to obtain power”–the usual examples of “power corrupting” generally given are of people who were already corrupt long before they obtained the power that supposedly “corrupted” them. Thus, once you reach that point, the Republic is already facing late stage cancer although still potentially savable. It was very…concerning, let us say…when people started arguing that character was unimportant in a Presidential candidate. (Note: the facets of character that are important are not necessarily the ones that make one someone one would like to hang with and that’s a topic worthy of extended discussion in and of itself.)

          However, the guilty going free is far less damaging to the concept of Rule of Law than the innocent being punished. In the former case the average law-abiding joe can at least believe their innocence protects them from the government. Once you take away that belief, either by deliberately punishing people for reasons other then their actual criminal behavior then people can’t take refuge in their innocence as a shield. Whether the reasons are multiplication of laws to the point that everyone is guilty of some crime, or the individual in question just has offended someone in power, or if the person is just on the losing side of a political issue, the principle remains.

          There’s a reason why in ordinary criminal proceedings the standards of proof are supposed to be so high, why rules of evidence are as strict as they are, and why the accused are so thoroughly armored in “rights” (or at least were before lawfare became so very common). It’s because punishing the innocent unjustly is far more damaging to civil society than failing to punish the guilty. It’s not an absolute either-or. As in all things there are incremental tradeoffs. Any criminal justice system is going to have innocent people who are wrongfully punished and guilty people who escape punishment. No system will always punish the guilty and always free the innocent. In such a case it is simply better, both from a moral perspective and from a pragmatic one, that we “bias” in the direction of freeing the innocent rather than punishing the guilty. But we can’t go too far because doing so

          Now, I’m not saying it’s not impossible to convict and punish a former office holder for “crimes” committed while in office. However, there the “bias” between “freeing the innocent” and “punishing the lawbreaker” has to be tilted even farther toward the “innocent” side. It can’t have even the appearance of being a partisan political attack. The question is: can you prove the crimes sufficient so that even those on the “side” of the political figure being accused will, by overwhelming majority, acknowledge that it’s justice rather than political attack? I’m not talking those of the political class–the folks on office and the major players in supporting them. They’ll say whatever is politically useful to them, regardless of what they personally believe. If they don’t, they’ll soon be out of office. (Pretty much the definition of “what is politically useful to them.”) Now, they might well believe it, but that’s purely incidental.

          But, can you prove crimes committed by Hillary Clinton such that the average Democrat voter will (at least privately, without fear of being deplatformed, losing their job, or otherwise being “cancelled”) agree that, “yep, she’s guilty and got what she deserved.”

          Or, on the other side, can you prove crimes committed by Trump such that the average Republican voter will (at least privately, I’d put the same caveats but, really, that almost exclusively goes one way–a lesson of its own) agree that, “Yep, he’s guilty and got what he deserved.”

          If you can’t do that, then you’re probably better off letting it go because the consequences of pursuing the matter are so much worse than the consequences of not doing so.

          In an idea world the guilty would all be punished and the innocent wouldn’t even be inconvenienced. But we don’t live in that world and likely never will.

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          1. I understand your points and I completely agree, it is a fine line to walk. To be clear, I was asking a serious question and not trying get you, thank-you for responding in such detailed way.

            I, personally, just hate to see people I strongly suspect of engaging in crimes that not only enrich themselves and hurt their victims, but that further a fanatical political agenda. These crimes tear at the fabric of our society and it’s charter and hurt each and every one of us.

            I also would rather have 100 guilty people go free than to see one innocent person sent to prison or their death.

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            1. Well sir, it looks like the dems are going to prosecute Trump, apparently for eternity. I understand they are going ahead and impeaching him as soon as Biden’s hand leaves the Necronomicon. Once they do that, I understand several AG’s are going to go after him. Not to mention all of the main stream talk about rounding up anyone who isn’t a staunch far left fanatical democrat and putting us in camps for re-education or disposal.

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              1. Well, I tried to raise the warning. That they do this indicates that they never expect to be out of power again and will do whatever it takes to ensure that outcome.

                May the Gods have mercy upon us.

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    1. Amen.
      The question is: Is it time to find the mistakes in the Constitution to prepare for the next time around?
      I nominate that Congress must overturn obvious mistakes of the Court. A civil war is too expensive a remedy for a Taney.

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      1. The “mistake in the constitution” is that paper cannot defend itself; and that productive, working people will never have the available time and energy to protect it that the “servants” they hire to run their governments will have to undermine and subvert it.

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  2. They also anticipate that the other side will be “better than that” because “it’s not who we are”. Same reason we have lost year after year, decade after decade. Not saying it isn’t a good philosophy, but when it comes down to the nuts and bolts of governance: they eliminate the filibuster while they are in office, we bring it back when we are in office. They pass bills unread in the dead of night while we tinker around the edges on the repeal. They pass bills with a simple majority and we insist that a full repeal takes a super-majority. It is the philosophy of conservatism to NOT abandon worthwhile principles but then we don’t hold the other side to the same principles.

    One way to get around that would be, for example, to apply the left’s rules to the left’s programs when we do have power. Passing a full repeal of the ACA, for example, could easily be done with a simple majority without setting aside any principles by stating “any legislation enacted with a simple majority can be repealed with a simple majority”. They can complain all they want but the simple fact of making the statement makes it very difficult for their standard to prevail.

    Regarding punishing political opponents, what you DO have to do is punish those who abetted them by breaking the law while not in political office. Had any staffer or federal agent associated with the illegalities (not political disagreements) of the Obama or Clinton administrations been fully prosecuted the next corrupt administration would find it much harder to recruit people to participate. What I am seeing now is not “prosecute illegal actions” but prosecute “Trump supporters”. How you walk that line without it having the appearance of political payback is the difficult part. As we have seen Special Counsels and Investigators don’t appear to accomplish much of anything.

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  3. Mistake: “A well regulated milita, being necessary to the security of a free state,”. Need to eliminate this “apparent” source of confusion and then add something about “no person who has not been convicted of a violent felony shall be debarred the possession of personal arms of any sort”.

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  4. WordPress.com now appears to be flatly refusing to post anything I write in reply at Sarah A. Hoyt’s blog. It returns a message to the effect that the comment cannot be posted. One wonders what this means. With apologies, I’m testing this recent phenomenon here at what one understands to be another blog hosted by WordPress.com, as opposed to an independently hosted WordPress software installation.

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  5. I seem to remember Trump rallys with ‘Throw her in jail’ chants galore. Maybe they were scared they were actually going to jail if Trump won again. Just sayin’ maybe don’t shoot your mouths off so much.

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    1. And yet, for four years Trump never made a move to actually _do_ that. Talk is one thing. Having people actually introduce legislation–as is happening right now–to criminalize being on the “other side” is quite another (legislation to declare “MAGA rallies” to be domestic terrorism).

      As for the talk itself, NIven’s Law applies: “There is no cause so right you won’t find fools following it for foolish reasons”, often more prosaically worded “There is no cause so right it won’t attract fuggheads.”
      Burkheads First Corollary to Niven’s Law is: “The media will focus almost entirely on the fuggheads of those causes to which it is opposed.”

      And here we are.

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