Donald Trump’s vow to Hillary Clinton – “You’d be in jail” – could be the dog whistle signaling to millions of his followers that a Trump Administration will be the vehicle for their vengeance.
Or in other, more draconian words: “We’re gonna get even…by throwing all you people in jail.”
Consider the core, visceral desire of Trump supporters to “get even,” and combine it with the specter of top presidential administration officials thinking they have a license to do it as a mandate, without restraint. Make no mistake, this is beyond the exaggerated claims of Donald Trump; consider that Trump’s top surrogates now are former top Justice Department Deputy Attorney General Rudolph Giuliani (at one time the third highest ranking official in the department) and former United States Attorney Chris Christie.
Americans of even temperament must consider the fearsome power of our government at all levels, and now weigh the real dangers of an intemperate Administration to our basic liberties. Our liberty, our “American” way of life, will be under immediate danger in a way no other Administration could conceivably create.
The threat to investigate and prosecute anyone is often and deliberately accompanied by the implication that the desired result warrants the conclusion, both of which will be justified by the investigation to create the necessary appearance of propriety. Trump’s promise to jail Hillary Clinton signaled that his “investigation” would already have the conclusion picked out. This just isn’t how credible investigations are done. This isn’t how justice is done, nor is it the way to get (or retain) the perception of legitimacy among the general population.
Refugees from despotic regimes recognize this for what it is. Call it a kangaroo court, call it Kafkaesque, but one thing is certain: Anyone with any means to flee such regimes often did so and spared no expense nor delay in doing so.
Our governments have awesome power. Whether it’s the small stuff like a permit to install an appliance, a license to cut hair or a food inspection permit, governments can exercise quite a bit of control over our lives. When governments have the power to regulate, to investigate and then jail criminals, the power is obviously much greater.
Today, many of us bemoan the overregulation, and in some cases the overcriminalization of our society and the increasing obstacles to our liberty and prosperity. Surely, if our 18th century ancestors had been met by a warren of codes, laws and regulations upon disembarking at colonial harbors, do you think our colonies would have gone on to flourish? Indeed, a leading cause of the agitation leading to the War of Independence was the overregulation more commonly referred to as “taxation without representation.” A prosperous economy prompts people to just make more money instead of agitating over taxes, but an economy under strain (such as an overregulated one) will cause people to try to resist whenever possible. Our colonial history is a guide in this respect. One wonders if we are close to our generation’s “Boston Harbor” or “Boston Massacre” moments.
The abuses of government power hinted at by Trump go straight to the targeting of the bedrock foundation of America: The rule of law.
The rule of law is fundamental to our culture, and the bedrock of our society. It is the reason why our ancestors felt comfortable buying farmland and starting businesses. The rule of law gives people the sense of security, the comfort, that their property won’t be seized by mobs or the government and that there is “legal redress” against such abuses.
Our rule of law and economic system is based on the premise that our “system” is sound and fair. Our Constitution (see the 14th Amendment) calls for the “equal protection under the laws” as a bedrock principle.
Once our property, security and liberty become more dependent on the goodwill of men, we move from being a nation of laws and a nation where an economy can flourish, to a nation of men whose favor we must seek and receive in order to achieve, build and keep anything.
Hillary Clinton is surely flawed and her policies are anathema to conservatives. But she does not pose the existential threat to our basic liberties, and the rule of law, that Donald Trump is now revealed to be, beyond all reasonable doubt.
When we have a candidate so brazenly promising to jail an opponent, can any of us remain secure in our lives, our possessions and our liberty?