The hounds are baying for blood. Beware. The leashes that hold them back are frayed, and, once loosed they will rend and tear any caught in their path.
The framers of the Constitution were not idealists and utopians; quite the opposite — they were skeptics of the perfectibility of man. Knowing that a lust for domination is built into the makeup of mankind, they constructed institutional constraints around the free exercise of power and erected roadblocks to the advance of the tyranny of the majority.
We seek to dismantle these constraints at our peril.
The let-no-crisis-go-to-waste activists are quick to seize the opportunity afforded by the events of January 6, not simply to hold bad actors accountable for bad acts, but to crush their political opponents and establish ideological dominance. The formula is simple:
Associate any form of dissent from the desired orthodoxy with an abhorrent ideology and deploy the weapons of shame and censure to drive your enemies before you.
Smith College professor Loretta J. Ross laid it out in an essay at CounterPunch.org:
“Anyone identified as sympathetic, supportive, or financing these seditious acts that attempted to deny the peaceful transfer of power in our country should be treated with the same public condemnation that the Nazis received after World War II. This includes Nazified people in Congress, in the media, in universities, in regular jobs, and throughout society because fascism is not the fevered dream of one delusional man. Trump is a white supremacist; that he is also a deranged narcissist is really incidental.”
This is rhetorically potent stuff. Who, after all, can argue with suppressing Nazis? Any who would argue is probably a Nazi himself, right?
I shall be amply clear, in the (perhaps vain) attempt to head off charges of soft-pedaling the events of January 6 — and perhaps being “sympathetic” to “Nazis”:
The riot at the Capitol was an insurrectionary act. It was shameful, ugly, unjustifiable — and profoundly stupid and pointless. The political theater that precipitated it — the specious challenging of electors — was deeply irresponsible, serving naught but a shabby and dishonorable personality cult built up around an unworthy man. Those who committed crimes, which include the murder of a police officer and assault with bodily injury on numerous others, must be (and, it appears, will be) prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Those who can justly be found to have incited and abetted the mob must be held accountable for their actions, either legally or through censure as the law and justice allow.
The rule of law provides for robust measures to hold wrongdoers to account. But justice demands that action be confined to wrongful acts, and not extended to guilt by association and collective punishment — which are anathema to principles of liberty and justice for all.
But those who seek to loose the hounds wish to brook no such constraint.
I seem to recall in the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that we were exhorted to the effect that we must not tar all Muslims with the dark stain of radical Islam. Apparently we’re not supposed to think that way anymore. We are bade to not only condemn and prosecute those who committed reprehensible acts, but to condemn any and all who can be associated with them.
For those of us who know history, this is a slope that is slicked with gore.
Purges are a hell of a lot easier to start than to stop. What tribunal shall define who and what is “Nazified” — or “sympathetic”? Who conducts this purge? What shall constrain the Jacobins as they define and redefine who is now “the enemy of the people”? What houndsman can call off the hounds?
Shall we rely on the likes of Michael Beller, who worked in PBS’ general counsel office and was caught bloviating on tape to some woman in a bar?:
“Even if Biden wins, we go for all the Republican voters and Homeland Security will take their children away…What do you think about that?…and we’ll put them in re-education camps.”
Beller’s Bolshevik barroom blather is extreme and idiotic and it got him fired. But there’s plenty of rhetoric of this flavor to go around. We’ve seen it in my own small town. On January 20, I published an editorial column I’ve excerpted here:
Last week, a pair of local social justice activists submitted a letter to the Sisters City Council seeking “a formal condemnation” of Sisters-area resident Richard Esterman’s actions in attending Donald Trump’s “Save America” rally in Washington, D.C. on January 6. Esterman, who served on the Sisters City Council, appeared on Z21 TV portraying rally-goers as “friendly” and saying that he had gone to his hotel after the rally and did not personally witness any violence.
There are serious problems with seeking such condemnation. Esterman did not stand for re-election in November and his last meeting as a Sisters City Councilor was in December. There is no indication that he represented himself as a public official in any capacity during the rally or his depiction of it. While his term did not officially end until a new council was sworn in on January 13, he’s no longer a councilor, so any condemnation would be aimed at him as a private citizen.
More importantly, no matter what one thinks of the Save America rally, there is no indication that Esterman committed any wrongdoing by attending it. As far as can be determined, he did not participate in the unlawful storming of the Capitol Building, or incite anyone to do so.
The activists are asking the City Council to formally condemn a citizen for attending a lawful, permitted rally, which is clearly a protected First Amendment right. They say that “in doing so, this will send a message that the City does not condone insurrection or assault on democracy by either its elected officials or its citizens.”
It would be well to pause for a moment and consider the implications of invoking the authority of the government of the City of Sisters to condemn the actions of a citizen who has not been accused of any kind of wrongdoing. Do we want to live in a community where it is the business of the City Council to shame and condemn its citizens? Power that can be turned on one citizen can be turned on any citizen.
There is a bitter irony to be found in those of a purportedly “liberal” bent deploying the exact same rhetoric slung about by the Capitol-storming, zip-tie wielding “Hang Mike Pence!” mob:
I see ample reasons for accountability and consequences. In times long before my birth I would totally understand and accept the final solution to treason and sedition. Tar and feather them and lead them to the gallows!!! Those were once “norms” of political behavior as well!
Yep. That’s real.
I don’t care what fanatical faith du jour the hounds are running for, when they start baying for blood, they are dangerous to everything around them — including to the institutions they purport to be defending. I trust NOBODY who bandies about “the gallows,” and “tar and feathers” and a “final solution.”
This is the kind of tense, unstable, and dangerous time William Butler Yeats described in his famous poem, The Second Coming:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold…
If our best effort is to counter extremism with extremism, it is certain that the center will not hold.
The Running Iron Report has acknowledged the increasing velocity of the widening gyre for years now. The trend of events is far from unexpected, and we’ve long been skeptical that the center can hold. We must prepare as “mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.” I intend to remain unfazed. I will not be pulled into the vortex by any peddler of righteous wrath, nor will their wares find welcome if they knock upon my door.