In the news just now: Trump grotesquely abusing his pardon power as a way of telling his cronies to keep their mouths shut, and to prepare the public for his using the pardon power as a tool for his own self-preservation against the rule of law.
This thought experiment, focusing on this particular moment in a larger battle, connects with my argument in my posting of yesterday titled “We Are Losing Ground in a Political War We Absolutely Must Win” — which argued that the battle for public opinion is essential to the outcome of our national crisis, and that the anti-Trump side has lately lost ground in that battle..
Imagine that that our Democratic leaders, and other important voices on the anti-Trump side, were profoundly motivated to maximize the percentage of Americans who condemn what Trump is doing with these pardons (and with his overall assault on the rule of law).
To facilitate imagining that, imagine further — so as to assure intensity of their motivation — that the families of these leaders of our side have been taken hostage, and that their survival depends on our side’s messaging getting the percentage of Americans who see and repudiate Trump’s assault on our constitutional order up to a certain threshold — one that’s possible, but not easy.
Here’s the question to which this thought experiment leads: What do you think their messaging to the American people would look like?
I expect that what you imagine, with them desperate to save their families, would be a good deal louder and more urgent than what we hear from them now.
Of course, their families are not being held hostage. But really — fundamentally — aren’t the stakes in this battle just as HUGE? The stakes in this wide battle — in which the abuse of the pardons is but one of the movements on the battlefield — might be said to be:
Will America remain true to its basic values and preserve the constitutional order at the heart of what’s best about our nation, or will America become more like Putin’s Russia:
- A place where the ruler is above the law, and the ruler can use the law as a weapon to attack his enemies (“Lock her up”);
- A place where the interests of the nation itself are sacrificed to satisfy the desires of the rule for power and wealth;
- A place where a keptocratic regime digs a deep chasm to separate a group of superrich oligarchs from the mass of the people who get the shaft;
- A place where the rights of opponents of the rulers are trampled, and even the physical safety of these opponents is threatened.
Two paths forward — that’s what the “crisis” in “constitutional crisis” implies. Which will win: the rule of law or lawlessness; government by and for the people, or just of them; rulers as public servants, or the people as something for the rule or manipulate and exploit.
On the outcome of this battle depends what kind of America will our children and grandchildren will live in, and what kind of lives they will lead.
With so much at stake, shouldn’t our side’s messaging be composed and delivered with all the intensity and urgency we can muster? And shouldn’t that message be wielded so as to reach as many Americans as possible, not just those Americans who already recognize that Trump should be defeated?