Streetwise Professor

June 4, 2024

At the Threshold of an American Time of Troubles

Filed under: History,Politics,Uncategorized — cpirrong @ 3:03 pm

For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind: it hath no stalk: the bud shall yield no meal: if so be it yield, the strangers shall swallow it up.

Hosea, 8:7

Those words came to mind in the immediate aftermath of the Trump verdict in New York. For it is clear that baleful and long-lived consequences will flow from a trial and conviction that transgressed legal boundaries and common decency: while following it, I was wondering if Judge Merchan was striving to set the record for reversible errors and violations of a defendant’s rights.

Yes, an ill wind has been sown. Who shall reap the whirlwind?

The Biblical quotation suggests that the sowers are the reapers. It is indeed possible that the Democrats generally and the Biden administration specifically will reap in November what they sowed in May (and in fact for many, months before that, and it many places beyond New York): the decision has sparked outrage, and not just among Trump’s existing supporters, or Republicans. But it remains to be seen whether this outrage will outweigh the burden of running for president as a “convicted felon.”

Alas, I believe the entire country will reap what the regime and its apparatchiks have sown, and for many years to come. The by-any-means-necessary use of lawfare has violated all pre-existing norms, and has set a precedent that will cast a shadow over American politics forevermore. There is no going back.

America is now channeling Peruvian dictator R. Benavides: “For my friends, everything; for my enemies, the law!” 

I was always astonished that during the Trump impeachment circuses that the Democrats smugly believed that this could not be used against them. They are similarly smug in their belief that they are immune from the type of lawfare they have waged since Trump left office.

Yes, their entrenchment in the deep, middle, and shallow states (to use the insightful desription of Jeffrey Tucker) does provide some immunity. But once a weapon has been unsheathed by one side, it is inevitable that the other will take it up as well.

2020s Lawfare will be to American politics what poison gas was to combat in WWI.

Lawfare–and especially the weaponization of criminal law–makes politics existential. All restraints are lifted in existential conflicts. We can only go downhill from here.

One of the things that really irked me about the Caesar bio show that I wrote about last week was the lionization of Cato. In fact, Cato was as responsible, and indeed arguably chiefly responsible, for the fall of the Republic which he claimed he was defending against tyranny precisely because he and his faction waged lawfare against their political enemy Caesar, and thereby made politics existential.

Caesar crossed the Rubicon with an army because Cato had ensured that his freedom and perhaps his life were in grave legal jeopardy if he crossed without one. Cato made politics existential for Caesar: Caesar understood that he could continue to exist only by waging civil war. Cato sowed the wind. He, but more importantly all of Rome, reaped the whirlwind.

And that’s where we are now.

The bitter irony is that a common criticism of Trump is that he transgresses American democratic norms. Most of this is in the fevered imagination of his enemies: most of his norm violations have come merely from running his big mouth. That pales in comparisons to the violations of political and legal norms that have become commonplace in the lawfare waged not just against him, but against many in his orbit, and many outside it who have had the temerity to challenge the regime.

Words can’t hurt you: legal sticks and stones certainly can. And if one side picks them up, the other side will inevitably do so.

It is also sickly ironic that a bogus charge of “election interference” (bogus because no actual legal violation of Federal election law was properly charged, and New York has no jurisdiction over this law regardless) is being used to engage in the most flagrant attempt in American history to manipulate a national election.

This betrays a deep insecurity among Biden and the Democrats. A confident president and party would not feel it necessary to stoop to such devices.

Exactly where we go from here is unknown. But it is clear that we are entering an era of existential politics. Such a politics inevitably descends into conflict, chaos, and violence. And frequently to civil war. And when future generations look back, they will know exactly who to blame, and to when the Time of Troubles began.

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33 Comments »

  1. Was there the same sense of foreboding after JFK’s corrupt election to the Presidency? Or after the rat-a-tat-tat of the assassinations of JFK, MLK, RFK?

    Or after the CIA/FBI coup against Nixon? Or the assassination attempt on Reagan? Or Senator Edward Kennedy getting off with a slap on the wrist for killing a girl?

    I suspect there wasn’t. For a start the coup against Nixon wasn’t recognised as such (I mention it as a coup but I’m not sure it was). The bien pensants disliked Reagan but were fans of Teddy so what the hell?

    As for the three assassinations in the sixties did people just decide they were the work of individual criminals rather than signs of political disintegration?

    And what about the endless stream of reckless and foolish wars? Do people not much care about them?

    I suppose the problem now is (i) the corruption clearly goes very deep and very wide, and (ii) lots of people recognise that.

    The American left over the years has heaped praise – usually undeserved in my view – on Thomas Jefferson. But maybe he had one relevant insight: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” Mind you, nobody has any idea of what a civil war in a nuclear-armed nation would look like, do they?

    Comment by dearieme — June 5, 2024 @ 10:18 am

  2. @dearieme–The other things you mention differ in kind. Extralegal acts rather than hijacking the legal system to achieve a political end.

    In 1960, Nixon chose not to contest the election precisely to avoid tearing the country apart and questioning the legitimacy of the election. As act for which he received exactly zero credit.

    The CIA/FBI coup was not recognized as such at the time–or perhaps more accurately, to the extent it was argued it was written off as conspiracy theory (itself a CIA invention, ironically). It is gaining credence now. Indeed, at the time, the coup was celebrated as the elimination of a tyrant and a crook. A boon to the Republic, rather than a threat, as it were.

    The Reagan assassination attempt was the act of a deranged man. Unlike the Kennedy assassination it never generated the same sense of foreboding.

    There have always been divisive political issues, e.g., the wars (especially Vietnam) and civil rights. However, these were fought out for the most part through political bodies and elections, or at times mass demonstrations.

    What makes the Trump conviction and trial a source of foreboding, and arguably unique, is that they subvert those by using the legal system to prevent regime opponents from challenging the regime through normal political means.

    Comment by cpirrong — June 5, 2024 @ 4:13 pm

  3. Couple of notes to your otherwise apt analysis.
    1.The lawfare precedent was set after January 2020, and in the consequent court cases displayed same intent and methods familiar after 1936-39 Soviet trials. Following years of pandemic dictat and double-sided “justice” added to the precedents load.
    2. Dems act in full confidence of their immunity because they are taught by many decades of said immunity. Opposition is toothless and pays only lip service to Constitutional principles and American values. it is not just Trump who is running his mouth – a majority of (R) do so.

    As to Caesar and Cato… Caesar’s life, republic vs. tyranny, “role of personality in history”, as we wrote in school essays in Soviet schools, is my favorite subject.Right now I’m reading Imperium by R.Harris – through [fictionalized] involvement by Cicero. (Btw, he’s another model example of too-smart-by-half demagogue serving two masters under the guise of a patriot). I skipped your previous post, will read it soon.

    Comment by Tatyana — June 5, 2024 @ 6:16 pm

  4. Well two major targets for lawfare have been explicitly identified.

    First, there is Musk. The Gray Lady wasn’t content to go after the Prof and Scott Irwin. But now has identified Musk and SpaceX as an enemy of the state (and the cost plus Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex -Ike pulled that punch). Here the NYT is quoting the MIC and “competitors” who haven’t a product, but are griping about SpaceX asking and getting ROFRs from customers for future loads. Never mind that SpaceX in 2022 launched more mass than all other launchers, state or private, military, civilian or commercial, combined. Certainly they expanded in 2023 and are widening the gap in 2024. They have reused three boosters 20 times and did not recover another after 19 launches. Their Super Heavy is over twice the power of the Saturn V. Anyway, here is a link to the attack on Musk: https://www.nytimes.com/2024/05/28/us/politics/elon-musk-space-launch-competition.html

    Then there is Madam Khan calling for Scott Sheffield’s head and keeping him off the Board of Directors of Exxon-Mobil because he suggested that excessive drilling was bad for company shareholders when prices went NEGATIVE in 2020. https://www.forbes.com/sites/ianpalmer/2024/05/31/did-ftc-over-reach-in-prohibiting-scott-sheffield-from-exxonmobils-board/?ss=energy&sh=32feae326580 And Schumer and company start lobbying the DOJ and anyone else to go after Big Oil as well as Sheffield. All Sheffield did was play a huge role in making the United States the first nation in the history to produce over 13 Million Barrels of oil a day, something the Saudis could only talk about and not accomplish for roughly a decade. And Sheffield and Company did that from a base of about 5 Million Barrels a day.

    All this shows is no astounding deeds, dreams that lesser mortals could even imagine, will go up punished.

    Comment by JavelinaTex — June 5, 2024 @ 8:31 pm

  5. Granted this is behaviour is horrible and dumb and counter-productive. What I am looking for in all of this descent into madness is a change in behaviour – domestically, a backing off from lawfare, persecution, witch-hunts and purity-spiralling; financially, a recognition of the need for some (some!) fiscal discipline in order to avoid a fiscal crisis and a run from Treasury paper; strategically, an end to the doubling-down and escalation.

    I’m not seeing it. These people just are not interested in compromise and moderation.

    Maybe they think themselves invulnerable. Maybe they simply cannot think through consequences. I can’t fathom it, I have no theory of mind for them.

    Comment by Ex-Global Super-Regulator on Lunch Break — June 6, 2024 @ 1:15 am

  6. @Tatyana – agreed.

    The US wouldn’t be anywhere near the trouble it is in, nor the Democrats (and Antifa) anywhere near so cocky and bold, if the Republicans hadn’t been so determined to play the role of the ‘Washington Generals’ for all these years. Why they have done this – compromise? disinterest? fear? – will create decades of work for historians and maybe political scientists also.

    Comment by Ex-Global Super-Regulator on Lunch Break — June 6, 2024 @ 7:38 am

  7. Apropos Exxon M: just came across this in link-ed-in: https://events.aier.org/bastiatmastercalendar/detail/1707/1719529200000

    Comment by Tatyana — June 6, 2024 @ 10:48 am

  8. @JavelinaTex. Agreed. Lawfare has many targets and it is currently a whole-of-government effort. With Musk, for example, it’s hard to keep track of all the government agencies that are going after him.

    Comment by cpirrong — June 6, 2024 @ 1:59 pm

  9. @Tatyana–The J6 prosecutions are indeed shocking beyond belief. As are the prosecutions and sentences of those protesting peacefully at abortion clinics.

    The right doesn’t even bring a knife to this gun fight. Because principles, or something.

    They need to watch the “Chicago Way” scene in The Untouchables.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cjOPLTTjnwc

    And I’m just stunned that you skipped one of my posts. Just what is the world coming to???

    Comment by cpirrong — June 6, 2024 @ 2:08 pm

  10. @Ex-Global Super-Regulator on Lunch Break–See my reply to Tatyana mentioning “the Chicago Way.”

    Comment by cpirrong — June 6, 2024 @ 2:11 pm

  11. @5 Ex-G-S-RoLB, “I’m not seeing it. … Maybe they think themselves invulnerable.”

    The Dem power people know that with a Trump administration they very likely go to jail. If their crimes come out, their lives of immunity are finished.

    On the further hand, as arrogating elites, they detest the Constitution as an impediment to their designs and they abjure the notion of rights. They intend to see the end of the US as a Constitutional Republic, becoming an eventual satrapy of the UN (with which they are in league). With UN suzerainty comes no need to face those annoying elections.

    On the third hand, given one and two, the same elites *must* stay in power. They’ve revealed their play. A majority of Americans want them gone. They now have a grip on power. With honest elections, they lose all.

    They are face-to-face with Craig’s existential urgency. It’s in full view. A loss now is to lose everything: wealth, status, power, movement, shared immunity, and preening elitism.

    I believe they’re desperate and suspect they will do anything to keep power. including subvert the election this November.

    Some ex-intelligence people say they’ve seen brigades of military-trained illegals stationed all around the country. If so, then at a signal they can mount a sudden “terrorist” assault on infrastructure and civilians that will provide the excuse for martial law and a “postponement” of the election.

    If that’s the plan, look for sudden violence in late September/early October, followed by mass arrests of ‘domestic terrorists.’

    My nightmare scenario.

    Comment by Pat Frank — June 6, 2024 @ 10:30 pm

  12. @Prof [thumbs up emoji here]

    Comment by Ex-Global Super-Regulator on Lunch Break — June 6, 2024 @ 11:09 pm

  13. Craig: Mea culpa! I postponed reading the Caesar post until I watch the series myself, then discovered I am allowed only 1st free episode, and as I refuse to give money to PBS (other than involuntary taxes), I shrugged and went to watch (Commissario Montalbano, if you’re interested).

    Patrick: that is my nightmare scenario, too. In my case, getting out of NY became at once my dearest wish and biggest toothache, on personal reason.

    Comment by Tatyana — June 7, 2024 @ 11:19 am

  14. @JavelinaTex–regarding the suits against Musk.

    Comment by cpirrong — June 7, 2024 @ 2:37 pm

  15. @ Pat – thank you.

    All too possible, sadly.

    Those who have been here a while likely know that I bore the paint off the walls asking ‘Where are the adults?’ I’m hoping they make an appearance some time in the next few months. Even if it’s just the plutocratic class saying ‘No, this doesn’t happen here, it imperils our investments’, I don’t mind. I just want a circuit-breaker and a dampener which imposes a negative-feedback loop in the direction of calm and constitutionality.

    Comment by Ex-Global Super-Regulator on Lunch Break — June 7, 2024 @ 9:59 pm

  16. @dearieme–Apropos Nixon and the CIA. Nixon’s rather guarded take, a decade later.

    Comment by cpirrong — June 8, 2024 @ 3:52 pm

  17. @Tatyana. I was just teasing. The limitation on your viewing was probably a blessing 😛

    Comment by cpirrong — June 8, 2024 @ 3:53 pm

  18. Thanks for the RMN interview, Prof. The first thing that strikes me is how much more intelligent and more measured he sounds than more recent Presidents.

    Comment by dearieme — June 9, 2024 @ 9:20 am

  19. If Donald Trump is not elected in 2024, and instead a feeble, demented old man who is getting worse is reelected despite his record, I favor the divorcing of the country. Like a marriage, the people of “the right” (a misnomer but often effective language) cannot remain married to the people of the left (which actually is a correct term). We have irreconcilable differences on almost every political issue, and almost social one as well.

    A separate country can be formed drawing a line northwest from Florida to Alaska, including Canadian provinces. The East and West Coasts can form their own perfect little socialist utopias, with Liz Warren the President of East Coastland and Gavin Newsome the President of West Coastland. The people in the middle can form a hard working powerhouse of energy and agricultural production, along with limited government to spur the free market.

    WHile I am not a huge fan of Donald Trump, much less so after the 2020 election debacle, he is the only real chance of a limited possibility of changing things.

    Comment by MARK — June 9, 2024 @ 2:31 pm

  20. @dearieme. No problem. Yes, it is striking, isn’t it?

    Comment by cpirrong — June 9, 2024 @ 8:55 pm

  21. You fellas talk this up with monotonous regularity, but nothing ever, ever happens. Why not? Maybe something to do with the Deep/Shallow/whatever State having its hands on your enormous law(fare) enforcement resource.

    @Frank – tell me, what happened to Hillary post 2016? You nuggets were convinced she (and Obama) was going to jail then too. Funny because we saw the merest glimpse of maybe the real Trump/Caesar when he let slip that it was just an election device. You dopes fall for these grifts every time.

    Comment by David Mercer — June 10, 2024 @ 2:13 am

  22. “Commissario Montalbano”: yes, good stuff, isn’t it? My wife’s Italian teacher is from Rome and says she can’t follow the plots without subtitles in either Italian or English. Understanding the Sicilian dialect used in the programmes is beyond her.

    Comment by dearieme — June 11, 2024 @ 7:17 am

  23. @21 — David, at SLAC I took a data security course mandated by the Department of Energy. I learned that securing my data and computer against loss or theft was my responsibility. It was brought home to me that loss of data to theft through negligence was a punishable crime.

    Hillary Clinton is known to have installed and used a private unsecured server to conduct State Department business. This allowed her to conduct transactions free from Congressional oversight. Doing so is a Fed3ral crime — a felony — likely punishable by 20 years in prison. The server was hackable. No one knows whether anyone got in and stole sensitive information. Likely, someone did.

    She also destroyed 33,000 emails in the face of a Congressional subpoena, and bleach-bitted the drive to fully destroy any trace of her correspondence. Those emails would very likely have evidenced her pay-to-play State contract disbursements.

    These are all serious and punishable crimes. And yet she skated.

    Barack Obama knew of her private server, and did nothing. Also a crime. Mr. Obama also facilitated Joe Biden’s billion dollar extortion of Ukraine, so as to preserve Hunter’s $150k/month payout from Burisma. Also a high crime under the Constitution.

    https://www.congress.gov/116/meeting/house/110331/documents/HMKP-116-JU00-20191211-SD067.pdf

    And to these things you offer a breezy dismissal; shallow derision directed toward those who view such criminal activity seriously.

    And, ignoring these beams, you point a finger at Trump’s mote. Arrant hypocrisy defines that bias.

    Comment by Pat Frank — June 11, 2024 @ 12:02 pm

  24. @Frank Yes but my point was that Trump and his ilk did nothing during his spell in office. Why?

    Also I see Biden jnr was convicted yesterday. Kind of undermines Craig’s treatise, yes? “For my friends, everything. For everyone else – and Hunter whose been a real pain in my ass – the law!”

    Comment by David Mercer — June 12, 2024 @ 2:17 am

  25. @24 – David, Trump’s accomplishments in office were remarkable given the continuous and intense political persecution he suffered over the entire 4 years.

    You’re right that Hillary Clinton was not indicted. But the DoJ was inhabited by do-nothing (Jeff Sessions) followed by an outright stealth opponent (Bill Barr).

    If an actual election follows in November and Trump is elected, his second term will benefit from hindsight, as he now knows the bounds of the administrative state that opposes him.

    In other news, Joe Biden has gotten rich from the use of Hunter as his influence-seller. Likewise his brother Jim. Joe invariably and insistently defended Hunter right up to the trial. His FBI/DoJ did everything in their power to bury the damning laptop.

    Comment by Pat Frank — June 12, 2024 @ 9:32 am

  26. @Frank The truth is Trump had zero intention of going after Hillary. He said as much himself the day he won the election.

    The fact of the matter is the Dems are far better at this sort of thing than the GOPhers. You continually forget that they’re ideologues, driven by a collective vision. GOPhers are only driven by greed & self interest.

    Comment by David Mercer — June 12, 2024 @ 10:05 am

  27. @26 David, “GOPhers are only driven by greed & self interest.”

    Spoken like a true ideologue.

    The Guardian, 2018 November: “Trump Wanted to Prosecute Hillary Clinton and James Comney — report”
    https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/nov/20/trump-wanted-to-prosecute-hillary-clinton-james-comey-report

    Comment by Pat Frank — June 12, 2024 @ 11:28 am

  28. Pat: they are demagogues, not ideologues. Their ideology is at least 200yo, and proven itself a literally bloody failure every time it was applied.
    As to Reps inability to engage the enemy by the same methods employed by said enemy – our cons are extension of our pros.
    I wouldn’t want a theoretical “republican militia” to patrol subways in the same manner as these fascists: https://nypost.com/2024/06/11/us-news/anti-israel-man-on-nyc-subway-tells-zionists-to-get-off-train-video/

    Comment by Tatyana — June 12, 2024 @ 1:01 pm

  29. 28 Tatyana — as I see it, demagogues are the rabble-rousers. Ideologues are the rabble.

    Some demagogues are also ideologues, but most of them are mere power-mad opportunists.

    The view at your link is grimly special. The irony of these people wearing kafiyahs is beyond explication. Ever-so-loving-of-humanity progressives flaunting the iconic clothing of ideological slave-takers/gay-killers/child-rapists is a measure of their profound insanity.

    Comment by Pat Frank — June 12, 2024 @ 1:21 pm

  30. Pat, it’s not just the view that is problematic. Read on…

    Comment by Tatyana — June 12, 2024 @ 2:50 pm

  31. @30 I read through the article, Tatyana. Nothing there is surprising.

    Comment by Pat Frank — June 12, 2024 @ 5:38 pm

  32. Hey Pat, how do you feel about Ivanka Trump doing official business using her private email?

    Comment by [email protected] — June 13, 2024 @ 5:26 am

  33. I wouldn’t want a theoretical “republican militia” What, you mean like those wholesome dudes who routinely cause trouble in the likes of Lansing MI etc etc? The American militia movement seem a little more than theoretical to various law enforcement agencies.

    Comment by David Mercer — June 13, 2024 @ 12:19 pm

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