by Roger Kimball
Gertrude Stein famously warned that it was important to know how far to go when going too far.
It pains me to admit that Democrats seem to have a far better sense of all that than do Republicans. Perhaps it’s because Democrats have a visceral appreciation of William Hazlitt’s observation that “those who lack delicacy hold us in their power.” The Democrats, that is to say, long ago became expert at the game of holding their opponents to standards that they themselves violate not just with impunity but with ostentatious glee.
The news last week that Michael Sussmann was found not guilty by a D.C. jury of his ideological peers was another thumb in the eye of the American so-called system of justice. Scary-looking super-cop John Durham had indicted Sussmann for the same thing that brought down Trump’s flash-in-the-pan National Security Advisor Mike Flynn—lying to the FBI—but no one who has been paying attention thought the two men would be treated the same way. Flynn was close to Donald Trump, therefore he must be considered a sacrificial beast, someone to be made an example of, a pariah. And so he was.
Sussmann, by contrast, was a covert employee of the Hillary Clinton campaign. He helped get the Russian Collusion Delusion going and lied to the FBI in the process. But he was on the side of the regime party, so, as Jonathan Turley observed as the Sussmann case unfolded, he was afforded every consideration while Flynn found himself ruined. In this tale of two trials, we got a textbook illustration of how you can deploy a two-tier system of justice in which, as George Orwell put it in Animal Farm: All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.
Sure, it’s a contradiction. It doesn’t, intellectually, make sense. It also violates every canon of justice, which depends upon a publicly acknowledged ideal of impartiality. But in the larger, more cynical realm of the Thrasymachean dispensation of American regime politics circa 2022, it is just what the doctor ordered. Washington, D.C., is a company town. The company is the regime, the deep state, populated by swamp creatures battening at the public trough and fueled by the rancid clichés of identity politics. I think Roger Simon was right when he observed that Sussmann’s exoneration marked “the end of American justice as we know it.” (Actually, it was just another plaque on the tombstone; “American justice” has been an oxymoron for years.)
Sussmann joins a long list of Hillary cronies and Department of Justice lackeys (but I repeat myself). In any just world Andrew McCabe, Lisa Page, Peter Strzok, James Comey, Kevin Clinesmith, Loretta Lynch, and indeed Hillary herself would be behind bars. But this is our world, not any just world.
And here’s some salt to rub in the wound. Peter Navarro, a former Trump economic advisor, was held in contempt of Congress because he refused to hand over documents to the Kangaroo Court, er . . . the Democrat-controlled January 6 inquisition. Eric Holder, Barack Obama’s self-declared “wingman” and Attorney General was also held in contempt of Congress for refusing to hand over documents. But not to worry. As CNN reported soon after the affront, “The White House and the Justice Department made clear Friday what had been expected all along: Attorney General Eric Holder will not face criminal prosecution under the contempt of Congress citation passed by the U.S. House.”
Navarro is not so lucky. He lives next to the FBI building. They could have simply asked him to drop by. He would have showed up. But that would not have been sufficiently dramatic. Instead, our geheime Staatspolizei apprehended him while he was boarding a plane. They slapped the 72-year-old man in handcuffs and leg irons and threw him into a cell once occupied, they were careful to tell him, by John Hinckley, the lunatic who shot Ronald Reagan in 1981. The timeline here deserves our attention. On May 31, Navarro sued the January 6 committee and the DOJ. On June 3, he was arrested and arraigned. Unlike Eric Holder, who merely scoffed at the contempt judgment, Navarro faces up to two years in prison and a $200,000 fine.
Some commentators have in effect run interference for Sussmann, explaining (or explaining away) his tort. Lying to the FBI is only a problem, you see, if the thing you are lying about is something of substance. Noted. But where was that argument when Mike Flynn was being put through the wringer? I am perfectly willing to believe that Democrats and other members of the regime party are simply better at being sneaky snakes than MAGA conservatives. That would not be surprising. They have had a lot more practice. Still, how is it that Hillary Clinton gets away with obvious lies (Wiping a server? You mean with a cloth?) where Trump supporters have the book thrown at them for jaywalking (or “parading” around the Capitol)?
The real issue here is something I have been harping on for the last couple of years: the issue of the decaying legitimacy of our institutions. Increasingly, once-respected institutions like the FBI, Congress, the Justice Department, to say nothing of the educational establishment and corporate culture, have lost their claim on the people’s allegiance. That allegiance is not something that can be repaired by diktat. It is part of the largely unspoken compact that all social institutions require if they are to remain vital. The decay of that allegiance, and, consequently, the decay of institutional legitimacy has been evolving since at least since “the Sixties,” understanding that term more as an existential than a chronological marker.
The neo-puritanism of political correctness and other manifestations of “woke” intolerance hastened that process. And it is a curious contingency that the advent of Donald Trump as a political force stripped the camouflaging veils off the process. What Bill Kristol, without irony, extolled as “a decent and elevated conservatism” lay exposed as part of the festering wound of narcissistic self-aggrandizement and hypocrisy.
In his Philosophical Investigations, Ludwig Wittgenstein says “all philosophical problems have the form ‘I have lost my way.’” The first response to being lost should be to retrace one’s steps in order to escape the maze. It’s time that Americans faced up to the reality that their governing apparat is a corrupt, self-engorging Leviathan. This is not, or not only, a partisan issue. Sure, Washington, D.C. is a fully paid-up concession of the Democratic Party, regularly voting some 93 to 95 percent Democratic. Sussmann was never going to be convicted there.
So a preliminary antiseptic, as I have argued elsewhere, would be to downgrade Washington in the political metabolism of the country. Indeed, I think the capital, if not the Capitol, ought to be dispersed. Washington, D.C., could continue to function as what it has already in part become: a sort of stage set where functionaries preen and simper before the cameras of a preposterous media and press corps.
Donald Trump made a few half-hearted stabs at dismantling the lumbering machine that is the Washington establishment, but that seems like a long time ago and, besides, the swamp closed almost instantly to reassert its prerogatives. In his next term, however, he should make the destruction of the Washington machine one of his highest priorities. It won’t be easy. To be frank, I am not sure, absent some world-shaking calamity, it is even possible. But it is nevertheless necessary if anything resembling the republic as envisioned by the founders is to be salvaged.
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Roger Kimball is editor and publisher of The New Criterion and the president and publisher of Encounter Books. He is the author and editor of many books, including The Fortunes of Permanence: Culture and Anarchy in an Age of Amnesia (St. Augustine’s Press), The Rape of the Masters (Encounter), Lives of the Mind: The Use and Abuse of Intelligence from Hegel to Wodehouse (Ivan R. Dee), and Art’s Prospect: The Challenge of Tradition in an Age of Celebrity (Ivan R. Dee).
Photo “The Capitol” by Barnyz CC2.0