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Tuesday, January 4, 2022

A HYPOTHETICAL, POSED FOR DISCUSSION

I am afraid that after two years the pandemic is really getting to me. I continue to spend time elaborating arguments in my head about subjects that interest me but I have lost the belief that putting them on paper (so to speak) and posting them or publishing them makes any difference in these difficult times. So let me instead pose a question for discussion that has been nagging at me lately.

 

I am going to begin with what I believe is called in law schools a hypothetical. That is to say, for the purposes of discussion I am going to assume certain facts, whether they are really facts or not, so that I can raise moral or political questions about a situation that is exemplified by these facts. Do me the favor of not disagreeing with the facts that I posit. Consider them, as I say, a hypothetical.

 

Suppose these three conditions hold (this is my hypothetical):

 

First, there is a very serious threat that in the next two or four years Republicans will succeed in literally stealing an election and then imposing an authoritarian regime with Trump at its head;

 

Second, if Trump is indicted tried, and convicted of a crime, such as conspiring to interrupt the lawful processes of the federal government, or some such thing, that conviction will dramatically reduce the threat of a stolen election and an authoritarian regime;

 

And Third, a fair, objective, and exhaustive examination of the available facts makes it unlikely but not impossible that such a conviction could be secured.

 

Assuming hypothetically that these three factual suppositions are true, and that Merrick Garland knows them to be true, should he nevertheless undertake to secure an indictment, trial, and conviction of Trump?

 

My view is that he should. In short, it is my judgment that he should violate his oath of office and use the power (not the authority, but the power) of his office to undermine Trump and to counteract the threat that he poses. Rather than explain my reasons for this view right now, I will simply ask the question and see how the discussion develops.

44 comments:

Another Anonymous said...

Prof. Wolff,

Coincidentally I was contemplating the same issue this morning – does Merrick Garland have an obligation to seek an indictment against Donald Trump for instigating an insurrection and seeking to disrupt the lawful operation of Congress in determining who won the election?

I agree with you, and believe he does have such an obligation. He has taken an oath to support both the Constitution and the faithful execution of the federal laws. I do not agree that such action would be violating his oath of office. It would be in accordance with his oath of office. As more and more information is obtained and released by the January 6 Committee, it is becoming more and more clear that Trump was orchestrating an attempt to seize power and effect a coup.

18 U.S.C. § 2383 – Rebellion or insurrection, states:

“Whoever incites, sets on foot, assists, or engages in any rebellion or insurrection against the authority of the United States or the laws thereof, or gives aid or comfort thereto, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.”

I assume that Garland is waiting for the January 6th Committee to complete more of its investigation before he indicts Trump. He had better act soon, however. There is no time to lose.

Bill Edmundson said...

On the assumptions stated, AG Garland should not indict. Not because it would be unethical (why would it?) but because indicting Trump would destabilize the political system, perhaps irreparably. As Adam Przeworski argues, popular elections secure peaceful transitions of power only if (at least) two conditions are met: 1) the stakes are low for an incumbent loser, and 2) citizens generally feel things are getting better. Condition 2) is no longer satisfied : a significant plurality (if not majority) of Americans think their life prospects are getting poorer. So, condition 1) bears a lot of weight. Garland must know that once the norm set by Gerald Ford, with respect to Richard Nixon, is breached, an incumbent president will serve knowing that a loss may mean prison. An incumbent fearing prison will be even likelier than Trump was to use the powers of office to assure remaining in office by any means. Garland should also consider what Jed Purdy pointed out in a recent op-ed: any criminal indictment of Trump will inflame his base. I would add that the inflammation could well make a 2024 election impossible to hold without military supervision. A path Garland would do well not to lead us down.

Another Anonymous said...

Bill Edmundson,

I vehemently disagree with you. Merrick Garland has an obligation to prosecute violations of federal law, regardless who the defendant is, how powerful the defendant is, or how much support the defendant has. The evidence is quite clear that Trump was attempting to effectuate a coup and prevent the completion of the counting of the electoral college votes on January 6, 2021. He presents a clear and present danger to the survival of our democracy, and will stop at nothing in order to disrupt the next election and seize power. Garland has a legal obligation as Attorney General to indict Trump, his supporters be damned. Not to indict him, and let him range loose around our country, inciting further violence is more a risk to our democracy than indicting and trying him for violating 42 U.S.C. § 2383.

Regarding President Ford’s pardon of Nixon, Nixon resigned voluntarily from office, something Trump would never have done. After Nixon resigned, he did not present any threat to our country, and in his interview with David Frost, he even admitted that he had acted improperly, again, something Trump will never do. Trump is a cancer on our country and must be removed via the legal means at Garland’s disposal, regardless the consequences.

s. wallerstein said...

I agree with Bill Edmundson. If you jail Trump, for his base he will be seen as a political prisoner, framed by the communist Biden and the liberal media. In 2024 the Republicans will run Ivanka or Donald Jr. or Eric or even their dog, if all of Trump's kids are also jailed and the same situation of confrontation will occur.

The Democrats have 3 years now to come up with a candidate who eclipses Trump, who woos most of Trump's base away from him, and that's not Biden nor Kamala. Maybe there's someone in Hollywood who could do it. A pop star or a sports hero. I don't know, I'm too out of touch with the U.S., but if you jail Trump, the polarization will increase, that's clear.

james wilson said...

A.A. It's all very well for people in our powerless position to casually say "regardless of the consequences," but surely political action, including ours, ought to be judicious? And surely those who have significant power should be even more careful to act judiciously? Isn't one of our complaints about Trump, that he acted without regard for the consequences?

On the other hand, if a political system doesn't defend itself against egregious attacks upon itself, it has surely lost much of its legitimacy? (There is, by the way, a somewhat parallel report in the NYT today, that the EU may--but then again it may not--take action against member state Hungary, which has been flauting the norms which supposedly legitimate the EU's existence.)

It's all quite a conundrum. I haven't yet come to any conclusions.

Jerry Brown said...

I think they should get him on tax evasion first. N.Y. State should be able to do that and I imagine it would mostly remove the threat he poses. Without being quite as politically contentious. But if that doesn't look like it would work, then yes- they can and should try to build the case that Trump attempted an insurrection starting even before the election.

Eric said...

RPW: "it is my judgment that he should violate his oath of office"

That's not very Kantian, now, is it?

Eric said...

Rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic ...

charles L. said...

Garland, should prosecute trump, despite the most likely risk of inflaming his base and dealing with increased conflict and violence. There is no rationality thinking that a trump victory, assuming he runs in 2024 and has not died, would be anything other than an insertion of a fascist regime. Garland's prosecution of trump is the best course of action that can possibly keep the country from descending into,a pure hell, where climate impacts grow, where racial violence against Blacks,Asians, and native Americans,immigrants, women become a stark nasty reality. Now is the time for Garland to act with swiftness.

Old Mole said...

AA: I do not believe that the AG has a legal obligation to prosecute every federal crime. ("Prosecutorial discretion" is the lawyer's term.) Does Garland have a moral obligation to use what power he has to knock Trump out of contention for re-election in 2024? I don't agree that Trump is a greater danger un-prosecuted than prosecuted. Trump is, after all, a conspicuous symptom, not the root cause, of the present malaise. What is needed is the radical reform or abolition of the U.S. Senate. This is impossible under Article V of the Constitution of 1787-91 because the each state would have to consent to it. What might be possible is a constitutional convention that a) exceeds its scope, b) reduces the Senate to a merely ceremonial body (or abolishes it), and c) audaciously stipulates that the Constitution of 2025 it proposes will become effective when ratified by popular referendum. These scope and ratification bits (a) and c)) simply mirror what the convention of 1787 did (the title of Michael Klarman's book, The Framers' Coup, says it all). As a matter of political morality, what Garland should do is what is best calculated to promote the coup we need --in order to, in Habermas's words, “reignite the radical embers of the original position in civic life."

Michael said...

[I]ndicting Trump would destabilize the political system, perhaps irreparably... [A]ny criminal indictment of Trump will inflame his base. I would add that the inflammation could well make a 2024 election impossible to hold without military supervision.

I'm not saying the comment I'm quoting is incorrect, but doesn't it come close to disregarding the second of Prof. Wolff's three stipulations? ("...that conviction will dramatically reduce the threat of a stolen election and an authoritarian regime.")

I think the original post is basically a question of valid reasoning, as distinct from sound reasoning. "Some horses are bachelors. All bachelors are immortal. Therefore, some horses are immortal." This, for example, would be a valid (but unsound) line of reasoning. (Sorry if I'm belaboring the obvious, but in my experience, this distinction is actually one of the most challenging things to teach in an intro course.)

In other words, the question is this: If we suppose that the following propositions - (1), (2), and (3) - are true...

1. There is a very serious threat that the GOP will steal the next election and impose a Trump-led authoritarian regime.
2. If Trump is tried and convicted of a federal crime before the next election, the odds of the GOP stealing the election and imposing an authoritarian regime will dramatically fall.
3. It is "unlikely but not impossible" that Trump could be convicted.

...then are we required to suppose that proposition (4) is also true? -

4. If Merrick Garland knows that (1), (2), and (3) are true, then he should pursue an indictment/trial/conviction of Trump.

I don't know the answer to this question. But it seems equivalent to asking, "Is far-right authoritarian rule so undesirable that one should do one's utmost to prevent it, even if one knows that this is only marginally likely to succeed?"

Also, somewhat off-topic, but...

The Democrats have 3 years now to come up with a candidate who eclipses Trump, who woos most of Trump's base away from him, and that's not Biden nor Kamala. Maybe there's someone in Hollywood who could do it. A pop star or a sports hero.

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson? I heard a rumor a while ago that he was considering it.

Rob Hughes said...

Rule 3.8(a) of the American Bar Association Model Rules of Professional Conduct says that a prosecutor shall "refrain from prosecuting a charge that the prosecutor knows is not supported by probable cause."

A prosecutor could have probable cause to believe that someone committed a crime while also thinking it unlikely that a conviction will result. The prosecutor might think that the probable cause standard is met but the reasonable doubt standard is not. Or the prosecutor might think there is no reasonable doubt about the person's guilt, and that a jury presented with the evidence should find no reasonable doubt, but that some jurors are likely to be unreasonable.

I am not a lawyer, and I do not know what rules federal prosecutors pledge to uphold. I would guess that they are supposed to follow something like the ABA's Rule 3.8. I would be surprised if Garland's oath of office included a pledge to bring charges only if a conviction is likely.

David Palmeter said...

I don’t agree with your assumption that Garland would be violating his oath of office simply because he believes that it is unlikely that Trump would be convicted. If the evidence is sufficient to justify a conviction (a finding of guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt”) then the question is the reverse: would it be a violation of his oath of office not to prosecute Trump, or would prosecutorial discretion justify him in not doing so? At that point, Garland would be faced with Ford’s problem: which would be better for the country?

I think Ford made the right decision, but as AA has pointed out, that situation was different from the one Garland would face. I’d say that if there is strong, clear evidence—a “smoking gun”—then indict and convict the SOB and let him rot in jail. Or maybe better yet, convict him and let Biden pardon him, as Ford pardoned Nixon. By accepting a pardon, Trump would be acknowledging guilt.

Michael Llenos said...

"The Democrats have 3 years now to come up with a candidate who eclipses Trump"

The late Tom Clancy would probably say we need Jack Ryan.

s. wallerstein said...

The U.S. has the greatest myth making apparatus in human history, concentrated in Hollywood and Silicon Valley.

I can't believe that in the a bit less than 3 years until the next election they can't come up with a candidate who could appeal to Trump's base (and to everyone else because he or she is committed to democracy and obviously "better than Trump"), who could make Trump look "small", look "dated", look like a loser, look like yesterday, look pathetic.

The winning candidate could be someone who basically recites a script drawn up by people who have studied Trump's every move and why they appeal to his rather unthinking base, a script that has nothing to do, hopefully, with Hillary Clinton or her ilk, and not much to do with Biden and Kamala. It would take some elements from Bernie Sanders, I believe, but above all, be specifically designed to destroy Trump's appeal.

If Hollywood can sell people nightly nonsense and Silicon Valley can sell them new phones every two months, then they can sell a Democrat who wins by such a margin that Trump fades into insignificance: his 15 minutes of fame have lasted too long.

Another Anonymous said...

Robert Hughes,

I am an attorney and am familiar with the Rules of Professional Conduct and a prosecutor’s right to exercise prosecutorial discretion not to prosecute a case where there is insufficient evidence to prove probable cause. I am in fact suing a municipality whose prosecutor prosecuted an individual without probable cause. (The prosecutor may not be sued because under Supreme Court precedent prosecutors enjoy absolute immunity from being sued, with certain rare exceptions.)

The evidence which is emerging from the January 6th Committee has, in my view, provided sufficient evidence to satisfy the threshold of probable cause that Trump was engaged in encouraging an insurrection, in violation of 28 U.S.C. § 2383. Others have raised the question of whether such a prosecution would be politically expedient. In my view, this country cannot tolerate not prosecuting a former sitting President, who, as President, supported an insurrection to compromise the electoral vote count by Congress and who fostered an attempted coup. Not to prosecute him would undermine the peaceful transition of power between Executives which has been the standard procedure – in our nation for over 200 years, followed by Nixon in 1960 and Gore in 2000. Trump presents a clear danger to its continuation, and he must be prosecuted in order to preserver our democracy. It is foreseeable that Trump supporters would make every effort to get on the jury and force a hung jury. But I believe that risk must be taken on principle in order to protect the integrity of our elections.

Michael Llenos said...

s. w.

I always thought that if Trump goes to jail it is game over for the Trump family. Isn't it illegal for a person who has gone to jail to run for President of the United States? I could be mistaken.

Bill Edmundson said...

ML: Age and native birth are the only Art. II qualifications. Had he been convicted by the Senate, upon either of his two impeachments, he could have been disqualified. Being imprisoned is not per se a barrier to being elected U.S. president.

Bill Edmundson said...

ML: I should have mentioned the "incompatibilities" clause. No one can serve simultaneously as president and as a member of congress. One could serve simultaneously as president and as an inmate.

Michael Llenos said...

Has anyone previously argued that the liberal news agencies may be doing harm to progressive America by always talking about Trump? The counter argument is that if Trump's acts and words go unchecked that he could easily win the next election by via FOX News etc.

Another Anonymous said...

Post-script:

Conviction under 28 U.S.C. § 2382 would disqualify Trump from running for President.

Trump would probably be prosecuted in the District Court for Washington, D.C. I do not know the topography of the jury pool for Washington, D.C., but it would include a lot of African-Americans who would have no trouble convicting Trump.

Trump’s defense team would undoubtedly seek a change of venue to someplace like Idaho or Mississippi on this basis. I think such a motion would not likely succeed before a Washington, D.C. federal judge. By the way, the Chief Judge of the D.C. District Court is Beryl Howell, who graduated as a Philosophy major, with honors, from Bryn Mawr College. She received her J.D. from Columbia University.

Michael Llenos said...

B.E.

Thanks for the clarification.

Michael Llenos said...

A.A.

Thank you.

aaall said...

We could have dealt with all this back in the day by hanging Jeff Davis and Alexander Stevens as well as any other civilian in the Confederate government who had taken an oath to the Constitution AND we also should have applied Sumner's theory of state suicide and turned the whole of the confederacy into unorganized territory. Instead we let the Lost Cause cancer metastasize and here we are.

Moving on, it should be clear by now that failing to prosecute Nixon was a serious mistake. Ford screwed up. We "moved on" from Watergate, Iran Contra, "Weapons of Mass Destruction," and torture and we still are in the middle of a slo-mo coup. Creating an authoritarian state has been a conservative goal since the New Deal. It might be useful to recognize that and deal appropriately.

If the evidence supports an indictment on Trump or any other actor at any level then go for it. We need to stop living in a fantasy world.

I notice that the NYT and folks like Chuck Todd seem to finally be getting it but it was clear that a second coup was being planned well before January 6, 2020. I say "second" because Bush v. Gore was first.

Another Anonymous said...

aaall,

Actually, Jefferson Davis was imprisoned after the Civil War at Fortress Monroe, in Virginia, and held in ankle irons. He was allowed no visitors, and no books other than a Bible. He was then indicted for treason, and the House of Representatives voted 105-19 in support of a trial. A jury of 12 black and 12 white jurors was recruited by United States Circuit Court Judge John Underwood. He was imprisoned for two years, and then released on $100,000 bail. He then went to Montreal, Quebec. On Christmas Day, 1868, President Johnson issued a pardon to everyone who had participated in the secession and insurrection.

There is therefore precedent for indicting Trump.

Howie said...

The problem is basically the Democrats refuse to play politics or fight back; the Republicans will do anything, witness the repulsive ads by Bush the smarter, the hanging chads of 2000, the obstructionism of McConnell and the so called big lie culminating in the insurrection. The Democrats pretend politics is a debate society and that they will win by showing up and being nice and having the right argument.
This is because politics today is made up of movements and movements only want to win, not to deal with reality. The Republican party is an authoritarian movement; the Democrats will settle for nothing less than everything on their Christmas list and have to do absolutely nothing to get it but smile and show up and rattle off some self righteous lines.
That's why Professor Wolff has to spin phylogenetic fantasies of Trump going to jail.
There are worse things that ought to happen to him other than being flushed down the White House toilet into the Potomac
He deserves a fate worse than Hell

Rob Hughes said...

"Another Anonymous," thanks for your comments about your experience.

As I understand it, if there is insufficient evidence to meet the probable cause standard, the prosecutor does not have a discretionary choice about whether to prosecute. The prosecutor ethically must drop the case.

The interesting ethical and strategic questions come up when prosecutors have probable cause but still think a conviction is unlikely. I take that to be the hypothetical Prof. Wolff is inviting us to think about.

Another Anonymous said...

Robert Hughes,

Correct, a prosecutor may not prosecute if it is clear that probable cause does not exist. To do so would constitute malicious prosecution and subject the prosecutor’s employer – whether a municipality, county or state – to liability.

I believe that the information we already have regarding Trump’s role in the January 6 insurrection constitutes probable cause. At that point the prosecutor has to evaluate not only the likelihood of obtaining a conviction, but the societal effects of not pursuing a prosecution even if the likelihood of conviction is uncertain. In Trump’s case, in my opinion, this latter factor is so substantial that prosecution must be pursued, regardless the uncertainties of obtaining a conviction. I am not as pessimistic as Prof. Wolff that a conviction is unlikely. I believe the probability depends on the venue. The likelihood of conviction is higher in Washington, D.C., than in Idaho or Mississippi. But there is no way of knowing where the final venue will be until prosecution is initiated.

Michael said...

He deserves a fate worse than Hell

Nah. I make a lot of concessions to theists these days, but I draw the line way short of Hell. I'd allow the Ontological Proof before I allowed Hell.

I get being appalled by Trump and Trumpism; but why not give them the postmortem equivalent of "Go sit quietly in the corner and think about what you've done until you're ready to rejoin the dinner table"?

s. wallerstein said...

Michael,

A good way of putting it!!

The punitiveness of some people here scares me almost as much as Trump does.

Another Anonymous said...

P.P.S.

Tonight at 10 P.M. EST, PBS will be broadcasting a Frontline report, "American Insurrection."

aaall said...

AA, I was aware of his imprisonment and pardon. I was just noting the long term downside of such magnanimity. Another disgrace was Alexander Stevens going to the House after the war and then becoming governor of Georgia (read the Cornerstone Speech).

The problem with charging Trump at a Federal level without reasonable assurance of a conviction is that it will be played as vindication. It would have to be a very solid case. The New York case seems to have legs and a full disclosure of his finances should bring things down. Best solution would be him sitting in a NY prison in 2024 (along with a worthless spawn or so).

s.w. among many other iniquities, thousands of folks are dead because of tfg's incompetence and malice. As my short excursion through the wages of moving on clearly show, the problem has been a lack of punitiveness in the past.

Another Anonymous said...

aaall,

The only way Trump would be vindicated is if he were acquitted. That is not likely to happen, especially if he is prosecuted in Washington, D.C. The best he could hope for would be a hung jury. But a hung jury would not constitute vindication. Particularly if a majority of the jurors voted for conviction, and one or two hold-outs prevented conviction. Given the threat he poses to this country, I therefore still advocate federal prosecution.

LFC said...

I haven't been following this thread that closely, but I just watched (most of) the Frontline program mentioned by AA, above. (Don't have a TV, but the local PBS station was livestreaming it, so was able to watch on computer.) The "mainstreaming" of what had been, decades ago, a fringe/extremist worldview is v. disturbing.

RPW asks in the post that we take his hypothetical's conditions without argument, but the whole hypothetical seems somewhat misguided to me, because I think a criminal prosecution of Trump for inciting insurrection (or whatever) would further inflame a range of people from violent insurrectionists to more "mainstream" Republicans (or what passes for such these days), as several people have already said upthread.

In terms of worst-case scenarios and outcomes, the problem is not so much Trump as the range of groups his presidency emboldened, including the violent insurrectionists such as those who plotted to kidnap the governor of Michigan. The Pro Publica reporter who narrated the Frontline piece talked with a few of these sorts on camera and mentioned the names of various groups, some better known than others. Chilling interviews.

aaall said...

AA, I don't believe Trump would be vindicated, I believe those caught in the various right wing media silos would see him as vindicated. The problem is that due to our failing Constitution those folks are electorally significant. I agree with you that if the evidence is there, Justice has to prosecute but even a guilty verdict in DC (with "those people" on the jury) will be seen as bogus. There are likely no venues that would be seen as valid by most folks.

Another factor is that Trump may very well not be competent to stand trial.

LFC, we've been headed here since the Republican Party decided to go for the white vote back in the 1960s. As late as the mid 1970s there was a faction of the conservative movement that argued for a third party (Bill Rusher wrote a book). Reagan settled that in 1980. Gresham's Law followed.

On another note, it would be interesting if the Dems got their act together, added DC and PR as states and doubled the number of House seats, stipulating the new reps would be elected at large.

LFC said...

"Gresham's Law followed."

Maybe, but I think some distinctions might be warranted. There has long been one branch of American conservatism anchored in big business, parts of the financial sector (Wall Street), and parts of certain professions. Today groups like AEI, the Chamber of Commerce, the Federalist Society, the Business Roundtable can be taken as representative of this branch. It also used to have some roots in certain parts of mainline Protestantism. Race, per se, is not a big issue for this branch of conservatism, except insofar as certain elements of it blamed poor people, irrespective of race, for their poverty.

The far Right, which also goes way back, is a bit different. Obsessed with Communism (see the John Birch Society), obsessed with race (see the "massive resistance" to Brown v Bd, etc etc), rooted more in parts of the country other than the northeast, rooted more in closely held (i.e. privately held) rather than publicly traded corporations, drawing support more from evangelical rather than mainline branches of Christianity, etc.

Reagan managed to unite a lot of the far Right with a lot of establishment conservatism, and Trump temporarily did something similar, after defeating candidates in the primary that the establishment preferred. But Trump's coalition, even his "base," is probably more fragile and heterogeneous than Reagan's. And, as polarization has increased in the U.S. electorate and polity as a whole, the far Right's (or certain elements of it) embrace of violence, perception of the fed govt as alien enemy, and general extremism has, somewhat paradoxically, become more acceptable (or, put differently, less unacceptable) to some people who, in the Reagan years, would have seen the Oath Keepers or the Boogaloo Boys simply as fringe wackos. No doubt many on the Right do see them that way today, but the fact that many of these different elements came together on Jan. 6 is not a good sign.

LFC said...

P.s. Of course the far Right in one form or another goes all the way back basically to the early Republic. By referring to its incarnations since the 50s, I didn't mean to suggest otherwise.

Howie said...

Dear Michael and S Wallerstein

You have the wrong attitude. You take a bourgeois attitude toward Trump and his trivial troop of stupid Trumpists.
Which is my larger point: the Democrats do not treat this as urgent as a war. Trump is the equivalent to a major war on the mainland.
Of course he is not my Moby Dick- but he can go fuck himself.
He and MCConnell and Fox are my enemy.
Sure I'll talk the weather with them in the elevator; but if God is dead, I'd bring him back and Satan, to ruin Trump like the Romans did Jerusalem

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s. wallerstein said...

Once we win the war, assuming of course that we win, what are we going to do with the stupid Trumpists, which are almost half the population? Starve them to death as Stalin did the Kulaks (all potential Trumpists)? Send them to re-education camps or to a gulag in Alaska?

As for Trump himself, his children, McConnell and Fox news, the Koch brothers, all the major war crminals (it's obvious that it's THEM who commit war crimes, never US), I wonder whether we should shoot them immediately or subject them to a lengthy show trial before shooting them as Stalin did.

















LFC said...

s.w.

A propos of not much, but speaking of Stalin, there's a story about Stalin and Churchill at the Teheran conference during WW2, where (according to Churchill's account in his memoirs) Stalin proposed summarily shooting, after the war, the top 50,000 German officers and technicians, and Churchill replied he would rather be shot himself than be a party to that. There's a version of the story here, at a site maintained by the (right-wing, but never mind that) Hillsdale College:

https://winstonchurchill.hillsdale.edu/teasing-churchill-teheran/

Stalin apparently hastened to assure Churchill that he (Stalin) had only been joking. Given Stalin's general approach to things, though, it doesn't seem out of character.

s. wallerstein said...

Stalin had a sense of humor. A very black one.

After the Germans invaded, Stalin realized that many of his best generals were in the gulag and he ordered some of them to be released immediately.

He received one in the Kremlin. Let's call him Brikov.

"Comrade Brikov", Stalin greeted him. "Long time no see. Where have you been all this time?"

"Comrade Stalin", Brikov answered. "I've in the Siberia, in a prison camp".

"Comrade Brikov", Stalin quiped, "What a time to get yourself arrested!"

LFC said...

s.w.

That's funny, in its way. Hadn't heard that one.

Michael said...

Howie,

I'm sorry, but I think you're reading a lot into my comment, which was half-playful. I didn't actually state my position concerning Trump and his supporters and the best way for the Democrats to respond to them, apart from my opinion that (1) it's understandable to be appalled by them, but nevertheless (2) they do not deserve a fate worse than Hell; probably no one does. (Except maybe in a very, very loose and figurative way of speaking.)

To (1) I would add: It's not only understandable; it's healthy, justified, and appropriate (provided this doesn't translate into literally believing that the greatest conceivable suffering would still be too lenient a punishment for them).

To state my thoughts more openly: "Go take a seat and quietly think about what you've done" was a facetious way of saying something like the following:

If we're going to consult Biblical notions in deciding what Trump and his supporters - or any serious wrongdoers - deserve for the injustice and suffering they've perpetrated, I'd hope our inclination would be less along the lines of "Depart, ye cursed, into everlasting fire," and more along the lines of "Forgive them, they know not what they do." This is NOT (of course) to say we should in fact ignore their crimes and allow them to do as they please. It's just a suggestion that - however tough this is to swallow - you and I might've easily chosen very similarly to them, had we come from their world rather than ours. For all I can tell, Trump comes from a place where, given the hand he was dealt, the odds were overwhelmingly against his choosing anything but a life of recklessly destructive selfishness, dishonesty, ignorance, and bigotry.

(Sorry to bring metaphysics into this, but Eric a while ago posted a link to Robert Sapolsky's free will discussion, in which he used the analogy of a poorly functioning car. Fix the car if it's feasible enough, but what's the sense in despising the car, wishing extreme suffering upon the car, as if it had freely chosen a path of radical evil?)

Even if this is all grossly mistaken (chances are it only has the status of "useful and edifying partial truth"), it conduces to a thought/platitude I find appealing regardless: Impotent and vindictive rage doesn't really get us anywhere. I've experienced them myself, in relatively small doses, and I don't think they served me. If we can hardly help but wish suffering-for-its-own-sake upon wrongdoers, then that IMO isn't something to embrace and advertise unabashedly, rather than try to overcome.

We're all somewhat fucked in the long run, maybe even in the near future as well. So is Trump, and so are his supporters. But if you aren't given the (unenviable) task of calling the shots, and your role is merely to observe and reflect on the sidelines, and endure the consequences with everyone else, then it's quite okay IMO to just let go of one's impotent rage occasionally and "enjoy the ride." Hopefully things won't be as bad as we're expecting, but I don't know. Okay, enough sermonizing from me.