“Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” — Samuel Johnson
There are dozens of these quotes. I could go on and on about how scoundrels wrap themselves in the flag. The dictionary defines fascism as “a form of far right, authoritarian, ultranationalism characterized by dictatorial power, forcible oppression of opposition and strong regimentation of society and of the economy which came to prominence in early 20th century Europe.”
Fascism is not the kind of thing that happens overnight. By now, almost everyone has heard the analogy about cooking the frog. You put a frog in warm water it stays. At that point you just gradually turn up the heat. If you put a frog in hot water it jumps out immediately.
No one ever comes out and tells you they are fascist. That’s not how any of this works. They go on the offensive. They don’t overtly restrict the press. They erode the people’s faith in the press by convincing people they are the enemy of the people. They convince people that their opponents are something else that’s awful. They are communists or socialists. This despite the fact that most people can’t define either one and wouldn’t know a socialist or communist if they fell on their face and wiggled.
This brings us to the recent news that the president has pardoned 20 people. I’m sure that this is just the beginning of the line on this story. Last second pardons are all a part of the game. Obama did it. Bush did it. Clinton did it. Every president has done it. The fact that we can name the high profile pardons from each president demonstrates how rare it is for each president to use the power to help out personal or political friends.
In point of fact, there is an entire process to these things. The Justice Department prepares briefs and makes recommendations that the Counsel’s Office then forwards to the president. Most of these cases have been vetted and vetted again. They are based on legal arguments and the needs of justice. Perhaps the sentences were excessive. Perhaps they have rehabilitated themselves. Perhaps the facts that led to their conviction are in question now, but the legal process won’t allow for a new trial or post-conviction relief. Perhaps there are mitigating circumstances for the crime itself.
In the case of these 20 pardons that process was largely bypassed. These pardons came straight from the White House. A majority of the people pardoned had close relationships with the president or with the administration. This is not normal. We can’t make it normal. If we allow ourselves to normalize it then we slide every so closer to fascism.
The rule of law is the best thing we have. It is the only thing we have. It is the thing that separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. It is democracy’s greatest gift to the world. We are watching it under attack in plain daylight. We are watching a regime that isn’t even trying to hide it. They do it by wrapping the flag around them and telling us that their opponents are communists and socialists. Few really know what those guys and girls really are anyway.