It started immediately after Donald Trump’s indictment. First there was the “whataboutism” and false equivalencies. What about Hillary’s emails? What about the classified documents Joe Biden had? Then the claim that the Justice Department has been weaponized to prosecute only Republicans. Then the claim that the communist, Democrat deep state is determined to take down the leading candidate to oppose Joe Biden in 2024.
This is all deflection. Just like Trump himself, his supporters are grasping at shiny, manufactured grievances but don’t want to talk about the big issue — he is guilty of the serious crimes charged in the indictment.
Whataboutism is the practice of responding to an argument, not with a counterargument, but with an attack that requires the opponent to go on the defensive about another issue. This avoidance maneuver happens often in political debate driven by partisan bias. Sometimes, and our present situation is one of those times, whataboutism is calculated wholly to avoid acknowledging an opponent’s valid point.
We shouldn’t reward whataboutism by taking it seriously. But, okay, what about Hillary’s emails and Biden’s documents? That’s where false equivalency comes in. The gist of Trump’s indictment is that he intentionally retained classified documents, repeatedly refusing to return them or even acknowledge he had them. Then he covered up and lied about having done so. Neither Clinton nor Biden was ever accused of that kind of conduct.
In fact, both Clinton and Biden fully cooperated when asked to do so. Biden actually self-disclosed that he had some classified documents from his time as Vice President. Nevertheless, Biden’s Attorney General Merrick Garland has appointed a special counsel to investigate. The conclusion of the Clinton investigation was that she had been careless but had no criminal intent. So no crime and no indictment. The investigation into Biden’s handling of classified documents has not reached a conclusion.
And here is another key point — Trump has not been criminally charged for taking to Mar-A-Lago any of the classified documents he returned when requested to do so, even though he had no right to possess them. If he had simply given all the documents back he wouldn’t be in this fix.
A person who claims that the Justice Department has been “weaponized” by the Democrats to indict Trump simply does not understand the special counsel mechanism. Or perhaps doesn’t want to understand. A special counsel like Jack Smith operates without political interference.
Special counsel are appointed by both parties. In fact, Trump’s Attorney General William Barr appointed John Durham as special counsel to investigate intelligence gathering and law enforcement activities directed at the 2016 election. The Biden Administration did not interfere with Durham’s investigation after Biden took office. Likewise, the Biden Administration has not influenced Jack Smith’s charging decisions.
The weaponization charge boils down to the fact that Donald Trump has been indicted, as if he is some sacred cow. The allegation is really driven by the result of Smith’s investigation, not the misuse of the process. But after reading the indictment, it is hard to imagine any other result.
The one serious argument made against indicting Trump is that in an evenly divided and polarized country a sitting President should not be seen as prosecuting his predecessor and current rival. The claim is that indicting Trump is political overreach by the Biden Administration of the sort common in third world countries. I am not persuaded.
In the first place, the argument loses steam in light of the independence of the special counsel. Jack Smith is a career prosecutor with an international reputation, not a political tool. Yes, there will be a cost to taking action against Trump — our exemplary system of justice will lose legitimacy among enraged Trump supporters. But where issues of grave national importance are involved there is also a cost in not acting. We would be more like a third world country if we failed to hold Trump accountable as any normal person would be. In the end, if he pays a price for his criminal behavior it will be a triumph for democracy and the rule of law, not a stain.
And by the way, why does the fact that Trump is the leading candidate for the Republican nomination matter? He has been the leading candidate for months, even announcing early so he could be in the race when the expected indictment came down. Evidently, he thought this would protect him, but he has learned that being a candidate doesn’t give him a pass for crimes committed.
As far as the Democrats worrying about him as a candidate, nothing could be further from the truth. Biden’s advisors are crossing their fingers in hopes that Trump will be Biden’s opponent in 2024. As the Wall Street Journal aptly put it, if Republicans nominate Trump again, they won’t “own the libs,” the libs will own them.