It’s not the ‘locker room’ talk, it’s the ‘lock her up’ talk

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - OPINION - Charles Krautham­mer Colum­nist Charles Krautham­mer is syn­di­cated by The Wash­ing­ton Post Writ­ers Group.

The sec­ond pres­i­den­tial de­bate — bloody, muddy and rau­cous — was just enough to save Don­ald Trump’s cam­paign from ex­tinc­tion, but not enough to re­store his chances of win­ning, bar­ring an act of God (a medical calamity) or of Putin (a cos­mi­cally in­crim­i­nat­ing Wik­iLeak).

That Trump crashed be­cause of a sex-talk tape is odd. It should have been a sur­prise to no one. His views on women have been on open dis­play for years. And he’d of­fered a daz­zling ar­ray of other rea­sons for dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tion: ha­bit­ual men­dac­ity, patho­log­i­cal nar­cis­sism, profound ig­no­rance and an as­ton­ish­ing dearth of ba­sic hu­man em­pa­thy.

To which list Trump added in the sec­ond de­bate, and it had noth­ing to do with sex. It was his threat, if elected, to put Hil­lary Clin­ton in jail.

Af­ter ap­point­ing a spe­cial prose­cu­tor, of course. The niceties must be ob­served. First, a fair trial, then a proper hang­ing. The day af­ter the de­bate at a rally in Penn­syl­va­nia, Trump re­sponded to chants of “lock her up,” with “lock her up is right.” Two days later, he told a rally in Lake­land, Fla., “She has to go to jail.”

Such in­cen­di­ary talk is an af­front to el­e­men­tary demo­cratic de­cency and a breach of the bound­aries of Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal dis­course. In democ­ra­cies, the elec­toral process is a sub­tle and elab­o­rate sub­sti­tute for com­bat, the ageold way of set­tling strug­gles for power. But that sub­li­ma­tion only works if there is mu­tual agree­ment to ac­cept both the le­git­i­macy of the re­sult (which Trump keeps un­der­min­ing with charges that the very process is “rigged”) and the bound­aries of the con­test.

The prize for the win­ner is tem­po­rary ac­ces­sion to lim­ited po­lit­i­cal power, not the sat­is­fac­tion of vendet­tas. Vladimir Putin, Hugo Chavez and a cav­al­cade of two-bit caudil­los lock up their op­po­nents. Amer­i­can lead­ers don’t.

One doesn’t even talk like this. It takes decades, cen­turies, to de­velop in­grained norms of po­lit­i­cal re­straint and self-con­trol. But they can be un­done in short or­der by a dem­a­gogue feed­ing a venge­ful pop­ulism.

This is not to say that the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the Clin­ton emails was not it­self com­pro­mised by politics. FBI Di­rec­tor James Comey’s rec­om­men­da­tion not to pur­sue charges was both trou­bling and puz­zling. And Barack Obama very im­prop­erly tilted the scales by in­ter­ject­ing, while the in­ves­ti­ga­tion was still un­der­way, that Clin­ton’s emails had not en­dan­gered na­tional se­cu­rity.

But the an­swer is not to start a new process whose out­come is pre­or­dained. Con­ser­va­tives have re­lent­lessly, and cor­rectly, crit­i­cized this ad­min­is­tra­tion for abus­ing its power and sub­orn­ing the civil ad­min­is­tra­tion (e.g., the IRS). Is the Repub­li­can re­sponse to do the same?

Wasn’t pres­i­den­tial over­reach one of the ma­jor charges against Obama by the anti-es­tab­lish­ment GOP can­di­dates? Wasn’t the an­i­mat­ing spirit of the en­tire tea party move­ment the restora­tion of con­sti­tu­tional lim­its and re­straints?

In Amer­ica, we don’t per­se­cute po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents. Which is why we retroac­tively honor Ger­ald Ford for his par­don of Richard Nixon, for which, at the time, Ford was widely re­viled. It ul­ti­mately cost him the pres­i­dency. Nixon might well have been con­victed. But Ford un­der­stood that jail­ing a pres­i­dent for ac­tions car­ried out in the con­text of his of­fi­cial du­ties would threaten the very civil na­ture of demo­cratic gov­er­nance.

What makes Trump’s prom­ise to lock her up all the more alarm­ing is that it’s not an iso­lated in­ci­dent. This is not the first time he’s in­sin­u­ated us­ing the pow­ers of the pres­i­dency against po­lit­i­cal en­e­mies. He has threat­ened Ama­zon’s Jeff Be­zos, owner of The Wash­ing­ton Post, for us­ing the news­pa­per “as a tool for po­lit­i­cal power against me and other peo­ple . ... We can’t let him get away with it.”

With ex­er­cis­ing free po­lit­i­cal speech?

Trump has gone af­ter oth­ers with equal sub­tlety. “I hear,” he tweeted, “the Rick­ets [sic] fam­ily, who own the Chicago Cubs, are se­cretly spend­ing $’s against me. They bet­ter be care­ful, they have a lot to hide!”

He also prom­ises to “open up” li­bel laws to per­mit eas­ier pros­e­cu­tion of those who at­tack him un­fairly. Has he ever con­ceded any at­tack on him to be fair?

This elec­tion is not just about plac­ing the nu­clear codes in Trump’s hands. It’s also about hand­ing him the in­stru­ments of civil­ian co­er­cion, such as the IRS, the FBI, the FCC, the SEC. Think of what he could do to en­force the “fair­ness” he de­mands. Imag­ine giv­ing over the vast power of the mod­ern state to a man who says in ad­vance that he will pun­ish his crit­ics and jail his op­po­nent.

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