Friday, January 13, 2023

Point of Personal Privilege


"Photo op raid"—I can't tell whether they've really forgotten that the FBI's seizure of the stolen materials at Mar-a-Lago was carried out with the usual FBI discretion, and the reason we learned about it was Trump's immediate howls of preemptive rage; it was his publicity, not theirs. Or that they released the photo (documenting the proceedings with photos is part of their standard procedure) in self-defense, against the Republican insistence that Trump's theft of presidential documents was nothing but eccentric billionaire souvenir collecting, showing that, no, some of these documents were definitely not souvenirs, through media like TMZ.

Nor was the Mar-a-Lago raid "for having classified docs", like some kind of bully punishment ("That'll teach you!") It was to get them back, because asking politely hadn't done the trick. 

There's been no raid on Biden's "homes & offices" because there's no reason to think Biden is holding anything back. Biden's people have been totally cooperative, returning things the government didn't know they had without waiting for a request. The FBI wouldn't be able to get a warrant for a search, if they wanted to do one, because no judge would believe it was necessary; they wouldn't be able to specify what they'd be looking for. They were able to to that for Mar-a-Lago thanks to the preliminary visit of June 3—

During the visit, the filing said, “Counsel for the former President offered no explanation as to why boxes of government records, including 38 documents with classification markings, remained at the Premises nearly five months after the production of the Fifteen Boxes and nearly one-and-a-half years after the end of the Administration.”

Trump’s lawyers also told investigators that all of the records that had come from the White House were stored in one location — a Mar-a-Lago storage room. Investigators were permitted to visit the room, but were “explicitly prohibited” from opening or looking inside any of the boxes, they reported, “giving no opportunity for the government to confirm that no documents with classification markings remained.”

—and forced to, essentially, because of Trump's and his lawyers' refusal to cooperate. Sorry to be belaboring the obvious here, but I want to make it clear how very obvious it was.

Why don't the media seem to notice the difference? Why doesn't Biden get any public credit for cooperating with the Justice Department? I think it's another one of those IOKIYAR issues: it's not news, because Democrats always cooperate, and Republicans always scream and stonewall. It's so clear as a part of the party identities that they can't make the leap to the implications, that Democrats are usually innocent of these kinds of crimes and Republicans usually aren't. Democrats believe in rule of law, so they cooperate, and Republicans believe in "exceptionalism", so they don't, but, for the very same reasons, the Democrats probably didn't do anything wrong, and the Republicans quite likely did. But that's too indelicate for the High Broderists of the press-priesthood to contemplate. Coming to a conclusion would violate their own strict canons of purity.

Another related difference that really stands out here is between Republicans and what I want to call everybody else, not just Democrats but the "reality-based community" ("a derisive term," Wikipedia says drily, "for people who base judgments on facts")—the way normal people, confronted with a problem, think first of whether they can do anything to solve the problem, whereas Republicans think first of how they can seize control of the narrative. (Democrats could learn something from that, too—it really would have helped if he'd announced the document find at some point.)

Thus Trump's response to the Mar-a-Lago case, based on his (correct) understanding that the National Archives and Justice Department would prefer to keep the matter quiet while they worked toward a solution: after the FBI raid he launched a big noise-machine campaign of protest and denial, in which the entire party and the "conservative" bystanders ("I don't support Trump, but isn't this tyrannical FBI behavior deeply disturbing?")  joined. In the Biden case, the initiative was taken by anonymi "familiar with the matter" leaking to CBS and CNN, who timed their action really carefully with attention to the opening of the new Congress—I just have to assume they're Republicans too, holdovers from Trump times in the Justice Department—and again the noise machine jumps in to pump up the volume.

That coheres in a fairly simple and direct way to the theory of conservatism, which aims, as even conservatives can agree, to stop things from happening, to conserve the social organization as it is—or as I would put it more invidiously, to preserve social inequality. They don't want to solve the problem; they want to convince the voters, since this stupid democracy forces them to worry about voters, that it isn't a problem after all. So the first action is to speak, in order to justify inaction. Trump's whole argument about the documents was actually about that, in the form of a point of personal privilege: "I'm allowed to keep what I want." How dare you, peasant, question it?

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