In a blog post a few days ago, I examined why the ongoing Special Counsel and congressional investigations into Donald Trump's actions after being sworn in as America's 45th President do not reflect, as Alan Dershowitz claims, the "criminalization" of American politics. Instead, such investigations are essential to determine whether there has been a quid pro quo for the treason Trump may have committed by conspiring with a hostile foreign power (Russia) to win the election, through leveraging the illicit and covert resources it deployed on his behalf, and his actions as President. These investigations will determine both the factual motives and constitutional implications of Trump's conduct while in office.
Thinking about it further, let's describe the meaning of some recent catch phrases that reflect what "criminializing politics" actually looks like.
Before we do, though, let's recognize that while such catch phrases now seem to be everywhere, in the vast majority of cases, they are used by Republicans to describe purported criminal behavior by Democrats. That is not to say that Democrats do not also accuse Republicans of crimes. As the current race in Alabama for a U.S. Senate seat demonstrates, clearly they do. But even in that story, relating to sexual misconduct scandals that have burgeoned since the Harvey Weinstein story broke in October, officials in both parties are now implicated. And, while it's clear that both parties should be focused on dealing with the problem in their own houses, "Democrats are far more likely than Republicans to admit there’s an issue close to home."
Anyway, here are some recent examples in the past 12 to 18 months where Republicans used criminal accusations or innuendo against Democrats for political reasons. The normalization of this tactic by one of the two major parties in the American political system is far closer to the true essence of what Alan Dershowitz describes as "criminalizing" political actions and actors.
"Lock Her Up!"
Michael Flynn led chants of "lock her up" at the Republican National Convention and repeatedly claimed that Hillary Clinton deceived the public with criminal intent. The irony is not lost on many of us that it turns out Michael Flynn - not Hillary Clinton - is the one who is clearly guilty of criminal misconduct.
"Criminals, Communists, Crackheads and weirdos"
This is how Corey Stewart, GOP candidate for Congress, described Democrats in general in an on-air interview last month. Also notice how the not-so-subtle furtherance of the narrative of "untrustworthy," which GOP officials were developing in the year preceding the 2016 campaign, has morphed into an argument that a "reasonable inference" can be drawn that "a majority of violent criminals" in America are registered Democrats.
Not only did Trump constantly refer to Hillary Clinton as "crooked" while running for President in 2016, he keeps using this moniker in his Twitter feed, including in a tweet just a few weeks ago. He has also continued to pressure the Justice Department to investigate her, most recently for her campaign's financing of opposition research, in the form of the "Steele Dossier," which by many accounts has proven to be at least "70-90% accurate" in describing Trump's numerous political and business connections to Russia, which he has always denied.
This one word describes an outrageous smear of political opponents not simply for opposing your positions on policy grounds, but for supposedly engaging in human traffiking and child sex rings. This word summarizes tens of millions of words outrageously poured out by the far-right media since the Russian hack of John Podesta's email, with the sole purpose of making an army of tens of thousands of gullible voters outrageously alarmed.
These are just a few examples of unfounded and unproven criminal accusations that have spewed forth from the GOP in order to convince American voters that their opponents are criminals. They reflect a far more alarming trend than the one Dershowitz attempts to describe in his recent New York Times op-ed: that Americans find it increasingly difficult to distinguish between what their politicians claim is criminal misconduct, and what actually is criminal misconduct.