Diary

'Rule of Law'? Flynn Case Shows Courts and Law Enforcement Are Prosecuting Personalities, Not Wrongdoing

AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

personality, n.

1. the visible aspect of one’s character as it impresses others

Conversations with liberals about President Trump follow a predictable trajectory, in my experience. After the ‘crimes’ get debunked and set aside–Russian collusion, emoluments, treason, Ukrainian phone calls, sacking of supposedly sacrosanct Executive-Branch bureaucrats, using the wrong fork for salad, etc.–the kernel of their outrage comes out:

“He’s a racist, misogynist, xenophobic boor! He’s a boastful, untruthful bully and unpresidential!”

“So … you don’t like his personality?”

“Of course I don’t like his personality! But that’s not the point! He lies and hates minorities, women, and immigrants!”

But–assuming for a moment all these accusations are true–what else are the vague and highly subjective flaws of lying, bullying, racism, sexism, and xenophobia except personality flaws? Aren’t liberals and Never-Trumpers in effect saying, “I don’t like Trump’s personality, but that’s only part of it–I also really hate his personality!”

Suffering from personality flaws is indeed regrettable. But it hardly follows that one therefore must have committed fraud, treason, sexual assault, or other criminal acts. ‘Lying’ (or some might say playfully exaggerating) about the size of one’s inauguration crowd to the American people does not equate to criminal perjury. A terrible personality qualifies as grounds to vote a president out of office; but as a high crime or misdemeanor necessitating impeachment? Not so much.

To assume a man with a rough personality must also be guilty of serious crimes reeks of uncharitable prejudice. A dog that barks incessantly and a dog that bites humans are two very different animals. One is annoying, the other a proven physical danger. Yet by all appearances, Americans seem intent on putting down all barking dogs.

GUILT BY PERSONALITY ASSOCIATION

From the treatment of the president, a deeply troubling picture emerges. Millions of Americans seem to think the state should leverage legal pretexts like ‘Russian collusion’ or the emoluments clause to destroy someone they just don’t like. In this way of thinking, persecution of disagreeable personalities is an acceptable use of the justice system.

And it get worse: the saga of Michael Flynn suggests that many Americans support legal persecution of those guilty of nothing more than association with disagreeable personalities.

The public knows very little of Michael Flynn’s personality. From the little he has been on TV, Flynn comes across as the consummate general: an educated, disciplined, understated family man who speaks in a reserved and respectful manner. Flynn’s personality might not win him invitations to Hollywood parties; but his demeanor is hardly repulsive on its face. Nevertheless, Flynn’s association with President Trump qualified him, in the view of half of America, to deserve some of the worst prosecutorial abuse in American history–abuse that is ongoing.

Injecting law enforcement and the courts into political fights hardly counts as a new phenomenon. As long as there have been politicians, they have attempted to misuse the justice system against political opponents. The American public have traditionally held a dim view of these tactics, viewing them as a dangerous abuse of the rule of law. The public’s moral consensus restrained the more flagrant and obvious judicial outrages to which politicians around the world are liable.

Today, the situation has changed. Large sections of the public now want the justice system to pick up their political prejudices and run them to the inzone. The sentiment is not confined to the liberal-progressive left–though they seem less conflicted about the hazards involved.

RULE OF LAW … SORTA

Everyone and their ex-president has ‘rule of law’ on their lips after the charges were dropped against Michael Flynn. A critical feature of the rule of law is to remove personalities from the legal process. Under the rule of law, criminal prosecution proceeds on the basis of facts, actions, and demonstrated intent, which are compared to clear and impersonal statutes. It’s not enough to say: “He seems like the nasty kind of guy who would” or “He hangs out with unsavory characters” to secure a conviction. Evidence and sworn testimony must prove harmful intent and action from the defendant.

History is littered with witch hunts and lynchings predicated on nothing more than a community’s dislike of a “criminal’s” irritating and inflammatory personality. Crimes without a known perpetrator were pinned on the community’s misfits, recluses, and contrarians; and when a member of the community ran afoul of personality norms and expectations, do-gooders went to work ‘discovering’ crimes to fit the undesirable. It was rule by majority sentiment, not rule of law.

When the Justice Department dropped charges against Michael Flynn, the legacy media and liberal politicians exploded with indignant protestations about how the rule of law was flouted; but what they meant was that the rule of majority sentiment was flouted. “How can you just drop charges against such a terrible person who worked for the most terrible person since Hitler? Half the country wants this wretch to go to trial for who he is! He must be guilty of something!”

Few liberals evinced any discomfort that the FBI appears to have set Flynn up for a process crime, leveraging a 200-year-old law that has never been used to convict anyone–a law many legal scholars believe is fundamentally unconstitutional and should be abolished (the Logan Act). They were unable to set personalities aside and consider: “What if law enforcement did this to ME, to my friends and family, or to someone on my political side? If the shoe were on the other foot, do I want the state investigating and prosecuting undesirable personalities absent any substantive crime?”

The conclusion we might draw from all this: liberals by and large cannot imagine a scenario in which THEY become the undesirable personalities in society, rather than Trump and his Deplorable voters. They cannot conceive that a cultural inversion might unfold, that the ‘woke’ personality could become a minority ethos in need of protection from arbitrary legal abuses.

AMERICA’S GROWING PERSONALITY OBSESSION

America’s focus on personality predates the 2016 election. For decades, Americans have grown more and more enthralled with the magic of charming and provocative public figures. Examples run from the explosion of celebrity tabloid journalism and ‘shock jocks’ like Howard Stern to the popularization of reality TV.

An odd segregation occurred: as Americans relished the outsized personalities of rock stars, loudmouth heiresses, actors, and outrageous reality TV figures, personality expectations shifted in the other direction for average Americans. Restrictions on expression of personality flaws in public and the workplace exploded. Hints of -isms and -phobias in one’s personality recategorized from ‘being an asshole’ to quasi-criminal acts punishable by swift administrative correction and termination of employment–the ‘zero tolerance’ campaign.

Donald Trump took advantage of this personality differential in the country to win the presidency. While Hillary Clinton expressed agreement with contemporary progressive goals and evinced the personality of a potted plant in public, Donald Trump went the other direction: he broadcast his widely disliked persona at full volume and rejected correct progressive attitudes. Many conservatives attracted to Trump’s political positions had a hard time accepting his conflict-seeking personality; but the overall effect was to suck up all the oxygen in the room and make Clinton look like a robot on Ambien. The media helped Trump turn the election into a reality show with personality at the center of the drama and gifted him the election.

PERSONALITY PURITANISM

You might imagine only the proles suffer from personality obsession, but you would be wrong. The country’s hyper-credentialed, technocratic manager class lose their bearings in the face of provocative personalities as much–if not more–than the average American. This level-headed bunch–the ‘smart’ people supposedly loyal only to impersonal reason and hard evidence–have led the charge to conflate President Trump’s personality with criminal wrongdoing and to transmute association with President Trump into persecution (Flynn, Roger Stone, Kavanaugh, et. al.).

Particularly bizarre have been crusaders in the psychiatric profession, who have worked tirelessly to stigmatize Trump and associates’ personalities as mental illness, necessitating exclusion or removal from public office.

We seem to be in the grip now of  ‘personality puritanism’. It’s not just that the public figures must demonstrate the dominant cultural attitudes of progressivism–they also must express those attitudes in a particular manner and in association only with similar partners. The ‘orthodox personality’ evinces reverential concern about the endless parade of woke hot topics as they arise; repetition of patter phrases (most recently “in these challenging times … most vulnerable groups … safety is our primary concern” etc.); therapist-like moderation of tone and bearing (e.g. Barack Obama); and an oft-repeated abhorance of the orthodox personality’s opposite–the confident, decisive, mercurial, rude, unconcerned, boisterous, maverick or contrarian sort of character.

There is deep wisdom in the old saw: “It takes all kinds to make a world.” History presents a procession of great artists (Picasso), scientists (Newton), leaders (Churchill), and even saints (Mother Teresa) with fractious or downright awful personalities. The United States cannot engineer such people to the margins without suffering a catastrophic loss of human capital and taking on a moral hazard.

Perhaps half of America elected a president with an outrageous personality because they grew fed up with the personality puritanism they felt bearing down on them. For President Trump’s base, his personality was not a bug but a feature, a way to strike a mighty blow for diversity of personality in a government that seems to be moving toward personality apartheid, both in the government’s makeup and the behavior the government legislates into the society for citizens.