Saturday, April 1, 2023

Alea Iacta Est

Those of us who went to school back when schools still taught serious subjects like history will all recognize the popular version of the words attributed by Roman historian Suetonius to Julius Cesar when Caesar led his army across the Rubicon river into Italy on January 10, 49 BC. Since he was doing so in defiance of the Senate and so starting a civil war, the expression alea iacta est (or,  alternately, iacta alea est, either way "the die is cast") has come to refer to passing a point of no return.

It seems like forever now since pundits have been prognosticating and pontificating about whether or not (and, if so, when) former President Trump might be indicted. I too have contributed my modest share to that tiresome discussion. That "Rubicon" has now been crossed, come what may.

As of now, it appears that Trump plans to come to New York to surrender sometime next week, probably on Tuesday. This now matters more than it might otherwise matter since Florida's mischievous Governor (so recently embarrassingly outsmarted by Mickey Mouse) has decided to defy Article IV, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution: A person charged in any state with treason, felony, or other crime, who shall flee from justice, and be found in another state, shall on demand of the executive authority of the state from which he fled, be delivered up, to be removed to the state having jurisdiction of the crime. Who knew De Santis was a proponent of Florida's becoming such a "sanctuary state"?

De Santis' reaction is just the tip of the MAGA iceberg, a potentially Titanic-proportioned iceberg. We may be going down a potentially very dangerous path. The Manhattan DA will definitely need the self-confidence of Caesar himself! It will be a long time (if ever) before we can say (as was said by President Ford in 1974) "our long national nightmare is over."

It is, of course, quite possible in theory (if somewhat improbable in practice) that the case against Trump will play itself out somewhat calmly, resulting in an equally calm acquittal or conviction. More likely, however, this trial (assuming it actually goes to trial) will just further polarize our already hopelessly divided country. The precedent now having been set of a local DA of one political party bringing criminal charges against a former President (and presidential candidate) of the other party, we may perhaps imgine DAs in other places trying the same against President Biden after he leaves office and against other Democratic politicians and presidential candidates, thus conceivably continuing the sad cycle of political dysfunction and democratic decline. Talk about a "long national nightmare"!

That said, this could be the righteous reckoning our society so desperately needs right now with the harmful forces which have increasingly dominated our politics. My personal preference would have been for that reckoning to take a more properly political form - for Trump and MAGA world to be decisively defeated at the polls, which is how things ought to be resolved in a democratic republic, an outcome always preferable to reliance on an imperial judiciary instead of the political process to solve problems. One of the great advantages the Democrats have had in Joe Biden is that he seems to be one of the few who still really trusts the political process to defeat Trump, and he may yet be the one to do so decisively.

But back to indictment-world, my guess is that this further solidifies Trump's hold over the MAGA community in particular and the Republican party in general. One of the curious characteristics of culture-warriors (in religion as in politics) is that it seems to be the conflict itself that energizes them. What culture-warriors apparently care most about is fighting the good fight against enemies they deem to be irremediably evil. That and an obsessive sense of victimhood. (Many years ago, in a completely different context, I once asked an acquaintance to explain why certain people perceived themselves - or, at least, constantly presented themselves - as victims of others' supposed hostility. His answer was that presenting oneself as a victim in that way justifies their hostility to others and their attempts to oppress those others if given an opportunity to do so. That seems to explain well our contemporary culture-warriors - in religion as in politics.)

To his miserable MAGA world, Trump is the offended victim who heroically "fights" back, who perfectly personifies MAGA world's perversely self-invented sense of victimhood and desire for a strongman (or a "King Cyrus") to "fight" on their behalf.

We need no indictment to confirm what a horrendously terrible president Trump was. What it does do is add to our appreciation of just how destructive of our political order his supporters actually are.

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