On Saturday, shortly after his article’s publication, Linker tweeted the following in response to his detractors:
I don’t intend to personally insult Linker, but I also don’t believe that Linker actually gives liberals and Democrats enough credit. In the piece, Linker makes several assumptions about what he feels liberals and Democrats do and do not expect from a Trump prosecution. But rather than simply reveling in the undeniably attractive prospect of seeing Trump (as Linker puts it) “frog-marched to jail before the country and the world,” I believe liberals understand the potential negatives very well, and in fact are more than prepared to deal with them.
Linker’s first point is that following a successful (or unsuccessful) prosecution of Trump, Democrats will have set the "precedent" for future Republican administrations to similarly prosecute their Democratic predecessors, out of spite and revenge if nothing else. I agree they will treat it as a “precedent.” That's the essence of their whattabout approach to any criticism of their party, but most liberals are already resigned to that fact anyway. In anticipation of a Republican House majority, current House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and others of his radicalized caucus have already stated they will conduct such show trials and bogus investigations of President Joe Biden’s Department of Justice appointees, and even impeach President Biden himself, all spectacles tailor-made for Fox News and replete with every specious accusation they can concoct. If Trump or Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis become president in 2024, that process would undoubtedly accelerate and expand with the assistance of a thoroughly weaponized and politicized Justice Department.
But this will likely occur regardless of whether Trump is prosecuted or not, and the fear of such corrupt weaponization of the Justice Department by Trump or his clones cannot be a basis for declining to uphold the law. To act otherwise is to succumb to the ethics of a mafia-style, retaliatory executive branch: It means, in effect, submission to rule by blackmail or outright threat. When you submit to blackmail you surrender not only your integrity but your very freedom out of fear, and a government (or country) with its political institutions dominated by fear of the consequences of following the rule of law is not a government worth sustaining. It is simply capitulation to the power of fascist rule, with such rule in this case being imposed by a violent and delusional mob. That is by definition unacceptable to anyone who desires to live in this country as it currently exists, or even as it was intended to exist from the outset. In fact, the threat of such retaliatory tactics ought to be an impetus, not a deterrent, to prosecuting Trump.
Nonetheless, Linker, while acknowledging the basic primacy of following the rule of law, suggests the consequences of prosecuting Trump could be as “unnerving and risky” as pursuing justice against him:
We caught a glimpse of those alternative risks as soon as the Mar-a-Lago raid was announced. Within hours, leading Republicans had issued inflammatory statements, and these statements would likely grow louder and more incendiary through any trial, both from Mr. Trump himself and from members of his party and its media rabble-rousers ...
If the matter culminates in an indictment and trial of Mr. Trump, the Republican argument would be more of what we heard day in and day out through his administration. His defenders would claim that every person ostensibly committed to the dispassionate upholding of the rule of law is in fact motivated by rank partisanship and a drive to self-aggrandizement. This would be directed at the attorney general, the F.B.I., the Justice Department and other branches of the so-called deep state. The spectacle would be corrosive, in effect convincing most Republican voters that appeals to the rule of law are invariably a sham.
But the nightmare wouldn’t stop there. What if Mr. Trump declares another run for the presidency just as he’s indicted and treats the trial as a circus illustrating the power of the Washington swamp and the need to put Republicans back in charge to drain it? It would be a risible claim, but potentially a politically effective one. And he might well continue this campaign even if convicted, possibly running for president from a jail cell. It would be Mr. Trump versus the System. He would be reviving an old American archetype: the folk-hero outlaw who takes on and seeks to take down the powerful in the name of the people.
But the prospect of the “folk-hero outlaw” is exactly why we have a judicial system in the first place. Seasoned criminals from Charles Arthur “Pretty Boy” Floyd to John Dillinger have long been afforded the “folk hero” treatment in popular culture despite their heinous acts. History indicates the way to deal with such perceptions is not through capitulation to their popular status but by vigorously prosecuting them.
And this is where I think Linker forgets that the judicial system—particularly the criminal justice system—is, for all its faults, expressly designed to deal with these types of people, the ones whose shouts keep getting “louder and more incendiary.” If in fact our criminal justice system is incapable—or worse, afraid—of objectively addressing corruption, malfeasance, and outright criminality of the type Linker suggests, then our country is truly a lost cause. We can't just assume out of fear that it will fail. It may very well fail, but allowing the system to either succeed or fail is better than voluntarily neutering it in the face of one “populist” charlatan, no matter how strong his appeal, and no matter how “loud” his followers are. In a country of more than 330 million, those “loud” followers remain a tiny fraction of the public.
And while Trump has certainly polluted the federal judiciary (in particular) with ideologues, their ideology and loyalties to Trump himself have already proven less important to them than the so-called conservative (“Federalist Society”) principles that they adopted in exchange for their appointments. The judge who approved the search warrant on Mar-a-Lago was, after all, a Trump appointee. And the Supreme Court, wholly dominated by Trump/Bush appointees, has been notably unreceptive to Trump’s grandiose claims of election fraud and executive privilege.
To be fair, up to this point in his argument Linker’s concerns are worth considering, even if, as I suspect, they’ve already been considered quite carefully by Democrats. Where he departs the rails of logic is in his suggestion that because our institutions (including our elections) require a basic level of good faith and compliance, the conscious choice by the GOP to flout them somehow requires Democrats and other opponents of Trump to reconsider their zealousness in enforcing the rule of law. Linker states:
Think of all those times during the Trump presidency when well-meaning sources inside and outside the administration ended up undermining their own credibility by hyping threats and overpromising evidence of wrongdoing and criminality.
It’s not clear what Linker is referring to, but accepting his vague framework here as including the Mueller investigation or the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 riots, the records in both of those cases (which are the most significant investigations into criminal wrongdoing by this administration) speak for themselves. The Mueller report revealed an unmistakable encouragement, knowledge of, and willful participation by Trump officials with the arms of Russian intelligence in order to sway the 2016 election in Trump’s favor. The only reason Trump himself was not prosecuted for those acts was a quaint adherence to an antiquated Department of Justice policy of not criminally prosecuting the president, and the corrupt use of the pardon power by Trump himself. These are hardly justifications for restraining further prosecution of the administration.
But the Jan. 6 insurrection was the final straw, the Rubicon at which all doubts about prosecuting Trump vanished. That day is often characterized as an effort to “overturn” an election. It was actually quite a bit worse than that: It was a violent, coordinated attempt to overthrow the U.S. government. Period. All considerations of forbearance regarding the existential threat this man and his base represent to this republic went by the wayside that day, and everything we have learned since then simply confirms that.
Linker concludes by urging that Democrats “defer the dream of a post-presidential perp walk in favor of allowing the political process to run its course.” But in the very next sentence he undermines his own argument by acknowledging the obvious: If Trump runs and loses in 2024, both he and his followers will claim it is due to some type of “fraud,” and (implicitly) bolster that claim by threats or even a coordinated pattern of domestic terror and violence. The reality, of course, is that they’ll do this whether he’s prosecuted or not. Linker seems to believe that by refraining from prosecuting Trump now, Democrats will somehow be able to ameliorate or diminish the violent tendencies and delusional predispositions of his followers in the future. In that, he’s dead wrong.
Democrats and liberals aren’t under any illusions about what these people are capable of. Trump and the GOP under his thumb are now all of the same piece: They’re bullies, and they like it. They’ll keep being that way until they are pushed back. Appeasement or forbearance doesn’t work, it only emboldens them more. Put very simply, they have to be faced down and told: “No.”