Mister, We Could Use a Procurator General like Andrey Vyshinsky Again

Andrey Vyshinsky is credibly cited as the originator of the famous Stalin-era quote: "Give me the man and I will give you the case against him." (Alternates: Beria or Stalin himself.) A quote that's been making the rounds thanks to a recent American legal proceeding.

That's the short version. For the long version, read Andy McCarthy in this gifted link: In Memory of Justice

The country we love has become unlovely.

It pains me to say that. But I can’t help but feel the same anguish written on the faces of friends who, like me, grew up in the justice system. Friends who couldn’t care less about Donald Trump, who won’t vote for him, who look at the cynical circus that just closed down in lower Manhattan as still more confirmation of his appalling judgment and character . . . but who remember what American law enforcement was at its imperfect best. Friends who verge on weeping openly over what’s happened to it.

Our system embodied the rule of law, the sturdy undercarriage of a free, prosperous, pluralistic society. Now, on its good days, it’s a clown show. On the bad days — there are far too many of those — it’s a political weapon.

If you enact laws that reflect civic virtue, and you enforce them without fear or favor, and if you work really hard at it because it’s no easy thing, you can have liberty in all its feisty splendor. But as the rule of law degrades into the rule of partisan lawyers, a constitutional republic inexorably decays into a banana republic. And it won’t take long.

Our system embodied the rule of law, the sturdy undercarriage of a free, prosperous, pluralistic society. Now, on its good days, it’s a clown show. On the bad days — there are far too many of those — it’s a political weapon.

Again, this isn’t about Trump. He is just the floor model. Don’t mistake him for the phenomenon itself.

If you've not been following McCarthy's ongoing commentary on the case, this article is an excellent (if depressing) overview.

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Let me link to an article from Stephen Holmes in the London Review of Books that also mentions the Vyshinsky/Beria/Stalin quote: Give me the man.

Surprise! That article is a quarter-century old! And one of the books Holmes is reviewing is from a famous lawyer who's also been commenting on the current case, Alan Dershowitz. (Amazon link at your right.) Sample:

To put Starr’s prosecutorial style in the proper historical perspective, Dershowitz cites Lavrenti Beria: ‘give me the man, and I will find the crime.’ In non-Stalinist systems, prosecutors usually start with a crime (the body of a murder victim, for instance), and then try to discover the culprit. Notoriously, Starr began with a man and spent more than 40 million taxpayers’ dollars on a fishing expedition trying to uncover any and every infraction his target might possibly have committed over a political lifetime. To shift from a Soviet to an American analogy, Starr used ‘means more typically associated with attempts to prosecute mafia dons, rather than political figures’. That was not exactly the purpose of the Independent Counsel Act and it is not what most Americans expect from the rule of law.

Older readers are invited to read the article and cast their minds back to the legal woes of a different sleazeball president, and recall what his defenders and antagonists were saying at the time. Of course, there are differences. But…

Never mind that. Let's "move on" (dot org) to our weekly look at how all this momentous, historical news affected the oddsmakers:

Candidate EBO Win
Donald Trump 50.8% -2.0%
Joe Biden 40.7% +2.2%
Michelle Obama 2.8% unch
Robert Kennedy Jr 2.2% unch
Other 3.5% -0.2%

Executive summary: Trump took a hit with the punters, but he's still the favorite by over ten percentage points.

(Parenthetical note: The MoveOn organization I linked to above was originally founded to urge Congress to "Censure President Clinton and Move On to Pressing Issues Facing the Nation" instead of impeachment. If you click over, you'll see they aren't in any mood to extend similar advice to Trump's opponents, either when impeachment was going on, or now.)

Also of note:

A couple of Dispatch articles, probably paywalled, sorry, but expressing the depressing alternatives likely to be available at the polls in November.

First up is Matthew J. Franck, who advocates Choosing Not to Choose.

Eight years ago, I published an essay for Public Discourse about why I could not vote for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. “Vote as if your ballot determines nothing whatsoever—except the shape of your own character,” the piece concluded. “Vote as if the public consequences of your action weigh nothing next to the private consequences. The country will go whither it will go, when all the votes are counted. What should matter the most to you is whither you will go, on and after this November’s election day.”

There is nothing in what I said then that I would now retract. I rejected the idea that I, as one individual, must treat my choice as confined to the binary of Clinton versus Trump, as though the weight of the outcome were on me alone. It is frequently the case that we vote for one major-party presidential candidate principally because we are against the other one—usually because we find “our guy” a less than optimal choice but “the other guy” strongly repellent. But when we conclude that both of them are wholly unfit for office, our habitual partisan commitments, and our fond hope that the one representing “our side” will be normal, or guided by normal people, do not compel us to cast a vote in that direction. What we must consider, I argued, is not our role in the outcome of the election (which is negligible, and unknown to us when voting), but the effect on our conscience and character of joining our will to a bad cause.

His depressing recommendation:

In an election year that features Cornel West and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. as off-brand fringe choices, writing in a name, skipping the presidential line on the ballot, or just staying home looks pretty good.

And let's add Chase Oliver to that list of fringe choices!

But Franck's way is not the way of fellow-Dispatcher Nick Catoggio, who advocates Choosing to Choose.

The question isn’t “Biden or Trump?” so much as it’s “Should we continue with the constitutional order as we’ve known it or try something radically different?”

I’ll guarantee here and now that if Trump becomes president again and remains in good health he’ll try to extend his term in office past 2029. I won’t guarantee that he’ll succeed, but the attempt will be made as surely as you’re reading this. Trump is less a person than a personality type and his type is compelled to pursue its own interests remorselessly above all things. I think he’d honestly find it hard to comprehend why someone in his position shouldn’t try to extend their time in power.

Biden won’t do that if reelected. (And not just because he might be catatonic by 2029.) He won’t defy court orders. He won’t stock the leadership of the Justice Department with fanatics who have sworn an oath of allegiance to him personally. He won’t call the military out into the streets to confront people protesting him. And, contra Franck, I don’t believe he’ll claim a “mandate” if he wins, since he’s all but certain to do so with fewer electoral votes than he received in 2020 and with a Republican takeover of the Senate.

I think Franck has the better argument here. But let me make my usual recommendation: read both, subscribing if necessary, and (you don't need my permission but) make up your own mind.