The Reign of Error

Plus ça change motherfuckers
Jacob Bacharach

Jacob Bacharach

Jacob Bacharach

What went through Loretta Lynch’s mind when Bill Clinton buttonholed her in that airport? I imagine her like one of those poor robots in an Asimov story, thrown into a fugue of helpless malfunction as the indelible rules etched into the very fabric of her mind looped back on themselves in unresolved contradiction. The people who arrive in these positions of appointed, administrative authority don’t arrive through some exercise of uncompromising brilliance, but through the application of the sort of subtle, anticipatory empathy—business schools like to call it “emotional intelligence”—that mark the climbers in any organization, a quality that used to mark a successful courtier before our democratic pretensions overran our good sense of what, exactly, our Secretaries and ministers really are and were.

On the one hand, her brain must have rebelled at the discordant vibrations of the appearance of impropriety; on the other, well, here is a former two-term president and Grand Poobah of the Democratic Party that appointed her, not to mention husband to that party’s current presumptive Presidential nominee—in other words, the actual archetype of the person from whom she is constitutionally, professionally inclined to curry favor. What was Clinton thinking? For all the nefarious theories out there, I suspect he just wasn’t. If there is a through-line, a plot thread to the bizarre picaresque of Clintonian scandals, it is, in the ironically apt words of G-Man James Comey, extreme carelessness. If the Clintons were once in a sense arrivistes (“He came in here and he trashed the place, and it’s not his place,” said David Broder in a moment of accidental honesty), their successful elevation to the highest order of the American aristocracy came in no small part because they so successfully affected the aristocrats’ most singular characteristic of simply not giving a shit about the consequences that should not—and would not—apply to them.

So when Comey processed before the cameras to pronounce Hillary merely a venial sinner, no one was really surprised—least of all, I suspect, Loretta Lynch, who would never have tethered her career to even a slight chance that she’d have to prosecute a potential US President. If she’d thought for one instance that the FBI might recommend an indictment, she’d have recused herself and tossed the job and the decision to some poor career prosecutor whose real intelligence and competence consigned him forever to the middle ranks. But as Comey uttered the magical incantation, “no reasonable prosecutor,” my own mind fled immediately to different moment, back in November of 2014, when St. Louis Prosecuting Attorney Robert P. McCollough announced that a Grand Jury had “determined that no probable cause exists to file any charges against Officer Wilson and returned a ‘no true bill’ on each of the five indictments” after that same Officer Wilson, that August, had killed an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown.

Lynch’s decision to abrogate prosecutorial discretion and leave the question to the purportedly independent judgment of an investigatory body had the eerie echo of a DA trying to appear above the fray as he quietly works to avoid punishing a killer cop. Running the State Department out of a server closet in your basement and shooting an unarmed black youth are separated by a moral gulf as well as a difference of scale, but they are nevertheless bridged by a connection of a ubiquitous, official corruption that is both bland and deadly. It permits the murder of black men by agents of the state; it permits the un-FOIA-able (attempted, anyway) planning for mad wars and drone assassinations. Clinton defenders have seized on the data that numerous other high-ranking State and DOD officials have also conducted their business via private email; they imagine this is exculpatory, but it’s actually systemically damning. They’re all, it turns out, immune.

Our application of the law is exactly backwards; it applies with unfaltering severity to the least powerful and with increasing leniency the farther up the social and economic ladder you go. A black man can be murdered for having a broken tail-light; the official who murdered him gets “paid administrative leave.” A Private gets 35 years in prison for leaking a trove of war documents that—officials rushed to assure us—didn’t show anything we didn’t already know, while a former Secretary of State can blitz around the world with a password password and be reminded that she was a bad girl for not using 2-factor before successfully becoming the President of the United States. You can go to jail for running an online sports betting site, but Jamie Dimon…

I’m basically a pacifist and live in mortal terror of wars and revolutions, but it’s getting ever harder to look at the state of society without hearing the distant but swiftly approaching swish of the guillotines.

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