Between banana republic, ‘Brave New World’
Do we lock up our political opponents in America? So far, the answer is no. But for how long will that act be outside the bounds of American politics?
Some thought it would be 2016. We know the chants — “Lock her up!” — that raged at Donald Trump’s rallies. Predictably, he never turned his threats against “Crooked Hillary” Clinton into actions — lucky him. Had the precedent been set already, it is likely that Trump’s own arrest for election tampering would follow Joe Biden’s inauguration. The case would be open-and-shut, the president having attempted to overturn a free and fair election squarely in the public eye.
Trump’s arrest, though, would be the first of a former U.S. president. To millions of the now-disgraced former president’s supporters, this would look like old-fashioned corruption — a page out of Vladimir Putin’s playbook. Worse yet, those same ambitious members of Congress that sought to overturn the 2020 election would not hesitate to seize and weaponize the concept of a political prisoner. After the next transition of power, can we afford to let that carrot hang before them?
On the other hand, can we afford to let this go? If Trump has done anything, he has proven that American exceptionalism can fall victim to a demagogue — someone with scant links to his own party, few concrete views on policy, and a blatant disrespect for the truth. Furthermore, he has proven that millions of Americans are ready to throw their unwavering support not behind a policy, nor a party, but behind a man.
Make no mistake, those same opportunists are watching. American institutions were tested, and weathered this attempted coup d’etat, but could we last the next? Unless we display that there are consequences for meddling in American elections, for unapologetically bending the truth, our institutions will face this test again.