June 15, 2023 | Reading Time: 3 minutes

Justice is divisive and that’s OK

The framing of the Trump indictments story is stupid.

Courtesy of Fox.
Courtesy of Fox.

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The GOP and the rightwing media apparatus, which is global in scale, want to convince you that Joe Biden is personally directing the investigation of government secrets discovered at Mar-a-Lago and is directly responsible for the second indictment of a criminal former president.

On Tuesday, while Biden was speaking, that effort culminated, for a moment, in a chyron on Fox: WANNABE DICTATOR SPEAKS AT THE WHITE HOUSE AFTER HAVING HIS POLITICAL RIVAL ARRESTED.”

As Aaron Blake noted, it “didn’t come out of nowhere; in many ways, it was a culmination. For days and months, [Donald] Trump and his allies have been pointing in this direction, despite the lack of any actual evidence that Biden played a role in the decision to indict Trump.”

Not enough is being said about the nature of justice. It is naturally divisive. That goes double for equal justice. There’s no getting around that fact. Yet this fact is missing from the story. 

Fox backed away from the chyron amid press inquiries into it, but we can reasonably expect more of the same in the coming election year. According to the Post, Trump has decided to put the indictments against him at the center of his campaign in a bid to discredit the justice system while rallying supporters, who are being told that the Biden administration is “weaponizing” the government against Trump.

The Post said, he’s “now determinedly delegitimizing the legal system, as he has … with public health measures, the intelligence community, elections and other people or agencies he views as opposing him.”

Revenge has become his campaign theme.

On Tuesday, Trump promised to do to his enemies what he said his enemies are doing to him. According to Politico, his “vow prompted cheers and chants of ‘lock him up!’ from the audience. The idea followed Trump’s own proclamation that he was facing ‘political persecution like something out of a fascist or communist nation.’” 

Is Biden involved? He said he “never once, not one single time, suggested to the Justice Department what they should do or not do relative to bringing a charge or not bringing a charge.” He added that he hasn’t and won’t talk to Attorney General Merrick Garland. Garland assigned Jack Smith to lead the investigation into secrets found at Mar-a-Lago. He can’t overrule Smith without going to the Congress.

Does that mean Smith does not, in some roundabout way, answer to the president? No, he does. But that’s what procedural safeguards are for, like rules requiring that the attorney general, who does indeed answer to the president, can’t overrule a special counsel without first seeking, and getting, congressional approval. They are designed to prevent even the appearance of corruption by law enforcement. 

That said, not enough is being said about the nature of justice. It is naturally divisive. That goes double for equal justice. There’s no getting around that fact. Yet this fact is missing from the story, as framed.

On one side is Trump accusing Biden of “weaponizing” the government against him. On the other side is Biden and the Democrats, saying oh God forbid there is nothing political going on here. Jack Smith, they say, is merely following the facts and the neutral administration of justice.

Somewhere in the middle are the respectable white people like Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux, a reporter for FiveThirtyEight. They clutch their pearls over the possible impact of the indictments on the broader erosion of public trust in institutions, like the Department of Justice. She wrote that even if Biden dodges fallout, “trust in the justice system could ebb even further, particularly among Republicans.” 

This framing is stupid. 

You know what else erodes trust?

When lawbreakers go unpunished.  

Let’s admit that justice is divisive. It’s going to divide us. That’s its political nature. I’d say most of us understand this. I’d say most of us accept this. I’d even say most of us want justice – especially, equal justice – to be politically motivated. This is a democracy, after all. 

We want lawbreakers to be held accountable even when they are powerful enough to otherwise avoid accountability. We want them to be held accountable especially when they promise to exact revenge on those who dare hold them accountable, by using power derived from politics. This wanting, by the public, is what democracy is about

Justice is divisive and that’s OK.

For some, it’s going to erode trust in the institutions. For others, it’s going to restore trust. This is not a bad thing. It’s a good thing.

It’s a democratic thing.

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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