By Charlie Johnston
I speak occasionally about “first principles,” those fundamental principles which, if you get solidly embedded in your mind, will guide you effectively in just about any circumstance. A corollary in examining an issue would be “first questions,” those questions that get to the heart of a matter with direct simplicity. One of the most useful of these questions, particularly in matters of accusations and criminal law is, “Is it just?”
In the early days of the Republic, the focus was heavily on guilt or innocence. The law was administered much more swiftly then. It became apparent that, on more than a few occasions, guilt or innocence was determined more by public passion than actual evidence. Innocent men were sometimes being railroaded because of a lack of protection against public passion. It was not just. Thus, there rose an emphasis on procedure that would protect the accused from being convicted on a wave of public passion rather than a wave of hard evidence. The enthusiasm for process came to exceed the passion for actual justice – and now criminals that are clearly and obviously guilty are routinely set free because of a violation of a procedural detail rather than a defect in evidence. It is not just.
Public confidence in the justice system relies on public confidence that it is just – and that where it fails it endeavors vigorously to correct the failure. The rise from frontier justice arose because people came to believe, bluntly, that its errors were not just. The errors of modern justice are excused because, “that’s just the way we do things,” one of the most noxious and corrosive approaches to any subject. When it is accepted that a situation is not just, but is the way we do things, it reduces it to a sort of parlor game. When the participants are no longer focused on attaining justice, but on winning the game, it corrupts the process at every level. Prosecutors hide exculpatory evidence, defense attorneys look for the technicality which will win them their “get out of jail free” card.
The old system sometimes convicted the innocent. The new system often releases the guilty, but excuses itself by noting that it rarely punishes the innocent. Its advocates are wrong. Every time a judge releases an obviously guilty violent defendant, that judge signs a death warrant for some innocent person whose name will be filled in later. When I was doing radio in the early 90’s, the Polly Klaas case jumped into the headlines. Klaas was a 12-year-old girl who was kidnapped and murdered by 39-year-old Richard Davis. What grabbed me as I studied the case was how many arrests and convictions Davis had. His rap sheet was as long as a gorilla’s arm. Three of his convictions were for kidnapping. What, I asked in rage, was this man doing OUT of jail at the age of 39?
Now that the system is fully perverted, due process is ignored when ambitious prosecutors go after political cases, but is used triumphantly to protect the most nakedly violent predators. It is not just. And so it will be vigorously reformed or fall – for people will not forever stand a system that is not fundamentally just.
We are watching this play out in the hearings over Judge Brett Kavanaugh. A woman has charged that, when they were both in high school, he assaulted her. She has a few credibility problems. She never mentioned it to anyone until 30 years after it supposedly happened – in a therapy session. She did not mention Kavanaugh as the perpetrator in the therapy session. She has changed significant details of what she “remembered” in therapy to today. She does not remember exactly where or when it happened. She is an active member of the “Resistance,” a Bernie Sanders supporter who has marched in those “women’s parades” in those hideous pink hats. The story is shaky on all levels.
But let us look at what she alleges. Many commentators are calling it “serious.” She says she thought she was going to be raped. But the actual facts she alleges are that a drunken Kavanaugh and another boy got her into a room with the door shut. Kavanaugh got on top of her and started fondling her. The other boy pulled him off and she left the room. If all of this were true, it would be the ugly grip and grope all too common at unsupervised high school parties. It is likely not true and certainly not just. If this is the sort of stuff to derail nominations, we should codify it. If you are in high school and engage in a drunken grip and grope, it will forever prohibit you from public office – if you become a Republican. If you are a Democrat, grip and grope to your heart’s content. Shoot, you can even have a few credible accusations of rape and you are immune (ask Bill Clinton). Either we have one set of standards for all or candidly admit that the only real public crime is being or associating with a Republican. If it is the latter, let the revolution begin.
I cringe when I listen to elected officials talk about history or the Constitution any more. The whole elite class has become a crowd of ignorant, intellectual bankrupts. Listening to Kamala Harris talk about the Constitution is as maddening and errant as listening to your local conspiracy theorist explain in feverish terms how we never landed on the moon or that 9-11 was an inside job by Jews in government. On history, there even is a precedent for modern identity politics. In the early years of the last century, Austria was overwhelmed by immigrants that did not assimilate. Austrian-Germans had come to constitute only a third of the population of their country. There were over a dozen substantial nationalities that lived in Austria, but did not want to be Austrian. Hungarians, Serbs, Croats, Czechs, and others were demanding national autonomy, loyal to their countries of origin rather than the nation they lived in. There was no semblance of national unity. It was from this toxic cauldron of early identity politics that Adolf Hitler was formed, fuming with resentment that the German-Austrians had been reduced to second-class citizens. I laugh bitterly when I hear leftists urgently explain some fantasy of how Hitler arose even as they remain ignorant that they have been busily replicating the cauldron that produced him. The war of all against all only produces bitter fruit.
I began to journal in the 80’s of my fear that the elite classes were degenerating into ignorance and corruption. That is the best early indicator that a society is lurching towards a catastrophic collapse. I deeply appreciated Ronald Reagan, but feared he might only be a speed bump in our mad rush to self-destruction. A happy thought occurred to me, then. In all previous such societies, the elite really were elite – the most knowledgeable and competent members a society could produce. When they degenerated, there was no back-up. But here in America, we had a great un-corrupted middle…cowed certainly, but still believing in the verities of faith, honor and fair play. It would not be enough to spare us the confrontation of battle in the future, but it might well be enough to allow us to survive the battle as a country…if only the middle would get fed up and say, “Nuts,” to the pretentions of the faux elite that runs most of the institutions in this country – and the West. I was wrong about one thing: they didn’t say, “Nuts!” Instead they said, “Trump!”
After over four decades in politics, I roll my eyes whenever anyone says that “this is the most important election of our lifetime.” Over-heated enthusiasts say it about every election. I did, actually, think the 2016 election WAS one of the most consequential. If Clinton had won, the war on religion, the war to force people’s conscience, the war to rule rather than serve the American people would impoverish and enslave us…unless the people declared war on their would-be rulers. It was not a happy thought. We did revolt – at the ballot box instead of with bullets. Now, this election will tell whether we can sustain that revolt.
In my lifetime, Republicans have adopted policies that create prosperity – and by the time they get there, people are focused on the bad results of nice-sounding but bad policies. (The one exception was John Kennedy, who also adopted policies that actually grew the economy.) But as people enjoyed the prosperity, they got complacent, assuming it was a quality of being an American rather than the product of sound policy…and so the cycle would begin again.
This is the Gettysburg Address election, testing whether this nation, “or any nation so conceived can long endure.” We will decide who we are as a people this time, whether we will, as every generation since the founding of the Republic, stand for freedom – or submit to chains; whether we are dogs to be “cared for” and ruled by our betters, or a free people who will walk on our hind legs. I cannot believe America will choose the former, thinking no depredations can ultimately disturb us. But that the shrieking hysteria of the atheist lunatic left is taken seriously by so very many people who ought to know better tells me that, already, this is not the country I was born to.
If the Democrats win with their vicious, violent tactics, we may have two years in which Trump and the Democrats stalemate each other. But if we do not firmly and vigorously reject the authoritarian attacks on freedom with complete focus and fortitude, war is in our future. I know I will not bow down to a violent mob who calls itself the elite telling me what I can do, what I can say, and what I can think. In the movie, ‘Braveheart,’ William Wallace said, “You can take my life, but you can never take my FREEDOM.” I completely concur. The conquest is going to be lot tougher than the left thinks. I pray we nip it in the bud right now.
I have come to think we made a serious error in forcing Richard Nixon from office. Yet the willingness of some Republicans to stand up for what was right, not to just be partisans, endeared me to the party early on. One of the things that has most bothered me over the leftist assault on decency and honor has been the search for someone, anyone on the Democrat side who believes in and will put the country first rather than nakedly seeking partisan advantage. After you get past Alan Dershowitz and Mark Penn, the pickings are as thin as in a desert during a drought.
My first Congressional boss, Robert McClory, supported the impeachment of Nixon. It was a brutal time – and he came as close to defeat in the post-Watergate election of 1974 as he ever did in his career. I have been thinking of him nostalgically, of late. I captured this 15-minute clip of my old boss explaining why a man must always put his conscience first in fundamental issues of public life. I have come to disagree with his conclusion on the particular case, but you can see from this clip that we once inhabited a country where public officials were serious and put a premium on honor. He was a good introduction to public life. I worked for him when he gave this speech, but I had no part in drafting this one.
I have completely lost confidence in Pope Francis. He has occupied himself calling victims who speak out as satanic accusers, has stone-walled, has busied himself seeking to punish whistle-blowers rather than predators, has tried to delay – clearly thinking it will all die down, and remains relentlessly focused on politics and power rather than the things of God. Even in the midst of this crisis, almost all the Pope’s appointees to the Synod on Youth are LBGT activists in the Church. The solid members come from the vote of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. I could change my mind, but it would take a lot: a clear and public Road to Damascus moment – for him, not for me.
A friend told me he thinks the Pope is so deeply entrenched that he will appoint another member of the “McCarrick Mafia” to replace Cardinal Wuerl. If that happens, then I think we just go fully into the maelstrom and try to fight our way back.
I do NOT believe Francis is an invalid Pope. As I have mentioned several times, God has suffered the Church to be led by men unworthy of the office on numerous occasions throughout history – usually as a forerunner to reveal the depth of the rot at any particular time and spark genuine reform. That, I think, is where we are.
Mass attendance is going to take a huge hit in the next few months. Fortunately, my Pastor has handled this issue with forthright candor, so while attendance is noticeably down at my Parish the last few weeks, it is not frightfully down. Now we arrive at a time where everybody must choose. This Pope can still bind my conscience on spiritual matters when he speaks in unity with the Bishops of the world (I think he is going to find that a lot harder these days than he thinks). When he hectors me that I MUST put up with abuse because he says so and I am satanic otherwise, when he hectors me on political things he has no authority over, when he tells me, by his appointments, that Christ does not actually mean what Christ actually says, I will ignore him and oppose his actions.
Choosing means that you are going to offend some people whose friendship you value. But choose we all must.
I have been contemplating the Fifth Joyful Mystery this week, the Teaching at the Temple. How many doctors of the law, I wonder, dismissed what this 12-year-old said because He was just a ‘snot-nosed punk.’ We know they dismissed Him later because He was unlettered and not part of the elite class – and they considered Him downright satanic in His demand that they reform themselves. In their fury, they missed their chance to study from the wisdom of God, Himself.
Throughout my life, I have often found important bits of wisdom from unlikely sources. It has often pleased God to speak to me through people I had lightly regarded. Wisdom is its own justification. We all would do well to watch for it, including in places we find most unlikely.