The Clinton-Comey Email Scandal and Rule of Law in America

If there’s one thing the left and right can agree on in terms of what the evolving kerfuffle surrounding Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server during her tenure as Secretary of State means, it’s that America is no longer a nation governed by blind justice.

In the narrative construction in which both political parties are engaging, it is not the virtue epistemology of anyone’s actions, particularly the agents of the Justice Department, which play a central role. Rather, motives and effects related to the political system are the universal focus.

Take this snapshot of news aggregator Real Clear Politics’ Monday roundup from the commentary class as a for instance:


It’s hardly surprising that the reopening of the investigation of a major party candidate days before the general election is news. However, the actual issues are not what the columnists, those preening magistrates of public opinion, are adjudicating.

Each is concerned with the motive of whomever is considered a political opponent. On the right, what Comey did is lauded because it supports the GOP narrative that Clinton is guilty of violating federal rules regulating the handling of classified information.  This is a complete reversal of the railings which a week ago right-wing talkers were directing towards the hapless DOJ director. On the left, what Comey did is electioneering, an unprecedented action done specifically to undermine Clinton.

That major news stories are going to become political campaign fodder is expected. And, on its own, partisan spin is nothing which merits histrionics, not so long as it is rooted in genuinely different beliefs about how to interpret facts and contextualize their relationship to policy issues.

What is alarming is that neither seems to have any regard for the actual facts at hand. Yes, maybe the reopening of the case is unprecedented, but does that invalidate it? No, especially not since new evidence has come to light. At the same time, does the reopening of the case amount to an indictment of Clinton? Not if “innocent until proven guilty” is still a fundamental precept of American belief.

But, as the reactions of both sides to the FBI-Clinton tussle suggest, this may not be a fundamental precept anymore.

The press and major party operatives have turned an already fantastical story into a vaudevillian sideshow. Like carnival barkers, they’re more interested in salacious hooks which draw the unsuspecting passerby into a labyrinthine mess of rhetorical arguments which reflect a distorted reality than in actually engaging in a metered, rational debate of which perspective has more merit.

Suddenly, everyone is an expert in legal procedures and prosecutorial discretion. At the same time, no one other than the person speaking has the correct interpretation.

Are there political motivations related to the FBI’s flirtations with exonerating and acquitting Clinton? Probably. But, the shouting and charges and counter-charges which both parties have flung at the other without any regard to a standard of ethical conduct which ought to accompany public accusation of misconduct have not only made it impossible to sort out the fact from the fiction in the great mythos of American politics, they have so jaded the public dialogue that everyone involved bears some taint.

That’s a serious problem for a land that, once upon a time, believed in the supremacy of individual rights and the inalienability of innocence as a presumption in public affairs until proven otherwise.


Also published on Medium.

All content protected by copyright. The Politics of Discretion, 2016.
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