How The Failure to Prosecute Bankers Leads to Revolutionary, Divisive Politics
There has been some conversation among liberal bloggers about the Occupy protests and the recent moves even by liberal mayors to remove the campsites. Many like myself have argued that America is supposed to be a nation of laws, after all, and a representative democracy. Constitutional democracy depends on rule of law. The people vote on representatives who make laws. If the representatives don't make the right laws, they get replaced in elections. Judges make sure the rights of minorities are protected from the rule of the majority mob. Executives are supposed to enforce those laws--which gets tricky, of course, when it's the executive who is allegedly breaking the law, but let's bypass that special case for a moment because it's not the point of this post, nor the lawbreaking most Americans are really concerned about.
If the people's representatives continue to refuse to make the laws, the people can engage in civil disobedience and get arrested to highlight the issues, again to shame elected officials into passing or enforcing the right laws. But it's still about the laws and the people who make them, democratically elected by the people. It's one thing to engage in civil disobedience with the expectation of being arrested as part of the visibility of the protest. It's another thing to expect that authorities will simply ignore the flagrant legal violations and allow indefinite encampments without arrests.
Still, elected officials have more moral authority than mobs of people by virtue of their being elected. That's the whole point of representative democracy which, as Winston Churchill dryly noted, is the worst form of government--except for the others that have been tried from time to time.
One can argue that the system is so hopelessly corrupted by money that the laws are inherently unjust and the officials not worth dealing with, but that is the logic of revolution, of systemic collapse. And that goes to some very uncomfortable places, especially when you consider that the extremists on the Right are perfectly capable of making similar arguments and putting them into action. If it's revolution we're talking about, it's going to take a lot more than public camping to bring about the movement's goals. In a nation as bitterly divided as this one, a revolution against the current system in a more progressive direction would almost certainly by a very bloody, bitter battle--not an Aquarian change of utopian consciousness. The change could probably happen peacefully over a couple of decades through the buildup of grassroots political pressure and electing progressively better people into office. But to accomplish the goals quickly would take guns and lots of them, not protest signs--which is partly why Candidate Obama's promises to "change our politics" fell so drastically short once he became President Obama. Nobody can change this economic system on a dime without making some serious political systemic changes, including especially to the filibuster. That in turn takes not an executive, but an adequate number of progressive legislators who see the problem and are willing to make the changes in spite of being labeled "divisive."
Even so, it's awfully hard even for folks like me to argue that mayors have an obligation to enforce the rule of law, when the rule of law so obviously only applies to the little people. In case you missed the 60 Minutes from last week, it's clear that the laws are only being enforced against regular people, even as the billionaire criminals skate free.
The failure to hold any of these egregious thieves accountable is fraying the social contract. It legitimizes the revolutionary worldview.
Part of the decision not to prosecute them has undoubtedly been (apart from pure corruption and the difficulty and expense involved in the prosecutions) the desire not to do anything toodivisive. But the fact is that not prosecuting them has led to increasing political division in this country, as groups on both the left and the right believe the system incapable of dispensing justice. That in turn leads to a revolutionary theory of change, which (each in their own characteristic way) is what binds Tea Partiers with guns at congressional rallies promising "second Amendment remedies," and Occupiers illegally shutting down ports, declaring basic city zoning laws unconstitutional, and demanding the right to pitch tents on public property for years on end if need be to accomplish undefined goals.
Don't blame the Tea Partiers or the Occupiers for this state of affairs. Blame the elected officials who have refused to the prosecute the people responsible for the economic crisis. If people thought the system was working the way it should be and prosecuting the right people, it would do a lot to pull the release on the political pressure valve.