In the first article in this series, I argued that there really is a difference between the Right and the Left when it comes to nasty political rhetoric and using government investigations to attack the other party. The Left gets away with calling people names like “racist,” “white supremacist,” and “fascist,” but the Right has largely been guilty of “unilateral disarmament” and does not fight fire with fire.
Paradoxically, the best way to end this kind of mud-slinging and politicization of law enforcement is to descend to their level so that the voters get sick of it and it no longer works. If I may ask your indulgence to wax academic for a moment, game theory explains why “taking the high road,” as the Right has been doing, doesn’t work. If one side is playing an exploitative strategy and the other side is reasonable and cooperative, the bad guys keep winning. The only way to force an aggressive player to play nice again is to give them a taste of their own medicine. (Technically, this is called the tit-for-tat strategy in two-person repeat play of a prisoner’s dilemma.)
But the result that unprincipled bullies keep behaving badly until they get their comeuppance isn’t some arcane artifact of game theory. It is the lesson of the playground and also of Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet. Most people think of Shakespeare’s play as a love story, and it is — but only for the first two acts. Remember, at the end of the third and final act, the two beautiful young lovers end up dead on the stage. Then, and only then, do the heads of the two feuding families, the Capulets and the Montagues, come to their senses and realize that they need to make peace and act reasonably.
Sociologists call setting aside conventional moral norms in an orgy of retaliatory violence a “blood feud,” and such feuds have been studied extensively. They can end in a couple of ways, most of which are unpleasant. Sometimes, a strong king takes over and imposes a peace on the belligerent warlords. One of the oldest known Greek tragedies, the Orestia, is a series of three plays about a blood feud that ends when a wise autocrat imposes an even-handed law on both sides. But like Romeo and Juliet, it also has the element of unspeakable consequences bringing people to their senses when the protagonist, Orestes, ends up killing his own mother. A more modern example of unacceptable consequences causing a moderation of extreme political rhetoric is the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan.
At this point in history, the best way out — consistent with maintaining a representative democracy and keeping us together as a single country — is, paradoxically, to retaliate in kind. If the Right descends to their level and starts using extreme rhetoric and partisan investigations against them, the Left or the public as a whole may come to its senses and agree to abide by more civilized standards of political discourse and politics going forward. At least, that’s the theory that has prevented a nuclear holocaust for the last two generations — mutually assured destruction (MAD). I’m not saying it has to be a statute (which would probably be unconstitutional). It could be an informal agreement on a Code of Good Conduct in politics, or even just an agreement among journalists that they should try to cover both sides fairly, rather than as advocates.
In essence, it has to get so bad that the community as a whole steps in and says, “stop this insanity.” Two famous blood feuds ended up that way in the courts of law, the Orestia and the Hatfields and McCoys. The late, great political scientist Martin Shapiro explained that outcome by what he called “the logic of the triad,” which he found operating in many societies throughout human history. In essence, the courts speak as the conscience of the community and remind the feuding parties of the shared communal norms with which they must both abide or face ostracism.
So … when the Republicans take control of the House in January 2023, they should give the Left a taste of its own medicine to teach them and the public an important lesson. Victor Davis Hanson recently published an article, written with his customary insight and flair, making a somewhat similar recommendation. He imagined that the Right might start to do what the Left and its media allies have done recently. He conjures up examples such as a Republican speaker of the House tearing up the newly elected president’s State of the Union speech on national television (as Nancy Pelosi did), or a newly elected Republican majority in the House voting to impeach President Joe Biden because he failed to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed” by nullifying U.S immigration law at the southern border.
If I read him correctly, Victor engaged in this thought experiment merely to try to show the public how terrible some of the recent hijinks by Democrats had been by imagining that the shoe was on the other foot. I’d recommend being less subtle and genteel. It is time to get more personal and start targeting prominent Democratic leaders, much as the Left and its media allies have targeted Trump. After all, as they frequently remind us, “no one is above the law,” so let’s:
(1) Investigate Joe Biden’s White House emails regarding the student loan giveaway for violation of a criminal statute that makes it a federal crime to use federal funds to buy votes. (No, of course the Department of Justice won’t prosecute, but misuse of public funds is much more clearly an impeachable offense than Trump’s phone call with Ukraine, plus it is a legitimate legislative inquiry whether statutory reforms are needed to prevent a repetition in the future.)
(2) Investigate Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama for “violations of the Espionage Act” in handling classified documents to write their memoirs or for their presidential libraries.
(3) Investigate Bill Clinton for his last-minute pardon of tycoon Mark Rich. Is it true that millions changed hands to get the pardon? Was this covered up by the FBI and DOJ?
(4) Investigate Paul and Nancy Pelosi for their long history of amazingly lucrative stock trades about which Nancy had inside information. They are reportedly now worth $451 million.
You get the idea. Yes, this is hitting below the belt. That’s the point. Paradoxically, only when the Left and the public understand that two can, and will, stop at nothing to attack their political opponents will the public get sick of this behavior and enforce a truce.