At this point, any attempts by the Republican government to prosecute Hillary Clinton would be spiteful and vicious, driven not by a desire for justice but by a desire to crush a political opponent, and in matters of morality motive is everything. I simply do not believe that Republicans are capable of prosecuting Hillary for noble reasons, and that they have become so partisan that they have confused their own lust for political victory with justice.
Even if we could put together a truly non-partisan panel that would look into Hillary Clinton and prosecute her, and even if this unbiased panel found her guilty of crimes, I don’t think she should be incarcerated. I think that we, as a society, need to get over our lust for punishment, because punishment is counterproductive. I’m about to make the argument that there are two forms of punishment, but for the moment I want to say that–if Hillary was found criminally negligent by this panel and then a jury of peers, the only thing that should be done is bar her from holding political offices in the future. In this scenario, she would have proven that she cannot be trusted with power, and, in the interest of preventing future crimes, we would prevent her from getting power.
The goal of any punishment should be to prevent future crime. In and of itself, there is nothing to be gained by punishing people for past crimes. Leave the past in the past. It is done. It is over, and it cannot be changed by using force, violence, and coercion against someone in vengeance for what they did. Punishing people for past crimes is often the method of prohibiting them from future crimes, but there is a difference.
I asked the question not long ago:
Imagine that we have invented a new miracle medicine that, by receiving just one shot, will cure sexual predators with 100% certainty and leave them totally unwilling to ever commit another sex crime. The drug does not affect their free will or psychological condition; it just makes them not want to do what they did ever again. However, if they are otherwise punished at any point with a jail/prison sentence, then the medicine will not work. If we give them the medicine before or after their prison sentence, it will not work; the only way to cure them is to not punish them. On the other hand, we can continue to punish them with prison, but there is a chance that they will get out of prison and, somewhere down the road, commit more crimes. Which would you advocate? The miracle drug, or prison?
Knowing that it would mean the person would never be punished, it’s my guess that most people would be adamantly against the miracle drug. When we’re faced with the reality that it means Bob raped thirteen kids in nine states and will never be punished for it, I think most people would rather him be punished. Our motive is not really to prevent future crimes; we’re interested primarily in punishing people, with making them pay, with seeking vengeance. “He made thirteen kids suffer, so he should have to suffer, too.”
While I understand completely where they’re coming from, it gets us nowhere in the grand social scheme, and we have to learn forgiveness. We have to learn to forgive people, even those people who we really, really hate. There is hardly ever anything to be gained by punishing people for past transgressions.
However, there is always something to be gained by preventing people from making future transgressions, and that is the point of my hypothetical about the miracle drug. In some ways, this could be a semantic argument; preventing someone from committing future transgressions because they have a history of transgressions and you wan to stop them is, in a manner of speaking, punishing them for their past transgressions. Except it’s not, because it’s focused on the future rather than the past.
The future is far more important than the past.
Except as evidence and showing us how we got here, the past is largely useless. The future, however, is always coming. If we are going to choose between focusing on the past or focusing on the future, then one of them is clearly superior to the other; focusing on the past would be silly. Yet this is what most people would advocate with their punishment systems, because it’s so much more satisfying to get vengeance than it is to protect presently hypothetical victims from future harm. We would be much more satisfied emotionally knowing that Bob is in prison being made into Big Jim’s bitch than we would knowing that we might have prevented Bob from raping another child fifteen years into the future, especially since there’s a possibility that Bob won’t do it anyway because he doesn’t want to have us seek vengeance upon him again.
The past has happened. It is how we got where we are right now, and all of those past moments led to this one. Of course the past is important. It’s critical that we understand where we are, and it’s often necessary to know what happened before to get a grip on what is currently going on. However, the past is also over. It is done, and crying about it is not going to change the present. Nor is punishing someone in the present going to change the past. It will change the present and the future, obviously, and that’s what we need to focus on: the future, not placating our desire to have revenge.
Attempting to exact revenge is an act of force and violence. Throwing Hillary in prison is an act of violence and force, using people with guns to kidnap her and hold her against the will. The same is true for Bob, except we’re putting Bob in a prison where we know that he will be attacked, beaten, tortured, and raped. We cannot claim to be on the side of moral good if we’re advocating these things. If we’re advocating that people should be kidnapped and thrown into caged arenas to be beaten, tortured, raped, attacked, and possibly murdered, we cannot claim to be on the side of justice or good.
Of course we need to prevent future transgressions from being done, and by this point we have every reason to justify doing what we can to prevent them. That is the furthest that morality and justice will take us, though, and anything beyond that pushes us firmly into Immoral Vengeance territory.
Currently, more than 75% of people released from prison end up back there. We cannot make the argument that prison reduces the occurrence of future crimes by any successful measure, especially since it’s likely that some of those 25% of people who don’t end up back in prison did commit further crimes, but weren’t caught. A 1 in 4 success rate is abysmal, and we would not accept it in any other area of our life. What if your vehicle only had a 1 in 4 chance of getting you to work? What if the city bus only had a 1 in 4 chance of getting you to the store? What if your airplane only had a 1 in 4 chance of getting you to Los Angeles? What if your television only had a 1 in 4 chance of turning on? What if your phone only had a 1 in 4 chance of sending a text message? What if Gmail only had a 1 in 4 chance of delivering your email? What if the polio vaccine only had a 1 in 4 chance of preventing polio, if the flu vaccine only had a 1 in 4 chance of preventing the flu, and if the pneumonia vaccine only had a 1 in 4 chance of preventing pneumonia? This failure rate is completely unacceptable.
There are undoubtedly better ways to protect the future.
Clearly, they start with forgiveness.