Anyone who has seen the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode called “The Drumhead” will probably have a pretty good idea of where I’m going with this. In the episode, a klingon happens to be a spy, and is caught–however, an accident that occurred at around the same time went unexplained, and, worried about saboteurs and collaborators, Starfleet began an investigation into the crew of the Enterprise.
What began as a seemingly justifiable investigation devolved almost immediately into a witch hunt, or, as Picard put it, a “Drumhead Trial”–a mock trial put on by a military tribunal where punishment was swift and decisive. It’s a well-known episode, and generally considered among that series best’s. It’s a pity that we learned nothing from its rather anvilicious lessons.
Consider this excerpt from someone at Fox News who was writing in defense of Trump:
That doesn’t mean that, say, Michael Flynn, who just invoked the Fifth Amendment to avoid testifying on the Hill, doesn’t have problems related to past payments from the Russians.
Er… No, Howard Kurtz, that’s not right. The way this is phrased creates the default idea that Flynn has those problems, and that his invocation of the fifth is evidence of that–otherwise, why even link these two things?
In the episode I mentioned, a young man is revealed to have lied about his heritage, having claimed to be half-Vulcan when he was actually half-Romulan, and the Romulans were essentially Star Trek’s Russians. During his publicly open interrogation, with dozens and dozens of people watching eagerly, he was asked about his true lineage, and he invoked the fifth (or, actually, Starfleet’s version of the fifth).
Immediately, the whispering and gasps rang out. Rumor swirled, and he was instantly assumed to be guilty.
Kangaroo done hung the juror with the innocent.
We would all do well to watch this tense episode once more, but allowing it to hit closer to home. You’ll see in the inquisitor none other than Democratic leadership, relentlessly pursuing every possible lead in their quixotic quest to find a collaborator or saboteur. In those nightmarish circumstances, where even Picard is ultimately brought in for questioning, even pleading the fifth becomes evidence of a person’s guilt.
The moral of the story is that we’re never more than one accident away from a witch hunt. We saw it last year when the clown sightings began–fully hysterical reactions from people over clowns who had done nothing to anyone and may very well not have existed in the first place. It’s entirely possible that there was never even a single clown, much less several, but that didn’t stop panic and hysteria from sweeping the nation: schools were locked down, clown masks were pulled from store shelves, and police investigations were launched.
Of course, we can look to an actual witch hunt if we’d like to depress ourselves, since 40,000 people were killed in puritan America for being witches–and, the reasoned mind of today understands that none of them were witches. The accusation alone branded one guilty, and often the trials involved horrific things like “Drown her. If she’s innocent, God will save her.”
Eyeballs deep in muddy water, fucking hypocrite.
I’m honestly not scared of much. I’ve had someone put a gun in my face and tell me to drop to my knees and beg for my life, whereupon I defiantly replied, “You’re gonna have to kill me, because I’m not doing that.” I’ve been left beaten and bloody in at least three parking lots. I’ve had picking up hitch hikers backfire on me in spectacular ways. But none of that scares me.
Hysteria, however… Hysteria terrifies me.
How long did McCarthy and Hoover’s reigns of terror last? There has even been talk of recognition the House of Un-American Activities. My death–who cares? It would likely be painful, but after that, over, so it’s really not something to be scared of. However, a witch hunt can go so very far beyond that–into tortured confessions, corrupt interrogators, presumed guilt rather than presumed innocence…
We played with the fire after the Orlando Shooting, as well, when people asked how this person who had been investigated three times by the FBI had been able to acquire guns. It is simply assumed, in their worldview, that a person is guilty if the FBI investigates them. Never mind that this could easily be part of the anti-Muslim witch hunt. “He was investigated three times? Then he’s guilty. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire! Besides, look what he did!”
Yes, but the fact that “what he did” was something he “hadn’t yet done” at the time he was being investigated is of critical importance. You can’t apply current knowledge about him to decisions people made about him in the past. And we damn sure can’t assume people are guilty just because we have an out-of-control investigatory agency that is perfectly poised to begin and instigate witch hunts.
I don’t know or care whether Flynn did whatever it is that he’s being presumed guilty of doing, and I don’t care if Trump played a role in it. Even if they do manage to demonstrate guilt (as opposed to assuming it), they still have to demonstrate why the whole thing is of any consequence at all.
Now people are talking impeachment. There’s no doubt: impeachment was on people’s minds on Election Day, as soon as the results came in. If the idea of having a hardcore religious nutjob as President sounds appealing, then, by all means, proceed with impeachment. People seem to think that we can make a Democrat president if we impeach Trump, or that we can spark an emergency election. Neither of these things will or can happen.
Kangaroo be stoned, he’s guilty as the government.
If Trump is impeached and remove from office, then Mike Pence becomes President. And any impeachment proceeding would look far more like a Drumhead Trial than anything that resembles a fair court. And, really, I think such an act could very easily spark a civil war, given that Trump has been in office barely four months and hasn’t done anything out of line with what previous presidents did. Removing the president that people chose before that president has even had the chance, in his supporters’ eyes, to do what they wanted him to do… I hope Democrats are ready for the fallout from that, because it won’t be the sunshine and daisies they seem to expect.
We have a problem, though, and the problem is fear. We are terrifyingly prone to panic, and that should be what scares us, not whatever bogeyman we’re panicking about at the given moment. Panic and hysteria shredded much of the Bill of Rights already. What is next in our witch hunt?