Monday, July 18, 2016

Government's Authority and the Comey Verdict on Clinton

Many have already commented on the contradictory announcement made by James Comey yesterday in regard to Hillary Clinton’s use of a private server for emails while Secretary of State. Having methodically documented Clinton’s carelessness and contravention of known policy and laws Comey whipsawed to a no charges should be brought conclusion. It seems to many that the operative aspect of "no prosecutor would bring this case" was that "this case" was against the presumptive Democrat nominee Hillary Clinton.

As the Comey announcement shuts the door on an actual indictment and as Clinton is unopposed by a credible Republican it isn’t perhaps too early to ask what this means for a Clinton presidency. And what I have in mind here is its perceived authority.

Authority as a constitutive element of governing is distinct from power, competency, and our agreement with what is done. However much one might disagree with Comey’s decision, no one should question that as Director of the FBI he was authorized to make it. And a joke on twitter that he was promised lands in Ohio, gets to the fact that only proof of corruption, a quid-pro-quo would compromise his authority.

Further, it seems clear that authority rests on belief, on myth. It is reminiscent of the Monty Python sketch where the Amazing Mystico and Janet constructed apartment towers via hypnosis. As long as the tenants believed in them they remained standing. The foundational myth of kingdoms was the divine right of kings passed down via heredity. For democracies it is that the people have a right to rule themselves and that this is properly accomplished through representatives.

In English history rebellions almost always (always?) included more than just a complaint of bad governance. There was also a question of the King or Queen’s authority to rule by calling into doubt that they were the rightful heir. The stories of the true heir dying at birth and being replaced are directed at authority and they parallel our own birther conspiracies.

Of course such questions need not be conspiratorial and democracies may be seen as target rich environments. Charges that the government is run by whites for whites, by fat cat capitalists, by the bourgeois are all to my understanding attacks on authority. They are making the claim that authority rests with "the people" but the actual government is in the hands of only a subset.

The question is how much Hillary Clinton, having dodged what seems a quite logical prosecutorial case, will be seen as an illegitimate President from the start of her tenure. And what is remarkable here is that the Democratic Party has proceeded on this path, not only acquiescing in her nomination but tipping the scales in her favor, when the essential facts of her private server use has been well documented for months.

The likely retort that this is comparable to George W Bush being elected despite the vote counting controversy in Florida simply won’t hold. In that instance we had an unforeseen occurrence in the general election, adjudicated through the Supreme Court, with a later confirmation that the right person was declared the winner in Florida. Quite a distance from the current situation where another nominee—Biden, Warren—would also almost certainly win, and carried out with determined malice aforethought.

Undoubtedly at the Democratic Convention and the inauguration we will hear a call to restore our confidence in government, to heal our divisions, and to come together as a people. With the probable exception of Donald Trump no one is worse positioned to accomplish this than Hillary Clinton. As to the foundational perception of authority, we are pressing our luck.

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