Our View | The Dimming of the Shining City on a Hill

Our View

By The Signal Editorial Board

It feels like something has died. 

It’s a loss. A loss of a significant piece of what made America that shining city on a hill — a phrase that dates back centuries but was frequently recalled by President Ronald Reagan, as he did in his farewell speech in January 1989: 

“I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it, and see it still.”

If President Reagan could see us now.

Americans are at each other’s throats, and, as of this week, we’ve taken a giant leap backward: We are now a nation where politicians use and abuse the legal system to take out their opponents.

Whatever your opinion is of Donald Trump — one editorial writer, even in arguing against his felony conviction this week, described him as “a cad” — this much is certain: The former president’s conviction in a New York court on 34 counts of “falsifying business records,” a charge that’s not nearly as sexy as the mainstream media’s preferred descriptor, “hush money trial,” was far less about the law than it was about politics.

It’s lawfare: The practice of using the legal system to target and delegitimize a political foe.

The New York case was prosecuted by a Democratic district attorney who was elected on a pledge to “get Trump,” and overseen by a judge who has contributed financially to the Democratic Party and put his thumb on the scale against Trump in multiple aspects of the trial, from allowing jurors to be seated who admitted they couldn’t render an unbiased verdict, to disallowing a defense witness who was to provide testimony on election law, to the jury instructions that, contrary to well-established constitutional principles, made clear that the jury didn’t have to unanimously agree on any specific election-related crime that Trump was supposedly concealing through the “business records.” 

Oh, and he allowed the prosecution to trot out every sordid detail of the alleged 2006 affair between Trump and porn star Stormy Daniels that started the whole thing. Most of it had nothing to do with the murky charges facing Trump in Manhattan, where the jury pool was decidedly tilted against him. 

But it sure made great clickbait.

More on the conflict of interest that Judge Juan Merchan has in the case: His daughter, Loren Merchan, is profiting from the trial itself. The judge’s daughter “is president of Authentic Campaigns, a Chicago-based progressive political consulting firm whose top clients include Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who was the lead prosecutor in Trump’s first impeachment trial, and the Senate Majority PAC, a major party fundraiser,” the New York Post reported in March. 

“Two major Democratic clients of the daughter of the judge overseeing Donald Trump’s hush-money trial have raised at least $93 million in campaign donations — and used the case in their solicitation emails — raising renewed concerns that the jurist has a major conflict of interest,” the Post reported.

Merchan’s gag order against Trump prohibited the former president from, among other things, talking about Merchan’s family. 

Clearly, talk of the judge’s family personally profiting from the trial made Merchan uncomfortable. Imagine that.

After the verdict, President Joe Biden couldn’t resist spiking the football, celebrating the conviction as a demonstration of “the American principle that no one is above the law.”

That’s especially rich, because in one of his three other pending criminal cases, Trump is facing charges that he illegally stored classified documents on his own property in Florida. And, Biden did the same thing — in fact, in Biden’s case, the potential offense was worse, because he stored the classified documents on his own property before he became president. Yet, a special counsel appointed by Biden’s Department of Justice recommended against prosecuting Biden — not because he did nothing wrong, but because, as an “elderly man with a poor memory,” he’s too feeble to be prosecuted. 

But he can run the country. 

Clearly, it’s not true that “no one is above the law,” because Biden is above the law. That much was proven in the special counsel’s report. Hillary Clinton is. Bill Clinton was. The list goes on.

You don’t have to be a fan of Donald Trump to recognize that the New York case and the three other criminal cases still pending against him are not about high-minded legal principles. They’re about “getting” Donald Trump, and getting him before the Nov. 5 election. 

Trump, defiant as ever, described the lawfare being waged against him as election interference.  

It calls to mind the irony of Hillary Clinton’s email controversy during the run-up to the 2016 election: She had used a private server to store government emails, including some with classified information. After Trump was elected, he chose not to pursue prosecution of Clinton — even though he could have.  

Now, even if Trump doesn’t retaliate for the lawfare being waged against him, it’s clear that a new tool has found its way into the swamp of national politics. The New York verdict wasn’t the end. It was the beginning. We’re a nation with one foot firmly planted at the top of a slippery slope.

The United States has never been that country that uses any means possible, including the abuse of the criminal justice system and, if you’ll pardon the expression, trumped-up charges, to take out political opponents. We leave such tawdry tactics to despots and banana republics.

But, apparently that IS how we do it now, here in America.

That former shining city on a hill.

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