That’s why I cringe when mainstream sources such as Newsweek and The New York Times, as well as left-leaning commentators such as Rachel Maddow, refer to the search as a raid.
Our republic probably will not be destroyed by the careless use of a term such as “raid,” but it’s a mistake to underestimate the capacity of pernicious rhetoric to rile people up.
It’s unlikely that every investigation into ex-president Trump’s activities — from Trump University to the allegations of sexual assault to his obvious effort to strong-arm Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy into investigating a political opponent — is a “witch hunt” or a “hoax.” Yet the terms reliably stoke the outrage of Trump’s base.
How many times have you heard the House committee’s investigation of Jan. 6 called a “kangaroo court,” even though it’s not a court and its proceedings are well ordered, deliberative and transparent?
Language such as this keeps Trump’s angry base at a steady boil, but, even worse, it blinds them to the fact of how well our judicial system actually works.
If you’re still outraged by the “raid” at Mar-a-Lago there’s a decent chance you stopped reading this column some time ago. But if you’re still with me, may I try to change your opinion?
First, let’s stop calling it a “raid.” The Department of Justice tried several less-intrusive methods — including a subpoena — prior to executing the search warrant. And the search itself appears to have been orderly and entirely within the guidelines of the law.
Second, it appears that Trump did, indeed, violate the Presidential Records Act by removing both classified and unclassified documents, which the law says, quite rightly, belong to us, not to him.
Was his violation intentional or inadvertent? How serious was the violation? How sensitive are the documents? These are reasonable questions the search is designed to answer.
It’s possible that the search will discover nothing out of order, in which case Trump will enjoy a considerable political victory and Attorney General Merrick Garland will have egg all over his face.
But can we wait to find out before we settle into preconceived opinions? Of course we can, and doing so confirms our commitment to the careful administration of the rule of law.
Our judicial system isn’t perfect, but by comparison with what has prevailed during humankind’s long history and what is current in much of the world, it’s more than very, very good. It would be a shame to allow careless, imprudent rhetoric and hasty conclusions to undermine one of our nation’s finest achievements.