As of this writing (Feb 12, 2017), there is a petition on the “We the People” page of the White House web site calling for President Trump to “Issue an International Arrest Warrant for George Soros.” I became aware of this petition because a couple of Facebook friends are pushing it.
This petition is a reflection of an illness that infects American politics today and should raise a red flag for all Americans, whether aligned with the right or the left of the political spectrum, whether a believer that George Soros is a saint or the devil. Looking over the “We the People” page on the White House’s web site, there are (not surprisingly) quite a number of petitions that reflect a clear political bias. Whether calling for the White House to appoint a Special Prosecutor to investigate Hillary Clinton or for Donald Trump to be tried under articles of impeachment, the political bias of many petitions is clear – and I don’t object to that. While I certainly don’t agree with a number of the political views reflected by the various petitions, none is quite as bone-chilling as the petition calling for the summary arrest and imprisonment of an American citizen.
This petition (with its 13,513 signatures thus far) should raise alarm bells with every American because it calls for undermining the most fundamental elements of the U.S. Constitution and underlying American principles. In effect, petition calls for the President of the United States to assume dictatorial powers. The supporters of this petition see no need for a court, prosecutor, trial or any other “formalities.” The supporting text for the petition simple declares George Soros to be “guilty” of a broad range of vaguely defined but ominous sounding “crimes.” The clear message is that the supporters of this petition also want to jettison the principle that everyone is innocent until proven guilty. Apparently in their view, a mob rather than a court with its judge and jury is sufficient for determining guilt. In other words, a modern day lynch mob.
The ability of the head of state to order the summary arrest of people is a hallmark of authoritarian and totalitarian governments everywhere. One of the key steps in Hitler’s transformation from Chancellor to Fuhrer was his successful bid to sideline Germany’s court system. A Chancellor’s powers were proscribed by the constitution but a Fuhrer faced no constraints. He could order the arrest, conviction, imprisonment and even execution of anyone. There was no need for a trial. Even in those cases when Hitler or his crowd of confidents decided a trial would be beneficial for propaganda purposes, there was no pretense of fairness, no presumption of innocence and no trial before an impartial jury of peers. Instead, in Nazi Germany, as in Stalin’s Soviet Union, guilt was a foregone conclusion from the moment that the head of state decided.
This distinction between a duly elected leader and an absolute dictator has been recognized for thousands of years. Under the Roman Republic, a Consul (the title for the two officials elected to jointly serve as head of state) did not have the authority to arrest or convict anyone, but a dictator did. After the fall of the Republic and the rise of Emperors, the power of the head of state to arrest, convict and punish any person for any reasons (or none at all) was not questioned. Emperors were dictators not subject to law or election.
I do not want to see the United States descend into the hell that was the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany. I don’t want it to see our rights and liberties reduced to slogans that are touted in the press but ignored in reality as is the case in Russia today. I don’t want to abandon the principles upon which our country was founded or the U.S. Constitution that has survived for nearly 220 years. While many people who signed the petition asking for the summary arrest of George Soros likely did so to express political frustration, others likely knew exactly what they were proposing – and end to Constitutional limits on Presidential power in America and thus an end to American democracy. I hope they are – and remain – a tiny minority.