America is an angry place just now. President Obama and Congress found out how angry when they hesitated before dropping Tom Daschle. People of all stripes and persuasions had zero patience for yet another tax dodger. It was too damn much.
People are furious, all kinds of people for all kinds of reasons, most of which are good and sufficient, if not always prudent and well thought out, but they’ve used, gamed, duped, lied to, betrayed, ripped off, conned, humiliated, scammed, cheated, plundered, rooked, screwed over, hosed, dissed and dishonored. Americans, left, right and center, have had it.
Some are angry over Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, the countless deaths–our own and others–in Iraq, waterboarding, torture, eavesdropping, the suspension of habeas corpus and other acts classified as war crimes or crimes against humanity. Many cannot forget and certainly not forgive, as they demand that former President Bush, Dick Cheney–he of the lopsided, evil grimace–and their aides or accomplices should be tried for what they did.
Others are apoplectic about Bob Rubin, the ex-secretary of the treasury, ex-Goldman Sachs, ex-Citigroup guy and his confederates/collaborators. They want them put on trial, those men and women who, in the opinion of the infuriated millions, ruled and raped the financial system. It’s easy to imagine vigilante committees forming to administer frontier justice to the bankers, brokers, hedge fund operators, real estate swindlers, derivative peddlers and bucket shop operators who have cost millions of people their homes, their hopes for a college education, their retirement and, most of all, their jobs.
President Obama has no apparent interest in this, but a significant quadrant of his backers do want to see Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld et al. brought to some bar of justice somewhere and soon. Any such trial in the United States would split the country in the nastiest kind of division. No one can say what the price of putting an ex-president on trial would be in social cohesion and domestic peace, but to the extent history is a guide, it might be very large.
One of the practices that opened the way for the end of the Roman Republic was vengeance sought on former magistrates for their official acts while in office. The escalating grudge matches led to a series of mass bloodlettings and, ultimately, the end of the Republic and its replacement by a dictator, Julius Caesar.
Statecraft counsels that rendering justice and/or settling scores should be left to whatever international tribunal may take up Bush’s case and can figure out a way to lure him someplace where he can be placed under restraint and brought to trial. Otherwise, let him live in Crawford and take up AIDS, as other recent presidents have, to make people forget bilious acts committed while in the White House.