“ When men yield up the privilege of thinking, the last shadow of liberty quits the horizon.”
March 2023


Mene, Mene, Tekel UParsin

Those Aramaic words come from the Biblical Book of Daniel, and they’re colloquially known as the handwriting on the wall. Belshazzar, King of Babylonia, was so frightened by them that he soiled his pants and called for the wise and learned Daniel to explain their meaning. Daniel did that, and the words were taken to be a message from God that Belshazzar’s kingdom was doomed. Indeed on that very night Babylon was conquered by Persia and Belshazzar was put to death.

Friday’s news revives that story, or perhaps is meant to. Donald “I am your retribution” Trump has warned that “death and destruction” will come if he is indicted. Keep in mind, all that mayhem would follow from an indictment for an illicit and tacky hush money payment, maybe in service of a more profound crime. Imagine what might follow from charges for election interference, incitement to riot, obstruction of justice and/or sedition.

Worse than Trump’s threat is the Pavlovian response of the MAGA Republicans and the studied silence of many other Republican officials. Governor DeSantis referred to the Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg as a “Soros-DA,” meaning Jewish tool, and might as well have used the N word for Bragg, who is Black.

On the day a 24-year-old woman was sentenced to 3 years for helping to lead the January 6 insurrection, the Speaker of the House hosted the mother of Ashli Babbitt, a rioter shot by the police on January 6 at the Capitol. Did any of the Trumpers extend similar treatment to the mother of Heather Heyer, the young protester murdered in Charlottesville? The Speaker of the House can be removed by a simple majority, and a vote can be initiated on the motion of any member.

The so-called culture war is bad, banning books in libraries and schools including Orwell’s 1984 is bad, but the assault on freedom, democracy and the law is getting worse. We see ethnic, gender and racial attacks in too many places. Alvin Bragg received menacing though ultimately harmless white powder with a note, “Alvin, I am going to kill you.” Our political leadership has done next to nothing about it. Republicans seem so frightened of their so-called base that they hide. Democrats are missing in action. President Biden made an inspirational speech at Independence Hall just before the 2022 election. He should do more of that but also wake up his Attorney General and appoint many more Assistant US Attorneys.

There are laws about this. The US Criminal Code, Section 373, defines and punishes the offense of solicitation to commit a crime of violence. It says that a person who makes a serious effort to induce another person to commit a crime of violence, whether the crime is committed or not, is a felon. The case of Brandenburg v. Ohio holds that the First Amendment does not protect speech that incites imminent violence or lawlessness that is likely to occur. Section 875 makes it a felony under federal law to communicate a threat to injure or kidnap another person using interstate channels. Threats to commit a crime of violence with the purpose of terrorizing another person or causing public panic, fear or serious public inconvenience are not protected speech.

So we don’t need new laws, we need a government that enforces the ones we already have. If not, the handwriting may truly be on the wall for the United States, delivered by the self-proclaimed Deliverer. Hitler asked, “Who says I am not under the special protection of God?”