THERE’S just no end to it. Austin Sarat at Slate reports:
Last week, the Trump administration announced that it would continue to carry out executions in the days and weeks leading up to the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, with the last one now scheduled just five days before Biden takes office on Jan. 20, 2021. This bloodthirsty decision is another and particularly grotesque way in which President Donald Trump and his Justice Department are defying the norms and conventions for modern presidential transitions.
The Death Penalty Information Center reports that the last time an outgoing administration did anything remotely similar was more than a century ago, in 1889.
At that time Grover Cleveland, [above] the first Democrat to be elected president after the Civil War and the only president ever to have served as an executioner (when he was the sheriff in Erie County, New York), permitted three executions to proceed in the period between his electoral defeat and Benjamin Harrison’s inauguration in March 1889.
Attitudes about state executions have changed since 1889. Most decent liberal democracies have ended them altogether. The US doesn’t qualify as a decent liberal democracy right now, and perhaps never will, but it would be nice if Barr and Trump and the rest of them could give it a rest for these last few weeks.
Since then, every outgoing administration has halted the federal death penalty during the transition period. Trump and Attorney General William Barr are not merely failing to engage in a merciful pause: They are rushing to execute persons who might be spared by a new administration.
They are rushing probably because Biden has said he will halt federal executions; they want to make those three people dead while they still can. Sarat concludes with:
With these plans, the administration not only thumbs its nose at precedent, it also reveals yet again its true character. New York Times columnist Linda Greenhouse rightly summed it up when she called the Trump years ‘mean’. As she observed, ‘There’s a meanness to the man and to the policies issued from the sycophantic bubble that passes for his administration.’ There could be nothing meaner than Barr’s petty final-days decision to carry out these executions.
William Barr likes to proselytize for religion as the source and guardian of morality. He is, of course, yet another fanatical Catholic; the US government seems to be stuffed with them, especially the Supreme Court. He gave a talk at the University of Notre Dame in October 2019 that was a theocratic stem-winder.
He began by saying that the US faced a challenge in the 21st century.
The challenge we face is precisely what the Founding Fathers foresaw would be our supreme test as a free society.
They never thought the main danger to the republic came from external foes. The central question was whether, over the long haul, we could handle freedom. The question was whether the citizens in such a free society could maintain the moral discipline and virtue necessary for the survival of free institutions.
Ah yes the moral discipline and virtue, says the man who works for that pillar of moral discipline and virtue Donald Trump. William Barr helps Trump get away with immoral and non-virtuous actions and words every day, yet he pontificates about virtue to conservative Catholics.
Men are subject to powerful passions and appetites, and, if unrestrained, are capable of ruthlessly riding roughshod over their neighbors and the community at large.
No society can exist without some means for restraining individual rapacity.
But, if you rely on the coercive power of government to impose restraints, this will inevitably lead to a government that is too controlling, and you will end up with no liberty, just tyranny.
On the other hand, unless you have some effective restraint, you end up with something equally dangerous – licentiousness – the unbridled pursuit of personal appetites at the expense of the common good. This is just another form of tyranny – where the individual is enslaved by his appetites, and the possibility of any healthy community life crumbles.
Oh no! Not riding roughshod over their neighbors and the community at large! Not the unbridled pursuit of personal appetites at the expense of the common good! That would never do! And yet it exactly describes the behavior of Barr’s boss, whom he helps to do it and to get away with it.
What’s the solution to all this individual rapacity and pursuit of appetites at the expense of the common good?
[S]ocial order must flow up from the people themselves – freely obeying the dictates of inwardly-possessed and commonly-shared moral values. And to control willful human beings, with an infinite capacity to rationalize, those moral values must rest on authority independent of men’s will – they must flow from a transcendent Supreme Being.
In short, in the Framers’ view, free government was only suitable and sustainable for a religious people – a people who recognized that there was a transcendent moral order antecedent to both the state and man-made law and who had the discipline to control themselves according to those enduring principles.
Says the guy who has cynically, cold-bloodedly, ruthlessly helped his evil greedy psychopathic boss destroy everything he could get his tiny hands on.
Barr goes on to explain what he means by “transcendent moral order” and of course it’s just the usual conservative Catholic list – no right to abortion, no same-sex marriage, no children outside of marriage (what he calls “illegitimate,” which actually moral people stopped doing long ago because it’s so dehumanizing), no choice in dying (which he calls “euthanasia,” which makes it sound like the opposite of choice), and above all no secularism. We are all to live in a theocracy in Barr’s world, and he will choose which kind, thank you.
Now as the Trump regime tantrums through its last weeks Barr is consoling himself by having a few people killed by the state. I cannot wait to see the back of him.