Hillary Not For Prison
Even on my own Facebook wall(!), almost exclusively populated by non-voters and Johnson/Stein supporters, the “Hillary for Prison” meme is nigh-unavoidable. From Michelle Bachmann to Colin Kaepernick, everyone, it seems, wants Hillary Clinton in a cage.
The Nation’s George Zornick characterized this year’s Republican National Convention as “one long plea for Hillary Clinton’s incarceration,” and pointed out that the Republican Party has “reinforced the idea that Clinton is fundamentally unfit for…civil society, and that it’s a miscarriage of justice that she has even retained personal freedom.” Throughout the convention, he notes, the crowd broke out in chants of “lock her up.” At one point, General Michael Flynn went off-script to agree with the crowd.
This rhetoric terrifies Zornick along with many other political commentators. Mark Summers of the DailyKos worries about the precedent this sets — how can we have a functioning democracy when we view the opposition as criminal? Can we even trust the people chanting “lock her up” to accept a Clinton presidency if the election doesn’t go the way they want?
Critics of this slogan are right to be concerned. But they’re wrong about why they should be concerned. The country’s political discourse isn’t in any real trouble. Harsh, apocalyptic election rhetoric and accusations of treason on the part of one’s political opponents are commonplace throughout the country’s history. Despite claims that Trump could only lose through a rigged election, Clinton’s opponents will ultimately accept her presidency.
What’s really worrying, and what hasn’t been the norm for most of America’s history, is the massive, all-pervasive prison state and the omnipresent carceral culture that accompanies it. When someone says that they would like Hillary Clinton to go to prison, they are saying they would like to see her subjected to ritualized, institutional sexual assault, forced to work in what are essentially slave conditions, deprived of basic medical care, and, potentially, put to death by her captors. Prisons are fundamentally inhumane and those who call to imprison Hillary undercut their commitment to justice in favor of vengeance and political posturing.
How can we be so gung-ho about the thought of treating another human being this way? Because we live in a world where millions of human beings are already treated this way. Liberal pundits are right to be disgusted that Trump supporters want these things to happen to Clinton. But their disgust is altogether too limited. The evil things being wished upon Hillary that have columnists so disgusted are already happening to millions of people in prisons and jails across the country, and can only be wished opon Clinton because they are already happening. That is where columnists’ focus should be.
None of this is to absolve Hillary Clinton from blame. From enthusiastically supporting the Violent Crime Control Act of 1994 (which she now expresses regret for), a major factor in mass incarceration, to advocating the three-strikes laws, to reinforcing racist narratives by calling young black people “superpredators” (also on her list of regrets), to complaining the average criminal served “only” four year in prison, Clinton’s long history of “tough-on-crime” rhetoric and political pandering has had a devastating effect on the lives of millions.
…but none of this has anything to do with whether she deserves imprisonment or not.
The victims of Hillary Clinton’s horrific policies deserve recompense. They deserve their lives back. They deserve serious policy discussions that ignore those who destroyed their lives. Hillary Clinton, and everyone else responsible for America’s prison system, deserves to be laughed out of the room at any pretense of credibility or compassion. But she shouldn’t go to prison. Nobody should go to prison.