Steve Bannon has at last been indicted. As with most of you, I would have liked to have seen swifter and more terrible justice for the traitors, scofflaws, carpetbaggers and insurgents of the January 6th insurrection. For example, the advantage of having Steve Bannon promptly arrested, arraigned, tried, convicted and imprisoned was immediately obvious. It would have provided a chilling effect for anyone else contemplating defying subpoenas coming out of the January 6 Committee.
But such impulses are sometimes antithetical to the successful navigation of the treacherous political waters in Washington. There could be plausible reasons why it has taken so unusually long until now to indict Steve Bannon. Until I hear otherwise I’m going to give the Department of Justice the benefit of the doubt and assume their apparently excessive caution up to this point was the kind of discretion that is truly valor’s better part.
For one thing, you can bet that had the current DOJ come out with proverbial guns blazing there would have been no end of blowback and criticism. There is nothing Republicans hate more than our adopting their methods. For nearly two years William Barr served as Donald Trump’s personal Doberman. Had Merrick Garland looked even remotely as partisan as Bill Barr, imagine how quickly the Republican fainting, pearl clutching and counterfeit outrage would begin.
But worse than that there would have been supposedly rational cable news channel pundits asking questions about political vengeance and the inappropriateness of an overtly partisan and zealous DOJ. Don’t think for a moment that wouldn’t happen. I seem to recall having to endure four unbearable years of Donald Trump simply because cable news exploited his absurd candidacy for the laughably ostensible reason of wanting to be “fair to both sides.”
A word of caution. Criminal referrals from Congress are rare. It is also true that not all such criminal referrals end in prosecutions and, when they do, they don’t always result in a criminal conviction, let alone prison. Also, as often as not some kind of plea bargain is negotiated. The fact remains America is a land of due process and if someone fails to receive it then we are all at risk. So the cry for Merrick Garland to immediately jail Steve Bannon betrays a certain naïveté, if not an out and out unamerican impulse. There are many obstacles between this first step and the last.
Most important of all, we must not falter between now and 2022. The midterm election is critical to our success, and so far we have given them very little beyond Big Bird and Dr. Seuss to stomp their feet about. If we must be mellow and calmly await a slow and cautious prosecution of Steve Bannon in the interest of saving us a drubbing in 2022 then I, for one, could do with the holiday.
Don’t get me wrong, brothers and sisters, up to now I have been as frustrated and infuriated as you every day that I saw the criminals of the last administration and the traitors who tried to take our country away from us by force still breathing free air. I wholly commiserate with you.
But above all, America has once again proved to be a government of three branches. It is part of the miracle of that eighteenth century experiment, the one that more than two centuries later culminated in us, that those branches operate entirely independently of one another. We’ve had four years of seeing what they look like when they don’t, and I doubt that any of you really wants to see that — ever again. But for now, rejoice. Steve Bannon has been indicted. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.