What Jonah Goldberg gets wrong on the Mar-a-Lago raid
It once again has become necessary that Mr. Jonah Goldberg, scholar, humorist, rationalist, and exemplar of moral consistency, bring to heel a rabidly partisan right-winger (Yearning for a Banana Republic). The burden is thrust upon him by a benighted epoch. "What an amazingly stupid time this is," laments Jonah.
The immediate evidence of the era's stupidity is the enhanced partisanship for Donald Trump voiced by conservatives, after the FBI's raid on his estate at Mar-a-Lago. Apparently in reaction to the search, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, along with others, renewed his support for Trump's candidacy in 2024. He identified the former president as the only Republican "who'll have the guts to take on this incredibly corrupt machine."
Jonah begs to differ ("Seriously, what the hell is wrong with you people?"). The issue is one of banana republics and bananas. Trump, his son, and Senator Marco Rubio have likened the United States under the present administration and Justice Department to a third-world banana republic in which the dictator deploys the martial power of the state against his political opponent.
YouTube screen grab (cropped), CC BY 3.0 license.
But those who say this transgress their own principles when they call for Donald Trump's return to the White House, Jonah warns. He invites us to join him in a "thought experiment."
It is not actually an experiment about thought or anything requiring very much of it. Jonah merely asserts that if you believe Donald Trump to be the guy, if you think, like Governor Huckabee, that he is the only hope for our nation, then you are the one rooting for a banana republic, buddy-boy! You want to give Donald Trump "free reign [sic] to cleanse the land of evildoers" (without the constraint of law, would seem to be the implication). Your "love of country is contingent on your preferred faction being in power," and so your "patriotism" is mere partisanship. You are a proponent of faction — Jonah draws on Federalist No. 10.
He does point out, quite correctly, that the word "regime," generally used these days to denote a particular leader, government, or administration, really means a form of government or constitution (the French equivalent of the Greek politeia). And so we do not change the regime when we change leaders, unless the Constitution is overthrown in the process.
The thought experiment concludes with a long paragraph in which we are made to think about what an unredeemed miscreant is Donald Trump, that "browning, mealy, giant banana."
We do not want him returned to power because he "tried to steal the last election by spreading lies about its legitimacy," and he said he won even though certain of his own people told him otherwise, and he wanted the Department of Justice to "declare the election corrupt," and he "toyed with the idea" of having the military seize voting machines, and he "railed at the Supreme Court," and he "wanted to appoint" a "flunky" to be attorney general, and again he spewed "propaganda" about the election being stolen, and he "invited a mob to the capital" and did not do anything when they became violent, and "he and his junta [in absentia?]" suggest that the January 6 prisoners (just a bunch of lousy criminals) somehow are being persecuted.
And as to the Mar-a-Lago search itself, Jonah does not know if it was a wise decision. But he knows it was a lawful one, "from every account" that he has read.
Now, why don't we try a thought experiment? Let us see what clarity emerges once we examine the facts, unobscured by tendentiousness and vitriol. For openers, was the search lawful, as Jonah assures us? How does he know?
The most basic law applicable to searches is the Fourth Amendment. It provides that the "right of the people [Does Jonah recognize even a giant browning, mealy banana like the former president as one of the "people"?] to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated" and that "no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."
The warrant in this case was published — what was it like? Read the full search warrant here. Well, as to the "premises to be searched," they encompassed the former president's office, "all storage rooms, and all other rooms or areas within the premises used or available to be used by FPOTUS and his staff and in which boxes or documents could be stored, including all structures or buildings on the estate" (emphasis supplied).
The "property to be seized," apart from "all physical documents and records" constituting evidence or fruits of enumerated crimes, including, inter alia, "any physical documents with classification markings," information, "including communications in any form" regarding retrieval or storage of national defense information, "any government and/or Presidential Records created between January 20, 2017, and January 20, 2021 [Trump's entire term in office!]" (emphasis supplied), and any evidence of the knowing alteration, destruction, or concealment of documents.
Would Jonah call that a particular description of the place to be searched and the things to be seized? Did this warrant conform to the strictures of the Fourth Amendment? This was a general warrant, very nearly authorizing a search of someone's entire dwelling and the carting off of any papers the law enforcement officers saw fit to take. It is something that no American judge should ever have signed.
The second criterion of lawfulness is the veracity and sufficiency of the affidavit that the Justice Department submitted to the court in its application for a warrant. It goes a bit far to say that the affidavit has now been published (since Jonah's piece). The principal author of what was released appears to be the redaction function in the Justice Department's computer. It is impossible to judge the veracity of the affidavit (occasionally a problem in such submissions during the Trump years). As the Wall Street Journal observes, however (The Mar-a-Lago Affidavit: Is That All There Is?), what remains visible in the affidavit gives no indication that any grave matter of national security justified this extraordinary action against a former president.
Finally, there is the point of substantive law illuminated by David Rivkin and Lee Casey, former Justice Department and White House counsel's office attorneys, in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ Op-ed: "No Legal Basis" for Mar-a-Lago Search Warrant). The Presidential Records Act of 1978 gave the president a legal right to the papers seized. We have not the space here for further inquiry into the matter, but suffice it to say that Jonah might wish to read a little more before pronouncing the search lawful.
A regime does not change just because its highest office is gained or lost, but men do change regimes by ruthless actions. However distasteful Jonah may find Donald Trump, Trump never contrived to crush his political opponents or to quell their supporters by abusing the massive power of federal law enforcement.
The American people at times have placed hope in the leadership of particular individuals whom they perceived, rightly or wrongly, to be outstanding, without forsaking the processes of free election and ordered liberty. Jonah's fellow Trump-haters in the misnamed Democrat party have forsaken those processes (an attempt at regime change in the truest sense) and placed a national crisis on the horizon.