In a day the veteran right-wing provocateur Dinesh D'Souza has become, for some Americans, the moral equivalent of Xu Zhiyong -- or he would be that if more Americans knew who Xu Zhiyong was. Suffice it to say that D'Souza's friends think of his plight the way liberals around the world think of Xu's in China. D'Souza, best known on this blog for his idiotic notion that President Obama inherited an "anti-imperialist" mentality that motivates all his policies from a father he barely knew, has been indicted for fraud. He is accused of having induced people to contribute money to a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in New York and then compensating them in amounts equal to their contributions. The prosecution contends that D'Souza thus made "straw donations" to the candidate in excess of the legal limit on individual contributions. To his fans, D'Souza is self-evidently a target of partisan persecution. He can fairly be called one of Obama's most prominent critics, having been the mind behind 2016, the sleeper-hit anti-Obama documentary of a few years ago, while his diatribes have also proved popular in print form. Therefore, the far right concludes, Obama has targeted D'Souza for prosecution, taking the U.S. one step closer to personal dictatorship. You can find a summary of authentic commentary on the case here.
As I've written before, it's typical of liberalism, from which 21st century Republican-party conservatism descends, to give dissent the benefit of the doubt in the realm of politics -- it's a different story, of course, in the workplace. It seems too easy for authoritarian rulers to abuse the rule of law to silence critics, especially when, as liberals often suspect, the laws are designed to entrap or else make life difficult for dissidents. In the D'Souza case, many of his supporters probably question the legitimacy of any law limiting campaign donations in the first place, and that bias only heightens suspicions of a political motive behind the prosecution. But had D'Souza been accused of any other crime, many would still smell a rat. In the paranoid imagination, the evil power is capable of trumping up any charge against an innocent person and making it stick. Once you become a dissident, it seems, anything bad that happens to you becomes suspicious, while it is assumed that you, the dissident, can't have done anything bad. In the liberal mind, broadly defined, the dissident is necessarily more innocent than everyone else, since the only proof of a free society is the freedom of the dissidents -- it being assumed that no matter how good a society is, someone will have something to dissent about.
In the Chinese case, the trial of Xu Zhiyong seems to prove again that there's still no true rule of law in the People's Republic. This conclusion depends on the assumption that there's no other reason to prosecute Xu than to suppress dissent. The United States is usually conceded to have a rule of law, if not to set the global standard for rule of law, yet the prosecution of a dissident seems to belie that assumption for many right-wingers. Many Americans will not give a Department of Justice answerable to President Obama the benefit of the doubt on this matter, and they'd most likely take offense at the assertion that it's owed the benefit of the doubt if we have a rule of law. Here, I think, we see a divergence separating liberals from their right-wing descendants. The true liberal probably does believe that "rule of law" is the achievable sine qua non of a free society; he believes that some nations existing today actually have a rule of law. Republicans and other right-wingers may agree in theory on the need for rule of law, but the D'Souza case makes clear that, for many of them, rule of law counts for less than the character of the ruler. Convinced that Obama is an infidel, they regard his administration as essentially lawless, its rule of law a sham. For the liberal, the rule of law is the essential safeguard when ruler and ruled disagree on anything. It restrains the dissident from resorting to violence when he disagrees with the ruler, but also restrains the ruler from resorting to violence when someone disagrees with him. In either case, liberal rule-of-law theory assumes and accepts disagreement and strives to perpetuate peaceful debate -- perhaps beyond reason in some cases. The right-wing Republicans rallying to D'Souza's defense seem to see things differently. His jeopardy appears to prove to them that dissidents aren't safe unless everyone agrees with them. In simpler terms, rule of law or not, they trust no one in power who doesn't agree with them. Meanwhile, Dinesh D'Souza is innocent until proven guilty. Whether he could ever be proven guilty to certain people is the question for today.