Roger L. Simon

Manafort's Purge Trial

Manafort's Purge Trial
Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort departs federal court in Washington, Monday, Dec. 11, 2017. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

I don’t care much for Paul Manafort. Like his Democratic Party doppelgänger Tony Podesta, he is the kind of pond scum that makes what we call The Swamp The Swamp. Indeed, the two men have worked together in the past, having a natural affinity for exploiting the public interest for maximum profit.

I was going to call this column “The Trial of Tony Podesta” to point out the ridiculous disparity that one is on trial but not the other. Judge Ellis couldn’t have been more right. This is selective prosecution to get at the president. The charges are outrageously broad and deliberately so.

Nevertheless, it doesn’t speak well of Trump that he chose to work with a man like Manafort. The president has made some excellent choices (Pompeo) and some doozies (Omarosa). Let’s hope he’s learning from his mistakes. It’s time.

But whatever you think of Manafort, his trial — no matter how it turns out — in its underpinnings resembles nothing so much as a Stalinist purge trial. It is political, self-serving and sadistic. Manafort is being purged — for life, if the prosecution gets its way.  Maybe he could write The Mueller Archipelago. 

Lest you think I am overstating, it’s worth considering that countries have unique traditions.  Totalitarianism sneaks in the door in disparate manners, sometimes overtly via coup, sometimes covertly, even to the extent the citizenry doesn’t realize it’s happening.  Russia is very different from the USA. If extreme oppression arrives here, its styles and techniques will not necessarily be what we have seen before.

Here that oppression appears to be coming from a pervasive — almost enforced in the sense that it is a “given” — conformity among large portions of our government, the Democratic Party, many corporations, the mainstream media with hundreds of newspapers writing anti-Trump editorials in unison, the academy, the entertainment industry, and, now, most ominously, social media, all of which are dominated by nearly identical worldviews.

If you’re not part of this, you suffer what the ancient Greeks called ostrakon.

The Trump/Russia investigation then becomes the natural outgrowth of this new conformity, a warning to cooperate, to actually conform. Thus the trial of Paul Manafort is the first show trial of our own incipient version of covert Stalinism or Stalinisme sans Gulag.

The groupthink behind this is extreme. Facts are less important than feelings motivated largely by the need to belong. There is the sense among these people that even if Trump didn’t collude with the Russians, he wanted to. And even if he didn’t want to, he’s still bad and deserves to suffer for this non-existent collusion he didn’t do or want.

This, of course, comes from the very people who themselves were colluding with the Russians only minutes ago, but that is the nature of groupthink. A healthy amount of self-delusion is necessary. The party line is ever moving. Don’t panic. Just stay with the nomenklatura. They’re always right. (If you don’t think we have our own nomenklatura, you’re not paying attention.)

The Lords of Social Media believe they are working for the public good. They allow a certain amount of conservatism on their networks, but only so much.  This is not all that far in the end from Iran’s mullahs, who allow dollops of dissent until it goes too far and the dissenters end up in Evin Prison. Or Mao’s Hundred Flowers Campaign, which never really bloomed and wasn’t meant to. In our case, you get banned from Twitter. Or are given a “timeout,” as if you were a school child. Shades of the dunce caps of the Cultural Revolution.

Although it’s clearly a lever to destroy Trump, in the larger sense the Manafort trial is meant to teach that lesson, to warn the public at large not to stray from the traditional and dominant view, even if that changes. They must accept it anyway.

It may be, however, that the jury isn’t cooperating.  The media is sensing this and demanding to know their identities, to force these potential reprobates to confess their apostasy, no matter what happens to them in this hate-filled world these very media-types have helped create. So far Judge Ellis, himself subject to death threats, is holding the line and refusing to reveal who the jurors are. He’s doing the right thing. If he didn’t, the way things are going, few will want to serve on juries again.

Roger L. Simon — Co-Founder and CEO Emeritus of PJ Media — is an author and an Academy Award-nominated screenwriter.