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The Price of Eliminating Consequences

Recently there were some remarkable online videos of a Portland, Oregon good Samaritan confronting shoplifters and forcing them to dump loads of their pilfered goods.

More stunning, however, was the sheer outrage—of the thieves! 

They pouted. They screamed. They resisted. How dare anyone stop them from stealing anything they wished. 

The criminals entertained no fear of any consequences for walking out with bags of things that were not theirs. They had no care that mainstreaming their habits would undermine the entire fabric of society.

What is common to the pandemic of smash-and-grab, carjacking, fighting on airliners while in flight, and deadly Saturday night shoot-outs is this same apparent assurance there will be no consequences. 

That expectation of exemption is why the Antifa thugs in Atlanta were so bold in their latest violent attacks on the police. 

And why not, after the 120 days of rioting, looting, arson, and assault in summer 2020 which resulted in few Antifa indictments, fewer convictions, and almost no imprisonments. 

The “broken windows” theory of policing in the 1990s and 2000s showed how the failure to punish even minor infractions soon leads to escalation to more violent crimes. 

The homeless take for granted that ancient rules forbidding urination, defecation, fornication, and injection on the sidewalks do not apply to them. Is it any wonder that they increasingly are not victims of circumstance but victimizers of innocent passersbys?

Yet deterrence is not just eroded from the bottom up, but also from the top down—and by an elite who assume it will never be subject to the chaos it wrought.

Former FBI Director Andrew McCabe admittedly lied on four occasions to federal investigators, apparently with the prescient expectation he would never be prosecuted. 

The same hubris was true of former CIA Director John Brennan who admittedly lied under oath to Congress—twice—with absolute impunity. 

The former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper not only lied under oath to Congress, but crowed that he gave the “least untruthful” answer. He too faced zero consequences. 

Could the FBI and the CIA recover their tarnished reputations if their directors knew in advance they would go to jail for lying under federal oath?

Sometimes the problem is not just the absence of sure punishment for criminal behavior, but the asymmetry of penalties. 

Why are some violent criminals released from custody the very day they punch, club, or shoot innocents, while others committing lesser offenses are not? 

Nations are no different from people. Without expectation of a severe reaction to their provocations, they only escalate their aggression.  

Why are athletes who choose not to be vaccinated barred from competing in the United States, while 6-7 million illegal entrants were waved in without passports, vaccinations, or COVID tests?

And once those millions south of the border saw a few thousand illegally cross with impunity shortly after Joe Biden was inaugurated, then they followed en masse. 

Why does the Mexican government shrug when the United States asks it not to greenlight illegal immigration? 

Why does Mexico City tolerate factories inside Mexico producing lethal fentanyl pills for export northward that kill over 100,000 Americans a year?

What sort of deterrence would stop millions from illegally entering the United States or Mexican-manufactured fentanyl from killing more Americans in the last decade than all the dead in all our wars since World War II? 

Should the United States tax the $60 billion in remittances sent back yearly to Mexico, mostly by those who are here illegally and so often subsidized by our own state and federal entitlements? 

Should America declare cartels international terrorists, extradite them, and bar all their accomplices and abettors from the global banking system?

China knowingly sends Mexico the raw ingredients of fentanyl, believing it is a win-win strategy of enormous profits and lots of deaths of America’s youth. 

What would deter China from its nonchalant aggression? Still more concessions? More ignoring the Wuhan origins of the COVID pandemic? 

Or would the expulsion of 350,000 Chinese students from American universities stop their fentanyl exporting? Or prohibiting Chinese companies with ties to the Communist government from buying American farmland?

Apparently, the more technologically sophisticated and affluent, Americans became, the more their elites believed they could change ancient human nature that is fixed and predictable across time and space.

They redefined criminality as either a lifestyle choice or reimaged the criminal as one with legitimate grievances against the society he subverts. 

The more the Biden Administration ignores those harming us abroad, the more they interpret it as American weakness, if not decadence to be further exploited. 

The result is the predictably dangerous present. 

When our state and federal governments allow criminals and foreign nations to injure with impunity their own law-abiding citizens, is it any wonder the civilized world we once knew has vanished—replaced by the Hobbesian rule of the wild?

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About Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a distinguished fellow of the Center for American Greatness and the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He is an American military historian, columnist, a former classics professor, and scholar of ancient warfare. He has been a visiting professor at Hillsdale College since 2004. Hanson was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 by President George W. Bush. Hanson is also a farmer (growing raisin grapes on a family farm in Selma, California) and a critic of social trends related to farming and agrarianism. He is the author most recently of The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won, The Case for Trump and the recently released The Dying Citizen.

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