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“Dirty Harry” Callahan and the Trump Derangement Syndrome

Published: January 9, 2019
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Almost forty years ago criminologist Carl Klockars termed the proclivity of some police officers to brutalize citizens and break other laws in the name of their own version of justice as “The Dirty Harry Problem.” The moniker, of course, comes from Clint Eastwood’s “Go ahead, make my day” Inspector Harry Callahan character in several movies of the 1970s and 80s. Harry got the job done, but used dirty means to do it. That was OK, because his ends were always good.

Much of Professor Klockars’s analysis can be analogically applied to what has become known as the Trump Derangement Syndrome (TDS) among those in the progressive Left because they, too, deploy dirty means to achieve supposedly good ends—the utter destruction of President Donald Trump, his family, and his supporters.

The progressive Left have, at least in a metaphorical sense, appointed themselves to morally police the personal ideologies of everyone else. Anyone who does not conform to their agenda is treated as being some sort of violator who must be disciplined—through verbal and sometimes even violent punishment. It is in this sense that they can be equated with Inspector Callahan. Both see themselves as personally responsible for righting wrongs for the “good” of all.

The analysis here is not about why TDS behaviors ought to be considered “dirty.” There is no doubt they are dirty. Rather, it is about the dynamics of the thought processes associated with TDS.

But before we delve into the TDS mindset, I should be required to put forth prima facie evidence that supports my assertion that there is no doubt that those who suffer from TDS use “dirty” means.

The Dirty Means That Have Been Deployed Against President Trump and Those Around Him

Klockars defined “dirty means” as “both ‘repugnant’ in that it offends widely shared standards of human decency and dignity and ‘dangerous’ in that it breaks commonly shared and supported norms, rules, or laws for conduct.” To be “dirty,” an act must abstractly reflect a generally shared public judgment of immorality and a “threat to the prevailing rules for social order.” [This test, of course, must be applied objectively and independent of personal opinions about whether the ends are good.]

The list of specific instances of dirty means perpetrated by those with TDS is essentially endless, but some of the general behavior patterns are as follows:

Enlisting federal agencies to push false “collusion” narratives, lying to a FISA Court, destroying evidence and obstructing justice, and tricking confessions without lawyers present.

Trying to smear the moral character of more than 50 million people by calling them racist, sexist, homophobic, and other pejorative terms without any evidence other than opinion.

Employing yellow journalism fraught with false information to paint a president in a negative light.

Attacking electoral college electors in an attempt to coerce them into changing their votes.

Violently attacking supporters of a president simply because they wore a certain ball cap or put a certain sticker on their car bumper.

Drumming up threats of impeachment of a president and other elected officials without evidence.

Unifying monopolistic political deceit by the most powerful cyber companies on the planet, and bragging about it.

Fabricating outrageous accusations and slurs against presidential nominees, and lying to Congressional committees in the process.

Advocating and practicing the corruption of the rule of law (such as in the sanctuary city movement).

Organizing campaigns to blame a president for bad things that were perpetrated by his or her predecessor and purposely not correcting the record appropriately.

These actions are “repugnant” and “dangerous,” as defined above, prima facie, because the perpetrators of these deeds would be universally outraged if identical behaviors were aimed at a progressive Left president whose agenda they approve.

The Cognitive Dynamics of TDS

Klockars outlines three requirements for the existence of a Dirty Harry Problem. First, the perpetrator must connect the dirty means to the achievement of ends thought to be good. Second, they must know there exist dirty means—and nothing other than dirty means—which are likely to accomplish the good end. Third, the deployment of dirty means must be capable of achieving the desired outcome, even if that achievement does not work.

As Klockars explains the latter, “the good to be achieved is so unquestionably good and so passionately felt that even a small possibility of its achievement demands that it be tried.” This statement about the Dirty Harry Problem is the driving core essence of the Trump Derangement Syndrome.

It’s the same mentality that Richard Nixon’s CREEP (Committee to RE-Elect the President) told themselves: Because George McGovern would ultimately destroy America, reelecting Nixon was such an absolutely “good end” that even the dirtiest means to realize that outcome would be moral, including burglary and bribery.

Donald Trump is Guilty

Just as Dirty Harry Callahan and other police officers see their world as full of guilty people, so does the progressive Left.

First, there is what Klockars calls the Dirty Harry Problem’s “Operative Assumption of Guilt.” Because President Trump, his family and his supporters are the enemy, all of their behaviors are viewed under an assumption that they must be up to something nefarious.

A classic though trivial example happened last week when President Trump tweeted that he was waiting in the Oval Office for the Democrats to negotiate an end to the shutdown. Simply because someone with TDS noticed that there was no uniformed Marine standing guard outside his office, it was immediately assumed that Trump was lying about his whereabouts because he’s up to no good.

He was in the Oval Office.

There have been countless examples of assumption of guilt that have occurred in the media since the very beginning of Donald Trump’s candidacy, many with much more serious implications than the missing Marine.

Most notably: innocent happenings that people assume have to do with the president’s “collusion” with Russian operatives to influence the 2016 election.

Second, not only do people with TDS see Donald Trump as guilty, they see him as dangerously so. Whatever he has done or is about to do, it is perilous for the future of personkind.

Third are President Trump’s “Great Guilty Places.” Just as Inspector Callahan would see “the bushes as a place to hide,” the paranoid progressive Left perceives “guilty” places such as Trump Tower, Mar-a-Lago, and of course the White House to be sinister locations.

And fourth, the progressive Left, especially those in the media, function under Klockars’s “The Not Guilty (This Time) Assumption.” When an accusatory slur against President Trump or those anywhere in his vast circle turns out to be nothing more than “fake news,” the person who publicizes the slur is “not at all obliged to conclude that the person victimized by them is innocent, only that, and even this need not always be conceded, he is innocent this time.” It’s the same rationalization that Dirty Harry uses when his attempt to find incriminating evidence through illegal searches and interrogations come up empty.

“Dirty Means as ends in themselves”

Klockars makes the following statement about the police, but it surely may well apply to those with TDS: “

[I]f [those with TDS] are inclined ... to believe they are dealing with factually, if not legally, guilty subjects, they become likely to see their dirty acts, not as means to the achievement of good ends, but as ends in themselves—as punishment of guilty people whom [those with TDS] believe deserve to be punished.

Klockars notes that in such cases dirty means become a way to accomplish dirty ends rather than good ones rooted in bettering society.

In our context, if those afflicted by the TDS use dirty means as a way to punish Donald Trump and those around him, TDS is actually a dangerous vigilante- inspired mental illness.

Dr. Gary S. Green is retired Professor of Government at Christopher Newport University. This is an expanded version of a piece previously published at Daily Caller.com.

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