William Shakespeare tackled law and order in his play “Measure for Measure.” After all, the Bard derived the title from the book of Matthew in the Bible. Matthew 7:2 says “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
Angelo and Escalus serve as top aides to a duke in “Measure for Measure.” In Act II, Scene I, Angelo pushes for a strict interpretation and execution of local codes.
“We must not make a scarecrow of the law, setting it up to fear the birds of prey, and let it keep one shape till custom make it their perch and not their terror” says Angelo.
“But yet, Let us be keen, and rather cut a little, Than fall, and bruise to death,” countered Escalus.
In other words, Escalus suggested applying the law more temperately may help the pursuit of justice.
We all know about President Trump’s argument to deploy the U.S. military on American streets to quash the protests. He’s spoken about unleashing “vicious dogs” to intimidate demonstrators and “dominate the streets.” Mr. Trump tapped Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley to coordinate a nationwide response. In a call leaked to the New York Times, Defense Secretary Mark Esper told governors they should “dominate the battlespace.”
Rather than “Measure for Measure,” perhaps we should quote Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar.”
“Cry ‘Havoc!,’ and let slip the dogs of war,” commands Mark Antony in Act III, Scene 1.
And perhaps Congressional Democrats could exclaim the same thing on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.
You thought Democrats were done with President Trump after impeachment? You thought Democrats were done with Mr. Trump after coronavirus? You haven’t seen anything until how they upbraided the stunt and consequences after the President’s stroll through Lafayette Square en route to St. John’s Church.
“Did (President Trump) think America would see him as a religious figure?” asked Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Washington’s non-voting representative to Congress. “Did he foresee that the pictures and surrounding context paint him more accurately as a dictator, suppressing free speech and using the symbols of faith to manipulate his followers?”
“How dare you politicize our military,” said Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., who lost both legs in an Army helicopter crash. “How dare you pervert the honor of the military by threatening to use them against Americans. I am so sickened by this man.”
Maybe it’s only natural that this all went down in Lafayette Square Monday night. Note, it’s Lafayette Square, not “park.” It’s named after Marquis de Lafayette, a hero in both the American and French Revolutions. Only two paintings grace the House chamber on Capitol Hill. One is of George Washington. The other is of Lafayette. In fact Congress thought so highly of Lafayette that a ceremony in his honor marked the first use of the Capitol Rotunda.
The Square has long been a site of anti-war protest. William Thomas began a year-round, anti-war, anti-nuclear weapons vigil in Lafayette Square in 1981. The square was once used as a slave market, a cemetery and as an encampment for soldiers during the War of 1812.
So, perhaps Lafayette Square is the perfect venue for a discussion about the military and protesters.
“I do not think it is appropriate for the president to say he is going to war on our streets,” said House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash. “If you use the military, you are contributing to the idea that this is a war.”
“Violent anarchists and insurrectionists were once again allowed to rule the streets last night in too many cities,” declared Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, who served in the Army in Iraq as an infantryman. “The only way to end this insurrection is the overwhelming display of force.”
Milley appeared alongside the president in battle fatigues at the church Monday night. Fox News is told Milley usually dresses in fatigues at the Pentagon. And Milley didn’t know Mr. Trump was going to use him as a prop in front of St. John’s Church.
“The optics sent a different message,” said Smith of Milley’s attire. “The optics might not have been so bad had we not had the President talking about going to war.”
Smith wants a hearing soon with both Esper and Milley.
“What role do they envision playing, dealing with the violence in the cities?” asked Smith.
One could anticipate the outrage from Democrats. But just as easily, most could probably foresee the lack of outrage about the entire affair from Republicans.
“I thought what the president did in visiting the church was not only appropriate, it was needed,” said Sen. John Kennedy, R-La. “It sent a message to the American people that its government is going to protect the innocent.”
“I think it was important for the President to go to the church of presidents and see the damage done by arsonists and looters,” said Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo.
“I didn’t really see it,” said Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Ron Johnson, R-Wisc.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., parroted his typical response when asked about the President’s conduct.
“I’m not going to critique other people’s performances,” intoned McConnell.
And then you have Republicans who are in the middle.
“I did not think that what we saw last night was the America that I know,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.
“I thought that the president came across as unsympathetic and insensitive to the rights of people to peacefully protest,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.
Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, is the top GOPer on the House Armed Services Committee. Thornberry expressed reservations about routing soldiers onto the streets.
“It would be all too easy to put our men and women in uniform in the middle of a domestic political and cultural crisis,” said Thornberry. “Discussions regarding the Insurrection Act could easily make them political pawns.”
Law and order and how justice is meted out falls in the eye of the beholder. The metric may be different for Shakespeare, Angelo and Escalus, Susan Collins, Tom Cotton, Adam Smith or President Trump. And the means government leaders use to achieve law and order will be measured – in one form or another.