In the autumn of 2008, a gaggle of American conservatives gathered for a conference at that most godless of progressive institutions, Yale University. The mood was sombre: four days beforehand, President Obama had swept to victory; the outgoing Republican President, George Bush, was shadowed by a Middle Eastern war gone disastrously wrong. The title of the conference, ‘The Next American Conservatism’, already felt like a bad joke.
Outside, protestors gathered. Iraq was a popular theme – I spotted a few ‘no blood for oil’ placards, recycled from Tony Blair’s latest flying visit to campus. Eventually, a pair of students invaded the main hall, cursing and spluttering a demand for both Bush and Blair to face war crimes trials. One of our delegates, a well-known conservative lawyer, confronted them in a blistering show down. ‘If there is one thing marks a democracy’, he insisted, ‘it is the peaceful transition of power. You might not like your opponents. You might not agree with them. But when you seize power, you don’t put their heads on spikes. In America, we don’t make criminal indictments at the demand of a mob.’ I looked up Bush’s great defender the other day. He’s just endorsed Donald Trump.
On Sunday night, Trump made a direct threat to imprison Hillary Clinton, should he win the Presidency. Amid an evening of dark moments, it was the darkest – an existential threat to American democracy. His supporters parry that Clinton’s management of her emails as Secretary of State deserves further investigation: perhaps that is true, although the US Department of Justice has already investigated and declined to indict. But Trump did not merely call for a new investigation. He did not gently raise questions. He snarled, with the certainty of a man who believes he can fix verdict and sentence, that under his leadership Clinton’s jail sentence was guaranteed.
As former Attorney General Eric Holder pointed