Alan Dershowitz Is Just the Latest Public Figure Who Forgot What Shame Feels Like


Oppression comes in many forms. One is apparently missing out on a dinner party. “I never thought I would see McCarthyism come to Martha’s Vineyard,” wrote Alan Dershowitz in an op-ed in The Hill last week, “but I have.” The Harvard law professor, who has defended President Trump feverishly against the Russia probe on any and all cable channels for more than a year, was referencing the fact that his friends and neighbors on the tory island enclave in Massachusetts are now “shunning” him.

Leave aside, for the moment, that Dershowitz felt compelled to write an editorial about this extreme personal hardship while, say, thousands of children remain separated from their parents at the border. (Also, leave aside his assurance that “this is not about me.”) What Dershowitz described in no way resembles McCarthyism, because it is not public officials using their power to get dissidents blacklisted and smeared, threatening their careers. It is simply private citizens deciding they don’t want to hang out with Alan Dershowitz. Apparently, for Dershowitz—and this is not about him, remember—this is morally equivalent to, and as historically significant as, the Red Scare.

In reality, Dershowitz is getting publicly shamed. This is not an assault on his rights or an attempt to end his career. It is other private individuals in society using an ancient social tool to punish him for his behavior. His actions do not break laws, but his neighbors think those actions should be discouraged because they violate social norms or facilitate others breaking them. This is the same force Sarah Huckabee Sanders felt at the Red Hen, and that her colleagues experienced when they decided to chow down at Mexican restaurants. Just because many in the Trump Era have forgotten what shame feels like doesn’t mean it’s now some vicious new phenomenon. Shame’s power has been hugely diminished, thanks to a president who has resisted it by hiding in friendly infotainment bubbles and through sheer obstinacy. But recent signs are it still has a pulse.

And for the people in the back—looking at you, Arne Duncan—none of this is equivalent to segregation or the Totally Normal Baker Guy who is so opposed to doing his job when gay people are involved. This is punishing people for making choices and doing things in the world, not for who they are. The punishment is carried out by private citizens who are declining to associate with other private citizens based on their behavior. It is not the same as state-sanctioned American apartheid.

As far as what Dershowitz has done, he often makes compelling arguments around civil liberties and prosecutorial overreach. And he seems to be consistent in his opposition to special counsel investigations, often pointing to the abuses under President Bill Clinton. But there’s no denying that Dershowitz has come down on President Trump’s side on pretty much every question in the Russia probe, including that firing the FBI director leading an investigation into yourself and your associates does not constitute obstruction of justice—as long as you’re the president.

That also includes smearing Special Counsel Robert Mueller, as detailed in The New Republic:

It often seems that for Dershowitz, everyone who thinks there’s merit to the special counsel’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, and whether the president or his aides colluded in those efforts to undermine American democracy, is blinded by partisanship. He, the defender of civil liberties, is the objective one—even though the main Russia-related issue he takes a non-Trumpian line on is whether Mueller should be fired. Dershowitz has been clear that he should not be.

In fact, Dershowitz seems to be acutely aware of the politics here. Just look at this slice of his Hill column, referencing the island paradise frenemies who are shunning him:

Did anyone really say this? That, dear reader, is for you to decide. But Dershowitz knew what he was doing by including it. It’s the kind of thing conservatives feast on, and it’s pretty much perfect as part of an extended airing of privileged grievance—a staple of conservative media.

Sure, your immigrant community is being terrorized. Yes, the next Supreme Court justice may well provide the decisive vote in striking down Roe v. Wade. Fine, the president’s associates may have engaged in a conspiracy with operatives of a hostile foreign power to sway an American presidential election. But did you hear that Alan Dershowitz has been reduced to drinking rosé alone?