Much has been written about the art, ethics and prudence of revenge.
In addition to being a dish best served cold, the Bible is prolific on the matter, though not always consistent. God seems rather vengeful at times—hello, the 10 plagues?—while Matthew says to turn the other cheek.
Around 1754 B.C., Hammurabi codified the eye-for-an-eye approach, and in 1844 Edmond Dantes learned in “The Count of Monte Cristo” that a life devoted to revenge was ultimately unsatisfying.
But, like most things, it’s possible Jerry Seinfeld put it best. In a season two episode aptly titled “The Revenge,” Seinfeld tells George Costanza, “The best revenge is living well.” To which George dismissively scoffs, “There’s no chance of that.”
The topic of revenge now swirls in the political ether in the wake of Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump. After four-plus years of Trump’s selfish, destructive, dangerous and vindictive “leadership,” there’s a strong desire to make not only him but his supporters pay.
One healthy way to see it is that America already did just that: The election was the revenge mechanism and Trump and his voters will now suffer the consequences that come with it.
Others say that isn’t good enough. Trump and his people, they insist, have to suffer.
There is talk of enemies lists, historically a bad idea and one that liberals rightly maligned Trump for embracing. Something called the Trump Accountability Project has emerged, promising to economically punish people who worked on Trump’s campaign, those who worked in his federal government, and those who helped fund him.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez clumsily imagined an “archive,” a slightly more scholarly word for “list,” of “Trump sycophants,” for whom the punishment is presumably some sort of social cancellation. If we’ve learned anything from the past decade it’s that cancel culture is corrosive and cannibalizing and something even prominent liberals, like Barack Obama, are increasingly warning against.
Others on Twitter are just happy to turn the MAGA schadenfreude of the Trump administration back on them—meeting four years of “owning the libs” with drinking “MAGA tears.”
Enemies lists and dumb Twitter memes aren’t justice.
But that’s not to say we should dismiss the idea of punishment altogether. There’s a difference between revenge and consequences, and for Trump and his enablers, there should be myriad of the latter.
President-elect Biden will be pressured to make Trump pay for all kinds of bad policies the way President Obama was pressured to make George W. Bush and his supporters pay for the Iraq War, and other administrations were pressured to punish Watergate, Iran-Contra and Vietnam.
According to a new report this week, Biden privately told advisers he doesn’t want his presidency consumed by Trump investigations, fearing that would alienate Trump voters and inhibit his ability to focus on covid-19, the economy and other hardships.
Whether Democrats in Congress agree with Biden or not remains to be seen—but between what’s likely to be dozens of congressional investigations and just as many by state district attorneys, Trump is unlikely to leave office completely unscathed. And he shouldn’t.
But what of Trump supporters? Biden wants to bring them into some imaginary fold that may not exist. And many of Biden’s supporters seem to be saying, “evacuate the area, there’s no place for you in polite society.”
The right answer is probably somewhere in the middle.
People who supported Trump have just as much a right to their livelihoods, their freedom and their safety as anyone else. Shouting them down at restaurants, getting them fired or shaming them on social media is wrong and will likely lead to the creation of more Trumps somewhere in the near future.
We can, however, punish people for their actions. When it comes to the maskless hordes of Trump supporters endangering our lives just to own the libs, those actions are the greatest immediate threat to all of our safety and freedom, including theirs. Just as we fine speeders and reckless drivers, a refusal to follow public health guidelines should be punished.
But if you want revenge on Trump supporters for cheering on Trump’s ugly, nativist, racist, sexist, bigoted, xenophobic ideas, you’re probably not going to get it. While we’re not going to impose Hammurabi’s Code, we needn’t keep turning the other cheek to Trumpism either. And we needn’t seek revenge to achieve real, meaningful consequences.
S.E. Cupp is the host of Unfiltered on CNN.