It’s hard to imagine a time when the country was more divided. Further, it’s hard to imagine a time when the consequences of that division were more dire.
Naturally, as an American, the Civil War comes to mind. The tragic and horrific battles of those four years in the 1860’s resulted in a combined 620,000 dead soldiers.
President Abraham Lincoln, who himself would join those numbered dead, delivered his most famous lines for the consecration of a cemetery in Gettysburg, after all. The pain of those years lingered for generations which is appropriate when we consider the scope of the devastation and loss.
The striking part of the situation we find ourselves in now is that we have lost approximately half of what we lost during those four violent years in just nine months. Further, if projections are correct, we will lose as many in 12 months as we did in those four years of bloody conflict.
Fully half of all U.S. wartime casualties in all wars combined – in just a year’s time. The anguish and sorrow has been and will continue to be profound as we, as a nation, go through this.
As will the blame, I suppose.
President Donald Trump has become a lighting rod for much of the blame. Some think he deserves every bit of it. Many believe most of his administration is in one way or another complicit in this nightmare, myself included. I find myself nodding along when I hear others blame a cabinet secretary, prominent Republican enabler, the local congressional delegation, even U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa.
The response of those in leadership will be studied for centuries and the blame will be aplenty.
Recently however, I noted the game of shame and blame had fallen on one of central Pennsylvania’s own. The U.S. Senate-confirmed Trump administration nominee to head the United States Attorney’s office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania: David Freed.
You see he learned something irregular happened with ballots in his jurisdiction and put out a brief press release advising that his office was on top of it.
This alarmed many at the time as it had the whiff of election interference on behalf of the man that nominated him. Was this, in fact, a federal matter?
Did it rise to the level of the U.S. Attorney’s office? Did the matter warrant a press release considering the myriad of weightier issues that office deals with on a daily basis? The seeds of aggrieved status had already been sown by Trump at the time. Wasn’t this just a publicity ploy by a corrupt appointee to bolster his claim of nefarious meddling?
Many had their doubts about Freed. I did not.
Freed announced his resignation from the U.S. Attorney’s Office a couple weeks ago. You may have missed it, considering it happened over the holidays, which were not without their distractions. It seemed to me that it was received by some in the press with that skeptical note regarding his famous ballot-investigation press release and a hint of shame and blame.
I, for one, was not happy to see that.
You see I’ve lived and practiced law in Cumberland County, Freed’s home county, for 20 years. Freed formerly served as Cumberland County’s elected district attorney before his ascension to the federal post.
In that time, you get to know a thing or two about your peers in the field, especially the criminal law world.
I’m not sure Freed would call himself current Cumberland County District Attorney Skip Ebert’s protégé. Nor am I confident that that Skip would call himself a mentor to Freed. But the titles would be appropriate considering the amount of time they worked with one another, and the roles they filled, in the Cumberland County District Attorney’s office.
I’ve had my disagreements with both men over the years on policy. But I know I speak for many when I say they are both honest, capable and professional gentlemen and public servants of the first order and a credit to the profession.
It’s worth recalling then that it was Freed’s 2012 opponent for Pennsylvania Attorney General, Democrat Kathleen Kane, who ended up jail.
It’s also worth recalling that in that campaign and in his previous campaigns for district attorney, which he won handily and deservedly, there was never a hint of malign.
Nor could a similar accusation be leveled at his mentor, Ebert, a man who fully warranted the title “Honorable” when he served as Cumberland County judge. These are good men. These are fair and honest prosecutors. Politics never once was a factor in the way they prosecuted cases or got about the business of doing the job they were trusted to do. Cumberland County was and is served well by their presence in our community.
Which brings me back to that press release. The Trump-appointed U.S. Attorney pinged the grid that he was looking into a case. That put all election officials certainly in Pennsylvania, and probably most of the U.S. on notice, that no funny business was to be brooked in the collection and counting of ballots.
Election officials may not have been forced to redouble their efforts to secure the vote. But you and I can agree they certainly did their jobs a little better knowing the law and the international press corps were peering over their shoulders.
In what will surely be recalled as the year of the virus, one can safely say the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania inoculated this election.
Not a single whiff of election fraud has been proved in court save a few individual bad actors. Not a single board of elections in our state, nor any other, has been credibly proved to have done anything outside their duty, accusations to the contrary notwithstanding. Can Freed be fully credited with such an outcome? Perhaps not. But he surely deserves no blame.
I expected to find Freed in exactly the position he filled doing exactly the job he swore an oath to do. And he did it well with little to no fanfare.
Though this may be a divided nation right now, I think it would do us well to acknowledge things we can agree on. People that we can agree are good and noble, regardless of party affiliation, for example. People with characteristics that our nation and our children can aspire to become.
I’d submit Freed is one of those people. And I’d thank and commend him for his lifetime of service — especially when the country needed him most.
Opinion contributor Sean Quinlan, an attorney, writes from Camp Hill, Pa. His work appears biweekly on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page. Follow him on Twitter @SPQ_ESQ.