In his classic two-volume work “Democracy in America,” (1835) Alexis de Tocqueville warned of “soft” and “hard” despotism, meaning either bureaucratic or political tyranny. Certainly, the federal government has betrayed tendencies of the first with the New Deal, the Great Society and, currently, “hope and change.” But the evidence is growing that the second tendency is manifesting itself.

Political tyranny, in turn, has two faces: oppression of the innocent and favoritism for the guilty. In other words, both at the bottom and the top the rule of law is replaced by the whims of the powerful.

Perhaps the most egregious current example of oppression concerns the left’s “climate change” crusade. Between a weak case for the questionable claim that carbon dioxide emitted or caused by human beings is making the Earth subject to everything from “global warming” to a rash of bad weather (in all seasons!) to stigmatizing anyone who challenges the so-called “settled science” as akin to holocaust deniers, the partisans of world-wide regulation of all environmentally “unsustainable” activities are determined to squelch all opposition.

But they have actually made little headway as nothing beyond symbolism has been achieved by international agreements, and “climate change” is seen as an issue only by a tiny minority of Americans. That may soon change. As National Review put it in its current issue, “Democratic attorneys general, frustrated by the left’s inability to get its way on climate change as a matter of national policy [although California has AB32 which mandates decreased fossil fuel energy], promised to use their prosecutorial powers ‘aggressively’ and ‘creatively’ . . . to achieve through civil and criminal prosecution that which they could not achieve through ordinary political channels.”

Thus, prosecutors in the U.S. Virgin Islands, New York and California have charged Exxon with “legally actionable fraud” for its involvement in political activism regarding global warming. Given that world-wide corporation’s massive assets, National Review warns of both political pressure and financial extortion. More pushback is in order.

About 50 or so persons last week viewed the first of at least two riveting documentaries on the decades-old climate change movement. ”Climate Hustle,” as it is called, “reveals the history of climate scares, examines the science on both sides of the debate, digs into the politics and media hype surrounding the issue, shows how global warming has become a new religion for alarmists, and explains the impacts the warming agenda will have on people in America and around the world.”

The most alarming aspect of the global warming crusade is the persecution of scientists who have publicly come out against it at the costs of their jobs, including some who previously had accepted the movement’s claims as legitimate science. Galileo would appreciate their predicament.

No less troubling is the persecution of the critics of violent abortion of unborn babies. When videos documenting Planned Parenthood’s butchery of these little ones for their valuable body parts surfaced, it was a huge public relations disaster for the largest “provider” of dead babies in the country.

Thus, agents from the California Department of Justice raided the Orange County home of David Daleiden and seized all his video of Planned Parenthood officials “wheeling and dealing to get good prices on their sale of fetal tissue and body parts,” as reported by National Review. If that wasn’t enough, Kamala Harris, California’s attorney general, a recipient of Planned Parenthood contributions, is looking into whether Daleiden’s use of a forged California driver’s license is in violation of state charity registration requirements.

Meanwhile, Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton will likely avoid prosecution for her reckless use of classified emails that she transferred to her private server, as well as evidence that she did favors for wealthy and well-connected contributors to the Clinton Foundation. President Obama has virtually absolved her of any malice in her work as his first Secretary of State. He conceded only that she might have been “careless,” as if that absolved her of guilt when the federal statute is indifferent to whether the misuse of classified information is malicious or careless.

If Clinton is elected, don’t be surprised if she pardons herself from criminal charges despite the FBI’s detailing dozens of its agents to make what it clearly regards as a prosecutable case. Perhaps she’ll show her gratitude to Obama by appointing him to the U.S. Supreme Court! After all, he was briefly an adjunct professor of constitutional law in the late 20th century.

Showing additional contempt for the rule of law, Clinton has repudiated the legislation her husband persuaded Congress to pass in 1992 that helped reduce the crime rate by giving police tools to crack down on drug dealers and murderers, many of them black and whose victims were largely black.

This would move us beyond giving special consideration to favored voting constituencies in employment, college admissions and contracting, to granting virtual amnesty to criminals.

This “hard” despotism over the innocent and for the benefit of the guilty must not be permitted if we are to remain a free country.

Richard Reeb taught political science, philosophy and journalism at Barstow Community College from 1970 to 2003. He is the author of "Taking Journalism Seriously: 'Objectivity' as a Partisan Cause" (University Press of America, 1999). He can be contacted at rhreeb@verizon.net