Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, serves as an object lesson in the hazards of interacting with tyrants. The New York Post reports:
New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft revealed the real story behind a 2005 meeting with Vladimir Putin, during which the Russian president pocketed his Super Bowl ring, worth more than $25,000. Kraft, at the time, claimed the diamond-encrusted bauble was a gift, but he now admits Putin stole it, and the White House intervened when he demanded it back.
Kraft explained the incident happened while Sandy Weill and other business execs were in St. Petersburg. “I took out the ring and showed it to [Putin], and he put it on and he goes, ‘I can kill someone with this ring,’ ” Kraft told the crowd at Carnegie Hall’s Medal of Excellence gala at the Waldorf-Astoria.”I put my hand out and he put it in his pocket, and three KGB guys got around him and walked out.”
Putin did it because he could. The little joke about being able to kill someone sent the message with mordant humor. You had it, but you handed it to me, and now it’s mine.
The power of the state, with its monopoly on the legitimate use of force, must be restrained by law and custom. Russia, the heir of the USSR and the czars, has few safeguards against a man like Putin, ruthless and self-interested.
Unfortunately, in the United States we have seen an erosion of respect for our own constitutional and customary safeguards against tyranny. When dealing with the IRS, the only circumstances under which a citizen must prove himself innocent, Americans sometimes feel as if they face an analogous situation. Nobody shows off their good stuff to an IRS auditor.