I’ve been thinking a lot, a lot, about what life in a post-Trump administration world should look like for Donald Trump, and the words that keep springing to mind are justice, catharsis, and accountability. The president’s administration and their blatant violation of the law– from Hatch Act violations to emolument violations, including using the White House for the Republican National Convention and the flood of money from foreign governments pouring into Trump properties to curry favor with the president, from their unprecedented refusal to hold Russian intelligence operations in the United States to account to using foreign aid to Ukraine as leverage to demand election interference, from obviously colluding with the United States Postmaster General to dismantle postal delivery of valid ballots in key urban areas to directly seeking to overturn a comprehensive defeat in the 2020 election by pressuring elected officials in key states to manufacture votes in the president’s favor and, perhaps most grievously of all, refusing to implement a national strategy to contain and defeat the COVID-19 pandemic (and in fact worsening it by politicizing the response)– must be exposed in full, it must be laid out before the American people plainly, in the sunlight, and those responsible must be held accountable, in court, for their crimes.
This is the question facing the country, right now: Is the dismantling of America’s system of governance at the hands of a narcissistic, criminal enterprise going to be passed off as a form of “politics,” or will it be properly understood as crime? Is there a difference between the conservative politics of small government and the pillaging of America’s public institutions for personal profit? Is the office of the president an elected position accountable to the rule of law or is it an all-powerful office, a unilateral cudgel and shield that is immune from the consequences of its actions? Is the only check on Presidential power an election, held every four years, allowing shameless political leaders to grift and lie until “the people decide?” And once the people vote, do we find justice in narrow majorities in divided states, which are allowed to overturn huge popular vote margins because, hey, that’s “the system”, and so voter suppression tactics are deployed strategically at the state level by party apparatchiks to shave popular vote margins and override the will of the majority of Americans?
Elections are not a remedy for injustice. Losing an elected office is not a form of accountability for crimes committed in office. Being a politician doesn’t mean breaking the law is a “political” act. Someone in the Justice Department writing a memo on Department “policy” is not “the law.” Yet, too often, this is how justice functions and is understood for political elites. And of course, we know how this works; instead of equal justice under the law, we depend on prosecutorial will to seek justice.
So, who is willing to challenge the crimes of powerful people? We saw Congressional Democrats try, as the House of Representatives used the impeachment process to expose the criminal behavior of the president before Mitch McConnell’s Senate majority once again defaulted to his “elections should decide” hypocrisy. We should expect it from and it is crucial to the mission of the Justice Department, but we watched the president remove multiple Attorneys General until he could bend the Department to his personal service, with Bill Barr turning the Department into a shield for the president, debasing the office in thrall to executive power. We should expect challenges to power from state and local officials, but they have been blocked by the Justice Department’s “guidance” against prosecuting a sitting president. And so, we waited and looked on as our system of justice was dismantled to protect the president’s criminality.
Simultaneously, perhaps amplified by frustration that the president’s overt criminality was not being constrained, the systemic asymmetry of accountability, one that continues to willfully and overtly criminalize poverty and communities of color while shielding elite criminality, found its fun house mirror image in the streets, where police violence and the murder of George Floyd (then the latest in a string of unaccountable police killings of black Americans) escalated longstanding demands for accountability in local communities around the country. Then, of course, these cries for justice were held up as criminal in and of themselves, mocked by the right as “riots”, before these very same communities of color were targeted for voter disenfranchisement tactics. When that disenfranchisement didn’t work and cities across America voted overwhelmingly to end the disgrace of the Trump administration, the president and his team of lawyers launched an Orwellian crusade to deny the very existence of those votes and, in parallel, tried to convince state election officials about how justice should really work; that is, it should be criminally bent to the will of the president.
This is not about a single (albeit sociopathic) individual and it is not about “politics.” Accountability for Donald Trump’s crimes is about proving to 350 million Americans and to the world that our country- a community of citizens, of people, individuals, who live under common governance- can demonstrate that our conception of the law is not just the continued lip service to an “ideal”, but is dependent upon a functional set of agreed upon rules applied equally to all citizens, and that we have the will to deliver justice.
In my last post, I thought about how Republicanism and Trumpism have become a unified, authoritarian force in American life and so it begs the question; can the party that has collaborated with unilateral malfeasance, refusing to hold the president to account and emboldening an ever-worsening series of anti-democratic actions be allowed to suddenly, as if from thin air, scold the nation into a demand for “bi-partisanship” that further drags us down the collective drain? Will the media continue to equate “both sides” of a political dynamic where one side slides further and further into authoritarianism and dismantling our government? Can they wag their fingers and cry “politics” when accountability is required, allowing the authoritarian trial balloons they continue to release to foment into a deepening crisis of democracy? Will the lies of a wounded sociopath, unable to fathom his own humiliating defeat after four years of abject failure of leadership and the degradation of of our nation’s institutions and reputation, be used as a pretext for enacting further restrictions on voting rights, to deepen inequity at the voting booth?
No. Justice is required, and justice requires will. We must demonstrate that will immediately.