I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters
-Donald Trump, 2016
While Trump has yet to shoot anyone on Fifth Avenue in broad daylight, the fact that he has likely committed crimes while in office is self-evident. Since being elected, there is reasonable cause to suspect that Trump has:
- committed numerous crimes
- used the power of his office to protect himself and his accomplices
- ran his administration like a crime boss, demanding total loyalty and swiftly punishing anyone who did not support his efforts
- knowingly or unknowingly been a foreign asset for America’s enemies, Putin at the very least.
- damaged America’s security, sovereignty, and prosperity for his own personal benefit and the benefit of his accomplices
What if you could get away with it?
If you could get away with it, would you murder someone?
A popular party game is to ask if people if they could get away with it, would they commit murder? The discussion is rarely about if murder is wrong or justifiable. It is more about do the guest know anyone worth bumping off, or how to do the deed.
The game reveals is that there are two types of people: people who don’t commit murder because they fear doing something wrong, and people who don’t commit murder because they fear being caught. For the second group, it is the deterrent of punishment that compels moral behavior.
Both groups tend to not understand the other’s point of view. For people who fear doing wrong for fear of being a bad person, they don’t understand deterrents. If murder is wrong, they question how we justify the death penalty as legalized murder?
For the people who fear doing wrong for fear of being punished, how can we trust people to avoid evil without the threat of retribution? In 2017, conservative commentator Denis Prager asked “Without God, is murder wrong?” For these people, without inescapable divine justice, there is no way to differentiate between good and evil.
Because there are two types of people, with very different motivations, our justice system is an imperfect balance of preventions, deterrents, and reformations. We try to create a society where people don’t have to steal bread to survive, but we also try to create a society where the punishment for theft is great enough to deter those tempted by the opportunity.
Punishment Fits the Crime
In 2009 Toyota recalled millions of vehicals for faulty brakes. In 2014 it paid $1.2B to avoid prosecution for concealing evidence that it had known about the deadly flaw but sold the cars anyways. Over that same time period, Toyota made $1,006B in sales and $49.6B in profits.
Somewhere inside of Toyota, their bean counters modeled the profit to be made versus the risk and cost of a potential fine. The model told them to take the risk. People died. They paid the fine. They made a profit.
Deterrents only work if punishment is serve enough and likely enough to outweigh the benefits; otherwise, crime does pay.
Self Policing is Not an Option
Corrupt systems protect the people who abuse their power, precisely because they have the power. If this shocks you, or you disagree, then you are a person with privilege.
When institutions protect themselves and their abusers, they loose credibility. People without power are at the mercy of these corrupt systems. For years frustration mounted at the Catholic Church for protecting pedophiles. Many Americans see the police and our politicians as corrupt by default.
These systems shroud any investigations in secrecy. Most wrong doing has been ignored or not prosecuted. In the rare cases of punishment, the punishments were minor compared to the crimes.
Like corporate America and Toyota; for the self-policed, crime pays.
Sure there are good cops and politicians, but the rewards of being corrupt versus the slap on the wrist if you are caught tip the balance into the systematic failures that we have grown to accept.
Prevention Was Not Enough
For the last four years, our system of checks and balances have failed. Norms and standards were cast aside. Mitch McConnell’s subjugated our legislative branch to Trump. Trump appointed numerous and tainted judges to our courts.
Eight people associated with Trump were convicted in the Muller investigation. Trump was impeached by Congress. Trump handed out pardons to the convicted and his impeachment resulted in no punishment.
Where the government failed, the voters finally prevailed. Howevere, it was still an uncomfortably close 53.2% to 46.8% call. I suspect that means 46.8% of voters agreed with Trump, that as long as he can get away with his behavior, then he has the right to behave that way. Without punishment, his crimes are only the whining of “losers.” While the voters finally fired him, it took four years!
The Office of the President of the United States is arguably the most powerful position in history. It will always be the most tempting and lucrative office to take advantage of. The opportunities for self-enrichment and global harm are so vast, that any punishment needs to be even greater to be an effective deterrent.
As we have seen. If you can get away with winning an election, you have four years to commit your crimes in broad daylight. As long as you are the most powerful person in the world, our politicians have shown that you can find enough cronies to protect you in their return for their share of the profits.
This is especially dangerous in America’s style of representative democracy. We have had five Presidents lose the popular vote, but win the election. Two of those five were Bush and Trump, the last two Republican Presidents. American gerrymandering, voter suppression, and the make up of Congress allow a minority of Americans to force their policies on a majority.
There Must Be a Trial
To restore confidence in our government, there needs to be an open and transparent accounting of what Trump did while in office. Not a trial where he can refuse to take the stand. Not one where he can fire the prosecutor because he works for him. Not one where he can claim executive privilege.
There needs to be a fair and open investigation and trial.
If he is found guilty, there cannot be peace and reconciliation. There must be severe punishment, punishment that is appropriate to the crime of abusing the most powerful position in human history.
For Trump supports who knee-jerk decry any trial as fake news or a witch hunt, I am asking you to support the same justice system you claim to stand behind with your blue lives matter slogans.
If there was a crime, there must be a punishment to deter those who would follow in these footsteps next time.