Donald Trump has broken the law flagrantly and constantly for his entire adult life, because he’s always been a hyper-privileged man with no sense of moral restraint, and that’s just what hyper-privileged men with no sense of moral restraint do.
One reason such men act this way is that perhaps the important component of social privilege is that the law generally won’t be applied to you in the way it would be to the vast majority of people, let alone to members of marginalized communities. The revolting case of Jeffrey Epstein is just a particularly lurid example of something that happens every day in various forms, and indeed must take place every day in any society that features vast differentials of wealth, power, and social status:
If I ask you the Golden Rule, you’ll likely answer: Treat others as you wish to be treated; do unto others as you would have them do unto you. But there is another version, the one you’re liable to hear around courthouses, in prisons and in other precincts where the rubber of justice meets the road of inequality.
It goes like this: Those with the gold make the rules.I thought of that as I read an investigative series by reporter Julie K. Brown of the Miami Herald. In three outrage-inducing chapters, Brown documents the whitewash of an alleged global conspiracy to traffic underage girls for sexual exploitation. Though she identified more than 80 likely victims and cited evidence that the actual number could be in the hundreds, the registered sex offender at the center of the conspiracy was allowed — under a furtive plea deal — to serve just 13 months in country-club conditions, tooling around Palm Beach by day and bunking at night in a private suite at the Palm Beach County jail.
Evidently, it pays to be rich.
The outlines of this story have been known for years: Jeffrey Epstein, a fantastically wealthy creep, ran afoul of the Palm Beach police in 2005 after the parents of a 14-year-old girl reported that he paid their daughter to strip and massage his naked body while he pleasured himself. Investigators soon found evidence — eyewitness testimony and documents — indicating that troubled girls by the dozens were recruited for molestation and rape. The Herald series illuminates the perversion of justice that allowed the perversion of Epstein to go so lightly punished.
Epstein’s wealth — the origins of which are a bit murky — assembled an all-star team of defense lawyers, including Alan Dershowitz, the Harvard scholar; Gerald Lefcourt, the go-to guy for New Yawkers in trouble; Roy Black, the Miami legal magician; and Kenneth W. Starr, whose squeamishness evidently has limits. The team got busy digging up dirt on the victims and their parents, as well as police and prosecutors, according to sources on the receiving end of this harassment. I’m not normally a person who wonders how defense lawyers sleep at night, but . . . yeesh. . .
Acosta, who is now the secretary of labor, blamed this scandalous conclusion on “defense counsel” who “investigated individual prosecutors and their families, looking for personal peccadilloes.” During an interview with The Post last year, Dershowitz boastfully demurred. “We outlawyered him,” he said.
That’s just how the legal system works, and indeed must work in any radically unequal society, because radical social inequality is going to manifest itself in regard to one’s relationship to the power of the state, aka the law, more vividly than anywhere else. This is because privileged people will always spend enormous amounts of monetary and social capital to maintain the privilege of not being treated as if they weren’t privileged, aka above the law.
Occasionally, however, a rich and important person gets into a social situation where the law actually ends up being applied to him, as if he were just some nobody. This is what may now be happening to President Individual One, and it is of course an extremely disturbing experience:
The special counsel praises Flynn’s assistance as “substantial,” writing that a “sentence that does not impose a term of incarceration” for him would be “appropriate and warranted.”
“His early cooperation was particularly valuable,” Mueller writes, “because he was one of the few people with long-term and firsthand insight regarding events and issues under investigation by the SCO” (special counsel’s office).
Mueller adds that Flynn’s decision to cooperate “likely affected the decisions of related firsthand witnesses to be forthcoming with the SCO and cooperate”— and redacts the sentence that follows.
As for the specifics of Flynn’s assistance, Mueller writes that he has “participated in 19 interviews” with either the special counsel’s office or attorneys from other Justice Department offices, as well as providing “documents and communications.”
The special counsel appears to write in a partially redacted passage that there are three investigations Flynn is helping with.
So, those three are:
- A criminal investigation, the topic of which is redacted
- The Mueller investigation into links between Russia and the Trump campaign
- Another redacted investigation (even the type of this one is redacted)
For that first investigation, the criminal one, Mueller writes that Flynn has “provided substantial assistance,” but then entirely redacts the three-paragraph long section explaining how.
That third investigation appears to be described in one brief paragraph near the end of the memo, but it is fully redacted.
Again, it’s difficult to overstate how, to use one of Donald Trump’s favorite words, unfair it must seem to someone like Donald Trump that breaking the law should have actual consequences for someone like Donald Trump. Doing so almost never has before, so why should it now? Indeed, given Trump’s reflexive authoritarianism, it must seem particularly perverse that the law started getting applied to him after he became, legally speaking, the Most Powerful and Important Person in America. It’s like we’re all suddenly living in Opposite World or something.
Thinking about that almost made me feel sorry for Trump, for maybe a third of a nanosecond. The whole Mueller investigation is a classic violation of the Unequal Protection clause, and what could be more unfair — un-American even — than that?