As if we needed added confirmation of the concerns raised in yesterday’s post, a very thoughtful opinion piece from the New York Times set out the reasons why “going back to normal” (a hope shared by Representative Cummings in the Michael Cohen hearing) isn’t what we should want.
At the end of his eloquent remarks concluding a hearing where the president was accused of multiple crimes by his former attorney, Representative Elijah Cummings, the Oversight Committee chairman, pined for a return to a pre-Trump America. “We have got to get back to normal,” he said.
But Normal America produced Donald Trump, fueled his cult of personality and created the conditions for him to rise to the height of political power. If anything, Michael Cohen’s testimony was a devastating indictment of decisions that Normal America made over the past few decades that produced President Trump in 2016.
The essay challenges readers to consider the implications of facts that are currently known: Paul Manafort, a man guilty of tax evasion and bank fraud, was tapped to lead a presidential campaign. Michael Cohen, who committed tax fraud and bank fraud became deputy finance chairman of the Republican National Committee, a post he held until June 2018.
The author attributes that situation–the elevation of out-and-out crooks to positions of authority and prestige–to the stunning decline in prosecutions of white-collar crimes.
Then there’s the president himself, Exhibit A of what happens when a country spends decades treating crimes by the poor as felonies and crimes by the powerful as misdemeanors.
At the start of Mr. Trump’s career, he and his father were charged with discriminating against African-Americans in their apartment rentals. Father and son settled with the government and admitted no wrongdoing.
Later in life, Mr. Trump’s casino was charged with money launderingand got off with a fine. Just after Mr. Trump was elected, his cardboard castle of a university that bore his name settled a class-action lawsuit brought by from former students.
It took a shoe-leather investigation by The Washington Post to prompt authorities to assess that the Trump Foundation, founded in 1987, was being used as the family A.T.M. The New York State attorney general charged the foundation with “improper and extensive political activity, repeated and willful self-dealing transactions, and failure to follow basic fiduciary obligations or to implement even elementary corporate formalities required by law.” Imagine if the foundation had been scrutinized years before Mr. Trump ran for president.
According to the author, more than 60 percent of federal criminal prosecutions last year were in cases related to immigration. But while the feds were pursuing crimes committed by undocumented immigrants, there were fewer resources available to investigate and prosecute other types of crimes, and the number of such prosecutions is accordingly, as he writes, “way down.”
When the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigation Division gets stuck with the same number of special agents it had 50 years ago, lots of tax cheating is going to go undetected and unpunished.
No equal justice indeed. As the author says, “Normal America” gave white-collar criminals parking tickets, and sent SWAT teams after drug dealers. If that was America’s “normal,” we certainly shouldn’t return to it. It was that “normal” that allowed a racist con man and cheat (with absolutely no compensating qualities) to aspire to–and win–the Presidency.
We have to do better.