June 14, 2023 | Reading Time: 3 minutes
Trump’s prosecution is politically motivated, and thank God for that
It’s a product of democratic politics, not the rule of law.
As far as I can tell, Tuesday’s arraignment of a criminal former president is being taken as proof of the American credo – that no one is above the law. Forgive me for repeating myself. His arraignment proves no such thing.
It is proof of something, though – that justice is the product of democratic politics. His prosecution is indeed politically motivated.
And thank God for that.
“No one is above the law” is and will be propaganda, not fact. If it were a factual as we say it is, we’d never see a billionaire, because to become a billionaire, the government must look away while the billionaire commits crimes that are necessary to becoming a billionaire. If you have $6 billion, as the Sackler family does, you can avoid jail time for the endless deaths caused by your products, in this case, opioids.
Impunity is baked into the American credo. It’s baked into the American dream, too. After all, billionaires embody the very definition of success.
The deep and broad and democratic demand for Donald Trump to be held criminally accountable is not the consequence of a mindless abstraction that automatically brings wrongdoers to justice. It is the product of pressure applied to law enforcement – the political pressure of democratic politics.
Robert Kuttner put it this way in a review of Trevor Jackson’s Impunity and Capitalism: “While in office, [Donald] Trump abused his pardon privilege to excuse dozens of corrupt, convicted allies, and he would likely do so again if reelected. We live in an age of selective application of law, in which influential people often evade responsibility for actions that are or should be criminal, while minor offenders such as shoplifters or drug users can face prison terms. Trump made crudely personal what has become tacit and structural” (my stress).
So even if Trump is convicted (and he likely will be if he loses again), his conviction won’t prove that “no one is above the law.” As Professor Jackson wrote, billionaires will continue to squeeze consumers, communities and markets with a degree of impunity that has become necessary over 300 years for our variety of capitalism to exist.
I’ll believe no one is above the law when, after the next financial panic, those responsible for the vanishment of life, liberty and happiness are perp-walked toward equal justice. Until then, I think we can expect, as Professor Jackson appears to, that crimes that only billionaires can commit will continue being treated as “everyone’s fault and no one’s.”
By continuing to believe, uncritically, that “no one is above the law,” we actually enable impunity of the law by the very obscenely rich.
“No one is above the law” asks Americans to believe that justice is something that just happens, independent of human agency, as if it were a weather system, all-natural, an outcome of God’s will. Like financial crimes that are treated as “everyone’s fault and no one’s,” justice is treated as everyone’s responsibility and no one’s. Is it any wonder that corruption has become so normal as to be invisible?
Invisible, that is, until they go too far. At some point, impunity for the law exceeds established levels of tolerance for it, as when a criminal former president leads an attempted paramilitary takeover of the United States government. His corruption may well have been forgiven by now, or at least forgotten, but for his leadership of the most blatant political crime in American history. It has made every one of his acts of impunity since then seem like an intolerable affront to democracy.
That there is such a thing as “going too far” is proof that “no one is above the law” is propaganda, not fact. Once we accept it as such, we can see what’s going on. The deep and broad and democratic demand for Donald Trump to be held criminally accountable is not the consequence of a mindless abstraction that automatically brings wrongdoers to justice. It is the product of pressure applied to law enforcement – the political pressure of democratic politics.
That has given lead prosecutors in Manhattan, Georgia and Washington the freedom they need to pursue their respective cases. Trump’s prosecution is indeed politically motivated. And thank God for that.
If there’s any doubt about this being a politically motivated prosecution – or about it being the consequence of a deep and broad and democratic demand for it – consider it’s unlikely that Trump doubts it.
He can’t meet a political demand for justice with law. The evidence is too strong. (I’m deferring here to the opinion of legal experts.) He must meet a political demand for justice with politics. That means running for president. Only the power of the presidency can save him now.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.