Trump: A brat, but not a child
By Charles M. Blow
“President Trump is a 76-year-old man. He is not an impressionable child. Just like everyone else in our country, he is responsible for his own actions and his own choices.”
Those were the words of Rep. Liz Cheney on Tuesday in her opening statement at the Jan. 6 House select committee’s seventh hearing, as she swatted away what she said was a new strategy among Donald Trump’s defenders: claiming that he was manipulated by outside advisers and therefore “incapable of telling right from wrong.”
Basically, Trump lied about the election because he was lied to about the election.
But, as Cheney pointed out, Trump actively chose the counsel of “the crazies” over that of authorities, and therefore cannot, or at least should not, “escape responsibility by being willfully blind.”
Willful blindness is a self-imposed ignorance, but as Thomas Jefferson put it: “Ignorance of the law is no excuse, in any country. If it were, the laws would lose their effect because it can always be pretended.”
If Trump is a pro at anything, it is pretending. He is a brat, but he’s not a child.
Cheney’s argument immediately recalled for me the case of Pamela Moses, a Black woman and activist in Memphis, Tennessee.
In 2019, Moses wanted to register to vote. A judge told her that she couldn’t because she was still on felony probation.
So Moses turned to another, lower authority — a probation officer — for a second opinion. The probation officer calculated (incorrectly, as it turns out) that her probation had ended and signed a certificate to that effect. Moses submitted the certificate with her voter registration form.
The local district attorney later pressed criminal charges against Moses, arguing that she should have known she was ineligible to vote because the judge, the person with the most authority in the equation, had told her so.
Moses was convicted of voter fraud and sentenced to six years and a day in prison, with the judge saying, “You tricked the probation department into giving you documents saying you were off probation.”
How is this materially different from what Trump did as he attempted to overturn the results of the 2020 election? All the authorities — Bill Barr, head of the Department of Justice; White House lawyers; and state election officials — told him he had lost the election, but he sought other opinions, ones that confirmed his own view.
This is not to say that the prosecution and conviction of Moses were justified, but rather to illustrate that we live in two different criminal justice realities: People without power, particularly minorities and those unable to pay expensive lawyers, are trapped in a ruthless and unyielding system, while the rich and powerful encounter an entirely different system, one cautious to the point of cowardice.
This year, Moses’ conviction was thrown out because a judge ruled that the Tennessee Department of Correction had withheld evidence, and the prosecutor dropped all criminal charges against her.
Still, by the time the ordeal was over, Moses had spent 82 days in custody, time she couldn’t get back, and she is now permanently barred from registering to vote or voting in the state.
This is the least of the consequences Trump ought to face: He should be prohibited from participating in the electoral process henceforth.
Some of the laws Trump may have broken in his crusade to overturn the election — like conspiracy to defraud the government — are more complicated than an illegal voter registration, but that is par for the course in a system that tilts in favor of the rich and powerful. Petty crime is always easier to prosecute than white-collar crime.
This is a country in which the Internal Revenue Service audits poor families — households with less than $25,000 in annual income — at a rate five times higher than it audits everybody else, a Syracuse University analysis found.
The way we target people for punishment in this country is rarely about a pursuit of justice and fairness; it simply reflects the reality that the vise squeezes hardest at the points of least resistance.
The fact that Trump has thus far faced few legal repercussions for his many transgressions eats away at people’s faith.
I believe this has contributed to our cratering confidence in American institutions, as measured by a recent Gallup poll. There are many factors undermining the faith Americans once had in their institutions, to be sure, but I believe a justice system rife with injustice is one of the main ones. In the poll, only 4% of Americans had a great deal of confidence in the criminal justice system.
The only institution that did worse on that metric was Congress, with just 2%.
We have a criminal justice crisis in this country, and people are portraying Trump’s behavior like that of a child in hopes of keeping him from facing consequences in a country that jails actual children.
According to the Child Crime Prevention and Safety Center, “Approximately 10,000 minors under the age of 18 are housed in jails and prisons intended for adult offenders, and juveniles make up 1,200 of the 1.5 million people imprisoned in state and federal detention facilities.”
There is no excuse for what Trump has done, and if he is not held accountable for it, even more faith in the United States as a “country of laws” will be lost.