Talk about American exceptionalism: the mafia boss walks while the lone bad actor gets smashed
Fortunately, there’s no statute of limitations on political failure and bad faith. That’s the good news. The bad news is that a rightwing majority still thinks Trump’s spiteful death cult deserves re-election – as if some other president caused thousands of needless pandemic deaths, then, defying a clean election, incited a violent, fatal insurrection. Even worse, Trump now distorts the Capitol outrage as “a hoax” – all from the TV fan who fiddled while the Capitol raged. Will not such immunity from penalty drive other rich, powerful politicians to exploit every loophole and illegality, trusting they are invulnerable?
So, what separates a minor league crooked doctor (who just pled guilty to medical malpractice for overhyping fake Covid “cures”) from a president committing the same fraud with a vastly greater bully pulpit – thus inducing widespread trauma with reckless abandon? The small fry doctor named Jennings Staley gets fined, goes to jail, and loses his medical license. The rich guy, going much further over the line (pushing toxic bleach, which suckers swallowed) never withdraws it, never acknowledges grievous errors, and yet escapes downsides (indeed, impresses his most ignorant followers with anti-elitist trumpery).
We’re talking a once successful, now disgraced M.D., not some impoverished rube, getting trashed while the icon of presidential ignorance, arrogance and bad faith could still get re-elected. What system of justice jails a backwater miscreant while allowing a deplorable president, with felony indictments on the docket, to stay atop the GOP nomination sweepstakes? Satire implodes, along with all semblance of fair-mindedness.
Unchecked criminals get worse
Even double impeachments (of true, system-busting violations) are now a joke, an unworkable process ranking alongside the Electoral College as gross fumbles by the Founders. What democratic country tolerates no functional thresholds for removing unfit, law-breaking officials? How many long Covid sufferers result from Trump’s calculated medical negligence, far more even than the innocents mowed down by the mentally ill using kindergartners for target practice? How many tens of thousands must be buried before a national outrage stops such radically unchristian, serial death-dealing?
Even a single Trump indictment and a splashy trial may regain a little loss of faith in justice. The lesser guilt (and malice) by former doctor Staley was so bad he confessed to illegal importation, mail fraud, phony prescriptions and lying to the FBI. The Staley scam first drew attention by offering hydroxychloroquine as a “one hundred percent” cure, a “magic bullet,” an “amazing weapon,” and “almost too good to be true.” Gosh, imagine the wickedness of dragging in a malaria drug that won’t fix Covid at all but reduced access for genuine patients and comes with potential, fatal downsides. At least this nervy “drug dealing” doctor admitted guilt and took the consequences. Trump would die first (and will I suspect) before saying “I made bad mistakes. I have no defense. I accept my punishment.” When pigs can fly to the moon – and back.
Sins of omission
No such resolution occurred after his presidential pontifications dumped very bad Covid medicine. Was there a potent House censure, full-scale evisceration by the medical industry, or blows to his popularity? Not that I recall. Instead, Trump likely gained points for idiotic rebellion against experts and “audacity” against the full authority of medical science. He offered, with his blizzard of bluster, the delusion that an irrelevant, untested pill delivered control over one’s disease destiny. Worse still, White House pressure on the FDA produced an emergency use approval to “distribute millions of doses of the drugs to hospitals across the country on March 29.” Can one imagine a more dangerous sequence of national medical malpractice, comparable to impeachable offenses, like blackmailing the Ukrainian president or jawboning of Georgia election officials to commit the most obvious voting fraud in history?
For the record, Trump’s literal words early in the pandemic, echoing Dr. Staley’s hype:
“But I think [hydroxychloroquine] could be, based on what I see, it could be a game changer.”
— President Trump, at a White House news briefing, March 19, 2020
“Hydroxychloroquine — I don’t know, it’s looking like it’s having some good results. That would be a phenomenal thing.”
— Trump, at a White House news briefing, April 3
“What do you have to lose? I’ll say it again: What do you have to lose? Take it. I really think they should take it.”
— Trump, at a White House news briefing, April 4
“It’s this powerful drug on malaria. And there are signs that it works on this. Some very strong signs.”
— Trump, at a White House news briefing, April 5
“Based on what I see” and “very strong signs” go down among Trump’s dumbest, insupportable lies, amidst an incomparable slew of bizarre inanities. Strangely, in a world absent accountability, no team of medical experts rushed in with stop signs at the time, though later on was heard:
Scientists have since pointed to major flaws in those original studies and say there is a lack of reliable data on the drugs. Experts warn about the dangerous consequences of over-promoting a drug with unknown efficacy: Shortages of hydroxychloroquine have already occurred, depriving lupus and rheumatoid arthritis patients of access to it. Doctors say some patients could die of side effects.
What this arbitrary, unnecessary tragedy dramatizes is how Trump, with no awareness beyond innate stupidity, fabricated “what I see,” distorted puffery into endorsement, then corrupted the FDA’s emergency approval – all in all, a self-made, clownish calamity that now typifies Trumpism. Can anyone imagine a worse case disease scenario from start to finish? And yet, despite every fact and every catastrophe recorded for posterity (with no “alternative” stance even presented), he still runs a national party, dishing out endless helpings of duplicity seasoned with gall.
Will presidents remain immune?
I understand the dilemma of pommeling presidents for mouthing off without overtly breaking the law. But did not this flight from accountability only incite his far more ominous, subsequent crimes? We are beyond shock and awe, awaiting indictments, then trials, by inexplicably sluggish prosecutors. Then we face, upon conviction, what just punishments fit Trump’s scoff-off array of crimes?
True, the right believes in capital punishment, but would that foster the necessary public example, perpetual mortification? Trump hasn’t been taped shooting anyone on Fifth Avenue. Terminal elimination won’t reawaken the dead. But sufficient, dramatic penalties (like seizing 90% of his net worth) may at least allow America to hold up its head and declare, “This deplorable went beyond the pale. Neither money nor power should shield serial crimes. Our national integrity, what’s left of it, will otherwise splinter into smithereens.”
Or, as John Dean neatly captured this week, failure to curb lawlessness feeds more wrongdoing, “Watergate taught us that rule-breakers are accountable. Today, rule-breakers are not being held accountable.” So much for my increasingly dispirited assumptions about progress.