by Thomas Adcock
Copyright © 2020 — Thomas Adcock
NORTH CHATHAM, New York – U.S.A.
In January of next year, the world will surely breathe a collective sigh of relief as Donald J. Trump exits the White House, voluntarily or else frog-marched out of the Oval Office under military escort upon refusing to accept his landslide defeat in November’s election. (In the interest of high drama, my preference would be for the latter.) Mr. Trump will then spend the rest of his time on Earth toiling at the sole occupation for which he is actually qualified: defendant in the civil and criminal courts of the United States, answerable as well to international claims of his crimes against humanity.
There is little doubt as to Mr. Trump’s looming political demise, as every public opinion poll indicates. There is significant doubt among legal scholars that Mr. Trump can avoid criminal indictment and conviction—perhaps imprisonment—when his presidential immunity from prosecution expires at the moment he leaves Washington, one way or another.
America and the world quite agree on a near and long-term future for a bigot, boor, misogynist, moral deviant, pathological liar, deadbeat, willful ignoramus, malignant narcissist, failed business tycoon, failed casino magnate, and failed president. A future hopefully foreseen is fair-play turnabout of horrific chants directed against Hillary Clinton, the losing Democratic Party presidential candidate in 2016: “Lock. Her. Up.” Such hateful chants were de rigueur at Mr. Trump’s numerous fascist rallies under color of the Republican Party.
The chant this time: “Lock. Him. Up.”
Which could happen, given a welter of legal actions awaiting an incipient 74-year-old defendant. Matters at issue range from niggling (as Mr. Trump might say) to conceivable, if politically touchy (as legal scholars might say). Consider:
• Pending in the courts of New York and elsewhere are some three thousand failure-to-pay civil complaints against Donald Trump and/or his corporate entity, filed by business contractors or suppliers and held in abeyance by the president’s claim to executive privilege not to be annoyed by petty lawsuits.
• Letitia James, the ambitious and effective attorney general of New York, will likely file felony charges against Mr. Trump next January, focused on his unwholesome relationship with Deutsche Bank, the alleged global money laundering operation. To date, she has obtained by subpoena certain of the bank’s loan records pertaining to the president. (NOTE: In 2018 and ’19, Ms. James’ successful lawsuits against Mr. Trump and his adult children—Eric, Ivanka, and Donald Jr.—quashed the twin frauds of “Trump University” and the “Trump Charitable Foundation.”)
• Glenn Kirschner, former assistant U.S. attorney, is convinced that state and federal prosecutors will seek criminal indictments against Mr. Trump, on behalf of the families of Americans killed by covid-19. The death toll, as of May 27, is 104,017, according to Reuters news service—higher fatality rate than any other nation. Reuters also reports U.S. coronavirus infections of 1.6 million persons, far and away the highest count in the world.
The president ignored persistent warnings of plague from within his own administration, and failed to put federal mitigation practices in place in February and March when deaths could have been reduced by as much as 46,000, according to a Columbia University study.
Instead, Mr. Trump’s response was fourfold: 1) the pandemic was a “hoax” instituted by “the haters” among his political opposition, Democrats and some in his own Republican Party; 2) the pandemic would cease “like magic” with the coming of warm April weather; 3) consumption and/or intravenous injection of toxic household chemicals was a wonderful panacea; 4) as the result of his dubious claim to have ingested the inadvisable drug hydrochloraquine as a prophylactic, “I’m still here.”
Mr. Kirschner said that predicates for criminal indictments against Mr. Trump, aimed at his colossal failure in dealing responsibly with the coronavirus pandemic, would be the jurisprudential tenets of “gross negligence” or “depraved indifference.” Either of which could spell charges of second-degree murder or involuntary manslaughter (punishable by up to twenty-five years behind bars). Mr. Kirschner summed up Mr. Trump’s post-presidential legal liability thusly: “He’s hit the murder jackpot.”
• Even before leaving office, Mr. Trump might well be subject to a defamation lawsuit from Joe Scarborough—lawyer, popular television news commentator, and former three-term Republican congressman from Florida. In his final congressional year, 2001, an athletic, happily married female aide employed in Mr. Scarborough’s district collapsed to the floor and died after colliding with a desk. The congressman was in Washington at the time. Florida officials certified the cause of the young woman’s death as heart arrhythmia. Which did not stop the president, angered over Mr. Scarborough’s frequent on-air criticisms, from insinuating murder with a string of scurrilous, fact-free tweets such as this one from May 24: “A lot of interest in this story about Psycho Joe…So a young marathon runner just happened to faint in his office, hit her head on his desk & die? I would think there is a lot more to this story…An affair?”
In an essay for the New York Times, Peter H. Schuck, emeritus professor of law at Yale University, wrote that an allegation of reputational harm by Mr. Scarborough “might well succeed,” and “could proceed against the president while he is still in office [because] the subject of his tweets had nothing to do with his presidential responsibilities [and therefore] he probably could not hide behind an assertion of executive privilege.”
• Although the Trump administration canceled American membership in the United Nations Human Rights Council, the president’s policies regarding detained Latino migrants seem to violate treaties to which the U.S. remains a state party; among these, the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Two practitioners of global law believe Mr. Trump could be brought up on charges of crimes against humanity—under the rarely invoked yet practicable doctrine of universal jurisdiction, whereby nation states may investigate and prosecute certain crimes committed beyond their own borders:
Ata Hindi, research fellow at the Institute of Law at Barzeit University in Palestine, explained in an interview with the online magazine Intercept, “Justice and accountability…are always possible, even for individuals like Trump. I don’t find much hope in the U.S. constitutional and legal order; it’s a system that has allowed him to thrive. …[W]e need to take a more serious look and explore every single avenue for justice.”
Marina Askenova, professor of comparative international criminal law at Instituto de Impresa in Madrid, considered those American societal shortcomings that underlie crimes—witness the coast-to-coast rebellions against racist violence in light of the late May murder, yet again, of an unarmed African American male by a white police officer, as well as ongoing brutal treatment of migrant children, and the coronavirus plague that has affected America’s poor and racial minorities more so than any other group.
“Epidemics and international crimes often stem from the same roots, such as systemic poverty, lack of education and basic human rights, including socio-economic rights,” she wrote in the Spanish legal blog Opinio Juris.
Asked by a reporter for Intercept whether Mr. Trump might face prosecutorial proceedings for his cruelty in caging migrants during the coronovirus pandemic, Ms. Askenova was unequivocal: “Yes.”
To be sure, should prosecution of a civilian Mr. Trump commence eight months from now, it will be a fraught business for lawyers who step up to the plate. Although I am reasonably confident that my friend Victor Goode—retired professor of constitutional law at the City University of New York School of Law—would love to see The Despicable Donald in prison stripes, he tells me that he’s not so sure that glorious day will ever dawn.
“If we were looking at it in the abstract, then yes, these are crimes and Trump would be liable,” Mr. Goode said in an interview. “But one of the reasons it’s unlikely that he would ever be charged is that it would become a political weapon.”
As for Donald Trump’s culpability in the plague that ravages the U.S. more than anywhere else in the world, Mr. Goode added, “It’s a tough case because it’s a judgment call. If the evidence was clear that failure to do any specific thing to [prevent] death to a significant number of people, then maybe you’ve got a case. As long as reasonable people disagree, then you don’t.”
In America, where guns vastly outnumber a population of some 325 million, politics is also a fraught business. Especially so in this era of the president characterizing “some” white supremacist hooligans strutting through the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017 with AR-15 modified combat machine guns as “very fine people.” Manly men who were simply out one fine August afternoon to enjoy a “Unite the Right” protest rally—in the cause of protecting monuments to Confederate Army “heroes” of the nineteenth century, cornpone swashbucklers in foppish tight pants and swords who led a grand fight for the maintenance of Southern slavery by taking up arms against the federal government, thereby sparking the Civil War, still the deadliest and bloodiest of all military conflicts in which America has engaged.
These men in the streets of Charlottesville were manly in the comic sense, until one of them rammed his car into a counter-protestor and killed her. These manly men were, and are, devout soldiers of the Trump cult. They will require a martyr should Donald Trump receive justice as non-cultists understand courtroom justice. One never knows how gun-hugging cultists will react to the fall of their lord.
As I write, the city of Minneapolis, Minnesota is burning, as are cities from one end of the country to the other, united in righteously angry solidarity as they protest murder after murder after murder of black people by white cops—manly men with shiny badges and semi-automatic pistols to prove it, American-style.
The latest victim is—was—George Floyd, age 46. With three of his cop brethren looking on and saying little to nothing, Officer Derek Chauvin, 44, pinned the unarmed Mr. Floyd face-down on a grimy street, cuffed his hands behind his back, and jammed a knee against his neck for ten long minutes, a ghastly cop technique to approximate a hanging, in which the terrified hangee is usually asphyxiated within four minutes.
Mr. Floyd was unresponsive after his last minutes, much of it taken up in grunting, “I can’t breathe!” Someone among the cop assembly was reported to have told Mr. Floyd, “You can talk, so you can breathe.” One of the cops is reported to have felt for Mr. Floyd’s pulse. There was none. Officer Chauvin was undeterred, keeping his victim’s windpipe crushed below his knee for an extra two minutes and fifty-three seconds—useless punishment, so far as a corpse is concerned.
Mr. Chauvin and confrères were sacked. Ex-Officer Chauvin, subject of at least a dozen citizen complaints of brutal violence during his twenty years as a Minneapolis cop, was arrested by state authorities in Minnesota. In custody of the state, he awaits trial for murder. The fate of his buddies is yet to be announced.
President of the Minneapolis police officers’ union is the charming Bob Kroll, who stood on stage with Mr. Trump earlier this year at a Minnesota campaign rally. There, he praised the “wonderful president” for “everything he’s done for law enforcement.” The magazine Mother Jones reports that Mr. Kroll, who will assuredly be releasing union funds to pay for the legal defense of his city’s Fascist Four, has been seen wearing a “White Power” arm patch.
When a Minneapolis resident objected to all this, in writing, the local publication City Pages reported Mr. Kroll’s written response: “If you hate me so much, why don’t you stop by and beat the shit out of me?…My bet is that it won’t happen because you’re a cowardly cunt.”
Unarmed protestors in Minneapolis—who are predominantly white, I am pleased to say as a white man—are called “thugs” by the president of the United States, who regards Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey as a “leftwing radical” because he expresses understanding of rage in the streets of America.
Rage has reached the White House itself, where demonstrators have made attempts at scaling the steel gates and barriers—as Donald Trump viewed the scenes from windows of the residence floor. Mr. Trump has seen fit to tweet-threat a release of “really vicious dogs” should the demonstrators come too close.
Meanwhile, the nation’s so-called “boogaloo boys,” a motley crew of gun toters itching for a “second civil war” they promise to deliver, are stepping up recruitment efforts.
And meanwhile in Mr. Trump’s concentration camps, migrant detainees are no longer permitted to exercise rights under American and international law to seek asylum through U.S. immigration courts as refugees from countries they escaped, fearing for their lives and their children’s lives. Countries gone to chaos, gang violence, and political corruption largely the result of U.S. policies and U.S. corporate takeover of economic resources. They are detained indefinitely, so long as the coronavirus epidemic continues.
These migrants sleep on concrete floors surrounded by sturdy wire fences. They are fed maggot-ridden gruel. There are no proper sanitary facilities. Children are separated from their parents; some put on airplanes—alone, as young as seven years—and deported to their home countries, where no one is known to receive them. Women are raped in the camps, so are teenage girls.
Life goes on, until it doesn’t.
Laurence Tribe, the longtime eminent professor of constitutional law at Harvard University, shook his silvery head the other night during an interview on MSNBC-Television as he spoke of life going on nowadays in Donald Trump’s America: “We’ve got a president who is basically the enemy of the people.”
—Thomas Adcock is America correspondent for CulturMag