Geschrieben am 1. März 2024 von für Crimemag, CrimeMag März 2024

Thomas Adcock: Exile Style – Please … Just Go Away

New York

A well-meaning lie told every day in this abominable Age of Trump is the old whopper, “No one is above the law.” Here in the United States—home to Wall Street swindlers, bible-thumping perverts, and crypto-currency hustlers—such perjury comforts the masses.

But for those who recognize fables, the whopper du jure distracts from what we yearn to hear: the sound of an iron door clanging shut behind the Mar-a-Lago crime boss after he’s been frog-marched down the concrete corridor of a penitentiary and shoved into a windowless cell furnished with a steel cot, toilet bowl, and hand sink.

…Alas, I understate my desire for punitive recompense.

We are presently encouraged to place full trust in the goodness of Lady Justice. Surely, she will smite the world’s most famous defendant. Namely, the braying orange ass Donald J. Trump—celebrity fraudster, tabloid curiosity, a landlord twice prosecuted for refusing to rent apartments to African Americans, failed casino magnate, malignant narcissist, bumbling heir to his father’s real estate fortune.

And further, a sexual predator and three-time unfaithful husband who moistened chairs at the White House from 2017 to 2021, during which term he was twice impeached, thus—

• Mr. Trump attempted to extort Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy into providing political “dirt” on U.S. President Joe Biden;

• He instigated a deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol building in January 2021, sending swarms of his fascist bully-boys (including off-duty cops flown in from around the country) to beat federal police officers with clubs while chanting “Hang Mike Pence!” as they sought (unsuccessfully) to murder the vice president .

Now comes der amerikanische Führer in his latest try at befouling Washington, this time as dictator of the U.S.A.—but “only on Day One” of his regime, so he pledged. Another lie.

Donald Trump was victorious in his first election, in 2016, by convincing tens of millions of voters that ignorance and bigotry are pillars of American patriotism. After four years of chaos and corruption, his bid for reëlection in 2020 was not as convincing; Joe Biden defeated him handily. Now as Election Day 2024 looms nine months hence, Mr. Trump has weaponized his humiliating defeat in ’20, presenting himself to a hypnotized flock of as the victim of a vast plot to discredit him—politically, and before the law.

In a feint of lordly noblesse oblige, Mr. Trump promises the deluded that he takes upon himself their collective load of slights and grievances and disappointments. Thus does he leadeth the righteous procession of an ancient hymn’s holy knighthood—

Onward Christian soldiers,
marching as to war/
with the cross of Jesus
going on before…

Sayeth the soldier Trump during a woe-is-me campaign rally early this year in the Deep South state of Texas, “I am your warrior, I am your justice! For those who have been wronged and betrayed…I am your retribution!”

…Boom! Straight out of Romans 12-19: “Vengeance is mine!”   

Virtually all objective opinion polls show that the self-declared messiah has a reasonable chance—even a likelihood—of being addressed as “Mr. President” for another four years of tumult and transgression. Never mind the pesky calendar of pending civil and criminal litigation against Citizen Trump, storm clouds that drench any normal man.

A most threatening cloud is that of a 2021 theft of top-secret national security documents held at the White House.

When he left Washington in the wake of his single-term presidency, Mr. Trump took with him dozens of boxes filled with ultra-sensitive government material, spiriting them off to hiding places at his Florida mansion—in open violation of the U.S. Espionage Act. Trial is set to begin May 20 in a federal court conveniently located a short drive from Mar-a-Lago.

In a suspicious way, those documents—recovered by the Federal Bureau of Investigation after the ex-president refused repeated requests for proper return to the National Archives—may figure in Mr. Trump’s ability to pay down his mountain of debt. More on this later herein.     

But let us consider what is first up on the long calendar of Trump litigation: the March 25 hush-money trial in Manhattan Criminal Court, a matter rooted in Mr. Trump’s 2006 dalliance in Las Vegas with the aptly-named pornographic film diva Stormy Daniels, née Stephanie Clifford.

At the time of his (ahem!) business exchange with Stormy, Mr. Trump’s wife Melania, the Slovenian-born former nude model also known as Melanija Knavs, was recovering at home after the birth of the third Trump son, Baron. When Trump père decided to run for president in 2016, he paid Ms. Daniels $130,000 (€119,600) for her silence—allegedly to withhold news of the coupling in order to protect his chances with voters.

Stormy Daniels was not silent. District Attorney Alvin Bragg charged the lady’s paramour with election interference.

L’affaire Stormy provided many a gossip columnist with amusingly salacious items, such as her likening Mr. Trump’s diminutive manhood to that of a button mushroom, her complaints about his fleshy torso, and how he relished bare-bottom spankings with the business magazine Forbes.

…Given the foregoing rap sheet, partial though it is, I am amazed that my country allowed Donald J. Trump anywhere near the White House in the first place. But wait, there’s more!

Last month, a Manhattan state court and a New York federal court issued devastating rulings against the paunchy perp and presidential hopeful come November:

  • In the penalty phase of the Manhattan case, in which Mr. Trump was found to have falsified banking and insurance records in order to qualify for billions of dollars in loans, a judge assessed a fine of $465 million (€429 million), plus daily interest of $114,553.04 (€105,388.80) until payment in full.
  • In the federal case, arising from more of his squalid sexual conduct, a jury found Mr. Trump liable for defamation when he pronounced a female journalist a “lunatic” he never met—a woman who claimed he tore into her under garments, jammed his fingers into her vagina. The penalty: $83.3 million (€81.5 million) for defamation, plus an additional $5 million (€4.6 million) for defaming her a second time despite repeated warnings by the court to keep his mouth shut.

To date, Mr. Trump has paid zero toward these debts. He has appealed, of course, and will do so in current and future adverse verdicts—all in the cause of delaying justice for months, if not years. One after another after another, he will deny culpability in the ninety-one felony charges he faces in three states and the District of Columbia. Again and again and again, he will show himself to be, in fact, above laws that if broken by you or me would send us to prison in a heartbeat.

We are exhausted from the outrage of all this. We are weary of being told that no one is above the law.

And still, should he survive his dark egomania, Donald Trump may win the presidential election in November. If so, he will enjoy a degree of criminal immunity while working tirelessly, no doubt, to expand his license.   

Which should remind us—should—that we must consider the accuracy of fiction, as elegantly revealed in crime literature. In particular, the literature of Dashiell Hammett (1894-1961), grand master of the straight-shooting genre. A man who recognized the fable of American justice as a system owned and operated by “the cops, the crooks, and the big rich.”

We must also remind ourselves—must—that history prescribes a hopeful way of dealing with the monsters among us, those who are, for all practical purposes, above the law. That way is exile.

Like the rich, monsters are different from you and me. They are amoral by nature, and tend toward a malignant narcissism that shields them from the caution of common sense or ethical quandary. They are difficult to prosecute—but not so difficult to defend—due to a central trait of their affliction: Monsters are incapable of deliberative intent, the legal foundation known as mens rea, upon which criminal conviction and imprisonment is foundational.

In short, a monster does not know he’s a monster.

…Rimshot. Take Donald Trump—please!

At trial, monsters are sincerely unconcerned about the irrational conduct that brought them to defendant status and seemingly bewildered by a civic need for legal redress. On the other hand, prosecution is the rational response to monstrous conduct. The full arc of moral justice, if not law, would have litigants in full understanding of opposing dispositions—shameless amorality versus logical rationality.

As a covenant, this is impossible of course.

Rational human beings share a set of communal values; they know, or are least familiar with, the difference between right and wrong. But what to do about the values-free non-rational? Those who honestly feel no remorse for crimes they’ve committed, those who instinctually flout common decency—including even when aware that they’ve been called to account.

…Take the late Idi Amin Dada of Uganda—please!

In his book “State of Blood,” Kampala-based civil servant Henry Kyemba, who died last year, chronicled horrific events during the 1971-79 regime of Ugandan heavy-weight boxer and military commander Idi Amin Dada. Mr. Kyemba describes the era as one of perpetual terror and financial panic, during which Mr. Amin managed to impoverish his people and dispatch, by various grisly means, an estimated three hundred thousand political and tribal enemies.

Post-homicide, the monster of Uganda either drank portions of his victims’ blood or ate strips of their flesh. He then severed their heads and stored them in a freezer. The more prominent heads were removed from deep freeze on occasions of state banquets. Mr. Amin explained to guests that eminent heads were useful conversation pieces at table.

Of human meat, Mr. Amin sometimes complained, “Too salty.” In 2003, at age 80, the monster died in Saudi Arabia—where he was forced into leave-taking upon a decision by the new order that Uganda was no place for old cannibals. In Riyadh, the glittering Saudi capital, the old cannibal spent the last twenty-four years of his life in splendor and sensuality.

In such exile style, he expressed no regrets.

…Or, take Alfredo Stroessner—please!

From 1954 to 1989, a military dictatorship ruled the landlocked South American republic of Paraguay. It was headed by Generalissimo Alfredo Stroessner and his aide-de-camp, Colonel Alejandro Von Eckstein. Both men were of Bavarian descent, both were involved in establishing Paraguay as a signal station for the German U-boat fleet during World War II.

After the war, they arranged safe havens for Nazi fugitives, settling them in the pleasant countryside north of the capital in Asunción. Among those given refuge—and Paraguayan citizenship—was Josef Rudolf Mengele (1911-1979), the Auschwitz death camp physician known for gruesome medical experimentations.

Notable among Mr. Stroessner’s numerous cruelties was an open system of sexual violence against girls and women, most of them from the impoverished peasantry of upcountry Paraguay. Prior to Stroessner’s rise, there was but one brothel in all of Asunción, according to the American sociologist Kathleen Barry in her 1979 book “Female Sexual Slavery.”  

During the Stroessner reign, scores of brothels in every city and town of Paraguay flourished—including the generalissmo’s favorite, a house in the swanky Sajonia district of the capital. There, he visited twice weekly to rape a kidnapped 13-year-old campesina who later, as an adult, recounted her abuse for the 2017 documentary film “Calle de Silencio.”  

Though the generalissimo remained all-powerful for nearly thirty-five years, an anti-Stroessner faction of the Paraguayan army allied with a resistance movement among the indigenous Guaraní people, boosting the movement’s ability to crush the monster of Asunción. A decision was made: It was high time for Mr. Stroessner to go. Whereupon, he was exiled to a luxurious villa in the  neighboring country of Brazil, just across the Rio Paraná from the Paraguayan metropolis Ciudad del Este.

Not long before his death, I found myself in Ciudad del Este, where I  learned of a certain ritual at the Stroessner villa. The generalissimo’s remaining loyalists within the Paraguayan army would trek from Asunción to the Brazilian side of the river to visit with the aging authoritarian. They would invariably tell him, “Oh, Generalissimo, the people miss you!” To which Mr. Stroessner would reply, “They do? They’re fools.”   

The rapist-tyrant drew his last in 2006, at age 80, having amassed what is reported to be South America’s largest collection of child pornography.

…Or, take Il Duce—please!

For Benito Mussolini, the end came in hurried self-exile rather than a cozy permanent leave of absence.

On the twenty-seventh of April, 1945, as the European Axis powers of World War II were fading into defeat, partisan forces captured the father of fascism as he attempted a disguised escape into Switzerland in the company of his mistress, Claretta Petaci. From a border village, his captors judged him guilty of crimes against the Italian people. Then they hanged him by the neck in the piazza, as well as Signorina Petaci.

Il Duce, as Signor Mussolini was known, exhibited calm before and after his execution. And true to the spirit of his jutting jaw, he was jaunty in predicting an egocentric future.

“You may kill me now,” Il Duce told his hangman, so legend has it, “but I shall return, as the leader of a much more powerful nation.”

He was then given time to put his final thoughts to paper before transport to the nearby city of Milan. That message, folded four times and sealed in a blue envelope, was discovered only last year in the Milanese home of Silvia Codognotto, widow of a partisan fighter. Handwriting experts have authenticated this text:

“The 52nd Garibaldi Brigade captured me today, Friday April 27, in the piazza of Dongo. I was treated correctly during and after my capture. Mussolini.”

In Milan at last, the corpses of Il Duce and his mistress, along with two fascist comrades, were hanged by their heels before a cheering crowd.

Do the conventions of juridical punishment ever compel monsters to feel contrition? Can we reasonably expect judges and juries and lawmakers to shame the remorseless?

Absent remorse and shame, is not a monster effectively beyond the reach of moral punishment to fit the crime?   

How to punish the unpunishable?

At the lowest end of courtroom reckoning is the plea bargain, a maneuver in use every day among trial lawyers throughout America. I have witnessed the practice many times in the criminal courts of New York, where hallways outside trial chambers are crowded with young, slick-haired prosecutors. They haggle with public defenders in rumpled suits over greasy offerings of limited leniency—“The offer’s good for today only,” the slicksters say.  

…”In the halls of justice, the only justice is in the halls.” (Lenny Bruce, 1925-1966)

What may we offer Donald Trump, unrepentant after a 77-year lifetime of weaseling his way past justice and constructing a cult from shameless braggadocio? ”I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters,” he said back in January 2016 as he began his quest for the presidency.

Are these the words of a prophet or a gangster?

I believe Donald Trump is too dim to be the former; after all, his idea of raising fresh funds to protect him from the financial disaster of court fines is to peddle a new item—cheap sneakers gilded in a shade of gold that matches his hair, available at $399 the pair (€368.15).

So it would seem the latter. He’s a gangster.

Let an exhausted nation make this gangster an offer he can’t refuse: Just leave, sir, and we’ll see to your exile in a style that becomes you. Just leave, and we’ll forget about the mess you’ve made.

…Good for today only.

In the cause of this logical bargain, the pressure of money must be pumped. Thus far, Mr. Trump owes a half-billion dollars to the courts, with interest on principal rising rapidly every minute of every day. Where does a putative multi-millionaire, in actuality a four-flusher, go in search of money to pay the piper?

…That’s a nice little debt you’re ringin’ up, sir. Be a shame if you can’t pay.

And here is where the aforementioned case of top-secret national security documents comes into play, documents containing information of strategic value for countries hostile to American interests. It’s why they’re labeled “top-secret” and held under hermetic seal at the heavily guarded National Archives building in Washington, available on a temporary “eyes only” basis to the president and few others.

Donald Trump is stupid, yes. But he’s shrewd, forever in need of cash, and a certified extortionist. He’s also a dab hand at self-preservation and sufficiently savvy to appreciate a valuable commodity. And he certainly knows that as a bank fraudster, the odds are long against borrowing ability at American financial institutions—most of which wrote him off years and years ago.

The question begs: During the time he held the secret documents, at the White House and especially at Mar-a-Lago, did Mr. Trump find a way to make copies—as an emergency source of illicit revenue? No answer has been made.

Perhaps it is mechanically or chemically impossible to duplicate the documents. If so, it is nevertheless in Mr. Trump’s interest to at long last keep his mouth shut about it. Anyway, the man is shrewd enough and monstrous enough to peddle a chimera—to his friends in Moscow, say, or Riyadh or Tehran or Pyongyang or Beijing.

Jack Smith, the dogged and elegantly soft-spoken special counsel for the U.S. Department of Justice assigned to prosecute Donald Trump, may well be entertaining such scenarios. His professional record assures us that he is imaginative in pursuit of especially malevolent bad guys, and that he is an accomplished high-stakes negotiator. Perhaps he’s already put a bug in the defendant’s ear…

…I would remind you, sir, that treason is punishable by death. Russian weather is always nice along the southern seacoast, whereas the climate here may not be as nice for you. By the way, we have no extradition treaty with Russia. So, please just go. If you do, you might hang on to your heels.  

This counsel: Extreme? Insane?

It is crystal clear by now that the United States has gone mad. Persuading a gangster president to the explore the option of exile over a prison cell is a mild idea in such zeitgeist. If an artful deal could be struck, Donald Trump could be lured into residence at crown jewel of his pal Vladimir Putin’s personal real estate empire—the spectacular Gelendzhik Palace, situated along the Black Sea. It is an immensity that makes Trump Tower in New York look like a hut and Mar-a-Lago like a Florida caddy shack.

As an extra incentive, the Gelendzhik neighborhood abounds with gorgeous Slavic women, a femininity that Donald Trump finds so attractive that he married two of the type—the late Ivana Trump, née Ivana Marie Zelníckková of Czechoslovakia and the current Melania Trump of Slovenia.

…It’s a bigly castle over there. Nobody’s ever seen anything like it, that I can tell you.

Elegant in a different way than Mr. Smith was the British-American crime novelist and Hollywood screenwriter Raymond Chandler (1888-1959), whose prescience in a saner time captured the necessary persona of a man who could make a well-meaning lie come true; a man rather like Jack Smith.

As Mr. Chandler he wrote many years ago:

“Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. …[He] must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor. He talks as the man of his age talks, that is, with rude wit, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham, and a contempt for pettiness.”

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