Trump’s Georgia Call Highlights How He Gets Away With Abusing His Power
One of the most memorable characters from my school was a boy named Shaun Jones. The boy was a cheating savant. Whenever we had a big exam, he’d manage to get a copy of the questions ahead of time. He paid the smartest kids from the year above us to write essays for him. He invented elaborate methods to sneak cheat sheets into exam halls. The teachers suspected he was up to no good, but they couldn’t catch him.
Even worse, Shaun had the kind of parents who wouldn’t hear a word against him. He was a good actor, he’d never been in any serious trouble, he knew how to turn on the charm when he needed to. As long as his grades stayed up (which they did, of course), his parents didn’t seem too interested in how he was getting them.
So one day, our teacher decided to make a point. She gave us a test. No warning. No time to prepare. No way to get hold of the answers. She wrote the questions herself, all based on stuff we’d covered over the past month. Anybody who had been paying attention would pass it easily. Shaun got the lowest score in the class. When she gave him back his paper, she paused by his desk.
“If you did the work yourself,” she said, “you’d have passed this test easily.”
“What difference does it make?” he replied, not even bothering to feign innocence. “I always pass when it counts.”
And he did.
Despite the fact that he barely understood the material, he aced his exams, was accepted into a top university, and is probably cheating his way through life as we speak. He knew he coud get away with cheating and so he did. Nobody ever taught him otherwise.
When the news broke that Donald Trump had been caught pressuring the governor of Georgia to “find“ 11,000 votes, I was reminded of Shaun. Trump has spent the better part of his life breaking the law, swindling his employees, and violating basic standards of decency. And even though we all know he does it, he keeps getting away with it.
Over the past thirty years, Donald Trump and his businesses have been involved in at least 3500 legal cases with complaints ranging from racial discrimination to pay disputes to allegations of sexual harassment, yet he’s never faced any jail time. Even when he was impeached, everybody knew ahead of time that there was “no chance” that he’d be removed from office. This despite concrete evidence of him illegally pressuring Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to investigate Joe and Hunter Biden.
When the news leaked that he paid just $750 in taxes in 2016 and 2017, everybody talked about it, but nothing happened. When he bragged about sneaking backstage at the Miss Universe pageant, to leer at semi-naked teenagers, everybody talked about it, but nothing happened. When we learned that he knowingly lied about the seriousness of the COVID pandemic, everybody talked about it, but nothing happened. When he tear-gassed peaceful protesters to clear the way for a photo-op, everybody talked about it, but nothing happened. Every time he does something outrageous, or even downright criminal, there’s a lot of talk, and then everybody moves on. When he boasted that he could shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue and not lose any votes, it was horrifying because we knew deep down that he was probably right.
The fact that Trump is trying to coerce officials into helping him steal the election doesn’t tell us anything that we didn’t already know, it simply reminds us that the rules that are supposed to keep the rich and powerful in check aren’t working. Trump is shamelessly corrupt because he’s proven, time and time again, that nothing meaningful happens when he breaks the law. Liberal media condemns him, conservative media defends him, and everybody moves on to the next thing (which more often than not is another Trump scandal). And while that condemnation might act as a deterrent for some, it’s naive to expect it to make the slightest difference to a man who has repeatedly demonstrated that he’s incapable of shame or self-reflection.
The most maddening thing about this pattern is that it’s not limited to Trump. As the twenty-four-hour news cycle erodes our attention spans and our expectations of fairness, people and institutions that consider themselves above the law continue to enjoy absolute freedom from accountability.
When the police murder unarmed or even sleeping civilians in front of the entire world, everybody talks about it, and then nothing happens. When two district attorneys knowingly suppressed evidence in the Ahmaud Arbery murder case for over ten weeks (until a leaked video made it impossible to continue to hide), everybody talked about it, and then nothing happened. Even on those rare occasions when there are consequences (as in the cases of Harvey Weinstein or R Kelly), their crimes are common knowledge for decades before anybody takes any action.
It’s natural to look at people like these and ask why they don’t follow the rules, but the fact is, some people won’t follow the rules unless they’re given no choice. The abusers and corrupt police officers and Donald Trumps of the world are a problem, but the bigger problem is that the systems that are supposed to keep them in check, don’t work. Instead of asking why people aren’t more decent, or why the police don’t protect everybody equally, or why Donald Trump isn’t a better human being we need to ask whey they so rarely face any consequences when they’re exposed? Why does everything go back to normal once all of the outrage and finger-wagging dies down? How many times will this pattern repeat?
So here we are again. Donald Trump has broken the law and everybody’s talking about it. Kamala Harris described Trump’s actions as “a bold-faced abuse of power”, The Mooch said Trump was guilty of “rank lawlessness”, Carl Bernstein, one of the reporters who broke the Watergate scandal, believes that this latest assault on democracy is even more damning than Nixon’s. TV pundits are falling over themselves to weigh in and denounce this latest attack on democracy. We can only hope that once everybody has had their say, something will finally happen.