Thursday, December 21, 2017

Entitled Impunity

No, he can't really get away with murder. He just thinks he can.

Nothing says "Trump" like impunity.

The man blusters, blows, blabs as if he believes himself to be untouchable. With his entire regime under federal investigation, he regularly self-incriminates via the Twitter account his handlers have struggled in vain to regulate. By the reckoning of the New York Times he will, by the end of his first year in office, have told well over a hundred bald-faced lies, many of them repeatedly and with a clear effort to convince his most rabid followers of their veracity. In contrast, the Times found that, over the course of his entire Presidency, Barack Obama had told at most 16 falsehoods. Arriving at that number meant, in some cases, stretching the definition of falsehood to include exaggeration. On top of that, when notified he had been caught in a lie, Obama was quick to apologize and correct the error. Trump's response is to double down and insist all the more vehemently in the accuracy of his alternate world view, blasting the fact-checkers as tools of the Fake News Media.

Trump's public life has teemed with impropriety. He burns through marriages, deeming a woman only worthy of his wealth as long as she is hot enough. He has driven casinos and an entire football league into bankruptcy and liquidation with his penchant for expensive lawsuits and refusal to accept blame for the colossal errors he makes. His legal team's response to the ongoing investigation of his and his campaign's involvement in the Russian rigging of the 2016 election has been the public obstruction of the rule of law by every means possible, including smearing the highly respected, Republican-appointed investigator and, most ridiculously of all, to insist that he is incapable of obstructing justice because, as President, he is justice. His response to a host of accusations of sexual harassment has been to deny every one of them, threaten them with lawsuits, and libel the accusers.

These are just a few examples of the impunity Donald Trump believes himself to enjoy when it comes to the norms that every prior Presidential administration--including those of couldn't-keep-his-pants-zipped-if-his-life-depended-on-it Bill Clinton and plunge-the-country-into-the-worst-quagmire-since-Vietnam-on-false-pretenses George W. Bush--held itself to, with the help of official Presidential ethicists. It is the last one, though, that I wish to highlight in this essay, as it speaks most clearly to the paradigm shift the nation is undergoing.

But first, let's look more closely at the source of Trump's impunity, which I define as freedom from the fear of consequences for one's actions. As I stated a few paragraphs earlier, Trump has acted his entire life as if he need have no fear, ever, of consequences for his actions. As a real estate mogul, he engaged in racially discriminatory ways that were already illegal. As a celebrity, he's felt entitled to walk, unannounced, into the dressing rooms of beauty contestants, and to grope and kiss any woman he finds attractive. He's held back payment to contractors who worked on many of his properties, forcing them to sue and, ultimately, accept a reduced amount in settlement. He can get away with many of these misdeeds because he can afford to hire better lawyers and to keep cases in the appeal circuit long past the point at which the complainant can afford to continue.

And how can he afford to use the court system as a mop to clean up his messes? Quite simply, he was born into money. He's never had to want for anything: never had to choose between getting a cavity filled and paying his rent, buying groceries or repairing his car, sending his kids to school in worn-out jeans or filling the heating oil tank. Growing up free of want, he's come to take all these privileges for granted, as things he's entitled to. He belongs to the entitled class, and with that entitlement comes impunity.

Yes, I'm using the word "entitlement" to mean something other than the basic provisions our welfare state makes for retirees not born wealthy to have meager income, for children born into poverty to have some food on the table and medical care, and for veterans to have some benefits in return for their often life-wrecking service. The entitled class--the conservative monied elite who run this country's industries, financial institutions, and the Republican side of Congress--have been successful for decades at referring to, and getting the rest of us to refer to, government-sponsored social programs as "entitlements," services that we haven't earned and are picking their undeserving pockets to pay for. The just-passed Republican Donor Relief Act (they're calling it "tax reform") redistributes much of that money back into the pockets of the Uber-rich, and, if Paul Ryan has his way, will in the future be paid for with further reductions in the already scanty safety net for the poorest of the poor.

That's a sidebar, but it does place Trump in the context of his people: entitled robber barons who consider themselves immune to prosecution due to the sheer size of their treasuries. Most of them are born into this wealth; and while the Republicans were not wholly successful in their latest bid to eliminate the estate tax, they did manage to exempt even more of these incredibly wealthy people from having to pay a penny for inheriting millions of dollars they never lifted a finger to earn--at the expense of middle class taxpayers who will be finding their net tax rates, not to mention the cost of their health care, increasing in the near future in order to pay for that regressive redistribution.

That's where the impunity comes from. In my youth, it was not unusual to hear the children of the wealthy referred to as "spoiled rotten": they never lacked for anything, never had to fear consequences, and lived their lives accordingly, going on benders and sprees that would've landed anyone without a trust fund in jail. It's not considered polite to use the term "spoiled" anymore, but "entitled" fits the bill even better. Again and again, for his entire adult life, Trump has acted as an entitled jerk, unafraid of paying anything but a lawyer bill for his misdeeds.

Apart from the vindication we hope will eventually come in the form of indictments from the Mueller investigation, there is one thing, in this entire moral morass, that could bring an end to Trump's smug entitled impunity: the collective slap in his face that the women he's groped and molested are beginning to deliver.

There has been a sea change this fall in the way this country deals with sexual harassment. One by one, public figures, many of them pillars of the liberal elite, have been fired or forced to resign in disgrace. A very few conservatives have faced them same judgment. The GOP has been counting on its belief that, somehow, being elected to office absolves a politician from any accusations of sexual misconduct that may have been made public. Thus, the theory goes, Trump has been pardoned by his success at gaming the electoral system, even though it was only a minority of the plurality who voted in the election that put him over the top in the only way he could win.

"Not so fast!" shouted the women whose honesty he had impugned. Their accusations have the ring of truth, as did those of the accusers of Roy Moore, who just barely lost his bid to become the junior senator of Alabama thanks to his predilection for pederasty. These women are not just going away, however inconvenient their testimony may be for Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan.

If this had happened a year earlier--if the paradigm shift of women not just coming forward, but being believed by and large--we might not be in the mess we're in. If the public ethos then had been what it is now--if we had become, in 2016 rather than 2017, a nation whose patience with workplace molestation has finally run out--then we would have, rather than a sexual predator, a strong feminist occupying the Oval Office.

But that's not what happened. And even if the election were to be relitigated post-Harvey Weinstein, it might not look any different; because in this one way, out of all the ways I've mentioned, of enjoying entitled impunity, Trump is far from alone. Most American men, especially white American men, even those of us earning below the median income, were born into this particular entitlement: we are privileged over women simply because we are men.

Growing up privileged, it's not surprising we come to take this entitlement for granted, and to be surprised when women call us on it. We're startled to learn, not just that women earn less money for doing the same work, but that those doing different work also expect to be equitably paid. We're shocked, sometimes even hurt, when women call us on the sexist jokes we like to tell. Some of us are angered that their aggressive office flirting is considered offensive by their female coworkers just trying to do their jobs.

The truth is, though, that half of Americans, whether rich or poor, of color or white, speaking English as a native or second language, have been born into the privilege of the Y chromosome. We didn't as for this privilege, for much of our lives may have been oblivious to it, but it's there.

Until it's not. Women are finally standing up to the inequality they've experienced both in the workplace and at home, fighting back against the sexual aggression of their male coworkers and superiors, and are insisting they be accorded the same dignity and respect every human being deserves. It remains to be seen how far this battle may go toward reversing a trend that is as old as civilization.

But maybe, just maybe, it'll be enough to topple a President. And if it can accomplish that, who knows how much more good it may do?

No comments:

Post a Comment