WEDNESDAY, MAY 12, 2021
...Slate and Lithwick edition: We've often commented on an unfortunate tendency of us the humans.
We refer to the tendency to divide ourselves into tribes—and after that, to try to get The Others locked up.
This tendency was quite pronounced in the public behaviors of former president Trump. We liberals may have a harder time spotting this ancient tendency here in the streets of Our Town.
Monday afternoon, over at Slate, Dahlia Lithwick put this tendency on rather vivid display. She spoke with Preet Bharara, former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. Their conversation was published beneath these headlines:
How Close Are We to Criminal Charges for Donald Trump?
Former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara on accountability, Rudy, and the death of truth.
How Close Are We to Criminal Charges for Donald J. Trump? Here in Our Town, it seems that we've been asking that question since roughly the dawn of time.
In our view, Bharara was basically sensible during his conversation with Lithwick. It seemed to us that Lithwick was perhaps a bit too involved in the desire to Lock Others Up.
Someone at Slate had posted an introduction to the interview feature. "It’s 2021, but there’s still an awful lot of stuff from 2016 onward yet to be litigated," this editor instantly said.
It's always possible that that could be true. That said, pretty much right out of the gate, Lithwick was caught saying this:
LITHWICK (5/10/21): To the extent anyone thinks about Trump anymore, it’s gleefully imagining his criminal exposure in the after times, both in New York and elsewhere in the country. I gather he’s facing what, 29 lawsuits, three criminal investigations, like a lot.
BHARARA: A whole bunch.
LITHWICK: His tax returns are in the hands of Cyrus Vance Jr., the district attorney of Manhattan. They’re working to flip folks in the Trump organization. I wonder what piece of that you’re watching or are you just watching all of it? What do you expect to see in terms of accountability and having some sense that there is some closure to any of this?
"To the extent that anyone thinks about Trump any more, it’s gleefully imagining his criminal exposure?"
Maybe that's not what she meant. It seems to us that people are still thinking about Trump a great deal of the time. Beyond that, it seems to us that there are plenty of reasons to do so.
Trump continues to involve vast numbers of people in various wild, irrational claims, including the deeply destructive claim we like to call the big lie. It seems to us that "to the extent that anyone thinks about Trump," we might be trying to think about ways to intervene in this malignant process.
That would involve thinking about Trump in terms of political communication and political persuasion. In Lithwick's mind, the only reason to think about Trump is to dream about locking him up.
That said, whatever! But in her next question for Bharara, Lithwick kept dreaming these dreams:
LITHWICK: Is there anything that you feel is urgent and exigent that should have been looked at and that should be investigated and that slipped through the cracks somehow? Do you feel as though these handful of criminal investigations and the civil suits he’s facing kind of get us there in terms of accountability?
Lithwick had already listed the three hundred different ways Trump might be facing legal exposure, whether in the realm of civil or criminal law. Now she was asking Bharara to dream that there might be something else beyond that—that there might be something more, something we've all somehow missed!
Needless to say, Lithwick also wants to lock up Rudy. Here was her question on that:
LITHWICK: Let’s get to the great, luminous, searing, scorching crazy of Rudy Giuliani. Before we dig in, can you just remind us what Giuliani is probably on the hook for, this influence campaign to get Ukraine to dig up dirt on Hunter Biden? What’s the backstory?
"Please, please, please," she said to Bharara. "Please tell us the story again!"
For what it's worth, the dream of locking these idiots up continues to make regular appearances on Our Town's "cable news" channels. These conversations have dominated Our Town's cable diet dating back to the days when we were told, again and gain, that Saint Mueller Already Had His Tax Returns And Would Surely Be Locking Him Up.
For people like Lithwick, there can never be enough such conversations. Also, there is no other reason to talk about Donald J. Trump!
Lithwick's desire seemed carnal and strong. In fairness, we were also struck by a few things Bharara said.
In response to Lithwick's question about what the current investigations will :get us there in terms of accountability," Bharara offered the response shown below. We were struck by a famous dog which didn't bark:
BHARARA: There’s two categories of things that I think about. One is stuff we don’t know. I find it hard to believe we know the full scope and landscape of the things that Donald Trump did behind the scenes that were improper, unethical, and perhaps criminal...
Then the other stuff that’s big ticket that happened out in the open for which there was an attempt to hold him accountable: the “Big Lie” of the election, his involvement in the incitement of the riot and the insurrection on Jan. 6, the stuff he did with the interference in the election in Georgia. I don’t know if he’ll get any accountability there. I don’t know that the administration has the interest and stomach to do something there, especially when there’s an interest in moving on.
We agree with Bharara on that first point. We'll guess that Trump has engaged in all sorts of illegal financial behavior over the course of his business career. More on that point below.
Regarding Bharara's second point—his point about "big ticket [stuff] that happened out in the open"—we were struck by his failure to mention the obstruction of justice allegations we once loved in Our Town.
Those imagined obstruction allegations always struck us as a bit shaky—but at one time, they were all we had in Our Town. Now that we have the Capitol riot to dream about, it almost seemed to us that those early, less dramatic charges may have gone the way of all flesh.
When Bharara spoke about Rudy, we were a bit surprised to see him mention a possible FARA violation (Foreign Agents Registration Act). It wasn't very long ago when everyone was saying how rarely such violations have ever been charged in the past. In recent weeks, folks in Our Town have been dreaming exciting new dreams about that type of criminal charge.
Finally, Bharara said something we've often wondered about. Speaking about Trump's long career, Bharara offered this:
BHARARA: It doesn’t sound farfetched to think, “Well, when it suited him, Donald Trump inflated the value of his holdings. Otherwise he understated the value of his holdings.” Both of which can incriminate him criminally and subject him to exposure. That all sounds like it makes sense. There’s also the reporting that Michael Cohen, his former lawyer who was prosecuted by SDNY, has met with prosecutors and investigators with the DA’s office like a gazillion times.
We agree! That doesn't sound farfetched at all! It doesn't sound farfetched to think that Donald J. Trump may have engaged in illegal behavior all through his long, checkered business career.
That said, Bharara was once in charge of the Southern District of New York. Especially during the Mueller days, our cable channels crawled with self-impressed alumni of the SDNY—with alumni who endlessly boasted about how fearless and tough the SDNY has always been.
We'll guess it also wasn't farfetched to think that Trump was breaking the rules back in those earlier years, but he was never charged. Does Our Town know how it would look to see this ex-president indicted on various types of charges now?
Bharara said he doesn't know what you do about "the death of truth." We can tell you this about that:
The death of truth will be helped along if anything but the most serious and most obvious charges are brought against this former president.
Any other types of charges will be seen as political charges. Given the way people like Lithwick have begged and pleaded for prosecutions, it will be very hard to persuade The Others that a political hunt isn't on.
Lithwick has always struck us as the world's nicest person. According to major experts, such impulses tend to go the way of all flesh when it comes time to lock Others up.
Our human brains are wired that way, these top major experts have said. We're wired for locking the Others up, not so much for political suasion.