An Indescribable Crime

Perhaps last week’s revelation that Il Trumpe was going to let Democratic states die from COVID-19 for electoral gain is just another casualty of the Trumpian strategy of flooding the zone with shit (this was sort-of confirmed by a NY Times reporter, who inexplicably didn’t see this as newsworthy). Maybe it’s just so hard to keep up with the torrent of horror during Trump’s misrule that leaving tens of millions of Americans to die because they belong to a different political party doesn’t register.

But I think David Atkins makes a good point–we don’t really have a way to describe the evil that position entails (boldface mine):

If this is true–and there is very little reason to doubt its veracity, despite the White House press secretary’s denials–it would constitute perhaps the greatest crime against humanity of any president in American history. Andrew Jackson’s Trail of Tears was more deliberately vicious and murderous; George W. Bush’s immoral war of choice in Iraq killed more people overall.

But no American president has ever betrayed his oath of office more profoundly than in deliberately allowing the deaths of more than 150,000 of his own fellow citizens and counting for partisan political gain.

We even lack the vocabulary to describe it. “Gross negligence” doesn’t reach the level of the crime. “Murder” is lurid, but frankly not comprehensive enough in scope to describe the death of 150,000. “Treason” comes to mind when considering that the President of the United States knowingly allowed 150,000 Americans to die because they were mostly his political opponents–but despite his Russia entanglements, there is no direct evidence he did so on behalf of a foreign power.

But there’s another option: “genocide.” The known racial bias of the deaths overlaps with the political bias–black and brown Americans tend to be Democrats and live in Democratic areas, and are disproportionately falling victim to the virus–which in turn would make “genocide” the most compelling way to describe what Trump and Kushner have done.

Genocide. Yes, it sounds preposterous. It sounds like the hyperbole of the deeply unserious. But what else can you call it? No word is perfect, but the crime must have a name that fits the enormous scope of its evil. It must describe what actually happened. And what happened is that the president and his son-in-law deliberately allowed 150,000 (and counting) Americans to die of a pandemic, because it would mostly kill off their political opponents. Because it would kill off mostly poor people of color. Because they thought they could gain an upper hand by blaming opposing governors. But they thought it would advantage them politically….

When the founders named “high crimes and misdemeanors” as the basis for impeaching a president, they chose the phrase because it was deliberately vague: it would be impossible to write a law to cover every possible abuse of power by a deranged executive. They expected the Congress to respect its own authority and the health of the country enough to know when a relevant “high crime” or “misdemeanor” had taken place…

This is a crime against humanity. A crime so profound we may not have a law to cover it. A crime with international implications, one so vast it may require an international court.

One problem with most decent people is that they are decent. They simply can’t imagine how someone could be so monstrous, even when the plan is clearly in sight. That said, there won’t be any tribunal for Trump et alia: in 21st century America, accountability does not exist, unless sternly-worded letters by Democrats count. If it did, Trump and his entire cabinet, out of shame, would have already committed ritual self-disembowelment on the White House lawn for their failure.

Unfortunately, the best we can hope for is that he loses in 2020.

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4 Responses to An Indescribable Crime

  1. “…in 21st century America, accountability does not exist…” (Way to bury the lede.)
    This. This is it. This is everything. We got where we are by letting people off the hook. And it goes farther back than the turn of the century; 1974, 1963, 1950, pick your favorite date, it really doesn’t matter, because it is not like the usual kind of thing where understanding what happened when tells you what to do now. There is no way to deduce what to do now, because there are no incremental remedies. Humpty Dumpty can’t be put back together again. There has to be a fresh start; but, under today’s conditions, any imaginable fresh start would be out of the frying pan into the fire. So today’s conditions must be transformed before the fresh start, which kind of makes a mockery of the whole concept.

  2. ElHongo says:

    “…in 21st century America, accountability does not exist…”

    Not yet at least. But neither did accountability for right-wing murders exist in antebellum Germany.

    The real world is not Game of Thrones, but the following exchange (with regard to blood sports, fwiw) may still be pertinent, even if in an oblique or inverted way:

    Hizdahr zo Loraq: “[W]hat great thing has ever been accomplished without killing or cruelty?”
    Tyrion Lannister: “It’s easy to confuse what is with what ought to be […]”

    What Frank Wilhoit comments is *usually* true. But I am not sure whether it applies here. In situations brought about by *purely human* failure, callousness or cruelty, like the Beirut disaster, it surely does, at least up to a point that beggars belief – Paraguayans stuck to Lopéz until there were only 10% males of fighting age left in the country; Mussolini only ran out of followers when he was promoted to a gas station advertisement.

    To apply it here leaves one crucial factor out of the equation – a factor you and I and Frank too are nominally as aware of as is probably every reader of this blog. Yet life in a civilized society (I use this as a purely technical term, not as a value judgement) makes it easy to forget:

    This will not be over any time soon. Not in the US at least. In Vetnam, Taiwan, New Zealand, maybe.
    We’re dealing with a pathogen, not human depravity. And however much Trump may wish it, this pathogen does not yield to human desiderata. And while it tends to hit the dispossessed and disenfranchised hardest (like about every major pathogen), this particular virus depends on the specific behavior patterns of neoliberal capitalism – unlike about all other major pathogens. Slum dwellers are certainly more of a dead-end vector; slumlords with international investments and the associated travel routines are much better. Whitebread Ivy League MBA undergrads on spring break are better still. If they happen to be QAnon freaks and intern in a multinational corporation, they are about the best vectors this virus can ever hope to get.

    The US epidemic will continue; never mind a vaccine, Kizzy Corbett et al are doing all they can, and there probably will be a fairly safe and effective vaccine in some lab somewhere before the year ends, but there won’t be enough of it until long into 2021.
    So the virus will have the upper hand for the foreseeable future – *until Trumpism and the demographic and behavior patterns it thrives on will be terminated.*

    The longer this pandemic takes, the higher the odds that the equation “the transformation is itself a prerequisite for the transformation” will simply disappear into a cloud of logic and a widespread desire to utterly destroy these criminals.

    Until then, it will be horrible though. But as history has shown time and again – violating the rules that apply to the universe at large, and that civilized humans love to forget about, is ultimately and inevitably self-destructive, and the lessons learned will persist at least until the events disappear form living memory.

    For the young and educated humans everywhere, this will be a lesson well learned. They will need it in about 3 decades, when they will hold positions of power, and when climate change will enforce the question who is to live, and who must die lest the survival of our species itself is jeopardized. It is a generalization of Pavlichenko’s Rule – “when you kill fascists, you save lives”.

    In essence, what we are facing here is *not* a 21st-century problem. It is a 20th-century atavism. The present century will end up with having a vastly different set of rules, one so alien to us that we cannot at present fathom it, a transformation brought about not by choice and deliberation, but forced upon us and guided by raw necessity.

    And we cannot pretend anymore that the choice is not utterly clear.

    • Mike spoke of 20 years ago. I spoke of yet longer ago. Neither of us was talking about the past six months.

      Now let us look the other direction along the timeline. “…in about 3 decades…” no steps will have been taken to break the addiction to ideology. This would have to be imposed from outside and it would take two human lifetimes of a kind and a degree of effort that has never been envisioned, let alone attempted.

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