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Crime and Punishment*

by on January 31, 2021

Crime and Punishment*

by a Guest Columnist**

Anonymous: How could crime be reduced?

Solon: If it caused as much resentment in those who are not its victims as in those who are.

SOLON (630 – 560 BCE) In Diogenes Laertius, 3rd Cent CE.

  • I tried to obtain permission from Fyodor Dostoevsky but he was busy upbraiding a Dictator in his home country.
  • The author, an academic in a prestigious Northeastern University, expressed grave concern for her safety and requested anonymity. I have complied with her wishes.

All comments are welcome and will receive a reply. All previous posts are also open for comment.

I would like to assume the privilege of writing a prefacing comment. The statements below are brilliantly precise and insightful. Indeed, they inspire in me deep consideration of the concept of punishment itself. Is it possible to punish someone who has no concept of having committed a transgression, no concept of right versus wrong? Our criminal justice system does provide for mental assessment of perpetrators, to determine if they are “fit to stand trial”. And, we have been known to submit people to “treatment” in order to later render them fit for trial. But that always raises the question of whether being fit now justifies trial and conviction for crimes committed then.

I do not think Donald J. Trump is unfit for trial simply because, as an almost certain amoral sociopath he is unable to understand the reasons for the trial. Just this morning I saw an inspiring quote: “World War II was over, yet we still had the Nuremberg War Trials”

I sincerely hope our readers throughout the world, and there are many, will deeply imbibe the clarity and wisdom offered below and will add to our considerations with comments. I am deeply grateful to our Guest Columnist. Marco M. Pardi

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Donald J. Trump and other such people—mostly men, so far, although there are more and more women who qualify—aren’t super-villains or criminal masterminds or megalomaniacs. They are just vain, arrogant, selfish little people who are incapable of seeing anything in the world but themselves.

Toxic narcissist” is an apt term for such individuals, but at the same time it is too grandiose. They have absolutely no vision of anything beyond themselves, though most of them are able to fake normal responses to one degree or another. They do not truly see even the members of their own families; classic sociopaths all, no one in the world is really as real as themselves. Their inner vacuity infects their spouses, their offspring, and those who are so foolish as to think they are their friends.

(I feel sorry for Tiffany Trump and her half-brother Barron, but they may still have some slight hope of escaping their father’s poisonous shadow. For Ivanka and Donald Jr. and Eric, there is no such hope; they have already revealed themselves to be entitled but inferior copies of their father. They have the same lack of empathy, of self-awareness, but they have none of Trump’s superficial charisma that appeals so strongly to the worst and most ignorant among us.)

Of course, most of Trump’s ‘friends’ were already of the same deeply flawed breed, whether they knew it or not. Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, Rudy Giuliani—all equally flawed, equally damaged, equally odious people.

Some of those who may find themselves tainted for life by association with Trump and his ilk—what an apt and wonderful word, ilk—will try to claim that they are innocent victims, brought low by misplaced trust in someone who turned out to be the worst possible person they ever met. It’s a lie. Inside, they are the same as Trump is, and always were. They were just unlucky; in a Trump-less life, most of them would merely have been dim little people shambling through lives whose emptiness they would seldom ever even recognize, let alone question. They are greedy little men and women who thought they’d found their savior, thought they could ride his coat-tails up into the realms of lifelong power and prestige. They thought Trump could take them to places where they could gorge themselves on all the earthly perquisites of fame and wealth and privilege so they would no longer hear the echoes in the frozen voids they hold inside.

To paraphrase Christopher Guest’s 1972 parody “Deteriorata,” “a walk through the ocean of such people’s souls would not even get your feet wet.” Mike Pompeo, Steven Mnuchin, Betsy DeVos, Ben Carson, Rick Perry, Michael Flynn, Sean Spicer, those I’ve named before and all the rest, the small and the smaller, are just like Donald J. Trump: there is no there there. Inside they have nothing, they are nothing; inside they are absolutely empty, devoid of soul, integrity, character, morality, conviction, loyalty, and anything even resembling honor. In John D. MacDonald’s wonderful phrase, “heart empty as a paper bag, eyes of clever glass.”

None of which makes them one whit less dangerous. As Yeats wrote, “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity,” because the worst are nevertheless driven—driven by a hunger they do not question, an interior emptiness that can never be filled but only briefly papered over before it gnaws its way out again.

They can be brought to a kind of justice, if we care to try; but they will never understand it. Nixon himself, the most blatantly criminal of Trump’s predecessors (there are of course others who could be considered eligible for that dubious title), knew at the end that he had been wrong, had done wrong. He understood the concept and the meaning of failure and disgrace, and so he left office with his head down and his voice stilled. Donald J. Trump is so impenetrably wrapped up in himself and his twisted understanding of the world that he will never understand. Any punishment he receives—the most likely, and the most important for the rest of us, is his being banned from federal office for life—he will regard as he does everything that thwarts his desires, as persecution and gross injustice.

Which is where our concept of punishment breaks down. If the malefactor cannot be made to understand that he has in fact done wrong, then punishment—to him—will always be capricious, arbitrary and above all, unfair.

The initial fault was not Trump’s; he had the compound misfortune to be born the eldest son of his greedy, opportunistic, racist, misogynist father, and to have been befriended by the wretched Gollum-esque excuse for a human being once known as Roy Cohn. For anything and everything after that, though, Trump bears full responsibility. He never cared to engage with the rest of the world enough to learn just how immoral, vile, and venal these two men were—two of the worst men ever to befoul the world with their existence in the past century. And in foulness and venality he has tried to surpass them both, and in some ways he has succeeded…which he probably thinks is an achievement.

With Donald J. Trump, and his lickspittles, enablers and toadies, there is no way for us to achieve real justice in a way that will feel like real justice; his own nature makes that impossible. The most important thing we can do—for ourselves—is to kick him out of the game once and for all. If nothing else, we need to make it impossible for him to ever assume not just the presidency but any kind of federal office ever again. (Keeping him out of public office at any level, including the PTA and the Neighborhood Watch, would be best—not that he would consider either—but doing so is not the province of the government.) He will doubtless keep whining and yammering, and he will doubtless find an audience for his lies…but we can try to make sure that he dies with whatever’s left of his personal evil unconsummated, and that others who might wish to follow his road are warned off. That will have to be good enough.

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9 Comments
  1. William Boyd permalink

    After I take in those guest thoughts, I’ll pick up where things left off in *The Brothers Karamazov*. Thanks. BB

    Virus-free. http://www.avast.com

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  2. William Boyd permalink

    A fine essay which has me re-reading the most recent from Philip Kennicott on the perfunctory proposed Trump “Presidential” library.

    If you’d like read beyond what Kennicott’s opener, let me know:

    “Former president Donald Trump will have an official portrait in the National Portrait Gallery at some point. And in states where he remains popular, he could have airports, bridges and schools named for him. But Trump must never have an official presidential library, and Congress should move quickly to make sure he never will.

    Things would seem to be moving toward establishing a Trump library. On Jan. 20, the day he left office , the National Archives launched the Donald J. Trump Presidential Library website. Already, there are rumors that the former president is engaged with the idea of creating some kind of presidential center, perhaps run by longtime aide Dan Scavino, with a price tag as high as $2 billion. Even before Trump left office, a sophisticated parody site, djtrumplibrary.com, began attracting admirers for its sharp architectural and design satire on what has become the norm in presidential centers. But it also deftly skewered the larger scam that has become attached to the presidency: the use of presidential libraries and museums to entrench perpetual fundraising and hagiography as a permanent part of every post-presidential career.”

    I’d add only that the game has far too many rating U.S. presidents in terms of “greatness.” A blessed waste of time and a stain on the concept of greatness, I’d suggest.

    BB

    Virus-free. http://www.avast.com

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    • Thank you for that review of Kennicott’s work. That the grifter Trump continues to scam millions from the American people speaks volumes about him and about the people who would worship at his altar.

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  3. Thanks, Dana. I agree that we must not focus solely on Trump. He is the Poster Boy for a major problem in American society. Sadly, I agree he will never understand punishment for what it is. And that raises the question: If punishment is justified as an opportunity to understand and regret one’s actions, is punishment in the absence of such ability (on the part of the criminal) nothing but revenge?

    For the record, I’m an unabashed lifelong fan of exquisite revenge. Turning the other cheek just gives me more time to devise it.

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    • Dana permalink

      Marco, my apologies for removing comments. I was triggered by some circumstances that night and in the throes of a panic attack. Sometimes I can’t figure out why I do certain things out of fear when my mind is racing.

      This was an excellent piece, and my thanks to the author. Lately I’ve given up thinking there will be any type of punitive consequences for the untold crimes and actions over several decades. Some people just get lucky, I guess, and their enablers help make that “luck” possible.

      As for revenge, the bullies who kicked the shit out of me as an autistic kid in the 4th through 6th grades never faced any type of punishment. And my parents did nothing to protect or defend me (today they claim I was never beaten up but was “prone to fights”). At the time they told me to “turn the other cheek” as “Jesus” commanded.

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  4. I understand, Dana. Your comment reminds me of a book quite famous years ago, Why Bad Things Happen to Good People. It is hard to think of those people who go through life exploiting others and never paying a price. That childish stuff about paying in the afterlife is just rationalized garbage.

    People sometimes comment to me about my attitude toward revenge. My answer to them is: Have you ever straightened a painting which has come out of balance?

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