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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.
 

Wilkinson: It’s not a crime if MAGA does it

By Francis Wilkinson
Published: May 26, 2024, 6:01am

Three years after he resigned in disgrace, Richard Nixon justified his crimes in office by declaring in an interview with David Frost: “It’s not a crime if the president does it.” The comment was widely mocked at the time. It seems less comical now. Indeed, Nixon’s words became newly relevant when Donald Trump asked the U.S. Supreme Court to declare him immune from prosecution for his alleged sprawling malfeasance.

Two recent news stories confirm that Trump’s appeal for legal dispensation is not merely another narcissistic flight of fancy. His special pleading no longer even qualifies as idiosyncratic. Immunity from public censure, including the strictures of the law itself, is an operational goal of the anti-democratic movement that Trump leads. Its functional creed is it’s not a crime if MAGA does it.

Thus a famously partisan Supreme Court justice rationalizes his household flying an upside-down distress flag in the aftermath of the violent Jan. 6 assault on the nation’s constitutional integrity, in seeming solidarity with insurrectionists.

The New York Times reported: “After President Biden won the 2020 election, supporters of former President Donald J. Trump rallied around the inverted flag, displaying it at their homes, on their cars and on social media to show that they believed Mr. Trump’s lie that the election was stolen.”

In comments conveyed, tellingly, to Fox News, Justice Samuel Alito defended his household’s inverted flag as a response to a quarrel with neighbors. In Alito’s telling, flying the flag wasn’t his fault. His wife did it. Not that there was anything wrong with it. The couple was under attack by nasty neighbors who used crude language and showed animus toward MAGA’s supreme leader. What else could a powerless upper-class white couple in the wilds of suburban Washington do to defend itself against the awful libs?

Alito is arguably the most MAGA of justices; his jurisprudence is less originalist or textualist than Trumpist or Foxist. But even for Alito, association with the central lie animating a violent attempt to overthrow the republic is a grotesque breach of ethics and common sense.

Except it’s not corrupt if a MAGA judge does it, and it’s not criminal if a MAGA mob does it.

In Texas last week, Governor Greg Abbott extended the parameters of MAGA’s impunity from assault to murder. Abbott pardoned Daniel Perry, a white man who in 2020 drove his car into a crowd of Black Lives Matter protesters in Austin and gunned down one who approached his car. Both men were legally armed. Thanks to laws backed by Abbott and his GOP allies, virtually anyone, including Perry, who fantasized in writing about murdering protesters, could legally carry in Texas.

Perry’s writings revealed him to be a racist who compared BLM protesters to “monkeys.” BLM, of course, is a bogeyman of MAGA, which seeks to bolster traditional racial hierarchy, opposes efforts to mitigate racial discrimination, and portrays white Christians as an oppressed class in a society in which power pools disproportionately among white Christians.

In effect, Perry murdered one of MAGA’s designated bad guys. And murder is not a crime if MAGA does it.

Before he left office in 2021, Trump pardoned an array of criminals, including Paul Manafort, the “grave counterintelligence threat” mired in corruption and Russian intrigue whom Trump had placed atop his 2016 campaign. Manafort refused to cooperate with prosecutors, and Trump rewarded him, as he did MAGA cronies Steve Bannon and Roger Stone.

Degenerate political movements, including Trump’s aspirational model, Putinism, recruit criminals to their ranks and make violent use of them. MAGA, which has now consolidated its control of the GOP, increasingly breeds threats of violence. Its leader, facing a mountain of evidence of criminal acts, and desperate to avoid jail, threatens violence. Abbott, Alito and other MAGA leaders fuel the threat.

In MAGA ideology, the law binds but does not protect MAGA’s opponents. And it protects but does not bind MAGA.

It’s not a crime if MAGA does it.


Francis Wilkinson is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering US politics and policy.

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