Two-Tiered Justice?

Image by Alejandro Cartagena.

The fascist monstrosity Donald Trump’s Republikaner minions within and beyond Congress claim to believe that his recent and overdue state and federal indictments reflect the unfairness of a “two-tiered justice system” weighted by the “radical Left” against their orange-tinted Dear Leader.

You Can Quit Dreaming About Trump in a Jumpsuit

The complaint is dark comedy. Tens of millions of US-Americans, disproportionately nonwhite, are saddled with felony records, prison histories, and jail time for relatively minor and nonviolent offenses like shoplifting, writing bad checks, selling pot, failing to pay child support, and drug possession. Much of the nations’ giant jailed population is behind bars simply because of an inability to pay cash bail while awaiting trial.

Cook County, Illinois just released Tyrone Clay, a Black Chicago man it had jailed for twelve years while awaiting trial for a crime he didn’t commit.

By contrast, the putschist billionaire ex-president Donald “Take Down the Metal Detectors Cuz the Guys with the AR-15s Don’t Want to Hurt Me” Trump will almost certainly expire before he ever sees the inside of a jail or prison cell. So what if he sparked an attempted fascist coup on January 6th? Never mind his repeated criminal attempts to subvert and reverse the 2020 presidential election and his felonious raising of untold millions of dollars on the multiply disproven and – as he knew – false claim that that election was stolen (that’s wire fraud)? Forget how he feloniously absconded from the White House with hundreds of highly classified national security documents and his felonious obstruction and deception in response to government efforts to retrieve those documents. It’s possible that Trump’s insane documents criminality has reached the level of high treason. And never mind that hundreds of Capitol Rioters have gone to jail and prison for following their demented master’s call to “be wild” and “fight like Hellto “take back our country” on January 6.

The mafia Don(ald) golfs on while his foot soldiers serve time. A two-tiered system, indeed.

It’s possible now that Trump will be convicted for one, some, or all of a number of felonies related to the Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal payoffs, the Capitol Riot, election obstruction, and the Mar a Docs scandal. Incarceration, though, is certainly off the table for an ex-president – how would that work with his lifelong Secret Service protection? It is even possible that he will be elected president for a second time before or after being convicted for one or more of his crimes.

If Trump is re-elected before federal conviction, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) will withdraw all charges against him. The DOJ does not indict or prosecute sitting presidents, a policy developed during the Nixon years. It is at least theoretically possible that US Attorney General Merrick Garland would prosecute Trump as “president elect” between the 2024 election and the 2025 inauguration, but the fact that Trump would simply pardon himself – along with hundreds of other January 6th participants – likely negates that prospect.

So quit dreaming about Trump in a jump suit.

“The Most Dangerous Criminal in Human History”

Darkly enough, Trump has escaped punishment for four egregious crimes: his reckless and potentially disastrous January 3, 2020 drone assassination of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad, Iraq; his pandemicidal negligence of basic public health responsibilities during Covid-19’s deadly third wave in 2020-21; his eco-cidal denial of climate science and related decimation of federal environmental protections; his shredding of nuclear arms controls. The last two transgressions received special attention from the leading left intellectual Noam Chomsky in a January 2020 interview where Chomsky identified Trump as “the most dangerous criminal in human history”:

‘Are [the] crimes discussed [in connection with Trump’s first impeachment in December of 2019] a basis for impeachment? Seems so to me. Has Trump committed vastly more serious crimes? That is hardly debatable. What might be debatable is whether he is indeed the most dangerous criminal in human history (which happens to be my personal view). Hitler had been perhaps the leading candidate for this honor. His goal was to rid the German-run world of Jews, Roma, homosexuals and other “deviants,” along with tens of millions of Slav “Untermenschen.” But Hitler was not dedicated with fervor to destroying the prospects of organized human life on Earth in the not-distant future (along with millions of other species). Trump is. And those who think he doesn’t know what he’s doing haven’t been looking closely.

Is that a wild and ludicrous exaggeration? Or the very simple and apparent truth… while he devotes every effort to accelerating the race to [fossil fuel-driven climate] catastrophe, trailed by such lesser lights as Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro and Australia’s Scott Morrison. Trump’s war on organized life on Earth is only the barest beginning. More narrowly, in recent days, the Chosen One has issued executive orders ridding the country of the plague of regulations that protect children from mercury poisoning and preserve the country’s water supplies and lands, along with other impediments to further enrichment of Trump’s primary constituency, extreme wealth and corporate power.

On the side, he has been casually proceeding to dismantle the last vestiges of the arms control regime that has provided some limited degree of security from terminal nuclear war, eliciting cheers from the military industry. And as we have just learned, the great pacifist who is committed to end interventions “dropped more bombs and other munitions in Afghanistan last year than any other year since documentation began in 2006, Air Force data shows.” He is also ramping up his acts of war — which is what they are — against Iran.’

“There is striking evidence,” wrote the public health journalist Laurie Garrett in February of 2021, citing the leading medical journal The Lancet, “that the policies of the four-year Trump administration vastly worsened life expectancy and mortality rates in the United States, contributing to 461,000 excess deaths in 2018 alone” a – reflection of “callous, ill-considered policies and brutal budget cuts, preceding [Covid-19’s] arrival to U.S. shores.”

Trying to Save Livable Ecology as “Terrorism”

Speaking of climate change and two-tiered justice, compare Trump’s likely lifelong freedom from richly deserved detention with the experience of the Des Moines Catholic Worker Jessica Reznicek. Ms. Reznicek is currently serving an eight-year “terrorism” sentence in a federal prison for carrying out an openly admitted series of attacks on the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), the 1200 mile “long black snake” that can carry as much as 750,000 barrels of carbon-rich, planet-cooking shale oil each day from the Bakken oil fields in in northwestern North Dakota through South Dakota and Iowa.

Think about that. The eco-cidal putschist, pandemicist, and neoliberal fascist Trump – “the most dangerous criminal in human history” – evades confinement for hideous crimes, including possible high treason (eligible for the federal death penalty that Trump restored and enforced!) and the attempted overthrow of what’s left of rule of law and democracy in the US. His biggest crimes go essentially unacknowledged – the ones the that exacerbated the top two grave existential menaces facing humanity today: the capitalogenic climate catastrophe and thermonuclear war, the escalated threats of which have combined to compel The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists to put their 76 year Doomsday Clock at 90 seconds to Midnight, “the closest to global catastrophe it’s ever been.”

Jessica Reznicek, by contrast, has dedicated her life to peace and environmental healing, trying in her own deeply religious, messianic, and small group, monkey-wrenching way to rescue prospects for a decent human future from the grips of Masters of War and Ecocide. She was/is a member of the Plowshares movement, a Christian pacifist movement dedicated to the dismantlement of nuclear and other weapons and means of military mass destruction. She acted courageously on her accurate understanding that the capitalist-driven extraction, transport, and burning of fossil fuels poses a lethal threat to livable ecology. For this she is imprisoned as a “terrorist” by the US Attorney General serving at the pleasure of the leading eco-cidal fossil state-capitalist Joe Biden [1], running dog lackey of the Arctic-melting firm Conoco-Phillips.

While Jessica Reznicek is confined to a federal women’s prison in Waseca, Minnesota, the demented and destructive, mass-murderous maniac Trump stalks the nation, enjoying Secret Service protection while telling his fascist, disproportionately armed and political violence-prone cultists that he is their “Retribution” against the supposedly “radical left,” “Marxist,” and even “communist” Democrats!

Two Types of “Trying Hard to Get Charged”

Two different sets of laws in the US, in practical reality? Sure, but “the divide is not as Trump and his supporters pretend. One set,” writes Loyola University-Chicago law professor Dean Strang “punishes the poor and the weak heavily and routinely….and another permits the wealthy and powerful to behave with comparative impunity,” so that “Trump had to try hard to get charged with crime” (Dean Strang, “Yes We Have a Two-Tiered Justice System, But Not Like Trump Claims,” Chicago Sun Times, June 20, 2023)[2].

There’s another distinction to make, however. Ms. Reznicek, herself the former spouse of a “millionaire businessman,” also “tried hard to get charged.” In July of 2017, she and her “co-conspirator” Ruby Montoya held a press conference (read their conference statement here[3]) in which they openly and proudly acknowledged that they had sabotaged the DAPL over a number of years. The difference is that her transgressions were directed against the eco-cidal profit imperatives of soulless, environmentally exterminist capitalism. Trump is an agent and product of that apocalyptic expand-or-die profits system, the systemic taproot of a full-on planet-wide climate catastrophe that is moving at a shockingly rapid pace, mocking the notion that it is a problem just for “our grandchildren,” and raising the very real possibility of civilizational collapse within two decades.[4]

Which raises two interesting questions: when does the International Criminal Court include Ecocide among its list of crimes and how soon can we get Trump and Biden (see note 1 below) indicted for fossil-capitalist crimes against life on Earth?


+1. As the Center for Biological Diversity noted last January, the Biden administration “approved 6,430 permits for oil and gas drilling on public lands in its first two years, outpacing the Trump administration’s 6,172 drilling-permit approvals in its first two years. The Biden administration’s policy of fossil fuel expansion contradicts the clear climate science that fossil fuel growth must be stopped, and governments must phase out fossil fuels to avoid the most catastrophic consequences of climate change…At the COP26 summit in Glasgow, Biden called climate change ‘an existential threat to human existence’ and pledged to cut U.S. emissions by up to 51% over the next nine years. Days later the administration offered 80 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas leasing, and it has since expanded oil and gas leasing onshore…The administration has ignored petitions from hundreds of climate, conservation, Indigenous and environmental justice groups calling on it to phase out federal oil and gas production and constrain the federal fossil fuel programs under existing laws.”

+2. Hence the seeming inexplicability of “democratic socialist” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s recent statement that “We have a nation of laws in which all people are treated equally.” Let’s hope she was misquoted.

3. “After having explored and exhausted all avenues of process, including attending public commentary hearings and gathering signatures for valid requests for Environmental Impact Statements, participating in Civil Disobedience, hunger strikes, marches and rallies, boycotts and encampments, we saw the clear deficiencies of our government to hear the people’s demands. ..Our conclusion is that the system is broken, and it is up to us as individuals to take peaceful action to remedy it and we did, out of necessity. ..If there are any regrets, it is that we did not act enough…Water is Life, Oil is Death.” This is a righteous statement from which I diverge in the following ways: it’s not “our government,” it is capital’s government under the profits system; the capitalist system is not “broken,” it is working for those it is designed and intended to serve – the wealthy Few; the capitalist system must be overthrown by a vast mass of people acting collectively and ready to use any and all means required since capitalism is wired to destroy life on Earth. Capitalism is death.

4. “Where,” asks the British journalist and musician Andy Worthington, “is the panic? The response to [the] failure to stop rising [carbon] emissions ought to be blind panic, but…the only voices of undiluted alarm are, for the most part, climate scientists, who are largely ignored by politicians, and, shamefully, by the mainstream media, even though the results of this collective indifference are being spelled out to us on a daily basis — through Canada’s wildfires, through New York City’s orange skies, through the Sahara Desert marching northwards to the Southern Mediterranean, though an unprecedented and truly alarming increase in ocean temperatures, and through an equally alarming loss of ice in Antarctica, in the Arctic and in glaciers, with terrifying consequences, including rising sea levels.”

Paul Street’s latest book is This Happened Here: Amerikaners, Neoliberals, and the Trumping of America (London: Routledge, 2022).