OPINION — When I was a little girl growing up in West Baltimore, my parents (especially my mom) gave me some truth along with the love. “You will have to work twice as hard to get half as far,” they told their working-class African American child, schooled as they had been in life’s challenges. They also warned about what everyone on my side of town knew: There was little to no room for error because folks like us seldom got the benefit of the doubt.
This was not to discourage me — far from it. It was to prepare me. Better to know what the deal was upfront.
They did not live to observe the spectacle of the president of the United States and members of his family get away — for now, at least — with all sorts of dishonest doings, things an African American president and his family would have been marched across the White House lawn in cuffs and shackles for. Things anyone in my neighborhood would have been tossed under the jail for even thinking about doing.
But mom and dad would not have been surprised.
The conclusion of the Mueller report, or the redacted version so far distributed, failed to find enough to charge the president with a crime, though plenty of his associates — including Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen — were not quite so lucky. But in its 448 pages, complete with footnotes, there was no shortage of wrongdoing placed under the spotlight, perhaps as a guide to House committees fulfilling their own oversight duties.
I’m not surprised to see so many at the top managing an escape that would do Houdini proud, and declaring victory for coming so close to the legal line. If you know the rules are rigged, why wouldn’t you brag about exploiting them? If those around you were the only brakes keeping you on the straight and narrow, well, that’s what underlings are for.
It is disappointing, though, to see my parents’ words land so perfectly.
Now, I’m no lawyer, but as someone who has watched more than my share of “Law and Order” episodes, I do believe there is a saying, “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.” Apparently, it does not apply to Donald Trump Jr., who waxed enthusiastic about a meeting to get Russian dirt on Hillary Clinton, but who escaped being charged because he didn’t realize it was something he maybe should not have done. His celebration of the Mueller report release proves that if there is a lesson from that Trump Tower meeting, Trump Jr. has yet to learn it. Dad stepped in to clean it up a bit when he dictated that note obscuring the purpose of the meeting, as rich and famous dads are wont to do.
The “ignorance” excuse unfortunately failed to work for the Texas woman on supervised release from prison who mistakenly cast a provisional ballot, and was sentenced to five years as a result. A new proposed Texas law would make it a felony for making what opponents say would be innocent mistakes on voting registration forms, insuring maximum suffering or discouraging those on society’s lower rungs from voting in the first place.
In one of the latest defenses against the one charge that every investigation agrees on — that Russia indeed interfered with the 2016 American presidential election on Trump’s behalf — presidential attorney Rudy Giuliani asserted that working with a hostile foreign power to spy on opponents, and using such opposition research, is no big deal.
Presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner has declared the Mueller investigation worse than Russia’s election interfering, proving that dismissing the importance of American election security is just fine, as long as you do it with confidence in New York in front of a bunch of important people at a TIME summit.
Even requests from lawmakers have come to elicit no more than a shrug. After a whistleblower questioned how Trump administration officials overruled concerns to hand out security clearances (Kushner’s included) like Halloween candy, the House Oversight Committee logically wanted to hear more from her boss. But when summoned to testify, former White House personnel security director Carl Kline, at the instruction of the administration, decided to pass.
The president has urged White House staff and associates to resist any request from a co-equal branch of government and, by extension, all the voters who elected them.
Watch: ‘We’re fighting all the subpoenas,’ Trump says
I’ll let George Washington, the first president of the United States, weigh in. When profiteers were making money while his troops starved, the general said: “No punishment, in my opinion, is too great for the man who can build his greatness upon his country’s ruin.”
Both parties rightly claimed victory when a bipartisan criminal justice reform “First Step” passed, addressing inequities in the federal system that disproportionately affect African Americans, other minorities and the poor and have contributed to a mass incarceration crisis. But the stonewalling and disregard for rules and subpoenas by those at the top right now must make a lot of American citizens, especially those sitting in jails harshly sentenced for low-level drug offenses or just waiting to be charged, realize that equity in the justice system is still a long way off.
It is puzzling that so many of the president’s “law and order” supporters are sharing in the high-fives, not wanting to know more about attacks on America’s elections or about people tasked with constitutional duties to protect us, people on government paychecks who seem more concerned with protecting themselves.
How could anyone believe the loyalty would go both ways?
With the words of my parents still in my ears, I have long known that life is not fair, not even in an America of lofty ideals and promises.
But they also taught me to want better.
Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, The Charlotte Observer and as national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3.