Before he shocked the world by winning the presidency in 2016, Donald Trump boasted that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose a vote.
It was an odd boast, as if he were unsure whether he aspired to be a criminal or an office holder. As it turns out, he’s both, but if we examine his recent spate of pardons, we can see pretty clearly that the criminal has won out, and his criminal pals have been set free.
We can argue about many of them—Manafort, Stone, Kushner. They’ve all been charged with and convicted of crimes, but all are Trump loyalists whose silence he has purchased with his pardon power. I understand that.
But the pardon of four Blackwater guards convicted in connection with the killing of Iraqi civilians is beyond the pale even for some one as callous as Trump. These are men who owe him nothing and who don’t even fall within Trump’s convoluted message of supporting the military. They were not military—they were government contractors and as such devoid of either a military code of conduct or a system that would check inhumane or illegal behavior. They were thugs with guns and rocket-launchers and no rules, and they did the equivalent of shooting people on Fifth Avenue—some of them kids—and got away with it.
I had a discussion with a former soldier in 2019, a Trump supporter who had been treated well by the Veteran’s Administration. He credited Trump with having helped men like him, and even after I pointed out that the benefit to which he was referring came about in 2014 under Obama, he was not moved. He is one of the best people I know, a patriot who took his military service and honor seriously—one who would be ashamed that Trump would lump Blackwater hires with men in service. And yet I could not convince him.
Trump has been masterful at minting truths from falsehoods—criminals have that knack.
It’s Christmas Eve. A fraught caution from Covid-19 informs all our movements. Meanwhile our president luxuriates in Florida, guilt-free and remorseless, oblivious to the millions from whom his recent pronouncements on the stimulus bill have pulled the rug. On the best of days he would be a disgrace, but on December 24, the greeting he gave us all permission to say—Merry Christmas—rings hollow—one more reminder of his cruelty and perversion