Every day we encounter some new low at which the moral bar has been set. This low is arrived at by the apparent routine normalization of the most appalling misdeeds from a regime of such supererogatory evil as to amount practically to a coup against the United States Constitution. Behaviors we would not countenance from our village librarian or our postman are routinely countenanced and even encouraged and applauded when committed by the president of the United States.
So when Judge T S Ellis referred to Paul Manafort’s “otherwise blameless life,” and then sentenced him to a term an entire year less than what someone caught with a weekend’s worth of crack cocaine would receive, such language is hardly shocking any longer. Manafort received half the sentence as other defendants with the same offense level (38) in the same criminal history category. Calling a life like Paul Manafort’s “blameless” is easy to do if you’re a Republican and the man in question is white and rich. It’s like calling a white, Ivy League rapist a “youth.” You only call him a thug when it’s merited, e.g., when he is guilty of being brown and/or poor — and then the rapist bit becomes merely optional.
I mean, it’s not like Manafort spent ten years as an advisor to a bunch of Ukrainian gangsters. Or it’s not like when he was a lobbyist he inflated his expenses and cut his partners out of deals before getting caught and fired. It’s not like he lobbied for scumbags like Ferdinand Marcos or evil entities like big tobacco or anything. It’s not like he showed no remorse for the evil things he did while working for Donald Trump. Yeah, “blameless.”
The late Vincent Bugliosi once said that, above all, and not without good reason, society despises politicians and lawyers, so it’s a crowning irony that society too often honors and respects judges, who are both. Judge Ellis gave Manafort a pass because the judge is corrupt, and he invites us to be corrupt with him, all for the low, low price of the surrender of our critical faculties and our sense of fair play. Well no thank you, judge. I, for one, intend keeping my moral bar in the high and rarefied atmosphere where it has always lived, where bigotry, white privilege and hypocrisy cannot touch it. But don’t worry, judge, somebody soon is going to fix your biggest mistake.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.