Sarah Kendzior: “I Am Worried This Will All Be Forgotten”

“We have a presidential race between a proud genocidaire and a career criminal kleptocrat,” says Sarah Kendzior.

Sarah Kendzior: “I Am Worried This Will All Be Forgotten”

After word broke that former president Donald Trump had been found guilty of 34 felony charges, I immediately wanted to hear what my friend Sarah Kendzior had to say about it. Sarah famously predicted Trump’s rise to power, and her expertise on authoritarian regimes has made her analysis invaluable amid the mafia state politics of late capitalism. As I processed the verdict and people’s reactions to it, I knew I wanted to write about it, so I reached out to Sarah for comment. She is quoted in my piece that was published yesterday, but I couldn’t include all of her thoughts there, and I didn’t want you all to miss out on anything she had to say, so you can find our full exchange below.

Kelly Hayes: I am wondering about your thoughts about what this verdict means for us. My first thought is that people are really attached to the idea that calling Trump a felon will give Biden indisputable moral authority (as though that word magically carries more weight than "rapist" or "fascist"), and I think that's a misread of the situation. The conviction is giving Trump moral authority in the eyes of his followers, and for people of actual conscience, Biden is tied up in genocide. Biden denounced Netanyahu's arrest warrant from the ICC and ignored the ICJ order around Rafah. So, I am not sure all of this translates in the way that people who are celebrating are hoping. What do you think?

Sarah Kendzior: Yes, I agree with you. We have a presidential race between a proud genocidaire and a career criminal kleptocrat who was first investigated for corruption by the DOJ in 1973 and now, finally, is a convicted felon. That is nothing to celebrate. That Trump was even able to run in 2016 after decades of mafia activity was an abomination and a sign of broken institutions. His crimes were well-known and well-documented in the public domain–and they were far more severe than the case for which he was finally convicted. He has been connected to organized crime for his entire life and none of our "national security officials" cared.

The point of examining any crime is to look at the victims, instead of celebrating the possible downfall of the perpetrator. In this case, the victims of Trump's decades of crimes – everyday Americans – are no safer than they were before, nor have there been any meaningful consequences for Trump. Instead, we are worrying that the judge and jury may face violent reprisals. That is yet another indicator that we live in a mafia state, which is nothing to celebrate. It was a mafia state under Trump, and it remains a mafia state under Biden, and the seeds of corruption were sown long before either of them entered office.

To say that the people celebrating are getting ahead of themselves is understating the severity of the crisis. Folks can react however they want, and I certainly understand the urge to blow off steam and be glad that the jury punctured Trump's bubble of impunity, even if we don't ultimately know what the consequences of that will be. But in terms of moral authority...neither candidate has it. They are both profoundly immoral people, albeit for different reasons at the moment. But should Trump take office again, I have no doubt he'll continue Biden's horrific genocidal policies in Palestine. Much as Biden has continued many of Trump's worst domestic policies – letting covid spread, migrant abuse, protecting criminal elites including criminal SCOTUS judges, not holding the rest of the Trump crime cohort (who are more dangerous than Trump tbh) accountable, countenancing sedition, etc. They are two sides of the same counterfeit coin. 

I do think there are some voters who will take cues from Trump's conviction and believe that Trump has indeed committed a crime, since the lack of convictions had convinced them beforehand that he was innocent. (I hear this all the time in Missouri.) But he was never punished for sedition, so I don't understand what people think will happen in November if Biden wins. Trump will try another coup, and now he'll have legal precedent, because he was not punished for the first one. We are in a situation where the government has neither moral nor solid legal standing.

KH: Polling appears to indicate that you may have a point about some voters being swayed by the verdict. Though I must admit, Biden’s current bump reminds me of the Access Hollywood tapes and how certain so many people were–including a lot of Republicans–that Trump couldn’t be elected after he bragged about sexually assaulting women. Are you worried that people in the US may have a fleeting capacity for shock or moral refusal, given the normalization of corruption, mass death and mass violence? 

SK: Yes! Yes, I am worried this will all be forgotten, but I’m more worried that the serious crimes for which Trump was NOT prosecuted (sedition, abuse of the pardon power, obstruction of justice, abuse of migrants etc) will be forgotten. We already watched them normalize sexual assault; ignoring this case is a drop in the wave of the MeToo backlash. It’s the other crimes that haunt me more, along with the unpunished crimes Biden commits (abetting genocide).

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