July 30, 2017

What OJ Simpson, the Clintons, R Kelly, Justin Bieber and Donald Trump have in common

Sam Smith - OJ Simpson, the Clintons, R Kelly, Justin Bieber and Donald Trump share one big thing in common: they have a base of loyal supporters who turn a blind eye to their misdeeds and give them the support they need to do what they want, when they want and how they want. Further, their fame has become a major immunization for their actions, as though morality could be judged by ratings.  

And these are just random samples of a quality that has spread across modern America and which can be fairly included in what has been called a culture of impunity.  A decade ago I described it this way:

In a culture of impunity, rules serve the internal logic of the powerful rather than whatever values typically guide a country, such as those of its constitution, church or tradition. The culture of impunity encourages coups and cruelty, and at best practices only titular democracy. A culture of impunity varies from ordinary political corruption in that the latter represents deviance from the culture while the former becomes the culture. Such a culture does not announce itself.

In a culture of impunity, what replaces constitution, precedent, values, tradition, fairness, consensus, debate and all that sort of arcane stuff? Mainly greed. We find ourselves without heroism, without debate over right and wrong, with little but an endless narcissistic struggle by the powerful to get more money, more power, and more press than the next person. In the chase, anything goes and the only standard is whether you win, lose, or get caught.

A recent Foreign Policy article, for example, describes the 1990s Moscow that welcomed American businessman Donald Trump:

Women were treated abominably: The mafia was heavily involved in prostitution, often preying on the vulnerable and impoverished. Prostitutes regularly thronged Moscow’s main drag, Tverskaya; it became the norm for companies to advertise for female secretaries who were “bez kompleksov,” or without inhibitions, meaning they were ready game for whatever sexual advances their employers would subject them to. One 2001 guide by an American consulting firm on how to conduct business in Russia urged foreign businesswomen to “use their femininity to their advantage.” If this sounds like an environment where a certain U.S. president would feel right at home, well, this was, in fact, a Russia that Trump visited and was familiar with: The middle of the decade saw one of the more serious attempts by Trump to do business in Russia, when he tried but failed to build a luxury condo complex in Moscow. Even Trump Jr. was aware of the convoluted Russian business environment that was still in place a decade later, when he visited, saying after, “It is a question of who knows who, whose brother is paying off who.… It really is a scary place.”

And if you think Trump’s contempt for the media is novel, consider this from the IFEX Network about Latin America:

Aggression and crimes against journalists are a reality in the region, and this reality has many faces and leaves many traces. The complexity of this issue is portrayed and discussed in the 2012 Annual Report on Impunity: Faces and Traces of Freedom of Expression in Latin America and the Caribbean

“In Honduras, Mexico and Guatemala impunity and insecurity, as well as censorship and self-censorship due to fear of direct attacks or reprisals, are deeply rooted. Colombia is going through a serious crisis regarding access to justice, despite State attempts to protect the victims and repair serious damages. In Brazil, State efforts fail to reach beyond large cities to the outlying regions, where journalists are more vulnerable to attacks and even death.

“In Ecuador, Bolivia and Venezuela impunity is related to excessive censorship, a product of restrictive regulations, apathy, and even permissive State collusion in violations of freedom of expression. Peru sadly has one of the largest numbers of assaults and murders of journalists in South America in the last three decades, and law enforcement does not guarantee a reversal of that trend. And in Argentina, impunity is characterized by repeated low intensity violent episodes against journalists while they are covering stories.

“In the Caribbean, journalists, who are the main critics of the corruption and lack of governance present in their countries, are physically attacked and openly threatened by their governments, who even use the legal system against them.

“The 16 partners of IFEX-ALC - civil society organizations that defend freedom of information and expression in Latin America and the Caribbean - have reported on the culture of impunity in Latin America from January 2010 to September 2012. In this period, 74 journalists have been killed - in only eight of these cases the persons responsible have been prosecuted. Four hundred and thirty-one journalists have received death threats and physical attacks; these have been perpetrated at least 878 times. In addition, 120 journalists have been tried in court because of their publications. This scenario is even more alarming bearing in mind that the validity of a democratic regime is questionable if freedom of expression is at stake."

These are but two examples of the sort of culture of impunity that America has begun to imitate, albeit in milder fashion, in the last quarter century or so. Such a culture doesn’t begin with 74 journalists being killed; it begins, say, with a president who treats the media as fake and despicable, thus laying the groundwork for more drastic actions in the future. It begins with presidents with as corrupt roots as the Clintons and Trump, who – different as their politics may be – have had in common a constituency that ignores any misdoing by their heroes, a trait shared by fans of show business personalities engaged in wrongful acts.

A nice example of the difference between more traditional cultures and those of impunity can be found in two recent events. China, a traditional dictatorship still with an ideology, banned Justin Bieber for “bad behavior” even as Donald Trump met with Russia’s Putin, two modern leaders sharing the benefits of cultures of impunity and immune from "bad behavior."
Putin and Trump have far more in common with numerous dictators of Latin America than, say, with Stalin or Hitler, for their power comes not from allegiance to a political prescription like communism or fascism but from what David Hackett Fischer called hegemonic liberty, namely the more power you have the more freedom you have, a prime value of the American South exemplified most dramatically in the contrast between slaves and their owners and most recently by the Clintons who got away with what they wanted in a deeply corrupt Arkansas. It is, of course, ironic when black show business personalities exhibit such tendencies, but while in a culture of impunity, ethnicity may limit the average freedom of a group, having power supplants ethnicity and everything else. Which is why OJ Simpson, Justin Bieber, the Clintons, R Kelley, and Donald Trump have so much freedom. They are icons of our new culture of impunity.  


Anonymous said...

human beings' premeditated failure to prevent human beings having unlimited personal fortunes has demonstrably ended human beings' chance to have a future

Dean Rao said...

Agree with Anonymous.

Anonymous said...

As a 'culture', we have not totally accepted "affluenza".
Republicans, Libertarians, and other wanna-be money-grubbing individuals have apparently bought into the Plutocratic environment; but the rest of us, still somehow believing in the viability of a constitutional democracy that evolved over the past century will silently go to work each day, pay taxes, vote, and all the other things that we have been doing for decades.
Until its too late.

Anonymous said...

Even this article is politely censored as "deeply corrupt" leaves the reader to fill in the blank. As if who killed who is a matter of individual interpretation, or is unspeakable. But the journalistic paradigm certainly goes back to those almost named by the Church Committee. For every Penn Jones, Jr. counting the dead bodies there is an entire profession of journalists for whom accusing politicians of murder is the essence of unprofessional conduct. The obituaries no longer interest journalists as much as when Mae Brussell taught the science of political crime scene analysis. Absent such forensic inquiry there is no genuine public record.