Modern Evidence and Speculation: Or, “What if Trump Did It?”

Welcome_BioPic By H. Alexander Welcome

The 2016 U.S. Presidential election signaled a number of important changes in U.S. society, including approaches to evidence and speculative thinking. During the 44th presidency, evidence about presidents wasn’t in high demand. Barack Obama’s name, general background and skin color were pointed to as evidence of his Muslim heritage and lack of U.S. citizenship. Then speculation about his Muslim heritage and lack of U.S. citizenship led to the conclusion that he must be a tyrant. Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and presidency have been immune to many of the laws of evidence. Just as it has been immune to grounded and critical speculation.

Collusion and treason are crimes. Our current discussions about the difference between the two have distracted us from a very important point. Once convicted of a crime, you are not allowed to maintain any benefits or results stemming from that crime. This leads us to two questions that demand serious critical speculation. What should happen to the laws, policies, and appointments spearheaded by the Trump administration if Donald Trump is convicted of either treason or collusion while he is alive, or if evidence of treason or collusion emerges after he has died?

These two questions have not been a significant part of the political and media coverage of the Trump Presidency. Their absence highlights two very different ways in which we live the past. In many ways, our experiences of time are social. We choose to remember certain events and people; some things, we choose to forget. Furthermore, we choose to address events that have taken place, while we leave other events unaddressed.

Broken treaties with Native Americans and chattel slavery in the U.S. are two examples of the latter. And, they reflect a trend. U.S. national policy tends to leave unaddressed wrongs committed against people of color, but U.S. policy takes a different approach to wrongs committed against white people. The events of 9/11 impacted people throughout the U.S. However, the increases in anti-Muslim sentiment and nativism that occurred afterwards framed those as an attack against white people. As a result—continually, at home and abroad—the bodies of Muslim people are forced to atone for the happenings of that day.

In the U.S. and around the world, there exists what we can call a Haitian dichotomy.  Wrongs against people of color are sealed in the past, while wrongs against white people are memorialized, lived, and vindicated unto eternity. For this reason, the handling of the accusations against Trump will signal a radical moment for ideology. The three possible outcomes are complete innocence, ignorant stooge, and guilty as hell. The last event has no true parallel in the history of American ideology. The treason of the South during the Civil War was the treason of the masses. More importantly, after the Civil War the nation was directly and indirectly reliant upon the labor of those traitors. Richard Nixon was not the masses, and his crime was not on the level of the least of the charges of which Trump has been accused.

If Trump is guilty of the lesser charges of collusion, he, at best disenfranchised the people who opposed his presidency. At worst, he disenfranchised those who opposed him, and he defrauded those who supported him. Many of Trump’s policies are dehumanizing. There is no question that we must fight them now. But, doing so should not distract us from the multiple levels on which we might have to fight them in the future.

H. Alexander Welcome is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at LaGuardia Community College. His work revolves around the dynamics of alienation, the specifics of the racial wage paid to white people, the social nature of existential experiences of time, and how all three of these aforementioned elements emerge in the stand-up comedy of Richard Pryor and Jackie “Moms” Mabley.

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