Discrepancies in the American Justice System

Ava Lundell, Staff Writer

The unprecedented second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump began on Jan. 25 and officially ended on Feb. 13. Trump was charged with inciting the insurrection at the US Capitol building on Jan. 6. Ultimately, 57 senators voted “guilty,” and 43 senators voted “not guilty,” resulting in Trump’s acquittal of the charge (a conviction requires a two-thirds majority vote).

Trump’s acquittal does not mark the only time a former President has escaped the reach of the American justice system during his presidency. For example, along with being acquitted during his first impeachment trial charging him of abuse of power, using his office for personal aims, Trump also avoided accountability under the Emoluments Clause of the US Constitution, which prohibits members of the federal government from receiving gifts from foreign states. For example, according to NBC News, representatives of at least 22 foreign governments spent money at Trump Organization properties during Trump’s presidency. Nevertheless, Trump has not been held responsible for violating the Constitution. The US government has also implemented a range of conflict of interest laws and regulations applicable to most federal workers. However, most of these legal provisions (e.g., Chapter 11 of USC on “Bribery, Graft and Conflicts of Interest”) do not apply to the President. As such, while Trump made more than 500 visits to Trump Organization properties and hosted various events at such venues during his time in the White House, he was not prosecuted for conflicts of interest. For example, according to Washington Post reporter David Fahrenthold, the Secret Service alone paid more than $1 million to the Trump Organization to provide security during such visits. However, while the President may not legally be subject to various conflict of interest rules, Trump clearly disregarded any attempt to avoid ethical conflicts of interest.

Plainly put, Trump consistently avoided ethical accountability for creating conflicts of interest between his public office and his personal assets. Paradoxically, I would argue the President of the United States is the one person who should always, without exception, have to accept responsibility (ethical as well as legal) for his or her decisions. When assuming office, Trump took an oath to “faithfully execute the office of President of the United States,” which includes enforcement of US law. The presidential oath also states that the President will “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Evidently, the President of the United States is accountable by personal commitment (moral obligation), if not the letter of the law, to uphold the Constitution and legal concepts upon which our country was founded. However, for some mystifying and upsetting reason, although Trump swore the same oath as every President before him, he has not been held accountable for blatantly disregarding his obligations of public service.

Trump’s ability to avoid accountability for his actions stands in stark contrast to the many Americans (predominantly Black men) who are imprisoned without any provocation or evidence. One example of the injustice of the American justice system is the incarceration of Curtis Flowers, a Black man who was convicted for a crime he did not commit. Flowers was accused of murdering four people in 1996. Despite the absence of solid evidence of his guilt, Flowers was sentenced to death. For more than 20 years, Flowers lived on death row in Mississippi until the state recently dropped all charges against him. Sadly, Flowers’ story is just one of many. Still, the question remains: How can a man such as Flowers, who committed no crime, be imprisoned when someone like Trump, who has blatantly disregarded the law while serving as the President of the United States, walks free of any censure?

It is worth questioning what makes Trump so immune to the standards most Americans set for themselves and for others. Time and time again, Trump has walked free when so many others have been accused and incarcerated for crimes they did not commit. As the next presidential administration takes root, we as American citizens need to take a long look at the prejudice of our justice system, as well as how and why certain individuals are either immune to or targeted by this institution.