August 11, 2022 - 9:00 pm
As Americans, we really are making our way through unbelievably crazy times. Years from now, when we tell our grandkids what we saw with our own eyes, they won’t believe us.
Such is life in the Trumpozoic era.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court — by a 6-3 vote in a case called Vega v. Tekoh — all but gutted the Miranda warning made famous by scores of TV cop shows. The conservative majority decreed that people can’t sue police under federal civil rights laws if they fail to inform suspects that they have a right to remain silent and that anything they say can and will be used against them in court. Of course, removing this legal consequence for violating Miranda essentially makes the warning meaningless.
This might lead you to think that right-wingers don’t value the constitutional right against self-incrimination.
Not so fast. This week, less than two months after the Vega decision, former President Donald Trump found that very privilege to be quite useful. Refusing to answer questions during a deposition as part of an investigation by New York’s attorney general, Trump invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination more than 400 times.
In New York, the Trump Organization is being investigated on suspicion of overvaluing various real estate holdings to obtain loans with favorable terms. After the deposition, Trump said in a statement that he had opted to remain silent “under the rights and privileges afforded to every citizen under the United States Constitution.”
This guy has some chutzpah, eh?
For one thing, while it’s true that civil liberties are afforded to every citizen, this is no thanks to Trump. He put on the Supreme Court three of the conservatives — Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett — who voted in Vega to deny the rest of us the same protections against self-incrimination that the former president was only too eager to claim for himself.
For another, as liberal media commentators have been only too happy to point out in recent days, Trump himself wasn’t always a fan of the Fifth Amendment. For years, he mocked it as something only useful to the guilty. He even described taking the Fifth as a favorite ploy of “the mob.”
“If you’re innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?,” Trump told supporters at a rally in Iowa during the 2016 campaign.
And now? My, how the worm has turned.
In his statement, Trump seemed to acknowledge the contradiction and finally admit the value of invoking the Fifth — especially if it means saving his own skin.
“When your family, your company and all the people in your orbit have become the targets of an unfounded, politically motivated Witch Hunt supported by lawyers, prosecutors, and the Fake News Media, you have no choice,” Trump explained.
Of course, Trump had a choice. He and his merry band of extreme conservatives have a clear message for ordinary Americans: “Civil liberties for me but not for thee.”
Meanwhile, looking at the Vega decision, I wonder what the right-wing justices were thinking. What was the play?
It had to be an attempt to support the police and give them wider latitude. It likely sprang from that school of thought that suggests that law enforcement officers have an impossible job, and they shouldn’t be second-guessed.
I might buy some of that. As the son of a retired cop who spent 37 years on the job, I usually “back the blue.”
But, at the moment, are any Republicans backing the FBI? The Trumpistas — who talk a good game about supporting cops — don’t seem too keen on federal law enforcement now that the FBI has raided Trump’s private residence at Mar-a-Lago.
We shouldn’t be surprised. Where cops are concerned, Trump loyalists are fair weather fans. These are some of the same people who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 — and threatened to kill Washington, D.C.-area cops with their own guns — or at the very least made excuses for the creeps who did those terrible things.
Trump may have been onto something when he mentioned organized crime. Mobsters play by their own rules, and they will change those rules on a whim if it suits their agenda. They think they’re above the law, and they make sure that whatever sacrifices they expect you to make don’t apply to them.
It’s good to be The Don.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. His podcast, “Ruben in the Center,” is available through every podcast app.