Sunday, June 9, 2024

All the sides of Trump's felony convictions.


Tribaliumivanka | Deposit Photos
In last week's post, I made note of the fact that the 45th president of the United States is now a convicted felon. 

Imagine my consternation on Thursday, when the Washington Post ran an op-ed by Carroll Bogert, president of the Marshall Project, asking the media not to use the term in referring to Donald Trump.

According to Bogert's short bio that accompanied the column, the Marshall Project is a nonprofit online news organization dedicated to covering criminal justice. Bogert believes that "journalism can make our legal system more fair, effective, transparent and humane", and the way to begin to do that is to watch our language. 

"Felon", Bogert says, is pejorative. She writes, "Surely part of the impetus behind the sudden widespread use of the word 'felon' is to take Trump down a peg, to label him as no better than a common criminal. And that is the problem." She notes that people convicted of felonies are often from the margins of society. Calling them "felons" dehumanizes them -- it reduces them to nothing but their crime -- and, among other things, it makes it more difficult for them to pick up the pieces of their lives when they have served their time.

She acknowledges that Trump does not inhabit the margins of society. He is wealthy, privileged, and powerful. And "felon" is a wonderfully clear word -- the kind that journalists usually love to use. Besides, it's the truth: if you're convicted of committing a felony, you're a felon. 

But, she maintains, people convicted of felonies are people first. She compares "felon" to the term "person with a disability", which has been slowly gaining ground on "disabled person"; the idea is that the person needs to be front and center, not the disability. In emphasizing Trump's convictions by calling him a felon, she says, we run the risk of losing the humanity that other people convicted of felonies have begun to regain.

I am of two minds about this.

It should be a no-brainer for me. I'm the person who decreed, as the managing editor at Zapnews thirty-odd years ago, that we would not use the terms "pro-life" and "pro-choice" in news copy because they were political positions, not really descriptive of the two sides' stances. (I'm pretty sure I said we should use "anti-abortion" instead of "pro-life". I don't remember what I said to use instead of "pro-choice", and I'm really hoping it wasn't "pro-abortion"; if I did, I hereby apologize.)

Moreover, as alert hearth/myth readers know, I'm an animist. I've explained how I believe it's not just human people who have personhood and deserve respect. Animals and plants have ways of communicating with us and with one another, and even physical features of our world such as mountains, rivers, and rocks may have ways of thinking and feeling that we can't understand. Just because we can't perceive their language, it doesn't mean they don't have one.

I've also talked here about how it's wrong for humans to dehumanize one another; for centuries, that's how we justified slavery and genocide.

And yet. 

And yet, it feels so delicious to dehumanize Trump. I do want to knock him down a peg. I do want to see him treated as any other criminal would be treated.* And "felon" is a clear word. A truthful word.

And given the way his first presidency degraded the nation, and given what he and those close to him intend to do if he's elected again, I could make a strong case for using almost any language to emphasize the clear and present danger he presents to the nation.

And yet.

Is it right to hurt people just to score points against Trump?

I'm feeling a little like Tevye here: "On the other hand...."

I can't promise that I'll never refer to Trump as a convicted felon again. But I promise that I'll pause and think about it. 

Even if only for a nanosecond.


*His pre-sentencing conference is tomorrow. But just like the perp walk we never got to see, he's not going to get the full treatment this time, either. He'll be answering the probation officer's questions by video conference from Mar-a-Lago, with his attorney at his side. The official line is that having him report to the probation office, with his usual entourage of Secret Service agents and members of the media in tow, would be disruptive to the whole office and would complicate the lives of other people who are there to meet with their own probation officers.

Sentencing is set for July 11th. The Republican National Convention starts just four days later.


These moments of indecisive blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe!

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