This world is a complicated place. Initial impressions don't always pan out. Most of us find that the case, as we wander through life, which is why many of us ease off the gas pedal when time comes to act on impressions. Why does our constitution make it hard to pass new laws? Why does the criminal justice system have a system of appeals? First impressions may not be the right ones.
Presidents have to be especially careful about this since, as Harry Truman noted, the buck stops there. Careful judgment is one of the prime requisites of the job.
With that in mind, consider this Donald Trump story from May 1989.
The background is in a notorious crime, what has been called the "Central Park jogger" case from April of that year. The young woman involved was jogging in the early evening when she was assault, beaten - so badly she lost three-fourths of her blood - and raped, and left for dead. She survived, but a bash on the head when she was first attacked left her without memory of who was responsible.
Soon after, the New York Daily News attributed the assault to a "savage attack by roving gang." The Times reported soon after the perps were "a loosely organized gang of 32 schoolboys whose random, motiveless assaults terrorized at least eight other people over nearly two hours, senior police investigators said yesterday.” Arrests of five black or Hispanic youths soon followed.
Donald Trump, who in that season had been tabloid fodder over a divorce and business reversals, made some news willingly over the assault case, about which he presumably knew neither more or less than other New Yorkers.
He paid for a full-page Daily News ad saying, “How can our great society tolerate the continued brutalization of its citizens by crazed misfits? Criminals must be told that their CIVIL LIBERTIES END WHEN AN ATTACK ON OUR SAFETY BEGINS!”
Under the super-iozed headline, "Bring Back the Death Penalty, Bring Back the Police," he wrote, “I want to hate these muggers and murderers. They should be forced to suffer and, when they kill, they should be executed for their crimes. They must serve as examples so that others will think long and hard before committing a crime or an act of violence.”
One of the lawyers in the case said of Trump, “He poisoned the minds of many people who lived in New York and who, rightfully, had a natural affinity for the victim.”
Here's the punch line: "The problem with Trump’s condemnation of the five young men eventually convicted for [the] rape was simple: they didn’t do it. They had long claimed their confessions, wildly inconsistent and given under duress, were coerced. But in 2002, one Matias Reyes – already serving time for other rapes and murders – came forward to confess to committing the crime, alone. His DNA matched semen found at the scene; none of the men who had by this time served sentences from five to 15 years were a match. The convictions of the Central Park Five were vacated, and several of the men sued the city of New York for malicious prosecution, racial discrimination, and emotional distress. In 2014, after more than a decade, the city settled for $41 million."
Trump, of course, would never admit to error. Challenged about his call for the death penalty for five men who were innocent, his Tweeted response was: "Tell me, what were they doing in the Park, playing checkers?"
To expand the impact of that frame of mind by the millions, is to imagine the frightening prospect of Donald Trump in the White House. - rs