Friday, November 6, 2020 2:45 pm
By Remi Oyeyemi
“I am very sorry. Mr. President, to have to do it, for you are the chief of the nation and I am nothing but a policeman, but duty is duty, sir, and I will have to place you under arrest.”
– William Henry West, the African American
Police officer who arrested President Ulysses Grant.
He had the knack for speeding with carriages drawn by horses. This had been his pastime since he was a teenager. It was one of the reasons why he got recommended for West Point to become an officer and a gentleman in the United States’ Army. Through his war years and trajectory as a civilian, he had lived this aspect of his live without much restraint but with unalloyed satisfaction.
He was in office between March 4, 1869 and March 4, 1877 as the President of the United States. That made him the most powerful man in a country that was just coming into its own as a regional power. Despite being a disciplined man, he was never financially stable. I had come across an I.O.U. he left in a small border town in Kansas State that was only twelve miles away from St. Louis, Missouri, in 1990, during a trip organised by Rotary International.
In 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant was enjoying his pastime in Washington, DC. He was riding his horse-drawn carriage. He did not think it was wrong of him speeding as he pleased, after all, he was the President. It was a pastime to which he seemed addicted. If not, may be this story would not have occurred. But as evident from many addictions, it is not always easier to exert self-control. This case was not different.
William H. West, was an African American who had fought in the Civil War. He was one of two African American policemen working for the Washington DC Police Department during Reconstruction. He was remembered as “gentlemanly” and fond of good horses, especially fast ones. West was appointed to the Metropolitan police force on August 1, 1871. He was married to Katherine ‘Kate’ Bowie in Washington, D.C. on 11 June 1867, with whom he had six children.
In 1872, Officer West was patrolling on foot near 13th and M Streets in Washington DC, when he stopped the President for speeding in his horse and buggy and released him with a warning for excessive speed. The next day, West observed President Grant repeating the behavior, and arrested him. President Grant was taken to the police station and released on a $20 bond (equivalent to $430 in 2019). Grant did not contest the fine or arrest.
He was the first American President to learn that “no one is above the Law in America.” He came to.learn about the supremacy of the law. He learnt that no matter how highly placed you are, no matter how powerful you are, the law is higher. No one was and still is above the law in America. With only one exception – if you are not caught.
I had to go into this background to explain the reality of what probably awaits President Donald J. Trump after January 20, 2021. He has gotten away with so many crimes, some of which he has had to settle with many aggrieved protagonists out of court. But when such crimes are against the State, or Federal crimes, he would have his date in Court. He might as well be acquitted of some of the charges, but the process would as a matter of necessity, take its course.
.President Richard Nixon had been forced to resign from office for corruption. Vice President Spiro Agnew, who incidentally was also Nixon’s Vice President was the first U.S. Vice President to resign in disgrace. The same day he resigned, he pleaded no contest to a charge of federal income tax evasion in exchange for the dropping of charges of political corruption. He was subsequently fined $10,000, sentenced to three years probation,
The State of Illinois had garnered a reputation in contemporary times of having sent its governors to jail for corruption and misconducts. But that should not be seen as only characteristic of Illinois State. Between 1860 and date, exactly 27 Governors across the United States have been sent to various terms of jails. Corruption is not limited to Illinois. Neither is it limited to United States of America.
Across the United States there had been eleven cabinet members convicted for corruption. Cabinet members from Louisiana, Alabama, Illinois, Texas, North Carolina, Connecticut, New Mexico and two each from New Jersey as well as Pennsylvania. We have also had Eighty – eight (88) legislators who have been convicted for corruption across the country. There had been close to about four hundred politicians convicted at state levels and sent to jails across America also for corruption.
Corruption is in the gene of every society. But it is up to each society to tackle it. It is the responsibility of the leadership to protect the larger society from the moral reprobates who try to drag the society in the mud. There has to be a collective decision to lead by example and make a sample of any leader who tries to dip his hand in the cooking jar.
The beautiful thing about the United States of America is that the Law always takes its course. People could get away with crimes. Yes, for as long as the long hands of the Law could not locate you. But the moment anyone is caught, one’s position in the society no longer matters. The powerful office one holds no longer matters. The connection one has, no longer matters. Whoever one knows does not matter.
The occupancy of the Presidency has forced the klieg light on the character, morality and the business practices of Donald J. Trump. It has exposed him to the world for his sharp practices. It has shown him to be a congenital invertebrate liar. Trump has been derobed for the world to behold as a noxious narcissist who lives in alternative realities most of the time. Reported to have told over 20,000 lies in his White House years, Trump has become an exemplar of barratry and chicanery.
In a report for New York Magazine, Jeff Wise analysed Donald J. Trump’s fate after his Presidency as follows:
“Here in the United States, we have never yet witnessed such an event. No commander-in-chief has been charged with a criminal offense, let alone faced prison time. But if Donald Trump loses the election in November, he will forfeit not only a sitting president’s presumptive immunity from prosecution but also the levers of power he has aggressively co-opted for his own protection. Considering the number of crimes he has committed, the time span over which he has committed them, and the range of jurisdictions in which his crimes have taken place, his potential legal exposure is breathtaking. More than a dozen investigations are already under way against him and his associates. Even if only one or two of them result in criminal charges, the proceedings that follow will make the O. J. Simpson trial look like an afternoon in traffic court.
It may seem unlikely that Trump will ever wind up in a criminal court. His entire life, after all, is one long testament to the power of getting away with things, a master class in criminality without consequences, even before he added presidentiality and all its privileges to his arsenal of defenses. As he himself once said, “When you’re a star, they let you do it.”
But for all his advantages and all his enablers, including loyalists in the Justice Department and the federal judiciary, Trump now faces a level of legal risk unlike anything in his notoriously checkered past — and well beyond anything faced by any previous president leaving office. To assess the odds that he will end up on trial, and how the proceedings would unfold, I spoke with some of the country’s top prosecutors, defense attorneys, and legal scholars. For the past four years, they have been weighing the case against Trump: the evidence already gathered, the witnesses prepared to testify, the political and constitutional issues involved in prosecuting an ex-president.
Once he leaves office, they agree, there is good reason to think Trump will face criminal charges. “It’s going to head toward prosecution, and the litigation is going to be fierce,” says Bennett Gershman, a professor of constitutional law at Pace Law School who served for a decade as a New York State prosecutor.
Here, according to the legal experts, is how Trump could become the first former president in American history to find himself on trial — and perhaps even behind bars.”
Donald John Trump is intractably trailing, it seems, to jail.
-Remi Oyeyemi, a public affairs analyst, writes from the US