He was the best of men. He was the worst of men. He gave up his life in pursuit of freedom and justice. He gave up his soul in pursuit of power and fame. He was a beacon of hope in a world held hostage by Darkness. He was a defender and purveyor of Darkness itself. He died in a Russian prison camp. His brand began its painful death crawl in a New York City courtroom.
Two headlines in yesterday’s New York Times will burnish the legends of two very different ‘heroes’ for our time.
One headline asks, “With Prison Certain and Death Likely, Why Did Navalny Return to Russia?”
While the other informs us, “Trump Is Ordered To Pay Fraud Penalty That Will Exceed $450 million.”
Aleksei Navalny was a hero—to me, and to millions of others who reject Vladimir Putin’s hijacking of the Russian State. The kind of hero who courageously dedicates his life to the betterment of others. We haven’t yet learned the details of his state sponsored death, but Navalny’s martyrdom will probably serve the cause of freedom in Russia more than anything he could have accomplished as a living activist.
Donald J. Trump is also a hero—not to me certainly, but to millions of Americans who have bought into his grift. To those legions of cult followers, if I am honest, he appears to be a tough guy, a player who, because he seemed tough on TV, knows how to make winning deals, and can make unlikely things happen. Build a wall, invent a better health care plan, drain the swamp, wish Covid away and, most importantly, keep Muslims and Mexicans from coming into our country.
Trump’s hero worshippers have swallowed even the largest of Donald Trump’s fish stories, blinded by the brilliance of his aura. Even as they blanch at his boorish behavior and assorted cruelties, his aura remains whole and relatively untarnished. An aura partly manufactured for viewers of his once popular TV show, and partly manufactured by Trump himself…All those years of shameless self-promotion. Trump Steaks. Trump Vodka. Trump University. Trump Casinos. Trump Towers.
And the capstone, of course: Trump’s Insurrection!
Word of this week’s massive legal judgment is such big news, not even Fox News can prevent it from breaking out of the right-wing echo chamber and reaching minds that would otherwise be closed to hearing negative news about their leader.
Yes, this week, for everyone’s round-the-clock consumption, comes news that Donald Trump was fined almost half a billion dollars! FOR DECADES OF FRAUD. FOR CHEATING PEOPLE. FOR LYING TO BANKS AND INSURERS. FOR LYING IN COURT.
Navalny knew exactly what he faced in returning to Russia. He had only just recovered from an assassination attempt where Putin’s killers laced his undershorts with a nerve agent. Which once again begs the question ‘why?’ “With prison certain and death likely, why did Navalny return?”
As for Trump, he did what he did because he could do it. And get away with it! C’mon, who would ever charge him with fraud? He had gotten away with murder all his life. Not just as the pampered son of a millionaire real estate tycoon. But as a pugnacious player in a business world where he forced his way to a seat at the table.
As a well known player in the game, Trump found he could stiff whichever vendors were too weak or small to force his payment. Those vendors—among which you will find numerous lawyers—were often and famously left standing with bills in their hands and eggs on their faces.
Why? Because Donald Trump believes he can get away with almost anything. Same reason he continues to foul up America’s democracy, repeatedly undermining our institutions. Same reason he didn’t need to directly raid the American Treasury when he left the presidency, choosing instead to allegedly sell off pardons and steal America’s treasured secrets.
And in Russia, why? Why put yourself at risk by returning to Putin’s Russia? Because Aleksei Navalny had immense courage. The kind you tell your children about. And Navalny was dedicated to a cause seemingly more important than his life. So important he knowingly placed his family in peril of losing their father and protector.
And then there’s Vladimir Putin, the man invited long ago to help govern Russia who refused to ever go home. To further add to Navalny’s guilt in Putin’s eyes, the fearless activist challenged the Russian President on a level Putin could never understand. When faced with an opponent Putin could not bully into submission; a man whose integrity and courage were proven down to his final choices in life, Putin could only balk and flail.
And so, Aleksei Navalny became the gnat that refused to be swatted away by the angry giant.
Until the giant swatted him one last time.
Now, returning to Donald J. Trump, sexual assaulter, insurrectionist and serial fraudster who was tagged with a fine that will ultimately cost him $450 million. This on top of the $88.3 million in combined judgments from his earlier E. Jean Carroll trials. That amount—over a half billion dollars!—as staggering as it appears, will further fan the fires of grievance that have made a hero and cult leader of Donald J. Trump.
Yes, rather than see it as society’s karmic retribution—the weight of the judgement being equal to the size and scope of the crimes their leader committed—Trump supporters will believe Trump’s cries of innocence and vendettas, and see Engoran’s ruling as further proof of witch hunts and Joe Biden’s abuses of power.
But something is different now. Something definitely shifted with Judge Engoren’s levying of the half billion dollar judgment against Donald Trump. You can sense it in the air, even in your own feelings about Trump. The shadow of his threat seems smaller now, and not so far reaching. Trump himself has been diminished. Diminished in wealth. Diminished in scariness.
If you’ve been watching the Trump drama unfold over the last year, you’ve seen all the scaffolding and platforms erected in the legal sector that will now allow Trump’s Karmic Comeuppance to play itself out. It’s only now, with his blistering half billion dollar judgment, that the structure for the ensuing drama becomes more obvious.
With Judge Engoren’s masterful finding, Trump’s shield—his aura of invincibility, his aura of being a successful businessman—has been seriously pierced. The first major step (or stumble?) on his Karmic Journey to redemption, perhaps…? We’ll see. It will take some time before we know the true consequences and eventual outcome, but Trump has been wounded; seriously wounded by Letitia James’ fraud trial. Just when he enters a crazy season of campaigning for the presidency peppered, as it will be, with frequent appearances in court.
Two headlines in a newspaper. Two men whose lives were as widely different as those of a saint and a grifter. Aleksei Navalny died three days ago, and the world has been diminished by his absence. Donald J. Trump still walks among us, and the world is none the better for it.