Great crimes have been committed in the full view of the nation and the world. Investigations are grinding along, prosecutions will follow. It’s all downhill from here.
But what about punishment? Investigation and prosecution without real consequences is an expensive farce. And the 47-month sentence handed down for fraudster and tax evader Paul Manafort on March 7, and the 43 months sentence he received March 13, suggests that we cannot expect anything like justice for the mighty.
According to The New York Times, Manafort will probably serve a fraction of that for perpetrating a multiyear, multimillion-dollar bank fraud that involved tax evasion to the tune of $6 million. Thousands of kids have gotten more, much more, for holding a baggie of weed.
The sentencing judge explained his deviation from guidelines that recommended a sentence of 19 to 24 years, in part, by saying that Manafort had “lived an otherwise blameless life.”
Setting aside the judge’s remarkable understanding of what constitutes blamelessness, the leniency of the sentence points to larger problem – America’s systemic inability to punish the rich.
Yes, Bernie Madoff will die in prison. But he is the exception that proves the rule: Madoff victimized millionaires, betraying his own class. For that even a rich guy can get real time.
But not one of the bankers and traders whose scams resulted in the crash of 2008 went to jail. We all know this. There was no retribution – no punishment at all – for those who perpetrated a vast scheme that devastated the finances of millions. In fact, in the intervening decade, the financial class’ reward for nearly wrecking the economy has been an ever-larger slice of the nation’s wealth. The injustice of this is a major cause of the profound cynicism about U.S. institutions that is eroding our civic life.
Manafort’s sentence crystallizes the unfairness. Here we have a startlingly sinister figure, a man who has been involved for decades in vast theft and the systematic corruption of American democracy – to say nothing of democracies abroad. His crimes are many, widely destructive, and proven. But a federal district court judge can barely bring himself to send him to jail.
How are we to respond to this palpable slap in the face to all of us who pay taxes and obey laws?
Here’s a thought. Instead of wasting millions to put rich criminals into comfortable minimum-security facilities for laughably short periods of time, why not reinstitute the classic punishment for those who seek to undermine society?
The logic of exile is incontrovertible: People do not deserve to live in, or visit, or hold property in a country that they have pillaged and betrayed, for the simple reason that their crimes are against the country itself.
In ancient Rome, where exile was a common punishment for upper-class individuals, being banished had various wrinkles – it could be permanent, long-term, short-term; to outside the city walls, or outside the empire, or to rocky little islands; and with or without property confiscation. What I propose, specifically, for the current generation of American traitors is confiscation of property, deportation and assignment to a permanent no-fly list.
It makes total sense. You don’t love your country or respect its institutions? You subvert elections and buy politicians? You squirrel away money in offshore tax havens? OK. So find another place to live.
And never come back. No more New York, no more LA, no more place in Aspen for you. No Super Bowl, no Fourth of July, no purple mountains’ majesty. The treacherous don’t deserve any of it.
My most ardent desire is to see all traitors like Paul Manafort die alone, strangers in a strange land, Americans no more.