Donald Trump has positioned himself as the “law and order” president, because the term provides a positive framing for the racially-tinged rhetoric he uses to divide members of the white working and middle classes from people of color. The Guardian’s Tom McCarthy explains the tactic as “convincing voters that crime is a threat – scaring them into such a belief, if necessary – and then convincing them only you can stop it.” For decades, American politicians have used it “to play on racist fears, using code language – ‘crime’, ‘inner cities’, ‘quiet neighborhoods’ – in an attempt to connect especially with white voters.”
Pundits continue to debate how large a role Trump’s explicit and implicit racism and his promises to crack down on crime and criminals—particularly those with dark skin–played in his 2016 victory. He’s now directing his hate-filled oratory at the Black Lives Matter movement and the protests that started after the killing of George Floyd and have ramped up again last week after the officers who shot Breonna Taylor were not charged with her murder. Such rhetoric seems more effective than ever at motivating his hardcore supporters and some white suburbanites who are appalled by the violence they see in the news every day.
Trump frames the issue as a binary choice: you’re either for law and order or you’re with the anarchists, rioters, and police-haters. His success with this tactic has painted Democrats into an uncomfortable political corner. How can they stand for racial justice but not be seen as weak on crime?
Fortunately, a new report issued from a group of international journalists could help Joe Biden and his party make the case that they stand for law and order in a way that will unify rather than splinter the working class. The report, presented as a five-part podcast “Suspicious Activity: Inside the FinCEN Files,” documents how the world’s most powerful banks facilitate the worst of humanity: Citing evidence from “a huge trove of secret government documents,” the report traces “how the giants of Western banking move trillions of dollars in suspicious transactions, enriching themselves and their shareholders while facilitating the work of terrorists, kleptocrats, and drug kingpins. And the US government, despite its vast powers, fails to stop it.”
While many of the activities uncovered by the journalists are shocking, readers of our past Working-Class Perspectives entries about corporate criminality will not be surprised by this key revelation: not one banking executive involved in this massive money laundering scheme has been charged with a crime — despite the fact that officials at the U.S. Department of Justice, Department of the Treasury, and members of Congress know exactly what is happening.
As Marc wrote in recently in the Akron Beacon Journal, executives blithely break the law because they don’t fear being charged with a crime. This lack of consequences combined with billions of dollars in profits has fueled corporate misbehavior of all kinds. As Martin Woods, a former suspicious transactions investigator for Wachovia, notes, “Some of these people in those crisp white shirts in their sharp suits are feeding off the tragedy of people dying all over the world.” Like the masterminds of the mortgage crisis that nearly cratered the world economy, the makers of Oxycontin who have killed hundreds of thousands of people, and the First Energy executives who paid the largest bribe in the history of Ohio politics, not one of those white shirt, sharp suit-wearing executives has been perp-walked out of their palatial office. Instead, on the rare occasion when a big bank was prosecuted, it simply paid a fine — and continued to engage in illegal activity.
And that gives Democrats a “law and order” opportunity of their own. Biden and a Democratic Congress could ride to the rescue of the millions of people who have been repeatedly victimized by corporate America’s total disregard for both the consequences of their actions and the rule of law. Soon after the release of “Suspicious Activity,” Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders renewed their call for enactment of the “Ending Too Big to Jail Act.” If Joe Biden and other more moderate Democrats express full-throated support for this much-needed and long-overdue reform legislation, they could reunite the factions of the working class and focus their collective ire on the real common enemy: the corporate criminals who have yet to be held accountable for murdering major components of the American Dream.
It might not be easy for Biden to renounce decades of support for the finance and banking industry, especially because the Obama administration failed to prosecute any of the major players responsible for the collapse of the housing market. But we believe he must do this in order to win in 2020 and rebuild the working-class and blue-collar coalition that Trump has torn asunder.
That possibility makes perp-walking some bespoke suit-wearing corporate criminals off Wall Street and into jail the absolute right thing to do.
Marc Dann and Leo Jennings III
Marc Dann served as Attorney General of the State of Ohio and now leads DannLaw, which specializes in protecting consumers from various forms of predatory financing. Leo Jennings III is a leading Northeast Ohio political consultant and media specialist.