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Courage and the Hunger for Truth
E. Jean Carroll reminds us that only by speaking truth to power do we have a chance to hold the criminal former White House occupant accountable and serve justice
E. Jean Carroll is a brave woman who was not going to remain silent in fear of the power and public aggression of the sexual predator and violent abuser Donald Trump. So many others have understandably feared this man’s threats and violence and his sociopathic readiness to destroy the lives of anyone who crosses him. But Carroll was determined to tell the truth no matter how much hatred and lies were rained down upon her.
That takes courage, something that could not be needed more and surely is in insufficient supply. Donald Trump has gotten away with a lifetime of lies and cruelty and criminality because too few people possessed the courage to stand up to him. But pushing back and demanding that the truth be heard is the only way to overcome a bully, especially one untethered from reality and able to persuade millions of Americans to join him.
On Tuesday nine jurors—six men and three women—took less than three hours to decide that Trump had lied and E. Jean Carroll was telling the truth about the trauma and violence she suffered. They awarded her $5 million in damages, something she said she did not seek.
"I filed this lawsuit against Donald Trump to clear my name and to get my life back. Today, the world finally knows the truth. This victory is not just for me but for every woman who has suffered because she was not believed," Carroll said Tuesday after the verdict set her free to revel in the fact that a jury of her peers believed her.
Contrast the courage of E. Jean Carroll and someone like South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who spoke honestly before Trump gained the power of the presidency. “I think he’s a kook. I think he’s crazy. I think he’s unfit for office,” Graham said during a February 2016 Fox News interview. “He’s not fit to be president of the United States.” And a few months later: "If we nominate Trump, we will get destroyed."
And then, once Trump took control of the levers of power, Graham sang a different tune for reasons that still remain unclear beyond his admission that it deeply matters for him to stay “relevant.” (Is there some kompromat, some dark secret that kept Graham in tow, ever-ready to carry Trump’s water?)
Oh, for just a whiff of courage as the criminality and lies unfolded before everyone’s eyes. By the time a jury found Trump liable for sexual abuse and defamation against E. Jean Carroll, Graham had fallen to this: “When it comes to Donald Trump, the New York legal system is off the rails,” he tweeted.
He was not alone, of course. Recall Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who called Trump an “embarrassment” back in 2016 and even urged voters to act on their better natures. “Embrace leaders who do not ask you to give them your vote on fear and hopelessness,” he implored. “Leadership is not inciting people to get angrier. That’s not leadership. You know what it is? That’s called demagoguery.”
It didn’t take long for Rubio to join the rampant spinelessness and fear coursing through the GOP once Trump gained power. And now, even after the years of demagoguery and fear that he once abhorred? “That jury’s a joke. The whole case is a joke,” he told reporters.
Last month we saw Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg act with courage, indicting Trump on 34 counts of fraud while absorbing a flood of attacks from the criminal defendant and his enablers. “These are felony crimes in New York state, no matter who you are,” Bragg said after unsealing the indictment. “We cannot and will not normalize serious criminal conduct…everyone stands equal before the law. No amount of money and no amount of power changes that enduring American principle.”
Time will tell whether Georgia’s Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis and Justice Department Special Counsel Jack Smith will look justice squarely in the eye and act courageously. There’s little doubt that, tragically, holding Trump accountable requires particular bravery: Judge Lewis Kaplan urged the jurors in the Carroll trial to maintain their anonymity to protect themselves against harassment.
“My advice to you is not to identify yourselves,” Kaplan told the jurors. “Not now and not for a long time.”
Even as the sexual predator and pathological liar continued to claim this week that he had no idea who E. Jean Carroll is, that she was engaged in a “con job” and the verdict was a “disgrace,” Carroll did not hesitate sharing her newfound confidence, the product of telling the truth. She shared on NBC’s Today show the seven words she told Trump lawyer Joe Tacopina after he approached her to congratulate her after the jury’s decision: “He did it and you know it.”
One final note: A week ago I detailed—and worried about—the consequence of news organizations handing Trump billions of dollars of free media (“Free Media for a Criminal Defendant”). I thinly hoped that CNN host Kaitlin Collins would be tough enough to stand up to Trump and his likely cavalcade of lies during CNN’s cynical gambit for ratings with its New Hampshire “town hall.”
But “more than simply hoping for serious journalism by TV anchors,” I concluded, “we must demand that the major media organizations acknowledge their outsized role in promoting Donald Trump before, and their obligation to be more circumspect in how and when to amplify him now.”
Well, now we know how ill-equipped Collins was for Trump’s aggressive onslaught and how disgraceful CNN is for allowing Trump the open platform for 70 minutes to spread once again his despicable lies: About the outcome of the 2020 election, about the reality of the Jan. 6 capitol attack, about his sexual assault of E. Jean Carroll (who he called a “wack job”) and much more. The laughter and applause of the pro-Trump crowd organized by CNN only made it worse.
As I noted Wednesday on various social media channels: “Kaitlin Collins is no match for his skill at lying through his teeth. This is why this disservice to the country never should have happened.” Meanwhile, CNN CEO Chris Licht doubled down yesterday by claiming “America was served very well” by the event.
The best thing I can say is that, going forward, CNN has made it painfully clear that any news organization which considers giving Trump a platform will be enabling his toxic spreading of disinformation.
No big deal: Just democracy and the truth hanging in the balance.
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