Opinion

No One Is Above the Law, Except, Apparently, Donald Trump

As the week began, it looked as though Donald Trump would finally face consequences — or at least, a consequence — for his actions.

Last month, a New York state trial court found the former president liable for inflating his net worth and misleading banks and insurers in order to receive favorable loans for his various businesses and commercial enterprises. The judge, Arthur F. Engoron, imposed a penalty of $454 million, to be paid into the state’s general fund. Letitia James, New York’s attorney general, gave Trump a 30-day grace period to secure bond as he pursued appeal of the judgment. “If he does not have funds to pay off the judgment, then we will seek judgment enforcement mechanisms in court, and we will ask the judge to seize his assets,” James said last month.

As of Sunday, Trump did not have the funds lined up. He could not find a company willing to pledge nearly half a billion dollars on his behalf. And even if he could, Trump would need to pledge at least as much in collateral to the company.

Almost any other defendant would have to face the consequences of coming to court empty-handed. It was in a criminal case, yes, but Kalief Browder — arrested at 16 for an alleged robbery — spent three years at Rikers, without trial, because his family could not afford a $3,000 bond. Not Trump. On Monday, the day the money was due, a New York appeals court said that it would accept a far smaller bond of $175 million, a significant and unexpected victory for the former president. He has 10 days to pay.

Consequences for Trump? Ah! Well. Nevertheless.

Although Trump is entitled to an appeal, which he is pursuing, it still feels outrageous that the former president would get this unexplained courtesy after years of willfully defrauding the public. At the same time, it feels typical of Trump’s relationship to the various institutions of American life. If there seems to be a different set of rules for Trump, under which there is always a reason to look the other way or give him a second chance, that’s because for all intents and purposes, there is.

At no point during his long career as a celebrity real estate mogul and businessman has Trump faced any meaningful consequences for his fraudulent, even criminal, behavior. He has operated, for decades, with a shield of impunity crafted from his shamelessness, his celebrity and his craven willingness to intimidate critics with litigation or even just the threat of litigation.

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