President Trump is tweeting again.
This time, it’s to lash out about a lack of “due process.”
The catalyst for this latest outburst would appear to be Rob Porter, the senior White House aide who resigned this week after allegations surfaced that he abused his two ex-wives. Chief of Staff John F. Kelly reportedly knew about the accusations (and his resulting lack of a full security clearance) and kept him on staff anyway — even enthusiastically praising him when initially asked about the charges.
Trump’s tweet is laughable on its face. “Some are true and some are false” — well, yes, that’s why we call them allegations. “Some are old and some are new” — does this have any bearing on whether they are worth listening to?
But it’s his call for “due process” that is most disingenuous: “There is no recovery for someone falsely accused – life and career are gone.”
Oh yes, Mr. Trump, you have a point. Alleged abusers are never lent sympathy in the real world. They are never given the benefit of the doubt; they are immediately consigned to the ash heap of history. There is absolutely no chance of recovery. They could never become president of the United States, for instance.
I have written before about our persistent misunderstanding of due process, and how that real and quite specific constitutional standard is meant to apply to incidents where the government seeks to deprive someone of life, liberty or property — not to public opinion or to private employer decisions. The obligations of due process are that the government give the accused fair notice and a fair hearing, not that a person credibly accused of a crime should be allowed to keep their preferred employment for as long as they would like.
Yet because this lamentation for due process seems to recur with unnerving regularity whenever a man might be faced with any consequences for his alleged bad behavior, it may be worth revisiting exactly what makes it such a mendacious distraction. As I wrote in December: “Where sexual misconduct is concerned, arguments for due process are rarely about legal standards or constitutional ideals. More often, they’re about to whom the process is due.”
Trump and others who complain about the (grossly exaggerated) death of due process are far more interested in making sure that enough cover is extended to the men they seek to defend than they are in making sure that the legal system provides fair outcomes for all those who depend on it. Those who deploy the “what about due process” cri de coeur are rarely interested in extending its protections to women, who have far more often lodged credible complaints and regularly have seen their rights pushed aside.
Rather than spend time defending unnamed “people” who have been falsely accused, it would be much better for Trump to take a good, hard look at his and his associates’ behavior. And instead of recklessly misusing legal terminology, we as a society might want to consider how we should change, as the reverberations of #MeToo make us less willing to excuse damning examples of misbehavior.
After all, as I wrote before:
We aren’t seeing an epidemic of men being railroaded for flirting. There is no wave of false accusations washing defenseless men from their rightful careers. The cases taking over the news weren’t sparked by untouchable accusers whose pointed fingers have the power to ruin careers. Instead, we’ve uncovered systemic, ongoing patterns of abuse perpetrated by men with power against women with much less of it. The evidence isn’t scanty, and the accusations aren’t random. There is never just one victim. And due process, invoked indulgently, often allows the guilty to linger in power for far longer than they deserve.
Porter’s credibility is in shambles (that picture!), the White House has yet again sunk to new lows in integrity and its treatment of women, and many of us are growing tired of it all.
Of course there is still such a thing as due process. But is there no such thing as a bare minimum of decency?