06 Apr The OJ Jurors, Donald Trump, and all of us Marcia Clarks
My understanding is that “click bait” is when someone suggests in a link title that something is so compelling, so crazy, so interesting, or so provocative that it simply must be clicked, even if the substance of what exists once readers click through is, shall we say, disappointing. I happen to use the internet to feed my intellectual, ideological, political, and economic appetites, so I confess to being a little naïve here, but I suspect “click bait” can have a real negative connotation as well. It’s all outside of my scope of expertise, and a cursory look at my web traffic will confirm that I haven’t pursued mastery in the use of “click bait”.
Well this title is no exception. I am not provocatively suggesting that there is a connection between the OJ Simpson jurors in 1995 and the Donald Trump supporters of today; I am not going all shock-jock by comparing those of us in the #NeverTrump camp to Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden … I am actually saying such explicitly – free of provocation or an attempt to shock. If you clicked because of bait, so be it, but I am going to make a very serious case right now to defend my analogy.
Like tens of millions of Americans, I just completed watching the extremely well-made dramatization of the OJ Simpson murder trial that has played out on the FX network over the last ten weeks. It was a great piece of television, and it brought back a lot of memories of the first few years of the 1990’s (not just memories of OJ’s circus of a trial, but also memories of how ugly double-breasted suits were, how lame the old “fancy” Mercedes Benz were, and how undesirable the entire mecca of West Los Angeles is – but I digress).
Because I have watched this show while also being deeply invested in the 2016 Presidential election, I can blame the complexities of my sub-conscious and deep levels of psyche for this association, but there was a serious and inescapable similarity I found into certain parts of the OJ saga to the present Donald Trump phenomena. Specifically, it has to do with how millions upon millions of people were so sure, because it was so obvious, that OJ Simpson would be found guilty; and likewise, millions upon millions of people had been so sure, because it was so obvious, that Trump would never gain ground as a serious contender. After all, OJ was a serial spouse abuser, and had threatened to kill her multiple times. His blood was found in his footprints at the scene of the crime, his blood was found in and on his Bronco, and on his own driveway. His blood was found on the gate at Nicole’s home, on the sidewalk, and in the exact spot were the bodies were found. Blood on socks found in OJ’s bedroom belonged to Nicole and Ron Goldman. Three stains of blood in the Bronco belonged to OJ, Nicole, and Goldman. The fibers in the knit cap at the scene of the crime were from OJ’s car. OJ’s own hairs were in that same knit cap. OJ’s hair was on Ron Goldman’s shirt. Nicole’s hair was on the bloody glove. The bloody shoe print at the scene of the crime matched OJ’s shoe size and actual shoes he owned. His own fingers had multiple cuts and abrasions. I could go on and on and on, just as that trial went on for months and months. I am content with the few sentences here to assert Simpson’s guilt, and you know why? Because he was guilty. Painfully, undeniably, inescapably guilty. Now what does this have to do with Donald Trump?
Donald Trump is an utter embarrassment to the conservative movement, the Republican party, and the United States of America. He is incomprehensibly unprepared to be President. He lacks the moral integrity, the policy competence, the experience, the character, the intelligence, and the worldview to be President. I laid out my comprehensive case for rejecting Trump nearly two months ago, and I won’t rehash all of it now. Some of the very serious and respectable names in conservatism have done yeoman’s work in prosecuting Trumpism (Goldberg, Williamson, Lowry, Will, Krauthammer, French, etc.). It is incomprehensible to me that intelligent, coherent Americans actually believe he will beat Hillary Clinton. He won’t. It strikes me as self-attesting that he is a narcissist, often seems deranged (according to his biggest fan), is childish, is reckless, is dishonest, and has no real basis on which he is running. He has declared bankruptcy one time more than he has been married, and he has been married one time more than any President in American history. There is no rational basis for desiring Donald Trump to be the President of the United States of America.
And herein lies the rub. The OJ jurors just didn’t care. And neither do Trump’s supporters. The OJ jurors knew the DNA evidence. But they were mad – mad at the Rodney King verdicts of a couple years earlier, mad at Mark Fuhrman for being a disgusting racist, and mad at a system of justice of which they didn’t have a favorable opinion. And Trump’s supporters do not care.
“He has declared bankruptcy four times and made a dozen businesses fail.”
“Shut up – he will make America great again.”
You would think it is a failing of moral conviction, or a failing of basic human intelligence, to acquit OJ Simpson in the face of all that evidence. But the jurors did not vote around moral convictions – they didn’t cease believing murder was grotesque – they just had moved to a totally different narrative. It became a trial about race and the LAPD. OJ was just a prop. Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman were props. Their families were props. I do not believe the OJ jurors were too stupid to deliver a guilty verdict. I believe they were too distracted. The white cops who beat Rodney King had gotten off, and Johnnie Cochran delivered them (with no bow to subtletly) a chance to right that wrong. It was immoral, and it was defiantly unintelligent, but that wasn’t their intent. They just fell into a narrative hole, and that narrative took over. And a double-homicide murderer walked free.
There are those in the Trump camp who I believe are guilty of incredible moral and intellectual failing in their support of Trump. Many in political leadership, thought leadership, and the punditry class are guilty of rank opportunism, and other more crass low-lifes are guilty of selling their souls for a night at the Mar-a-lago. But the rank and file Trump supporter is like the OJ juror. They have fallen into a narrative hole, and rationality be damned.
“He cannot name the name of any significant world leader, terror organization, or foreign policy initiative.”
“Shut up – he will build a wall.”
Do I mean this analogy to be insulting – comparing Trump supporters to the jury in the OJ Simpson murder trial? No, I actually do not, and I have given this a lot of thought. I am defensive of the power of a narrative – I can understand when a tunnel-vision leads us to think or say or do things that make no sense whatsoever. Juror #6 in the OJ jury gave OJ a “black power” sign as he walked out of the courthouse the day the verdict was announced. He may or may not have been aware that OJ lived in a 99.9% white neighborhood, in a 99.9% white city, and played golf at a 99.9% white country club, 99.9% of his waking time (I am allowing 0.1% for the times he was beating up his ex-wife, who was white). Had that juror thought through the racial connotations of giving a black power sign to a man who probably appreciated the plights of an inner city black man as much as Donald Trump does? No, he had not, because narrative trumped truth (no pun intended, or maybe it was). Trump supporters say they are tired of corruption, tired of a dirty system, and tired of the little guy getting screwed. So they give their own hand signal of support to Trump, who brags about bribing politicians, brags about using bankruptcy laws to his favor, and expresses utter disdain for the little people he has to screw to get what he wants. Does it make any sense? No. None of this does.
And this brings me to Marcia Clark, and you and me. For years I have been reasonably sympathetic to criticism of the DA’s office, particularly Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden, for their handling of that OJ prosecution. Why was that racist cop ever put on the stand? How did they allow that “glove which didn’t fit” charade to happen? Why was OJ’s borderline confession/suicide note not entered into evidence? Why did they complicate their case so much when it was really so simple, and so obvious? But I have sort of softened about all of this as of late. I basically believe, and I do not know Marcia Clark from Adam, that it just absolutely never occurred to her that this jury could be so disdainful of brute facts. The evidence was so powerful, the case so strong, and the proof so incontestable, that I believe Marcia Clark was able to shrug off some of the case’s challenges, particularly the utter charade Johnnie Cochran made of criminal justice by turning the case into a 1960’s race trial. Marcia Clark had faith in the jury. She never thought it possible that reasonably civilized members of our society, devoid of criminal records, found suitable to serve on a jury, could dare acquit someone for whom the evidence was so damning. Did they make mistakes in their prosecutorial case? Sure. No case is perfect. But I strongly suspect that she went to bed at night knowing she had the facts on her side, and that two people had been savagely murdered. She went to bed believing the jurors would see the light.
Many of us have spent the last nine months in Marcia Clark’s frame of mind – certainly the first six or so of the last nine months. Surely the Trump supporters would see the light, would connect the dots, would let the best interests of our country win out over whatever it was they were mad about (the sources of which include both legitimate and unbelievably illegitimate grievances, neither category, though, standing to be remotely improved by the candidacy or reign of one Donald J. Trump). It has not been populist rage that I have assumed Trump supporters would get over; and it was not dissatisfaction with LAPD that Clark assumed the OJ jurors would get over. What I have assumed is that the populist rage Trump supporters feel would not ultimately serve as a springboard to something that does nothing to help their populist rage (nominating Donald Trump). Clark surely assumed that acquitting a sociopathic killer would not help the jurors feel better about injustice in the criminal justice system. We all miscalculated.
There is a sense in which the analogy breaks down. The delusions and failings of the Trump supporters will end in tears – for them, and if nominated, for the Republican party. It will not lead to a Trump presidency, as he is going to lose by the largest margin in modern history to Hillary Clinton. The Trump supporters will never have to reap the fruits of their labor; their efforts will die in vain, even if that death comes too late for the GOP to beat the excessively beatable Hillary Clinton. For the families of Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman, there is no “I told you so” moment coming. Those jurors condemned them to a permanent lack of justice over the loss of their loved one. Their decision was irreversible.
But come to think of it, OJ still couldn’t leave well enough alone, could he? Narcissists never seem to know when to quit. And those of us who have excessive faith in their fellow man never seem to know when to quit, either.