Columnist John Sheirer: What kind of criminal is Donald Trump?

  • President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress in the House Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 4, as Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker Nancy Pelosi look on. Leah Millis/Pool via AP

Published: 2/9/2020 3:00:22 PM

Some folks might read the title of this column and think, “Wait a minute. Trump isn’t a criminal.” Bless their hearts. They should take a deep breath and lie down. Citizenship requires that we stand up for the truth.

What are Trump’s crimes? Here’s a partial list, all well documented in the reality-based free press:

He illegally discriminated against prospective black and Hispanic tenants in his real estate business way back in the 1970s. He avoided charges by settling with the Justice Department and paying a fine.

He illegally hired undocumented workers for his various businesses. He avoided charges by using his money and influence to sweep those crimes under the rug.

He illegally operated a fraudulent “university” and a self-dealing “foundation.” He avoided charges by paying millions of dollars to settle those cases.

He has been credibly accused of sexual harassment/assault by more than a dozen women. He avoided charges by attacking his victims and spending untold fortunes on legal defense.

He was an unindicted co-conspirator in the illegal porn-star adultery payoffs that landed his personal lawyer in prison. He avoided charges largely because of a questionable Justice Department guideline that says sitting presidents can’t be indicted.

He illegally obstructed justice in the investigation of his 2016 election collusion with Russia. He avoided charges because Special Counsel Robert Mueller declined to make a recommendation about whether or not his actions were criminal. Spoiler alert: Thousands of former federal prosecutors say his actions were, indeed, criminal.

He illegally solicited election interference from a foreign nation, illegally obstructed the congressional investigation of his actions, illegally extorted/bribed a foreign leader for political favors, and illegally withheld foreign aid approved by Congress. He avoided charges because he’s a sitting president. He was impeached but not removed from office because Republicans in the Senate served as his tainted jury and bent reality to suit their political motives.

So, yes, Donald Trump is a criminal. Anyone who thinks that Trump’s crimes haven’t been proven should get a change-of-address form and use indelible ink to indicate a new home planet. Seriously. Accepting basic reality should be a condition of residing on Earth, and being able to identify an obviously criminal president should be a requirement for American citizenship.

What kind of criminal is Donald Trump? Sociologist Paul Kooistra, in his excellent book, “Criminals as Heroes,” explores the concept of the “Robin Hood Criminal,” a law-breaking hero who arises, “when large numbers of people become disenchanted with the quality of justice represented by law and politics.” (Full disclosure: Kooistra is my friend and brother-in-law, married to my wife’s sister. He’s also a terrific tennis player and a damned fine sociologist.)

Republicans have spent decades trying to convince Americans that government is the enemy. In such an environment, it’s easy to see how Trump’s claims of championing “the forgotten man” and “draining the swamp” could be superficially appealing.

But, as Kooistra notes, “the actual deeds and characteristics of heroic criminals played only a minor part in elevating them to such lofty status. A good public relations man and a receptive audience may be far more important.” Trump’s “actual deeds and characteristics” are the antithesis of basic American values.

His big legislative efforts, for example, have been terrible for all but the wealthy. He weakened the Affordable Care Act, leading to a rise in the uninsured rate. And his absurd tax cut was a boon to the ultra-rich and corporations but left the “forgotten man,” well, largely forgotten.

And Trump is obviously his loudest “public relations man.” That quality has been described as his “genius” over the years because he has bragged, blustered and bloviated his way to avoid consequences for his crimes while fooling millions of people into believing that he’s on their side. This fake “Criminal Hero” has swindled his way to the White House by pretending not to be a criminal and wearing his rumpled suit as a very thinly veiled hero costume.

Trump’s worst wrath goes to the public servants who reveal his true criminality. He hates Robert Mueller, Nancy Pelosi, Adam Schiff, Jerry Nadler, et. al, for the same reasons all criminals hate cops. Cops strive to keep criminals from getting away with their crimes.

Conversely, Trump loves his right-wing media defenders, his misleading lawyers, and his enablers in Congress because they’re his accomplices. That’s also why he loves his voters, which is deeply sad, considering how his policies hurt his supporters at least as much as his detractors.

The question, “What kind of criminal is Donald Trump?” has a clear answer. He’s a con artist, huckster and fraud. He’ll never take responsibility for his crimes because he seems to have fooled even himself into believing that he’s a hero. In the coming months, we’ll see further evidence of his crimes, but the people confused enough to think he’s a hero won’t care.

Ultimately, the result of Trump’s impeachment trial is temporary. Another fake criminal hero, O.J. Simpson, won his first trial too — but not his second. Trump’s second trial will be the election, and “We the People,” not the sycophantic Republican-led Senate, will be his jury. Let’s use our vote to make sure Trump answers for his crimes.

John Sheirer is an author and teacher who lives in Florence. His forthcoming book, “Uncorrected,” features a naïve protagonist manipulated by a dangerous criminal. Find him at

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