It's About The Norms
Clarence Thomas isn't just corrupt ... he's singlehandedly helping destroy American democracy.
I’m Michael A. Cohen, and this is Truth and Consequences: A no-holds-barred look at the absurdities, ’ absurdities, hypocrisies, and surreality. If you were sent this email or are a free subscriber and would like to become a paid subscriber, you can sign up here.
Quick housekeeping note: I’m traveling again, so there will be no Zoom Chat tomorrow. Hopefully, we can get things going again next week.
Clarence Thomas Is Corrupt AF.
In 2008, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas decided to send his teenage grandnephew to Hidden Lake Academy, a private boarding school in the foothills of northern Georgia. The boy, Mark Martin, was far from home. For the previous decade, he had lived with the justice and his wife in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. Thomas had taken legal custody of Martin when he was 6 years old and had recently told an interviewer he was “raising him as a son.”
Tuition at the boarding school ran more than $6,000 a month. But Thomas did not cover the bill. A bank statement for the school from July 2009, buried in unrelated court filings, shows the source of Martin’s tuition payment for that month: the company of billionaire real estate magnate Harlan Crow.
The payments extended beyond that month, according to Christopher Grimwood, a former administrator at the school. Crow paid Martin’s tuition the entire time he was a student there, which was about a year, Grimwood told ProPublica … The exact total Crow paid for Martin’s education over the years remains unclear. If he paid for all four years at the two schools, the price tag could have exceeded $150,000, according to public records of tuition rates at the schools.
So for those of you keeping score at home, Harlan Crow took Clarence Thomas on luxury vacations around the world, bought his mother’s house in Georgia, renovated it, and didn’t charge her rent, and, now we find out, paid for his nephew’s private school education. Thomas, who is a public official, failed to disclose any of it.
This is not your garden variety corruption. It’s one thing that Thomas accepted all this generosity from Crow. That’s bad enough. What’s truly breathtaking is that Thomas didn’t disclose any of it. The self-entitlement and contempt for the most basic norms of public service are astounding. Any other public official caught accepting these gifts and not reporting them would almost certainly step down. But Thomas has a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court, and he clearly doesn’t care that his actions have stained the legitimacy of the nation’s highest judicial body. I wish I could tell you that he will do the right thing or that Republicans would join Democrats in pressuring him to resign. But, as we all know, that won’t happen. Clarence Thomas will likely stay on the Court until he dies. The rules simply don’t apply to him.
And while I’m sympathetic to the argument that Democrats could be doing more — for example, calling on Thomas to resign — their options are limited. House Democrats can’t impeach him (Republicans will never go along). And even if they could, Thomas would never get convicted in the Senate. I wrote about this in 2016, but perhaps the greatest threat to American democracy is the willful decision of political leaders to ignore social and political norms. Then I was writing about Trump, but Thomas has been thumbing his nose at political norms for decades now.
Our Constitution, our laws, and our governing institutions are the foundation of American democracy. But those institutions are only as strong as the willingness of political leaders to uphold and defend them. Norms and the willingness to abide by certain tacit and agreed-upon rules is the glue that keeps a functioning democracy together. If they decide, as Thomas apparently has, that they don’t need to abide by norms, that insulation from political accountability gives them carte blanche, and that shame is for suckers, there’s really no coming back from that.
We’ve seen Trump violate norm after norm for nearly eight years and pay a minimal price. Thomas likely figures, if he can do it, why can’t I? But, if Thomas ignores the mountain of evidence outlining his corruption — and decides he can do as he pleases because Republicans will protect him — it’s one more death knell for a normal, healthy democracy in America.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial