The Manafort sentencing last Thursday has gotten a lot of news coverage with many expressing outrage for the light sentence he received and others expressing support for him. Just like everything else at this time in our divided nation, the mood is split down the middle, sparking a national conversation about justice and fairness. Here is a conversation between two old friends overheard by our reporter at a diner in Washington on Saturday:
Con: Can you believe Manafort got off with less than four years?
Pro: Yes, it was a fair sentence. He made a few mistakes but worked hard and is not a danger to anyone. Besides, four years is a long time for someone who is 70. Big fine too. Plus he has got something wrong with his foot. Was in a wheelchair, I read in the news.
Con: Hey, he stole $55 million and cheated the IRS out of $6 million. Plus the recommended sentence was 19-25 years. He lied repeatedly to the Special Prosecutor.
Pro: Yeah, but the sentence he got is about average for an activity like this. The sentencing guidelines are excessive for someone like him who worked hard and was a very successful person, and who made a lot of money. I think the judge said something like, except for this, he lived an exemplary life.
Con: But that is the point. White collar criminals like Manafort get off with a slap on the wrist while poor people and people of color get long sentences for much less.
Pro: The judge showed compassion. What Manafort did was a lot different than what the typical criminal does.
Con: It was the same judge who sentenced Congressman William Jefferson from Louisiana to 13 years for a similar, white collar crime, and he stole much less–only $100,000. Jefferson was black.
Pro: Race has nothing do to with it. You bleeding hearts always pull the race card.Jefferson deserved what he got. He was a scoundrel.
Con: What about the black guy that got a long sentence for stealing $100 from the laundry room or the African American lady who got five years for trying to vote with a criminal record, not knowing it was against the law? What about all the mandatory drug laws that lock people up for decades–a disproportionate number being people of color — for selling an illegal substance? And the fact that studies show blacks get 20% more time in jail than white people who commit the same crimes?
Pro: You know, what really pisses me off about you bleeding hearts is that you are always sticking up for a bunch of scoundrels– convicts, robbers, panhandlers, low-life types. Why don’t they just go out and get a job? If you ask me, it is their own fault and they get what they deserve. You make your bed, you lie in it.
Con: You don’t see any injustice in our society?
Pro: If you work hard and play by the rules, you get ahead. This is America, and I am proud to call myself an American. This is the American Way, land of the free. Opportunity for all. You work hard in legitimate, productive jobs. That is what successful people do. That is what I do and what you do. We don’t whine and complain and want a government handout. There are already too many handouts by the government, doing away with work incentives. That is the problem in America. Too many not willing to work. Welfare Queens. People who want a free ride. And, yes, a lot of them are black, so what does that tell you?
Con: Excuse me? I believe your parents were wealthy and sent you to a fancy prep school and an elite college.
Pro: Well? Yours did too.
Con: Wouldn’t you say that gave you–and me–a head start so to speak?
Pro: I did quite well in prep school and college, thank you. I did this on my own. My parents did not take any tests for me. And, yes, I make a lot of money. I work very hard for this money, and I also pay a lot of taxes. A lot of my taxes go to failed government programs that are supposed to help these poor people. Count the tax dollars. I am doing more than most; and besides, it is not my fault if people are poor.
Con: It is not that poor people, black, brown and white, are not working. It is that they do not make a living wage. A lot of people work in service jobs in the Washington area for under $10/hour. Like dishwashers, housekeepers, food service workers, nursing assistants, day care workers and many more. And they work hard, often in thankless jobs, though these jobs are very important ones and make all our lives a bit easier. That comes to around $20,000/year. How does anyone live on that? Rents in even the worst neighborhoods in Washington start at around $1,000/month. Add to that the basics like food, clothing, transportation and health care. How do you expect them to get by?
Pro: Their problem, not mine. It is their own fault if they can’t figure it out, and do not give me all that BS about hardship. They should have studied harder in school, gone to college. If they can’t get by on one job, they should get a second job.
Con: Many already do work more than one job, and can you imagine the stress that puts on a family, especially a single parent family?
Pro: Should never have had kids. Probably out of wedlock too. Whatever became of personal responsibility?
Con:And there are a lot of other obstacles–bad schools, lousy housing, dangerous neighborhoods, poor access to health care…
Pro: Please! Enough, enough. I see your point. I just don’t agree.
Con: We do not seem to be getting anywhere. We both are white, grew up in a wealthy suburb and were born into two-parent, loving families with plenty of money to get by. We went to good schools and got good educations. Because of our skin color, we have never had to experience discrimination. Yes, we have done well, but we have others to thank for that, not just ourselves. The deck is stacked against a lot of people in this country and not just African Americans, immigrants, and Latinos. A lot of white people are struggling too. I think that we all have a responsibility to level the playing field so that the American Dream is accessible to all.
Pro: This is something I totally agree with you on: you are right! We are not getting anywhere. And we probably never will.
Con: But we will remain friends, right?
Pro: Of course. Though I have got to say that differences like ours are ripping our country apart.
Con: And we haven’t even talked about Trump.
Pro: Thank God.