What Impunity Looks Like

Personal Writings

            Heerlen           There are two pictures in the news that we will see for years, perhaps for decades.  One is Donald Trump’s glowering mugshot as he was booked at Georgia’s Fulton County Jail.  The other is Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of Russia’s Wagner paramilitary mercenary group, in full camo warrior pose in Africa days before his plane exploded, killing him and ten others.   These are human body portraits that might be the best symbols of our time of impunity.

I’ll never know, but I bet Trump practiced his pose before the mug shot.  It has definitely been reported that he was already selling t-shirts with a faux mugshot before his visit to Atlanta, and that right after he left, his websites were selling t-shirts using the actual shot.  He’s legendary for not preparing for debates or other events, and winging it, but when it comes to his image, he’s on that like white on rice.  Of course, I can’t know for sure, but he must have known how he was going to jut his head forward to maximize the vaguely threatening tilt of his head forward so that the overhead flash put the shadow in the right place.  His is a picture of unbowed, unbroken resistance for his base, not for identification by the authorities.  His look is formidable and fiery.  There’s no smirk or smile.  You have to give the devil his due. Right or wrong, he knows what look he’s going for, and he does the work to bring it home.  This is exactly what impunity before the law looks like.  Everything in his face screams, the hell with you!  Make me!

Yevgeny Prigozhin picture is also a pose that will now serve more like a death mask.  He wants to project strength and resilience, but there’s no mistaking that this is the picture of a man on the run.  There’s desperation in the eyes.  He knows he’s being hunted.  When he breaks cover, his location is never live, so he can’t be tracked.  Some claim he is in Belarus.  Others that he is near St. Petersburg.  In camo, he’s in Africa, reportedly crisscrossing the countries there and elsewhere where he has fighters and clients.  Russian defense ministry officials are hopping across the continent at the same time, sending a message that these countries are dealing with Russia directly now.  This is old hat.  Ten countries have sanctions against his entry and affairs.  His plane turns off transponders and flies a route over other countries.  He knows he was being hunted now given his mini-insurrection against Russia’s Putin, but at one level that’s nothing new.  He has been running with a $10 million reward on his head for his activities.  He had to know his days were numbered, but he must have been trying to keep his operation alive and the money coming, forcing him out from hiding.  His picture says “Come and get me, take me if you can.”  His death directly or indirectly is Putin and his people saying, “We can and will.”  His picture is what unchecked impunity looks like at the hands of Russia’s Putin.  He is dancing a line of lies.  He claims he didn’t order the plane blown up, exactly two months to the day after Prigozhin’s rebellion.  It’s impossible to believe the many denials from the Kremlin are true, but true or false, the message has been sent that it’s Putin’s way or no way at all.

Who is able to talk about a world order based on the rule of law and keep a straight face now?  To do so, you would have to practice a lot about how you would look, just as Trump and Prigozhin have done.