Trump, Escobar, and El Chapo:  Impunity and Immunity

Little Rock       We had watched a couple of the Netflix “Narcos” shows that are a fictionalized take on some surreal or semi-real events involving Pablo Escobar, the Medellin, Columbia drug czar.  Recently, we have done a deeper dive and are now halfway through the second year.  It seemed so unreal and of a different time that we could pretend it was more entertainment than reality show.  Escobar was a case study, if anyone was watching, of someone with resources who believes he is above the law even as embraces being a bandito.  He had a hardcore base among the poor in the barrios of Medellin that was willing to overlook crazy violence and hold him up as a Robin Hood.  He believed he could negotiate equally with the President of Columbia with an army at his command and could use his fighters, violence, and money to secure his own separate peace in his own narcissistic piece of the world.

Now, we’ll have to watch the rest of the episodes for tips in understanding our world in the wake of the latest news from Mexico.  As reported by the New York Times:

The violence began shortly after 3:30 p.m. in the city of Culiacán, the capital of Sinaloa State, when a patrol of 30 soldiers came under attack by individuals in a home in the neighborhood of Tres Ríos, according to government officials.  After taking control of the home, the security forces encountered and detained four men — among them [Ovidio] Guzmán López, a leader in the Sinaloa cartel [son of El Chapo, Joaquin Guzman Loera, now imprisoned in the USA]. Cartel gunmen then surrounded the home and engaged the armed forces, the officials said. …Later, the cartel deployed fighters throughout the neighborhood and began burning vehicles and blockading streets throughout the city.  Gunfire continued into [the] night, as soldiers and cartel fighters battled in the streets. In its brief statement, the government said it had opted to suspend its operation, but did not elaborate on what exactly that meant. Later, it became clear through local media that the government forces had indeed released Mr. Guzmán López back into the custody of the cartel.

We hadn’t realized that the “Narcos” was a watered-down version of the drug wars or that this level of impunity was as narcotic as they drugs being dealt.

Of course, we see the same level of impunity from President Trump these days, along with his entitled feeling of being immune to any legal or institutional norms.  Threaten to impeach him for his solicitation of yet another foreign country, Ukraine, to further his personal politics, and he doubles down and asks China to investigate and help him.  Accuse him of personal self-dealing, and he selects his Trump Doral hotel resort in Florida as the location for the 2020 G-7 meeting of world leaders that he gets to host next year.  Tell him there is legal protection for whistle blowers, and he announces in every forum that he’s “looking for” this guy.  Accuse him of violating the “emoluments” section of the Constitution on receiving benefits for his service, and he spends 308 days or one-third of his time in office to date staying at one of personal properties and conducts numerous meetings in his hotel in Washington, D.C.  Accuse him of selling out the Kurds on a whim to help his dictator buddies, and after years of partnership he says the Kurds “are no angels” while standing tall with some of the world’s worst devils.

Escobar, the Guzmans, and the Trumps may use slightly different means, but their view of the ends is the same:  whatever is best for them, the devil take the hindmost, laws don’t matter, governments come and go, it’s all about them.  Immune to any other opinions, standards, or norms, it’s their way or the highway with absolute impunity.  Catch me if you can.


The Permanent Partnership of War and Media

New Orleans        An interesting conversation with University of Houston professor, author, and poet, Roberto Tejada, on Wade’s World, about his new book, Still Nowhere in an Empty Vastness, got me thinking a lot about the fact that the manipulation of media of all kinds is anything but new.  What triggered our speculation was not the constant barrage of Trump-time, but Pancho Villa, the Mexican revolutionary, and Cabeza de Vaca, the woebegone and hapless explorer of sorts of much of the Gulf Coast from Florida to Texas.

Tejada made the often-forgotten observation in one of his essays that the Mexican Revolution in 1910 was the first area of combat in history that was widely photographed for print and filmed for cinema newscasts.  It was big news for a new media.  As Trump has also reminded us, access was all important.  Francisco “Pancho” Villa amazingly signed an agreement with a film company.  Tejada includes a section of the agreement where Villa  essentially offered the filmmakers exclusive access to his battlefields.  Amazingly, one of the provisos in the agreement encumbered Villa to reenact battles, if the live footage was inadequate or unavailable.  This is stunning to me.  Are you with me?  This is a general in the middle of a revolution with his rebel armies both agreeing and then actually going into the field with their soldiers playacting the previous battle scenes.  Unbelievable!

Tejada and I discussed whether this was “fake news” or not.  He argued that it wasn’t really fake, because it had happened, but since the footage would be presented as if real, to me at least it was artificial news.  I would like to say it would have been beneath modern standards, but all of us have read of TV reporters “manufacturing” settings, scenes, and interviews to give impressions that were equally fabricated.

How incredibly shrewd – and contemporary – was Villa to understand how he could easily manipulate the media?  Taking it one step farther, Villa also agreed and starred in a movie about his own life in order to gain support for his cause by going 100% Hollywood.  For a time, it even worked, changing the global impression of the Revolution and Villa as one of the leaders in attempting to overthrow the government of Porfirio Diaz.

Tejada writes in the title essay, De Vaca’s contribution hundreds of years earlier after having sailed to Florida and later been captured for years, losing almost all of his men in his wanderings, before he escaped, was also something Trump-like folks would have understood.  He wrote of his journeys in a politician’s exercise of spin and rehabilitation.  He likely invented a tale of being treated better as a captive because of a wham-bang piece of field surgery he performed in removing an arrowhead that few imagined possible.  Anticipating future charges of genocide, he even offers some defense for his native American capturers and their situation despite his captivity.

These are all good reminders that all reading, listening, and viewing of media has required a good dose of salt and skepticism forever and always, not just today.