By the 1980s, kids were looking around at a country where lawbreaking and lawlessness were no longer conditions of poverty and life in the inner city alone. Now these were omnipresent aspects of American business, politics, and the media at the highest levels. “There were no rules governing the pursuit of profit and glory,” Michael Lewis wrote of the culture of Salomon Brothers in the 1980s. “The places was governed by the simple understanding that the unbridled pursuit of perceived self-interest was healthy. Eat or be eaten.”
“Today,” writes Glen Greenwald in With Liberty and Justice for Some (2011), “in a radical and momentous shift, the American political class and its media increasingly repudiate the principle that the law must be equally applied to all.” It gives one pause to consider what the Founding Fathers would have thought of the pardoning of Nixon after the Watergate scandal; the overturning of the convictions of Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North and former National Security Advisor John Poindexter after the Iran-Contra scandal; or the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping, politicized prosecutions, torture, and “black sites” — for which no one was ever prosecuted. Every step along the way has been an even bigger departure from the insistence of the framers of the Constitution that in a democracy everyone must be equal before the law. Meanwhile, Greenwald laments, “the media [directs] its hostility toward those who investigated or attempted to hold accountable the most powerful members of our political system.”
And then there was the financial meltdown of 2008 that brought the world economy to its knees. While its causes have barely been investigated or made transparent, it has become sufficiently clear that the crisis was largely the outcome of widespread fraud and lawbreaking. Yet there has been virtually no prosecution of those responsible. “There is no fear of individual punishment,” Rolling Stone‘s Matt Taibbi said in an interview in 2012. “That’s the problem.”
So why did Rachel Lee think she could get away with stealing celebrities’ clothes? Maybe Vince was right, after all: ‘Cause she hadn’t been caught. Yet.