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Teflon Dons

By Leon Galis

One of Donald Trump’s most famous sayings is this one: "I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn't lose any voters, OK? It's, like, incredible."

He and millions of others think it’s no less incredible that ninety-one felony charges have only tightened his grip on the Republican nomination for president. For example, when Bill Whitaker interviewed Vice President Kamala Harris on Sixty Minutes, he asked her how it could be that President Biden wasn’t polling thirty points ahead of Trump in light of the stack of indictments hanging over him.

I’d been thinking that it’s incredible too, until it dawned on me that Trump is benefitting big time from a deep strain in American culture of lionizing and romanticizing outlaws, rule breakers. What clued me in was a three-part Netflix documentary on the rise and fall of John Gotti, the Boss of New York’s Gambino crime family. I don’t know whether Netflix planned it this way, but the parallels between Gotti and Trump couldn’t be lost on any but the most obtuse viewers.

Gotti was relentlessly pursued by both state and federal authorities for crimes ranging from coldblooded murder to loan sharking to…you name it, he was charged with it. He was tried four times and dodged conviction. Until he didn’t. As the trials piled up, he became a media darling and a folk hero. The media christened him “the Teflon Don” and “the Dapper Don” for his $2000 suits and impeccably styled hair, not a strand ever out of place. After every acquittal, his public appeal grew in proportion to his public contempt for his government pursuers. Some of the man-on-the-street comments Netflix included in the series were to the effect that Gotti couldn’t have done all the nasty things attributed to him because he was a “good man,” and the government was just out to “get him.” And when the FBI finally caught him on tape admitting to the things that he “couldn’t” have done, he was convicted at his fourth trial, an outcome that touched off riots in the streets of New York, during which some of Gotti’soutraged fans attacked police and turned their squad cars over.

Nor was this some one-off fluke. Just as there’s been an abiding constituency for Wyatt Earp and Eliot Ness types, Billie the Kid, Jesse James, Al Capone and their ilk have had their fans too. The moonshiners of Appalachia became the stuff of myth and legend for their resourcefulness and ingenuity as they were pursued by federal agents tasked with stamping out their homegrown hooch operations.

For a recent example of how we romanticize the bad guys (and gals), you need look no further than Arthur Penn’s Hollywood treatment of the infamous Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. Had they not left a trail of murder and mayhem in their wake, they wouldn’t have stood out in a crowd of three. But Penn cast two of Hollywood’s most glamorous figures, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, to portray them. And up to the last second before they’re shredded by a hail of gunfire, they look like a couple of Yalies out for a ride in the country.

This strand of our culture even makes its way into the rarified circles of some of our public intellectuals, who, you’d think, would know better. But some of them anyway don’t. In anarticle in the Sunday New York Times introducing readers to today’s crop of conservative intellectuals, the writer profiles one Costin Alamariu, who’s holding out for the day when our society breeds “great men of strength who model themselves on pirates, disregarding laws and norms, plundering and taking anything they want….” Alamariu tarts all this up with Nietzschean allusions but it’s as American as apple pie.

And who can forget Mark Zuckerberg’s famous motto, “Move fast and break things.” Examples abound everywhere.

Trump thought it was incredible that he could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and not lose any votes only because he has no grasp of this or any other aspect of history. This is the guy, remember, who at a Fourth of July observance celebrating the Continental Army’s  victory over the British said, according to Time Magazine and other reputable sources, “Our army manned the air, it rammed the ramparts, it took over the airports, it did everything it had to do, and at Fort McHenry, under the rockets’ red glare, it had nothing but victory.”

It's history’s perverse joke that Trump who’s down with torching the Constitution to annul unfavorable election outcomes, is unwittingly but gleefully leveraging a deep and persistent antinomian strain in American culture to recapture the Presidency to whose occupant the Constitution assigns the duty to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed….” (Article II, Section 3).

Leon Galis resides in Athens


446 views5 comments


Op-ed writers should refrain from expressing opinion as fact. Your article is rife with rabbit reasoning. As an Emeritus of Philosophy, you are manifestly aware of the logic trap when wordsmithing op-eds. Your comparison of Trump to Goti, is both absurd and illogical. Also, comparing Trump supporters to uneducated rednecks is also just as heinous. Enlightened voters will accept a narcissist vs an Alzheimer's riddled old man; it's a no brainier. The Democratic party's failure to provide a qualified opponent is tantamount to admitting that they do not have a better candidate. That's the real tragedy.

Replying to

An op ed allows for commentary and opinion

Op-eds. An op-ed (abbreviated from "opposite the editorial page") is an opinion piece that appears on a page in the newspaper dedicated solely to them, often written by a subject-matter expert, a person with a unique perspective on an issue, or a regular columnist employed by the paper.

“Enlightened voters will accept a narcissist vs an Alzheimer's riddled old man; it's a no brainier. The Democratic party's failure to provide a qualified opponent…”

This is specious.


So I agree he's not the best-spoken man, but he is running against a senile corrupt incompetent. I would rather have a rough-spoken man than a corrupt incompetent. If as you say, he's supposed to follow the law and the Constitution, then President Senile obviously doesn't give squat about the law by his ongoing flouting of the immigration laws. Trump proved you could limit the flow of illegals, but Biden seemed to want them. As for following the Constitution, crooked Joe is ignoring the Supreme Court with his unconstitutional waiver of student loan debts. There is also strong evidence that the Biden name and access were sold, with Joe's acquiescence. His crackhead son was being paid millions by…


Thanks Leon. I think you make a great argument for the unbelievable popularity of this bad man. I think it's unfortunate that the justice system works in a way that requires over 90 felony indictments to take this guy down. To the uninformed voter, this is evidence of overkill by the Dems and, as you said, they revel in DT's ability to survive. One big ole 'You're an Ass' charge would please me more.


Thank you, Leon, for your assessment. I completely agree with your take on his popularity among certain groups of people who wish to romanticize his criminal behaviors and adolescent speech.

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