No sooner has one trial of the century ended than another has begun. The trial of Ghislaine Maxwell has kicked off in New York and rich and powerful men across America and Europe are doubtless biting their nails and whispering to their lawyers. Ms. Maxwell is on trial on charges of sex trafficking of a minor and sex trafficking conspiracy, but others are being caught in the crossfire.
Larry Visoski, the pilot of Epstein’s notorious private airplane, the so-called “Lolita Express”, told the court today that Epstein’s guests aboard the plane included Prince Andrew, Bill Clinton and Donald Trump. This is no surprise, given that it has been well established that Epstein was close to all of these men at one time or another. But such clear testimony has hit the headlines like an irate rhinoceros.
It’s important to state that merely traveling on said airplane is not proof of involvement in Epstein’s crimes against underage women. The plane may have been used to facilitate those crimes; that does not mean doing so was its sole function. It’s also justifiable to question the reliability of the pilot, and how much he knew about the uses of the plane — though he denies knowledge of Epstein’s activities. Given that Visoski has been speaking under oath, it would be remarkably foolish to lie.
Still, this is an opportune moment to remind ourselves that if we wish to find the truth about Epstein’s crimes, we must set aside tribal biases. So far, progressives have dwelled heavily on Trump’s association with the man. Conservatives, meanwhile, have focused on his friendship with liberals such as Clinton.
No doubt all would make excuses for their disproportionate focus. Progressives would point to Trump’s eyebrow-raising comments about how Epstein was a lot of fun to be around and had a taste for younger women. Conservatives would point out that Trump, unlike Clinton, broke off relations with Epstein (allegedly banning him from Mar-a-Lago). But none of this proves anything. Perhaps one is innocent and the other guilty. Perhaps both are innocent. Perhaps both are guilty. This, though, will be determined, if it is ever determined, by evidence and not which party they represent.
Cautions against tribalism can grow tiresome. People who deliver them often sound as if they hope to establish that they are more rational and intelligent than everyone involved. Sometimes, a bit of tribalism is no bad thing. When it comes to building political movements, winning elections and implementing policies it is necessary, at least to some extent, to be loyal to your team.
Yet this is the kind of moment where the flaws of partisanship become most apparent. Belief in the overall virtue of your tribe should never be conflated with absolute confidence in the virtue of its individual members. It simply makes no sense, and it is the kind of blinkered view that enables corruption in all walks of life.
Let me be absolutely clear: I am not accusing anyone of criminality. That is for the courts to decide, if it needs to be decided. But we should at least check party politics in at the door.