Jeffrey Epstein didn’t commit suicide.

He was murdered by Hillary and/or Bill Clinton. Or he was assassinated by the Russians. Or Donald Trump killed him. Or he isn’t dead at all, having been spirited into the Witness Protection Program, where he presumably now shares an island mansion with Tupac Shakur and 84-year-old Elvis Presley.

Take your pick.

Epstein’s apparent suicide while in federal custody Saturday has spawned no shortage of conspiracy theories about what “really” happened to the wealthy financier who stood accused of sex-trafficking children on an industrial scale. Twitter and Facebook have been ablaze with such rot, some of it spread by people — MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, for example — you’d think would know better. One person you absolutely know doesn’t know better — Trump — also got in on the act, retweeting a claim that the Clintons did it.

All these theories, should it be necessary to say, are based on precisely zero evidence. Not that you’d know that from the certainty with which they are stated. “He finally killed someone on 5th Avenue,” tweeted actress Debra Messing. The idea of raising questions, pushing for authoritative answers and, from them, drawing informed conclusions, seems to have occurred to almost no one.

In a time such as this, it’d be good to have a credible investigator who could be counted upon to dig out the truth. Instead, we have Attorney General William Barr, and if there was ever a time he might have fit the bill, it was before he turned the Department of Justice into Trump’s private law firm. In his mishandling of the Mueller report, abandoning his post as the nation’s lawyer to install himself as Trump’s defense counsel, Barr sacrificed his credibility and that of his department.

Too bad. We could use a little credibility right about now.

But you investigate with the DOJ you have, not with the DOJ you wish you had. So Barr is what we’re left with to probe what he called “failures” and “irregularities” at the Bureau of Prisons — which he oversees — that allowed Epstein to kill himself after reportedly failing at a similar attempt a couple weeks before.

The immediate tragedy here is that the women who once saw him use his political clout to arrange a negligible punishment for his crimes, have again been robbed of their right to have him answer for what he did to them. The “justice” system has failed them at every step.

But Epstein’s death is also a body blow to the public trust. And the public trust can’t take much more. Not with the most prodigious liar in history as president, not with the nation’s political discourse flooded with falsehoods from cable-news prevaricators, website exaggerators, social-media fabricators. Not with the rise of so-called “deepfakes” that will make lies seamless and high-tech until it is ever more difficult every day to know that you know what you know. And a nation that cannot even agree on what the facts are is a nation that loses cohesion, loses the very ability to act as a nation.

There are hard questions to ask about Epstein’s death. There are good reasons for suspicion. But there is no basis upon which to draw even a preliminary conclusion of anyone’s malfeasance.

Likewise, it’s fair to wonder whether our compromised attorney general will be able to find the truth. There is, however, a bigger question here, and it speaks to the perilous state — and future — of the Union. In an era where reality itself is under siege and the public trust is reeling, you have to ask: Would we recognize the truth as such if he found it?

Indeed, would we even care?

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 3511 NW 91st Ave., Miami, Fla., 33172. Readers may contact him via email at lpittsmiamiherald.com.

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(6) comments

Holmes -- the real one

Well, Scoot24 --

It WAS Cuomo who backed that idea but the notion was opposed by most liberals -- why? Because the idea is fundamentally flawed.

What you consistently present is a reflexively "conservative" position -- no wonder you liked the idea of tying teacher evaluations to student performance.

That reflexive action of yours is an example of premature closure -- the tendency to grab for something that seems like a quick and easy solution without thinking through the consequences. Sort of like the "get tough on crime" and "war on drugs" thinking.

Most difficult problems do not respond well to this kind of System I thinking. But then, conservative approaches have a long history of proving that very point.



Here, some reading for you:

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/a-conservative-critique-o_b_1214995

https://slate.com/human-interest/2015/03/gov-andrew-cuomo-and-teacher-evaluations-standardized-test-scores-are-the-wrong-place-to-focus.html

rdsouth

As usual, the foxes are guarding the hen house.

Holmes -- the real one

Would we recognize the truth?

Asking questions about anything that seems " a little sketchy" or "just full of holes" or "not exactly making sense" or "somehow too good to be true" requires the use of critical thinking skills.

That is what we hope that our educational system would encourage. We will not get there by requiring rote memorization of "facts" or by teaching to some test assessment. People need to learn to solve problems themselves. If they can experiment, research, and ask questions they won't need to memorize answers -- they will be able to derive the answer any time they need it -- or they will know how to research the issue to understand it better. They would ask questions and doubt the answers given when it all seems too neatly packaged for "just swallow it down" consumption.

Scoot24

I agree 100%. In a poor attempt to get there, NY attempted to implement the Common core standards which was derailed by the teachers unions in fear that the teachers would be quantitatively evaluated on their performance. So now we have a ineffective but well intended curriculum that was intentional ruined by the educators. They chose this route instead of working with the state Ed. department to fix it so that it would work. All this from a group of liberal educators who thinly disguise it as being what's best of the students when we know the truth.

Holmes -- the real one

Scoot24 --

Did you read the whole comment? A good education teaches people to find their own answers and to question the status quo.



The crazy application of so-called "core"standards to teacher evaluation actually came about because dogmatic diehards did not want "those liberal thinkers" to mess with the status quo. They were advocating for education as sort of a training camp for kids to grow up and join the workforce in factories and businesses. The last thing they wanted was for kids to question their elders' most fundamental rigid beliefs. They were not looking for creative thinkers either.

The notion that there was a way to "evaluate" teachers went right along with that adherence to the status quo idea. This was a way that they could regiment all of those folks out there "educating" and "maybe even putting all of those foreign ideas" in the heads of their children. It basically dictates, "this is what you are supposed to teach the kids, now stick to it."

Well, if you understand anything about learning theory, this kind of thing pretty much sabotages education up one side and down the other.

But then, for most of the folks in power over the educational system, teaching kids simply means keeping them busy and loading them with what they will need to be good little workers.



It's not the liberal educators who promulgate this kind of nonsense. It's the conservatives.

Scoot24

The idea of tying evaluations to student performance was Cuomo's idea. He is as liberal as they get. This is one of the few things that I have agreed with him on. Teachers in NY are subjectively evaluated by principals who were once their peers and now supervisors. In addition, a poor evaluation does nothing to improve performance due to the cost prohibitive method to remove a poorly performing teacher. The concept of common core was good in that it taught students how to use reasoning to solve problems. The way it was implemented and the teachers working to ensure if failed was its demise. A position as important as teacher needs to have a way to be quantitatively evaluated. This is another prime example of you having your liberal blinders on.

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