The Perils of Pursuing Justice (and Why We Have To Do it Anyway)

One of the chief tactics of terrorist groups is to create conditions after the fact to justify their atrocities. 

Terrorists routinely insist that their foes are brutal oppressors who are deserving of the violence visited upon them, and can be defeated by no other means. They then provoke those foes—typically sovereign states—with horrific acts like bombings and assassinations and hijackings, hoping, in part, for a draconian overreaction in response—mass arrests, torture, abrogation of civil liberties, etc—which the terrorists then point to as proof of their original allegation.

This kind of carefully engineered self-fulfilling prophecy is very much what the Republican Party is doing when it comes to the effort to hold Donald Trump and his enablers (which is to say, the GOP itself) accountable for its myriad sins. 

For decades, long pre-dating the rise of the Orange One, conservative politicians have spoken to their constituents in apocalyptic terms, fearmongering that liberals—“socialists!”—intend to destroy everything real ‘Mericans hold dear. In the Trump era, Fox, Newsmax, OANN, and their fellow travelers kept up this steady drumbeat of paranoia, arguing to their audiences that the “Deep State” was persecuting their God-Emperor and weaponizing the mechanisms of state power for use against him—and them.(Miraculously, this Deep State somehow never included any Republicans, even though the intelligence, military, and law enforcement communities skew heavily conservative, to say nothing of the political bureaucracy full stop.) 

It was a savvy ploy, given that at the same time, Trump and the criminal cabal atop which he sat were themselves weaponizing state power for their own venal ends, brazenly committing crimes that would have made Nixon blush, and might even have caused Nero to stroke his chin in admiration. 

Now that the grownups are back in power—for the moment—and correctly pursuing well-deserved accountability for Trump & Co., the American right is cashing in on the groundwork it so diligently laid, howling that this is precisely the leftist police state in action that it has so long foretold. 

The Aug 9th search warrant served at Mar-a-Lago marked an exponential escalation on the front. 

Since that day, we have been inundated with hysteria over the idea that—gasp!—the FBI and DOJ would actually investigate criminal activity! (“Dystopian nightmare! FBI obtains warrant, conducts search!” wrote the Washington Post’s resident satirist, Alexandra Petri, giving Borowitz a run for his money.)

Here my analogy to terrorism breaks down, in that instead of the kind of “draconian overreaction” of which I spoke, what Trump and the GOP have provoked with their criminality is simply the legitimate exercise of the criminal justice system. But that is sufficient for the American right to screech that Biden’s jackbooted stormtroopers are marching toward your door.

POLICE STATE

 A brief survey:

The Washington Post’s Hannah Knowles reported that Republican “lawmakers and candidates likened the (Mar-a-Lago) investigation to ‘Third World’ political persecution and even Nazi rule—underscoring Trump’s grip on the party and raising concerns about stoking the kind of anti-government fervor that preceded the deadly Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.”

Lawmakers throughout the party continued to cast the search at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago property, without evidence, as the act of a tyrannical regime, using terms such as “dictatorship” and “banana republic.” Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla), the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said the federal government has gone the way of “the Gestapo.” The New York Young Republican Club issued a statement calling for the arrest of anyone involved in the search or other alleged persecutions, suggesting the suspension of normal legal processes if needed “to secure our Republic from the insidious monsters that have wrenched it from the American People’s control.”

Maryland Republican gubernatorial nominee Dan Cox on Tuesday called the FBI search “criminal” and said that if elected, he would use the full force of government—including the state police and Maryland National Guard—to oppose President Biden’s administration.

Betsy McCaughey, former New York lieutenant governor and New York Post columnist, tweeted that “When Republicans take back Congress, they should abolish the FBI, shut every field office, fire all staff, and start anew. #Trump #FBI #Newsmax.” Rep. Paul Gosar (R.-Ariz.) called the FBI’s G-men “democrat brownshirts,” and called for the “complete dismantling and elimination” of the Bureau. 

Josh Hawley—presumably while doing his Tommie Smith impression—called for Merrick Garland to resign or be impeached “at a minimum,” and for FBI Director Chris Wray—a Trump appointee, by the by—to be removed. Anthony Sabatini, a Florida state representative and candidate for Congress, went even further, calling for the entire federal government to be torn down, and suggested that the Sunshine State “(s)ever all ties with DOJ immediately. Any FBI agent conducting law enforcement functions outside the purview of our State should be arrested upon sight.”

In case you didn’t get it from watching Trump supporters scream at Capitol Police that they are “traitors” and beat them with Blue Lives Matter flagpoles, the self-proclaimed “party of law and order” now subscribes to an outré definition on how best to Back the Blue.

Kevin McCarthy  claimed that the Justice Department engaged in “an intolerable state of weaponized politicization.” Ron DeSantis  tweeted about the “weaponization of federal agencies against the Regime’s political opponents.” Steve Bannon—himself recently convicted of contempt of Congress and awaiting sentencing—claimed that “We’re at war,” called the FBI “the Gestapo,” and said, “We need to choke down the FBI and choke down the Justice Department.” Former Trump administration official Michael Caputo  called the search a “military-style raid” and equated the FBI to the KGB. Fox’s Laura Ingraham threatened that “when we get power back, it’s time to hold everyone accountable,” while right wing shock jock Mark Levin said, “This is the worst attack on this Republic in modern history, period.” (News to Admiral Yamamoto and Bin Laden.) 

But hyperventilating tweets from ambitious Republican backbenchers and self-serving con men—er, I mean, media personalities—are the least of it.

Mona Charen at The Bulwark notes, “For some in the wooly precincts of the MAGA right, the call to arms was literal. As Vice reported, some Trumpists were explicit: ‘‘’Civil War 2.0 just kicked off,’ one user wrote on Twitter, with another adding, ‘One step closer to a kinetic civil war.’ Others said they were ready to take part: ‘I already bought my ammo.’” 

There have been death threats against Judge Bruce Reinhart, the magistrate judge for the Southern District of Florida who approved the Mar-a-Lago search warrant. (“I see a rope around his neck,” wrote one Trump supporter on a pro-Trump message board previously called TheDonald.) A Shabbat service at the judge’s synagogue subsequently had to be canceled over security concerns. Most obviously, not two days after the search, a Trump supporter armed with an AR-15 and a nail gun—who appears to have been at the rally ahead of the attack on the Capitol on January 6thlaunched a violent attack on the FBI’s Cincinnati field office, before being killed by police. 

Indeed, among the right wing, calls for violence, civil war, the murder of Democrats and law enforcement officials are rife. NBC News’s Ben Collins, an expert on right wing extremism, reported that the posts he was tracking following the search of Mar-a-Lago were “as violent as I’ve seen them since before January 6th. Maybe even more so.”

Yet predictably, Republicans pooh-poohed the dangers of such rhetoric and “dismissed suggestions the GOP reaction could fan extreme responses,” resorting to the usual dishonest and factually unsupported bothsidesism. 

“That’s like saying everyone who has a ‘Save the Planet’ bumper sticker is going to blow up an oil tanker,” said Rory McShane, a Republican strategist. “There’s extreme rhetoric on both sides of the political spectrum.”

Right. And Trump will go quietly if he loses, and there will be no attempted coup.

PERSECUTION SIMPLEX

The Republican outrage over DOJ’s perfectly reasonable actions also shines a light on the dishonesty and cowardice of the GOP’s behavior during Trump’s second impeachment. Here’s  Catherine Rampell, also in the Washington Post:

Many Republican lawmakers have also somehow forgotten that they opposed impeaching Trump after the Jan. 6 insurrection because they said any Trump-related criminal allegation was a matter for the justice system to decide. The most appropriate way to maintain law and order, some argued, was to punt to the courts: “Let history, and if necessary the courts, judge the events of the past,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said in February 2021 when he voted to acquit. Yet a year later, Rubio has decided that when a court deems a search warrant for Trump’s property appropriate, that means we’re becoming a “banana republic.”

(“Breaking News: Florida Man Stunned to Find That Laws Apply to Him, Too” tweeted the actress and singer Lynda Carter, giving Andy Borowitz, a run for his money. Don’t mess with Wonder Woman.)

And, as usual, the propagandizing of MAGA Nation and the right wing media is being abetted by the tedious faux “objectivity” of the allegedly liberal MSM, which still hasn’t learned its lesson from 2016.

In the Washington Post, Perry Stein had an article last week titled “FBI’s Search of Mar-A-Lago Lands Merrick Garland in a Political Firestorm,” with the subheading, “The partisan outcry was the opposite of what Garland, a former federal judge, has sought in his 17 months on the job.”

In the Washington Post, Perry Stein had an article last week titled “FBI’s Search of Mar-A-Lago Lands Merrick Garland in a Political Firestorm,” with the subheading, “The partisan outcry was the opposite of what Garland, a former federal judge, has sought in his 17 months on the job.”

AYFKM? That header might have been dictated directly from Breitbart. The article itself is a fairly bland recap of the talking points from both sides, but it gives the final word to Stanley Brand, a former House counsel who represents some of the January 6th defendants and witnesses:

(Brand) called the FBI search of Trump’s property a huge escalation in the investigation of documents improperly taken to Mar-a-Lago. If investigators don’t recoup materials that showed that there were serious national consequences for the materials he potentially kept, Brand said, it could tarnish the Justice Department’s reputation.

“If they are trying to rebound from the perception that their decision-making was skewed from the Trump era, this is not going to help that,” Brand said. 

I’m not sure what to make of reportage like that, except that it doesn’t exactly reflect honor on  the WaPo or its slogan, “Democracy dies in darkness.” Unless that is meant to be aspirational. 

Also in the WaPo, the twentysomething conservative writer Jason Willick, formerly of the WSJ, had an op-ed recently suggesting that even if the DOJ search of Mar-a-Lago was justified and righteous, it was tone deaf to the inevitable political fallout, and therefore ill-advised. Wow. Either that is shameless and disingenuous misdirection, or a deeply Machiavellian and unappealing vision of the kind of society we want to have. (Not clear if Mr. Willnick is similarly critical of all the things Republicans have done that infuriated Democrats.) 

Of course, Trump’s cries that he is being persecuted by a politicized DOJ are especially rich in light of his own behavior, as the New York Times’ Peter Baker writes:

Throughout his four years in the White House, Mr. Trump tried to turn the nation’s law enforcement apparatus into an instrument of political power to carry out his wishes. Now as the FBI under Mr. Wray has executed an unprecedented search warrant at the former president’s Florida home, Mr. Trump is accusing the nation’s justice system of being exactly what he tried to turn it into: a political weapon for a president, just not for him.

But Mr. Trump has a long history of accusing adversaries of doing what he himself does or would do in the same situation….

Michael R. Bromwich, a former Justice Department inspector general, told Baker: “Trump may actually believe that Merrick Garland is serving a political agenda because he has trouble processing anything else. Trump simply doesn’t understand people like Garland and the top leadership of DOJ and the FBI because their values are so alien to him.”

The Bulwark’s Mona Charen concurs:

Trump is a sick soul who cannot imagine a world in which people act on principle or think about the welfare of others. While in power, Trump wanted to use the FBI to punish his political opponents (“Lock her up”) and reward his friends (“Go easy on Michael Flynn”). He projects his own corrupt motives onto others and assumes that the FBI investigation is nothing but a Democratic power grab. It would be pathetic if he had not dragged an entire political party into the fever swamps with him.

This experiment in self-government requires a minimum amount of social trust to succeed. With every tweet that spreads cynicism and lies, with every call to arms that welcomes civil conflict, Trumpist Republicans are poisoning the nation they so ostentatiously claim to love.

In The Atlantic, the intrepid Adam Serwer writes that Trump’s claim of political persecution reflects the Republican view of who and who is not subject to the rule of law in America:

There are people against whom law-enforcement action or abuse is always justified, and there are people against whom it can never be justified. 

That is, if law-enforcement officials want to murder an unarmed Black man in the street, brutalize protesters against police misconduct, or investigate a Democratic presidential candidate, conservatives will insist that such officers are infallible and that any criticism of their conduct is outrageous. But when the law is used to investigate or restrict the conduct of people deemed by conservatives to be above its prohibitions, that is axiomatically an abuse of power.  

DON’T FEAR THE BACKLASH

Ever since January 6, 2021, I have written repeatedly in this blog about the absolute necessity of accountability for the events of that day and all that led up to it. (You can read it here and here and here and here.) This is not, ahem, a unique insight or position. But now that we are beginning to see concrete examples of the beginnings of that accountability, we are also seeing the pushback from Big Lie America.

Threats of violence, per above, are but one part of that effort. Another almost insidious, if less dramatic, part is the steady chorus of conservative voices telling us, Brer Rabbit-like, how pursuing accountability for Trump will backfire, and only make him stronger, and be “divisive” for the country.  

Numerous pundits dutifully noted how Trump’s grievance-driven base will be wildly energized by the Mar-a-Lago search, such that it could actually help him in the 2024 campaign. Statistically speaking, they are not wrong: Trump’s support among conservatives is up since the search took place, he is fundraising off it, and talk of rivals for the 2024 GOP nomination has withered on the vine. 

But at the risk of stating the blindingly obvious, that is not a reason to forgo holding him accountable—for January 6th, for stealing classified documents, or anything else on his unholy CV. 

In the pursuit of justice and the defense of democracy, we cannot give in to threats of violence aimed at cowing us, nor to the fear that our efforts will energize our foes, even if that is so. To do so would be to hand those villains a victory by default, as this is exactly the kind of meek acquiescence at which their efforts at intimidation are aimed. That remains true even if we someday face a second Trump administration (gulp), or a similarly venal one led by one of his acolytes. 

And we’ve been here before. 

In both impeachments of Trump we knew that the Republican-controlled Senate would never convict him, no matter what evidence was presented. Yet the Democrats and other defenders of the rule of law pursued it anyway, on principle, knowing that not to do so would be an insanely self-destructive signal to the next would-be autocrat and coup plotter. The same may prove true of any criminal prosecution of Trump, although the events of last week dramatically raised the chances of a conviction there, not to mention indictment in the first place. 

This is well worth remembering, because allegedly “respectable” voices on the right are going to continue to try this scam on us. 

In the wake of the Mar-a-Lago search, the usually sensible Damon Linker of The Week wrote on Substack, “Rather than healing the country’s civic wounds, the effort to punish Trump will only deepen them.” The Washington Post’s Hannah Knowles quoted a “GOP strategist who spoke on the condition of anonymity” as sharing “deep concerns about what could come next. ‘If the president is prosecuted for crimes committed while in office, I am very concerned that this country could erupt in civil war,’ the strategist said.”

Oh, we’re going to have a civil war because some people believe the president is above the law and can do whatever the hell he or she wants—like a dictator, or a king—while others think that the president ought to, ya know, obey the law, and be held accountable to it?

Well, that is indeed a very stark difference of opinion, one that might well force us to reckon with whether or not those two views can co-exist in the same country. But as an attempt to scare us away from investigating Trump? Sorry—no. 

It’s especially rich that the very voices warning us about the risks of civil war belong to the same conservative community that is recklessly fanning the flames of that war. 

I was especially dismayed to read a piece by The Atlantic’s Tim Alberta, a superb reporter, but way off base with his warning of how the Mar-a-Lago raid will infuriate the Trumpian base: 

Ours is a government of laws, not of men, as John Adams once observed. Nobody, not even a president, is above those laws. So why did I feel nauseous yesterday, watching coverage of the FBI executing a search warrant at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate?

We don’t know exactly what the FBI was looking for at Mar-a-Lago. We don’t know what was found. What we must acknowledge—even those of us who believe Trump has committed crimes, in some cases brazenly so, and deserves full prosecution under the law—is that bringing him to justice could have some awful consequences.

Is that justice worth the associated risks? Yesterday, the nation’s top law-enforcement officers decided it was. We can only hope they were correct.

What is it with this handwringing over how the pursuit of justice hurts Trump voters’ feelings so maybe we shouldn’t do it? For nigh on seven years now we’ve been told how we must walk on eggshells lest we anger the great MAGA horde. Puh-leeze. 

I prefer the take of Dana Millbank, again in the WaPo, who rightly puts the blame for any such violence and civil unrest squarely where it belongs: on the right itself. 

Are we really going to back off these investigations and the pursuit of righteous accountability for the people who tore small children from their parents and caged them, who leveraged foreign aid for personal political gain, who gladly accepted the interference of hostile foreign powers in our elections, who tried to violently overturn a free and fair election, because we’re afraid it will make them mad?

It is true that the Mar-a-Lago search has tightened Trump’s hold on the GOP, which by some accounts, had been slipping. (We’re always being told that it’s slipping, and yet it never really does.) But as David Frum recently wrote in an epic Twitter thread, “An ex-president doesn’t deserve impunity for crimes just because he leads an anti-democratic faction who will capsize democracy rather than accept accountability for their leader’s misdeeds.” 

It ought to go without saying that giving into that sort of intimidation is a political suicide pact. I can’t believe it is even being seriously considered. It’s one thing for conservative politicians and pundits to propose this foolish notion, either cynically or because they’re far right partisans who believe everything is OKIYAR. It’s quite another to hear it from ostensibly reasonable observers in the legitimate press.  

MICHELLE, MA BELLE

Perhaps the best obliteration of this impulse toward timidity came from the New York Times’ Michelle Goldberg, in a piece called “The Absurd Argument Against Making Trump Obey the Law.” It’s so good, I want to quote it at length. 

She begins by reminding us of the disastrous results of a previous case of worrying about making right wingers mad: James Comey’s excessive concerns “about what Trump’s supporters would think of the resolution of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails.” Goldberg notes that in his own memoir, Comey “admitted fearing that concealing the new stage of the investigation—which ended up yielding nothing—would make Clinton, who he assumed would win, seem ‘illegitimate.’(He didn’t, of course, feel similarly compelled to make public the investigation into Trump’s ties to Russia.)”

Comey’s attempts to pre-empt a conservative firestorm blew up in his face. He helped put Trump in the White House, where Trump did generational damage to the rule of law and led us to a place where prominent Republicans are calling for abolishing the FBI.

This should be a lesson about the futility of shaping law enforcement decisions around the sensitivities of Trump’s base. Yet after the FBI executed a search warrant at Trump’s beachfront estate this week, some intelligent people have questioned the wisdom of subjecting the former president to the normal operation of the law because of the effect it will have on his most febrile admirers.

The former president relishes his ability to stir up a mob; it’s part of what makes him so dangerous.

We already know, however, that the failure to bring Trump to justice—for his company’s alleged financial chicanery and his alleged sexual assault, for obstructing Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation and turning the presidency into a squalid influence-peddling operation, for trying to steal an election and encouraging an insurrection—has been disastrous.

What has strengthened Trump has not been prosecution but impunity, an impunity that some of those who stormed the Capitol thought, erroneously, applied to them as well. Trump’s mystique is built on his defiance of rules that bind everyone else. He is reportedly motivated to run for president again in part because the office will protect him from prosecution. If we don’t want the presidency to license crime sprees, we should allow presidents to be indicted, not accept some dubious norm that ex-presidents shouldn’t be.

No doubt, Trump’s most inflamed fans might act out in horrifying ways; many are heavily armed and speak lustily about civil war. To let this dictate the workings of justice is to accept an insurrectionists’ veto. The far right is constantly threatening violence if it doesn’t get its way. Does anyone truly believe that giving in to its blackmail will make it less aggressive?

WHEN PERFORMANCE BECOMES REALITY

In some ways, many of these warnings of right wing outrage, and even violence, are purely performative. Like all bullies and cowards, Trumpists are seeking to intimidate their foes with threats of retribution. A perfect case in point is that of Kevin McCarthy, that great believer in cooperating with Congressional investigations (note: applies to Republican investigations only), who sanctimoniously warned Merrick Garland to prepare to be Benghazied. 

Such portentous statements are also performative in the sense of GOP politicians pandering to the aptly-named base. This is criminally reckless to say the least, but also proof of how beholden the Republican leadership is to the most radical faction of its demographic. So please spare me the platitudes about how Ron DeSantis—or Tom Cotton, or Nikki Haley, or any other Republican presidential aspirant you care to name—will be “better” than Trump in terms of red-meat-throwing, should Donald not win his party’s nomination in 2024. 

Of course, some threats are not merely performative. We ought to be painfully aware, after the murder of Heather Heyer, after the plot to kidnap and murder Gretchen Whitmer, after the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse, after multiple politically and racially motivated mass murders by gun-wielding right wing maniacs, after the brazen rise of white nationalist militias like the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, and of course, after January 6th, that there are those among us who have no compunction about using violence to achieve their loathsome ends. 

But in many ways, the civil war that so many fear, as I suggested in the immediate wake of January 6, 2021, is already here—a low-intensity conflict , to use the ‘90s-era US military term of art, in which a white nationalist, Christian supremacist right wing insurgency is attempting to take permanent control of American governance, with the eager assistance of one of our two political parties. (Not clear which is the tail and which is the dog.) The American epidemic of mass shootings, many of them with right wing political motives, is certainly part of that and should be seen that way.

The Atlantic’s Tom Nichols, who is also a professor at the US Naval War College, writes:

The United States now faces a different kind of violence, from people who believe in nothing—or at least, in nothing real. We do not risk the creation of organized armies and militias in Virginia or Louisiana or Alabama marching on federal institutions. Instead, all of us face random threats and unpredictable dangers from people among us who spend too much time watching television and plunging down internet rabbit holes. These people, acting individually or in small groups, will be led not by rebel generals but by narcissistic wannabe heroes, and they will be egged on by cowards and instigators who will inflame them from the safety of a television or radio studio—or from behind the shield of elected office. Occasionally, they will congeal into a mob, as they did on January 6, 2021.

There is no single principle that unites these Americans in their violence against their fellow citizens. They will tell you that they are for “liberty” and “freedom,” but these are merely code words for personal grudges, racial and class resentments, and a generalized paranoia that dark forces are manipulating their lives. These are not people who are going to take up the flag of a state or of a deeper cause; they have already taken up the flag of a failed president, and their causes are a farrago of conspiracy theories and pulpy science-fiction plots.

JUST MY IMAGINATION (RUNNING AWAY WITH ME)

Nichols cautions against inflating our expectations of an ultimate comeuppance for Trump (see also: Lucy and Charlie Brown), and also against wild speculation about exactly what he has been up to with the stolen classified material:

I am concerned, in particular, by conversations I have seen (and some in which I have participated) on social media that suggest to me that Trump’s critics are letting their imaginations run away with them, including accusations that Trump has, or soon will, sell these secrets to America’s enemies.

I am certainly aware that I could readily be accused of that sin, having openly speculated about the possibility that Trump might be selling nuclear secrets to—oh, I dunno—Saudi Arabia. 

I’m not saying Trump has done something like that, or is doing so now. But is it beyond the pale to consider that he might? On the contrary: it’s advisable to imagine the worst case scenario as we pursue the demonstrable truth. 

I am a blogger, by avocation, and a screenwriter, by trade, paid to indulge my imagination in the wildest, most dramatic scenarios possible. I used to be a military intelligence officer, where part of the job was doing the same. If the New York Times were to give me a column, I promise I would rein it in. Here on The King’s Necktie, however, where I have no adult supervision and answer to no one, I will continue to let my mind—and fingers—roam freely. 

And what does it say that that’s the first thing that leapt to the minds of many people when it was revealed that he may have stolen documents pertaining to nuclear weapons? Notice that even as Republicans defend Trump with every fiber of their collective being, not one of them has dismissed the idea of him selling nuclear secrets out of hand as patently absurd, or something he would never do.

Because we all know that he would. And Republicans know that too. 

Can you imagine someone accusing Jimmy Carter, or Gerry Ford, or either of the George Bushes, of such a thing? It would not even be dignified with a response. But as the writer Tom Scocca memorably tweeted at the very dawn of the Trump era, in 2016: “Nothing about Trump has ever looked kinda bad at first but turned out OK. He’s always worse than you thought.”

Nichols clearly understands this:

Nothing can ever be ruled out where Donald Trump is concerned, and it’s certainly possible that Trump—whose history suggests that he never does anything for reasons other than profit or to service his debilitating narcissism—thought he could use America’s secrets for his own financial or political gain. But there’s no point in trying to pin this kind of intent on the former president, thus setting up impossibly high expectations of prosecution that will likely be dashed in the near future—especially when Trump may have already committed severe violations of a law that he himself signed in 2018 that makes his current actions a potential felony.

I’ll settle for that. 

WHERE TO NOW?

It’s still early days, but all of us who have been frustrated with Merrick Garland’s opaque, slow-moving, institutionalist style may soon have to eat some crow and ought to do so gladly. I know I will. (Fried, please, with a side of my hat, and humble pie for dessert.) His rollercoaster career is already proving to be the stuff of Hollywood, from the gutting disappointment of having his nomination to the Supreme Court unconscionably blocked by Mitch McConnell, to the drama of the decision now on his plate, to potentially being cast as savior of the republic. Or its goat, and not the good Tom Brady kind.

Other advanced democracies have rightly prosecuted corrupt former heads of state without their republics collapsing. Ask France, or Italy, or South Korea. Attorney General Garland may well come to the conclusion that the United States ought to do the same, and that the greater danger lies in not prosecuting. Count me in that camp. 

But it’s true that where that path may lead is uncharted, and potentially surreal.

On MSNBC’s Deadline White House, guest host John Heilman has been asking all his guests, among them Punchbowl’s Jake Sherman, the Bulwark’s Charlie Sykes, and veteran conservative strategist Stuart Stevens, now of the Lincoln Project, if the GOP might actually nominate someone who was under indictment for espionage. All of them immediately answered yes. 

Sykes

Which seems extraordinary, except that I’m afraid that it is now self-evident. Of course they would. Who would stop them, as Trump waves the bloody shirt of his martyrdom?

If there is eventually an indictment and prosecution, depending on how long the case takes, it is even conceivable that we could have a convicted felon elected President. 

Well, at least the security in the Oval Office at ADX Florence Supermax federal penitentiary will be good. 

In any event, the controversy over the Mar-a-Lago search demonstrates very clearly that even jail time for Trump, satisfying—if unlikely—as that would be, will not be the end of Trumpism.  

Nichols one last time. 

When enough Americans decide that a cult of personality matters more than a commitment to democracy, we risk becoming a lawless autocracy. This is why we must continue to demand that Trump and his enablers face the consequences of their actions: To cave in the face of threats means the end of democracy. And it would not, in any event, mollify those among our fellow citizens who have chosen to discard the Constitution so that they can keep mainlining jolts of drama from morning until night.

We are going to be living in this era of political violence for the foreseeable future. All any of us can do is continue, among our friends and family and neighbors, to say and defend what is right in the face of lies and delusions.

The last word goes to Michelle Goldberg, who for my money has been the (wo)man of the match on this topic:

(T)hose in charge of enforcing our laws should remember that the caterwauling of the Trump camp is designed to intimidate them and such intimidation helped him become president in the first place.

Trump shouldn’t be prosecuted because of politics, but he also shouldn’t be spared because of them. The only relevant question is whether he committed a crime, not what crimes his devotees might commit if he’s held to account.

********

Illustration: Shutterstock

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