A relatively short King’s Necktie today, for reasons that I will explain later. But after almost six years of writing this blog, there’s no way I was letting the (first) indictment of Donald Trump go uncommented upon.
THE LEAST OF HIS CRIMES
Ever since Trump left office, I have been among those who have written at length about the desperate need for accountability for this hideous pox on the American body politic. (You can read some of those screeds here and here and here and here.) It is an essential task for the republic if we wish it to stand in any kind of credible form.
The argument that indicting a former chief executive would set a terrible precedent is spurious, as we have already explored. Ask Berlusconi, or Sarkozy, or Fujimori, or Park Geun-hye, or Bibi for that matter (and he’s still in office). Yeah, it’s uncharted terrain here in the US, but not because it’s some sort of breach of the Constitutional order. Both Nixon and Bill Clinton made deals as they left office to avoid prosecutions that they knew were an absolute legal possibility, and a likely one. (And they were both lawyers.)
As I and many many others have written ever since January 6th, the real danger to the rule of law would be allowing a former chief executive to go scot free when credibly accused of serious crimes, including the worst one imaginable for a head of state: violent opposition to the peaceful transfer of power.
The Republican resort to this argument about precedent is risible in any case. Were the roles reversed, they would go after a former Democratic president in, er, a New York minute. Does anyone seriously doubt that? So spare me your alleged commitment to “principle,” Banana Republicans.
Turning to another complaint, I have been told by at least one former federal prosecutor (a Trump foe) that an indictment like Bragg’s, or a potential one by Fulton County DA Fani Willis, risks setting a different but equally dangerous precedent. In the future, what’s to stop a right wing DA in, say, Alabama, from bringing a bullshit indictment of a former Democratic President—say, Joe Biden, or Barack Obama—even if it required ginning up evidence of a non-existent crime? Are we ushering in an era of non-stop legal harassment of former US presidents?
I get that, but I don’t think it holds water.
So is the logic here that because the right wing threatens spurious prosecutions of hypothetical Democratic ex-presidents in the future, we’re supposed to be cowed into backing off a legitimate prosecution of a very real, very criminal Republican ex-president right now?
I say, let the GOP bring such cases, and let the legal system sort out whether any such future prosecutions have any legal merit or not. I like our chances.
I ain’t no lawyer, Philadelphia or otherwise, but this case seems like a Julius Erving-style 76ers slam dunk. After all, one individual—Trump’s own personal lawyer—has already been convicted and gone to prison and done time for this crime, and Donald Trump—“Individual 1”—was clearly implicated in that offense, escaping prosecution only because he was the sitting US President at the time, under DOJ policy as overseen by Trump’s own handpicked consigliere Bill Barr.
It remains to be seen if the charges brought by Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg will be for a misdemeanor, or enhanced into a felony because it’s a federal campaign violation. Kinda feels that way; it’s hard to believe Bragg would go to these lengths and tread into this uncharted terrain for a misdemeanor. After all, Michael Cohen was convicted of a felony, and in sending him to prison, the DOJ explicitly noted that Cohen was acting at the direction of Individual 1, which is to say, Donald J. Trump. And that was the Trump DOJ that did that.
Some other prosecutors and pundits have expressed mild discomfort that this is the first crime for which Trump is indicted. Considering his many other more serious crimes, hush money payments to a porn star in violation of campaign finance laws feels sordid, and a little ticky tack. After all, the SDNY—which convicted Cohen in this case—elected not to pursue charges against Trump for that same crime after he left office. Understandably, these folks would prefer that if the post-presidential-indictment cherry is gonna be popped, it be via charges from Special Counsel Jack Smith over January 6th and/or the Mar-a-Lago documents case, or Willis’s possible RICO prosecution over Trump pressuring Georgia election officials to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in that state. Yeah, me too, but I’ll take what I can get. Should Al Capone have been imprisoned for something more serious than tax evasion? Of course. But the important part is that he was imprisoned at all.
By contrast, MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell has pointed out that in some ways the Stormy Daniels case is the most fitting to go first in the Trumpian Carousel O’Indictments (brought to you by Trump Steaks, Water, Vodka, and Neckties) as it was the ur-crime that enabled all the others: that is to say, the coverup that helped him hide his skeletons and ascend to the White House in the first place.
In any event, if there is a God, or karma, or any justice at all in the universe, this indictment will only be the first of many in a long, excruciating and long overdue reckoning between Donald Trump and the long arm of the law.
SOME PIGS ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS
We’ve all heard the notion, widely bandied about in the right wing press, and from right wing columnists like Marc Thiessen in the Washington Post, that this (or any) indictment will just help Trump fundraise, and energize his base, and ultimately win the GOP nomination and eventually the general election as well.
It is pure Br’er Rabbit.
Yeah, this indictment may goose his hardcore cult, but they hardly need goosing. In the end, a criminal indictment—possibly the first of several—is not a net plus for Donald or any presidential candidate. The plainest evidence to that end is that Trump is hardly behaving like a man who wants to be indicted because he thinks it will help him….and the same is true of his surrogates and defenders and apologists who are once again trying to gaslight us.
Trump has already threatened violence in response to his indictment, calling for his supporters to take to the streets, just as he did ahead of January 6, and we all saw how that turned out. The average citizen facing indictment who then called for “death and destruction” or posted a Photoshopped picture of himself menacing the DA with a baseball batwould be looking at additional criminal charges. To paraphrase Twitter star Jeff Tiedrich, let’s all bear mind this kid gloves treatment Trump has gotten the next time the cops kick in the door of an unarmed Black woman and enter with guns blazing and shoot her dead in her own bed while she sleeps.
I doubt we’ll see it, but it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that Trump could flee the country for Snowden-like safe haven in Russia, or Saudi Arabia, or some other authoritarian-friendly garden spot. For my money, I look for him to keep that option in reserve for a possible indictment over the Mar-a-Lago documents case or January 6th, which of course are much more serious threats to his freedom. But even short of that, his antics in the coming weeks promise to be histrionic. His initial social media post following the indictment was a harbinger.
(Meanwhile, as a measure of how the cult of Trump is responding to today’s events, Tucker Carlson has already called the indictment “a greater assault on democracy” than January 6th.
Or Trump may well go to trial and get acquitted. Anything is possible; in the words of Saul Goodman, “Juries—right?” But this indictment is still the right thing to do, just as his two impeachment were, even though in both cases it was a foregone conclusion that his craven defenders in the US Senate were going acquit him.
But if Trump is convicted, even if he never does jail time, there will be dancing in the streets just as there was in my neighborhood and many others across America and the world when Joe Biden’s presidential victory was confirmed in November 2020.
And more good news: Because these are state level charges, not federal a possible conviction of Trump is not subject to a pardon by a future Republican president. In that regard, it may prove lucky that the SDNY passed on a prosecution.
AN ADMINISTRATIVE NOTE
In closing, one brief administrative note.
Faithful readers of this blog may have noticed that my output has slowed over the past few months. It is not for lack of things about which to bloviate; they continue to cascade down upon us with Niagara-like force and regularity. I have cut back because I am at work on a book, the demands of which have been occupying much of my time, and also cut into my TV watching, and my enthusiastic support of the American bourbon industry. That manuscript is a handbook for how to survive and resist should the Republicans regain control of the US government, either under Trump or one of his imitators, and a right wing autocracy comes to power in America—a kind of thinking American’s guide to a worst case scenario. More to come on that book as it nears publication.
Today’s events might seem to dim the prospects of that nightmare coming true, as did the midterms. I would like nothing better. But we cannot relax. The threat from the neo-fascist GOP remains urgent, and its appalling, thuggish reaction to Trump’s indictment makes that clear. Even if Trump is not the Republican nominee in 2024, whoever is atop the ticket will surely carry the same banner of white nationalist Christian supremacist terrorism and autocracy. Even if we succeed in defeating them in ’24, the thermostatic effect suggests that the Republicans will eventually regain power, sooner or later, and if they do, they have given every indication that they will never surrender it ever again.
So long as they remain committed to the rejection of participatory democracy, that existential danger to the republic remains.
I’m a buzzkill, I know.
For now, let’s relish the fact that the brave citizens of a New York grand jury and the public officials of my adopted hometown have had the courage to hold the most openly criminal president in US history to account, in at least some small way, even as we lament the fact that it’s come to this.
Donald Trump has never faced repercussions for any of his many misdeeds his whole miserable life. Today’s events represent one small—but still tectonic—step to redress that injustice.
Illustration: One of many AI renderings of a potential Trump arrest.
8 thoughts on “One Small Step”
As always I enjoy your writing, three thoughts:
1. If you indict a former president, you better have enough to make sure you convict. In the same way that the house was faulty in its impeachment, the DA can not be faulty in this case. In the immortal words of Omar Little “When you come at the king, you best not miss.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LF0Xt6b525E
2. This first inditement will indeed increase his fundraising activities, last night Lindsey Graham was on FOX crying that the former president needs money to fight these charges. A grifter is going to grift.
3. I look forward to your book.
Thanks, man. No doubt re #1, and I am confident the DA’s office has all its i’s dotted and t’s crossed. But you can control what a jury does, no matter how good you are, so they could still lose…..but I contend it was important to bring these charges regardless. No doubt re #2 as well—but let him fundraise. It’s a cruel joke, but outweighed by the principle that no one is above the law. Lastly, thanks for the kind words re my book! Hope to see you soon….B
I’ve enjoyed the many years following your blog on all subjects political.
I also look forward to your new project’s publication and wish you all the best for that effort. Hope to see you at our favorite restaurant soon.
Regards to all, Steve B
Thanks Steve! Hope to see you soon….B
Keep writing, I’ll keep reading.
I may be slow but it has only recently occurred to me that NRA defenders in Congress use these school shootings to extort larger contributions. I hope I’m wrong but it seems doubtful.