Charles M. Blow: Trump faces prosecution, America faces a test
Sat., March 25, 2023
Of course, Donald Trump went to social media to speculate that he’d be arrested on Tuesday of this week and – big surprise – that turned out not to be true.
Of course, he’s trying to incite his followers with the prospect of their beloved leader facing criminal charges, and simultaneously using that to squeeze them for more money.
Of course, many Republicans are not only rushing to Trump’s defense, armed with a quiver of false equivalencies, but also seeking any opportunity to bash Democrats and call them hypocrites for seeking to hold Trump accountable.
Of course, many Democrats are, on the one hand, relishing the idea that charges may begin sticking to Slick Donald, but on the other hand, twisting themselves into knots worrying whether an indictment will actually strengthen his standing with his base.
If a former president is indicted, it will be unprecedented. But the atmospherics will be all-too-familiar, a kind of political déjà vu, as we remain trapped in a repeating cycle of Trump-era truisms: the defense of hard-core political acolytes, the rapid erosion of norms and a paralyzing reticence among those who could check his abuses of power.
It’s impossible to completely game out the legal and political ramifications of a Trump indictment, but because the public is hungry for theories and pundits are champing at the bit to provide them, we’re awash in takes about what happens next.
But I challenge you to tune all of that out.
We know Trump and how he operates. He tries – and often succeeds – to spin his negatives into positives, to deny his misdeeds while charging that those trying to hold him accountable are the real culprits.
Trump’s strategy from the beginning of his political foray has been to discredit or destroy the gatekeepers, in politics and the media, who might one day be called upon to expose him. (“Low-energy” Jeb Bush, anyone?) He continues to brand them as weak, dishonest and out to get anyone who supports him.
And every time an attempt to hold him accountable falls short of delivering the most fitting consequences, he counts that as a victory, and the effort’s “failure” as proof of its illegitimacy. Then he rolls all this together in his rhetoric to bolster his contention that all investigations of him and members of his inner circle amount to a campaign of political harassment.
In a video Trump released early Tuesday morning, he railed that the “horrible, radical left, Democrat investigations of your all-time-favorite president, me, is just a continuation of the most disgusting witch hunt in the history of our country,” adding: “It’s gone on forever.”
He goes on to call Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation, which explored his campaign’s communications with Russia during the 2016 election, “a hoax,” and contends that investigators “even spied on my campaign.” He then ties in new investigations – the classified documents probe, the Georgia election interference investigation and the allegations about hush money payments to Stormy Daniels.
Trump will never not be this guy. He’s never going to concede or show contrition in the face of any accusation. He’s going to fight. And that’s precisely why his people adore him. That’s why they’ll continue to support and defend him. They want to be like him: not forced to back down, even when they are wrong.
Trump intuitively understands this, so he continuously feeds the idea that he’s their proxy in the ideological war. “They’re not coming after me,” he said in the same video, “they’re coming after you. I’m just standing in their way, and I always will stand in their way.”
Republican officials and strategists who want to remain Republican officials and strategists know this, too. So most either join Trump’s condemnation of the prosecutors or fall silent.
Democrats also know this, and it worries them.
But ultimately, they can’t let that matter. There’s no world in which Trump’s supporters will accept it if he’s punished. Trying to find a point of consensus with them when it comes to Trump is a fool’s errand. They will get mad. Let them.
Republicans will accuse prosecutors of partisanship and overreach. Let them.
Trump will scream like a baby. Let him.
We’re at a point in the nation’s history where we are called to endure what I call the inconvenience of the necessary, a point at which something is morally right – and morally unavoidable – but the political timing is problematic.
We’ve faced these moments before, and too often we’ve eschewed the moral position for the political one – from allowing Reconstruction to fail and allowing Jim Crow to rise, to delaying acknowledgment of LGBTQ rights, to the about-face on police reform in the face of a public panic about crime.
Moving forward, unapologetically and righteously, with the prosecution of Trump is another test that our country faces and another chance our country has to make the right – or wrong – choice.
History is always watching and always recording.
Trump will not be remembered well. He will, I believe, be a marker of one of the times the country came closest to losing itself. The question remaining to be answered is how the rest of us will be remembered.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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