The Trump show trial has fooled no one

This is blatant political persecution – and it will have grave consequences for democracy.

Jenny Holland

Topics Politics USA

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The first criminal trial of a US president is now over. And so, perhaps, is millions of people’s faith in the impartiality of the American legal system.

Yesterday in Manhattan, New York City, former president and current Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump was convicted on all 34 counts of falsifying business records. The origin of this show trial lies with porn star Stormy Daniels, who claimed she had an affair with Trump – which he strenuously denied – and was threatening to go public with her story during the 2016 election campaign. Trump’s then lawyer paid her to stay quiet.

Trump is certainly no saint. And there are plenty of legitimate reasons not to want him anywhere near the White House again. But what was done to him in that Manhattan courtroom goes well beyond good-faith debate.

Many commentators have pointed out at length the flaws in how this case was handled. This ranges from ‘flagrant violations’ by the prosecution during the trial to bizarre rulings from the judge, including blocking a witness who could have exonerated Trump from the charge of federal election violation. Even the very premise of the case – that categorising hush-money payments to his lawyer as ‘legal expenses’ was not only illegal, but also a felony – was patently absurd. The act of falsifying business records is itself usually just a misdemeanour, and was outside the statute of limitations anyway. But this was transformed into a more serious felony charge with some legal jiggery-pokery.

This case was so obviously political that even a blind toddler could see it. The daughter of the presiding judge, New York State Supreme Court justice Juan Merchan, is an executive of a political consulting firm, which counts among its clients some of Trump’s biggest adversaries. That includes Democratic senator Adam Schiff, who led the first impeachment trial against the former president in 2020. According to the New York Post, Democratic politicians who are clients of Merchan’s daughter have even referenced her father’s case in their fundraising emails.

As reported in the New York Times this week, the state’s case was that: ‘An agreement Mr Trump struck with the National Enquirer to buy and bury unflattering stories was a “subversion of democracy” perpetuated by a “covert arm” of the 2016 Trump campaign. [The prosecutor] added that the fraud deceived voters “in a coordinated fashion”, preventing the American people from deciding for themselves whether they cared that Mr Trump slept with a porn star or not.’

Is there nothing these people won’t call an attack on democracy? This is made all the more ironic by the fact that the hush-money case itself is one of the most obvious attacks on American democracy in the nation’s history. So, squashing an unflattering story about yourself during an election campaign is against democracy now? But throwing a series of criminal trials against a popular presidential candidate is fine? What planet are these people living on?

This blatant hypocrisy seems completely lost on the American commentariat. The New York Times editorial board proclaims that the trial was ‘a remarkable display of the democratic principles that Americans prize’. On MSNBC, a guest fawned over Merchan: ‘I have a man crush on him… If you looked in the dictionary for judicial temperament, that’s what you’d get.’

The media elites have vastly misjudged the public mood here. The legal hounding of Trump is only making his base more committed to him. Ever the showman, Trump wasted no time in turning this miscarriage of justice into an opportunity to bolster his brand, which has now expanded to include the beloved American archetypes of outlaw and folk hero. Immediately after the verdict was announced, Trump’s fundraising website crashed, apparently due to an influx of donations.

Clearly, it will take more than a few trumped-up charges to dull Trump’s appeal. America’s political and media classes have been waging a covert war on working-class citizens for decades now. But convicting on the flimsiest of charges a man who is popular among millions of working Americans has brought that war out into the open. ‘If they can get Trump’, I can hear blue-collar men and women across the nation saying to each other right now, ‘they can get anyone’.

This guilty verdict is just the beginning. Trump’s sentencing is set for 11 July and, in the meantime, three other criminal cases against him trundle on. It’s going to be a long, hot summer.

Jenny Holland is a former newspaper reporter and speechwriter. Visit her Substack here.

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Politics USA


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