Trump Indicted and What That Means
The question has never been whether Donald Trump is a criminal. Everyone knows exactly what he is. The question has always been whether he would ever be called to account for any of his crimes. He’s managed to avoid it so far in his life, because he was born rich, was given much, and today has both a phalanx of lawyers, and an entire political party, at his disposal, in order to obfuscate and frustrate the gears of law and of justice. Donald Trump was and is a criminal. The idea that he should ever be called into account for it has never entered his mind, not even before he became President, and his crimes were merely of the “white collar” variety, rather than the sort that existentially threaten an entire nation.
So, what a surprise — for him! And everyone else! — that he, Donald J. Trump, rich guy and former president, has been indicted, likely on dozens of counts, relating to how he paid off a woman he categorically denies having an affair with. These (alleged) crimes are, to be sure, the absolute very least things Donald Trump could have been indicted for. But in the grand tradition of Al Capone getting rung up on tax evasion charges, Trump could get indicted for them. A grand jury decided he should be indicted for them, and here we are.
It is extraordinary for a former president to be indicted on anything; indeed, it’s never happened before. Then again, we have never had a former president like Donald Trump, an unrepentant twice-impeached seditionist grifter who would have rather plunged the country into chaos than accept he lost an election fair and square, who is running for president again largely to outrun this indictment and other possible criminal indictments, rather more serious than hush money to a sex partner, that are waiting for him in the wings. Other former presidents, shall we say, have not presented the same target-rich field of indictment opportunity that Trump offers.
Trump’s defenders, who are now hauling themselves out of the woodwork, groaning at the imposition, will tell you that this is a political thing. Sure, in the sense that one political party is willing to hold Trump accountable for his actions, and one political party absolutely is not. In the perfect world that yet still managed to have Trump, as he is, elected to the office of president, people of good will and a strong sense of justice in both parties would be pursuing criminal indictments of the man, as there are manifestly so many things he could be indicted for. I understand the modern GOP is long past that moment of clarity, however, and continues to purge from its ranks anyone who might suggest such things are possible. So, again, here we are. This is political because the Republican party wants you to think this is political. They have worked long and hard to make it so, and will continue to do so.
But — and here is the important thing — it is not only political, nor, at its heart, primarily so. Trump is and has always been the sort of person who believes that laws are for the little people, and has acted accordingly. If he had been smarter, he would have listened to his lawyers and advisors more than he did, especially once he became president. But he’s not particularly smart, and (again), inasmuch as he’s so rarely ever been called into account for his actions, nor could he conceive of a world where he might have consequences for his actions. He’s a criminal because he’s a bad person; he’s also a criminal because he doesn’t get told “no.” Both of these things are why he kept adding to his criminal ledger, literally into and at every step of his presidency. He could have been cannier and given any hypothetical district attorneys so much less to work with. He did not. That’s on him.
“If they can do this to Trump, they can do this to you” — well, yes. If I were, say, running for township representative here in Darke County, Ohio and paid hush money to an inconvenient sex partner in a way that invited legal scrutiny, and the local DA (whose politics, I assure you, largely run counter to mine) found out, I would 100% not be surprised to be hauled up under an indictment. Because that’s actually how the law is meant to work. You either believe no one is above the law, or you don’t. Former presidents of the United States are no more above the law then I am, or you are, or any of us is.
Trump is indicted now, and it’s important to note that an indictment is all that it is at this point, and perhaps all it will be. Recall that Trump was impeached twice, and relieved of the consequences of his actions by his political party. It’s entirely possible that Trump will wriggle out of consequences here as well. Perhaps the DA’s case is not as strong as he thinks it is and a jury finds Trump, if not exactly innocent, at least not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Perhaps there is a mistrial for one of several reasons. Perhaps Trump’s lawyers string things along for years. Perhaps Trump, who, let’s remember, has announced his candidacy for president, wins the election and is thus shielded from consequence for another four years. He could die; he is 77 years old and not, shall we say, as hale as his fans’ hagiographic meme portrayals suggest. And perhaps — extremely unlikely to be sure, but we must allow for its possibility — Trump is genuinely innocent. Indictment is not conviction, and as a matter of law, Trump enjoys the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.
I am not the legal system, however, and also I know my own rights with respect to the First Amendment. So: Trump is a criminal, has been for a long time now, and has escaped responsibility for his criminal actions. Yesterday’s news of his indictment doesn’t change those facts. But if he ever is going to have consequences for his actions — any of them — indictments are where we have to start. At least we have started.