Less than two weeks ago the mainstream media committed journalistic malpractice when they based countless stories and hours of analysis on a social media post written by Donald Trump. In the midst of speculation that indictments against him might be forthcoming in Manhattan, Donald claimed on Truth Social that he was going to be arrested in New York on Tuesday, March 21. It was a lie, of course, the latest in a string of tens of thousands of on-the-record lies but it was a good story so suddenly Donald Trump was considered a reliable source. There weren’t any others.
60 Minutes and pseudo-journalist Leslie Stahl have made an even worse decision. because Stahl is using the enormous platform of the weekly news magazine, which debuted in 1968, to normalize the pro-insurrection, anti-American Christian Nationalist and fascist Marjorie Taylor Greene. (It appears The New York Times does not have a monopoly on ill-advised puff pieces.)
It’s bad enough—and it’s really bad—that our system allows for the continued employment of seditionists like Greene but when we most need the media to be clear-eyed about the dangers facing our country, they are failing us. The timing of this failure couldn’t be worse. Before the indictments were even announced, Republicans and right-wing media like Fox were falling in line to support Donald.
Led by Rep. Jim Jordan, chair of the Weaponization of Government sub-committee, a group of Republicans wrote a letter to NY D.A. Alvin Bragg claiming he had committed an “unprecedented abuse of prosecutorial authority.” It is actually this egregious attempt of Congressional Republicans to interfere in a criminal justice matter that is unprecedented.
Now that we know the indictments are coming and Donald is going to be arrested—I think I’ll say that again: Donald John Trump is going to be arrested—Republicans are engaged in an all-out war on the rule of law and anybody who believes in it. They are essentially seeking to cast the process as inherently illegitimate in advance.
“It is beyond belief,” raged Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, that Bragg “has indicted a former President and current presidential candidate for pure political gain.”
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy claimed that the country has already been “irreparably damaged” and the indictments (which are still under seal) have “weaponized our sacred system of justice.”
Then there’s the fallacy that somehow holding Donald accountable is somehow “direct assault” on Donald’s supporters, as J.D. Vance (who, for reasons that surpass understanding, is a United States senator) would have people believe. “If they come for him they can come for you,” Donald’s followers are told. Well, yeah, if you make a hush money payment to somebody who could short-circuit your chances of stealing the presidency; if you incite an insurrection against your own government; if you commit election fraud in Georgia; if you steal thousands of highly classified documents—you too can be charged with a crime.
People across the political spectrum are speculating wildly. What if the case Bragg brings is weak? Won’t this scare off other prosecutors? The short answer is: No. A longer answer: Prosecutors don’t bring weak cases. And the idea that Bragg or Fanni Willis in Fulton County, Georgia or Special Prosecutor Jack Smith in D.C. would bring a weak case against a man who was not only the leader of the free world but who is a career criminal who has been walking around in a suit of armor made out of impunity since 1973 is beyond absurd.
Legal analysts are wary that Bragg is trying to thread the needle by charging a felony under an untested legal theory. But there are 34 charges. Thirty-four. Let’s wait until Tuesday to judge.
We’re also being treated some spectacularly terrible takes on Twitter. “These charges are just silly,” we’re being told by armchair pundits of all stripes. “It’s just ridiculous to indict him on these crimes.” I didn’t realize that, just because you’ve committed potentially more serious crimes in other jurisdictions, you should be able to skate on others but I guess that’s what people expect for a rich, powerful, white men who’s gotten away with everything for decades. Some people go so far as to say that whatever it is the NY Grand Jury is indicting Donald for isn’t even a crime.
The fact that that nobody except the New York Grand Jury and the prosecutors in the D.A.’s office knows what is contained in the 34 indictments being handed down against the leader of their party has done nothing to temper the histrionic reactions and rampant speculation. Neither has the fact that Mr. Bragg hasn’t indicted anybody—a Grand Jury of Donald’s peers did that. Regardless, the unified Republican position in this matter is that nothing Donald Trump has done—no matter how many crimes he has committed, no matter how serious those crimes might be—should be investigated at all.
If we are going to make it through the very difficult times ahead it would be helpful if the media prefaced every conversation about the upcoming indictments by pointing that out.
Republicans are hell-bent on destroying our democracy. By doubling-down on their defense of Donald and amping up their attacks on Bragg and the legitimacy of his case, they aren’t simply trying to drum up support for Donald, they’re attempting to undermine the American people’s faith in the rule of law, just as Donald has been undermining the American people’s faith in the legitimacy of our free and fair elections since 2016.
As David Corn recently put it in his newsletter Our Land, “Donald Trump has been a one-man stress test for the American political system. The framers did not envision such a dishonest, narcissistic scoundrel winning the highest office of the land.” The deficiencies of the framers are a subject for another time but a very real one is the fact that the Constitution does not preclude the indicted or the incarcerated from running for the highest office in the land.
One of the curses of modern American politics is that we are perpetually stuck between a DoJ that’s unwilling to act for partisan political reasons (Barr) or because of an erroneous belief that indicting powerful office-holders for their alleged crimes would somehow upset the fragile balance of democracy, on the one hand, and a Democratic Party that either does not understand the threat this country faces or, for reasons that remain a mystery, is unwilling to do anything about it.
It’s pointless to be demoralized by the behavior or rhetoric of the other side: Everything they do or say should be expected—no surprises, no shock. What enervates, what brings one to the edge of giving up entirely, is the inaction and the seeming indifference of those who claim to be on the side of democracy, in this case the Democrats; those who have the power to protect all of us and our institutions from the fascism the right has embraced, the judiciary; and those who depend upon the survival of democracy in order to keep doing their jobs, the media—but do nothing.
Republicans are also screaming from the rooftops that bringing indictments against Donald is “a threat to our Republic.” Leaving aside the fact that other democracies, including France, Israel, and Italy, have managed to prosecute former heads of state and none of those nations has devolved into an autocracy, an argument could be made that American democracy currently remains on the brink of failing because our most powerful political figures have never faced the consequences of their crimes—no matter how egregious. If democracy can be undone when the rule of law, finally, at long last, is applied to Donald Trump, then it was never going to succeed.
We’ve heard time and time agains that, in order to succeed, this country needs “to look forward, not back.” President Gerald Ford expressed this sentiment when he pardoned two of America’s most notorious traitors.
In 1975, after 110 years had apparently washed away Lee’s sins, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 407–10 to restore Lee’s full rights of citizenship. A couple of weeks later, President Ford signed the resolution in order to correct an “oversight.”
During the ceremony, Ford said:
“As a soldier, General Lee left his mark on military strategy. As a man, he stood as the symbol of valor and of duty. As an educator, he appealed to reason and learning to achieve understanding and to build a stronger nation. The course he chose after the war became a symbol to all those who had marched with him in the bitter years towards Appomattox. General Lee ’s character has been an example to succeeding generations, making the restoration of his citizenship an event in which every American can take pride.”
This came a year after Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon which was granted after Nixon resigned for covering up the break-in at the Watergate Hotel. Of course, Nixon’s real crime was treason. In 1968, on the eve of the presidential election with polls showing his Democratic rival, Hubert Humphrey, gaining support, Nixon used back-channels to scuttle the peace talks between the Johnson administration and South Vietnam. These talks had enormous potential to end the war but Nixon wanted to be president and he knew Humphrey would beat him if President Johnson announced a peace agreement had been reached.
Nixon went on to win the 1968 election, despite his violations of the Logan Act, which makes it a crime for unauthorized Americans to enter into negotiations with a foreign power. In other words, he cheated. The killing of Americans and Vietnamese continued for another seven years, the promising peace plan Johnson had been on the verge of securing, unsalvageable. On Nixon’s watch, twenty thousand more Americans and millions of Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Laotians died. It turns out he would face impeachment for the wrong crime.
Ford’s decision was considered controversial at the time, and many critics accused him of making a “corrupt bargain.” Despite Ford’s protestations to the contrary, presidential historian Douglas Brinkley told The New York Times in September 2018 that Ford’s pardon of Nixon “set a precedent that presidents are superhuman and not held to the rule of law like other people. [Pardons] are supposed to correct travesties of justice.”
But time heals all powerful white men’s wounds. In 2001 Ford was presented with the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award for “his courage in making a controversial decision of conscience to pardon former President Richard M. Nixon.”
In her presentation of the award to the former president, Caroline Kennedy said, “For more than a quarter century, Gerald Ford proved to the people of Michigan, the Congress, and our nation that politics can be a noble profession. As president, he made a controversial decision of conscience to pardon former president Nixon and end the national trauma of Watergate. In doing so, he placed his love of country ahead of his own political future.” And he also set the terrible precedent that, if you commit crimes while you are president, there will be no consequences. I think it’s safe to say this is a precedent we have all come to regret.
After his election, President Barack Obama indicated that he most likely would not authorize an investigation into the Bush administration’s torture of terrorism suspects. Reasons Obama gave in an interview with NBC News included the desire to not seem vengeful (as if seeking justice for crimes that violated the Geneva Conventions could reasonably be said to constitute revenge); not spend the new administration’s “time and energy rehashing the perceived sins of the old one”; appease the powers that be at the CIA, who strenuously opposed any inquiries into the torture program, in order to avoid making them feel like the administration was “looking over their shoulders”; and, the most misguided rationale of all, “to look forward as opposed to looking backward” (sound familiar?).
Obama’s recalcitrance in this matter helped, in the words of Adam Serwer, writing for The Atlantic in March 2018, to “entrench a standard of accountability that stretches from beat cops to CIA officials, one in which breaking the law in the line of duty is unpunishable, but those suspected of a crime—particularly if Black, Muslim, or undocumented—can be subjected to unspeakable cruelty whether or not they are ultimately guilty.” Failing to hold accountable those in whom a great deal of trust and power has been placed turns on its head the whole notion that “with great power comes great responsibility.” In America, that is almost never true and, more consequentially, it is almost in diametric opposition to the truth of how things really work. The more power you have, the fewer consequences you face. Here’s hoping that’s about to change.
The day after the announcement of indictments. Donald went after the judge assigned to the case, Juan Merchan. Judge Merchan previously presided over the Trump Organization tax fraud case that lead to the conviction of CFO Allen Weisselberg, who is currently serving a five-month sentence at Riker’s Island.
It should surprise absolutely no one that in the wake of Donald’s promise of “death and destruction” if the D.A. dared arrest him, and his characterization of Bragg as a “degenerate psychopath” (ah, projection), and worse, the D.A.’s office has been flooded with racist death threats including the use of the N-word. One email ended, “Remember we are everywhere and we have guns.” This is what Donald unleashes at every opportunity. We can only hope the judge puts a stop to this insanity before it gets completely out of control.
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“In Mary, We Trust.”! Thank you for your grounded and needed perspectives, Mary Trump.
Hail, Mary! Full of grace and brilliance and stamina, and courage!