For the first time in US history, a former or current president has been charged in a criminal court. The pictures of the groundbreaking moment shattered the arrogance of former US President Donald Trump, who was duly humiliated and insulted. His features reflected his anger when he entered the court, and he was clearly shocked when they took his fingerprints like any other defendant; this was not the image of a former president of a global superpower.
Trump is not, of course, the first US president to have — allegedly — broken the law. President Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace in the Watergate scandal, accused of spying on the Democratic Party headquarters. His resignation in 1974 saved him from being hauled before Congress to face a vote of no confidence, and was submitted before trial procedures were put in place.
In 1998, the whole world watched live on television as former President Bill Clinton was questioned for hours over his relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, not because he had a sexual relationship with her, but because he lied to everyone about it. He was convicted by the House of Representatives, but not by the Senate so he was not impeached. The same procedural requirement for both chambers to agree also saved Trump in 2019.
No one in America is above the law, be it a president or an ordinary citizen, rich or poor. If it is proven by conclusive evidence and after a fair trial that the accused has violated the law, then the law must take its course. This is what distinguishes America and other democracies, where justice is valued above all else. Similar scenarios have played out in France with Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy after they left the Elysee Palace; in Italy with Silvio Berlusconi; and in Brazil, where the current Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva spent three years in prison on corruption charges. Even the occupation state of Israel, which commits crimes against the Palestinians daily and treats international law with contempt, boasts that it is an oasis of democracy in the region amid the dark Arab dictatorships, and often cites the fact that it imprisoned former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for corruption, while the current premier, Benjamin Netanyahu, faces charges also related to corruption.
We very rightly object to Western foreign policies that are biased towards Israel and take a hostile position towards our just causes, but where are our Arab countries with their dictatorial rulers when it comes to valuing justice and honouring the rights of their citizens?
Trump is facing 34 charges in three cases, including falsifying business records for his companies to conceal the fact that he paid tens of thousands of dollars to two women in exchange for their silence and refraining from talking to the media about his intimate relationships with them before being elected as president in November 2016. One of the women is adult-movie actress Stormy Daniels, with whom Trump had a relationship before his presidential candidacy. He apparently prevented her through an agreement drafted by his lawyer from speaking to the media about having an illegitimate child from him. If this accusation is proven, then imprisonment should be inevitable.
The other charges are no less important: interfering in the election in the state of Georgia and trying to change the result; storing a large number of documents in his home in Florida without disclosing them; and the role he allegedly played in the storming of Congress on 6 January, 2021. If those charges are proven against him, then a prison cell has to be waiting for him.
Trump has denied all charges, and asserts his innocence. Back home in Florida after the court session, his arrogance resurfaced as he addressed supporters in a televised speech in which he tried to provoke them with populist slogans. His only crime, he claimed, was “fearlessly defending our nation from those who seek to destroy it.” He questioned the whole US political and judicial system; accused the Biden administration of persecuting him; and even accused the judge of being against him, along with District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who is African American, because they hate him.
He said that all of the charges will be dropped because they are not real charges and this is a political persecution. In his eyes, there is an organised campaign against him funded by the Democratic Party because he is preparing to run in the 2024 presidential election and he is confident of victory.
With every crisis, Trump and his supporters use the slogan “Make America Great Again”. There is more than a small degree of racism in all of this. When he insults a black American like DA Bragg and calls him an animal, his racist supporters rally behind him even more and applaud him. The man understands the racist mindset in a continent that was colonised by Europeans and a nation built upon the genocide of the Native Americans. Trump knows how to motivate his populist support base and its racist issues with equal opportunities and the law.
With this trial, argue his supporters, Trump is the victim of a major conspiracy by the deep state to stop him from running for president next year. The claim is backed up with financial support for his electoral campaign that he is expected to launch in a few months. This gives him the strength to stand firm against his enemies in the deep state and its institutions, the Democratic Party and even within his own Republican Party. Few Republicans will dare to challenge him, because they are well aware that racists dominate the party discourse with slogans from an era that we all thought had long since been ended.
Trump will be able to stand as a candidate even if he is in prison. It may well be that his trial becomes a major contributor to his campaign against Biden which could reopen the door of the White House to him.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.