EDITORIAL: Will the Donald Trump verdict usher in a new era of chaos?

Editorial
The Nightly
3 Min Read
Former President Donald Trump.
Former President Donald Trump. Credit: JEFFERSON SIEGEL/NYT

Donald Trump is a criminal.

For any other presidential wannabe, to be convicted of a felony — let alone 34 of them — would sink any hope of a political resurgence.

Not Trump.

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Many of his supporters already believe the 2020 election was stolen from him. This verdict from a New York jury — that Trump was guilty of falsifying business records to cover up hush money payments to an adult film star — will only cement in their minds that he is the victim of a far-reaching and multi-layered conspiracy of political interference.

Just moments after that verdict was read out, Trump was at work trying to monetise his martyrdom.

“I was just convicted in a RIGGED political Witch Hunt trial: I DID NOTHING WRONG!” a campaign fundraising email to supporters read.

“But with your support at this moment in history, WE WILL WIN BACK THE WHITE HOUSE AND MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”

And his backers heeded the call. His campaign fundraising website, which described him as a “political prisoner”, crashed due to the high level of traffic it received.

Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen, whose testimony that he had paid off Stormy Daniels in return for her silence on an alleged sexual encounter she had with Trump in 2006 was instrumental to the former president’s conviction, said the verdict showed no one was above the law.

“Today is an important day for accountability and the rule of law. While it has been a difficult journey for me and my family, the truth always matters,” he said.

Joe Biden’s campaign communications director Michael Tyler too proclaimed the verdict as a victory for accountability.

“Donald Trump has always mistakenly believed he would never face consequences for breaking the law for his personal gain,” Mr Tyler said.

But, as an opinion piece from The Economist in today’s The Nightly explores, Trump’s prosecution, could ultimately weaken the rule of law in the US. The vague nature of some of the points of law used to secure his conviction leaves it vulnerable both to appeal and to suspicion.

That Alvin Bragg, the prosecutor who brought the charges against Trump is an elected Democrat adds further fuel to claims that Trump is the innocent target of a political hit job.

But if that’s true, it may well badly backfire.

Those in the Biden administration have so far been savvy enough not to go too far in celebrating Trump’s conviction. They know that to do so would only work in Trump’s favour.

Rather than provide any sort of conclusion, Trump’s conviction only serves to set off a series of what-ifs.

What if Americans decide that being a convicted criminal isn’t enough to preclude you from the nation’s highest office? Does that mean they no longer have any faith in their judiciary?

What if Biden triumphs in November, and Trump is later acquitted at appeal? That would likely set off even more accusations of election theft.

And what if this saga sets a new precedent of using lawfare against political opponents?

The world can only watch and wait.

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