Storm Warning

Dr. Malcolm Cross

The recent indictment of former President Trump for allegedly withholding national security documents and obstructing an official investigation into his alleged misdeeds may or may not threaten his quest to win a second term as President in 2024.  But however Trump’s legal woes are resolved, this incident will contribute to the poisoning of American politics and the undermining of American democracy itself.

There’s no question but that the charges in the most recent Trump indictment are serious.  Conservative legal analysts who’ve studied the indictment say the charges are detailed, specific, and provable.  Although Trump must be presumed innocent until proven guilty and the government bears the sole burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, conservatives (and others) familiar with the case seem pessimistic that Trump can win an acquittal.  

But it’s not altogether clear that an indictment or even a conviction can end Trump’s career in government and politics.  After all, nothing in the U. S. Constitution actually prohibits anyone indicted or even convicted of a crime from either running for office or serving in office if elected.  Trump’s legal right to participate in presidential politics remains unimpaired.

Moreover, it’s possible that the indictment may actually increase Trump’s strength within the GOP and in the country at large.  Public opinion polls have shown his popularity increasing following both his indictment for misreporting financial matters as well as the judgment and the finding in the civil case that he did, in fact, sexually assault and defame a woman.  

Trump’s supporters have seen his legal troubles as the product of his enemies’ efforts to destroy him, especially by the application of double standards to which Democrats are not held:  Why condemn him, but not Bill Clinton, for preying on women?  Why indict him, but not Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden, for alleged mishandling of classified documents?  And they have thus rallied around Trump to support his attempt to return to the Oval Office.  The latest indictment, as well as possible future indictments in the pipeline, may offer even more evidence to his supporters that he is being persecuted, and thereby cause them to strengthen their efforts, even more, to return him to power.

It’s an article of faith among Trump’s opponents that his return to power would constitute an existential threat to American democracy.  They cite, among other things, his alleged role in fomenting the riots of 1/6 and his attempts to undermine the congressional counting and certification of the electoral vote.  But the indictment of Trump, regardless of the outcome of the case or the 2024 presidential election, may well undermine American democracy as well, in several ways.

First is the basic precedent set by the indictment of a former president seeking a return to office.  In this incidence, the former president and current presidential candidate will be prosecuted by the Justice Department under the overall supervision of the president whom the former president seeks to unseat.  Such a practice in which a government seeks to harass and persecute its opposition is far more common in banana republics.  Will the United States become one?  A precedent once set becomes progressively easier to follow the more frequently it’s used.  Expect future administrations controlled by one party to use indictments to oppress and suppress activists of the opposition party.

And even should this indictment prove to be a one-off and not an example to be followed in the future, there’s always impeachment.  Win or lose, Trump and his supporters will feel more motivated to seek revenge on Biden and others whom they perceive as their persecutors.  The two impeachments of Trump will no doubt fuel efforts to impeach Biden in a second term, whether for his own alleged mishandling of classified documents or for profiting from the alleged misdeeds of his son.  Their determination to destroy the Bidens will be strengthened, if possible, by an actual conviction in this case.

So no matter how strong the case against former President Trump may be, and no matter how justified a conviction may prove to be from a legal point of view, the indictment of former President Trump has sent American politics into uncharted waters beset with hurricanes and typhoons.  And both those who seek his acquittal and those who seek his conviction should be very careful about what they want.  No matter what side prevails, there will be storms ahead. 

Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton from 1987 until 2023. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present).  He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014.  He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.

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