Conviction for Trump; Trouble for All

Dr. Malcolm Cross

Those who are celebrating last week’s conviction of former President Trump may come to regret the jury’s verdict after all.  The trial’s outcome bodes ill not only for Trump himself but for the entire political system, including President Biden and future candidates for public office as well.

To be sure, the facts brought out in the trial—hush money payments to a porn star, adultery, the antics of an amoral and pathologically dishonest fixer—are enough to turn the stomach of any decent person.  But sleaze is not necessarily criminal.  In fact, Neither the Federal Elections Commission, nor the Biden Justice Department, nor the Democratic district attorney who preceded Alvin Bragg as Manhattan DA, nor initially even Bragg himself thought there was anything in Trump’s actions to warrant criminal prosecution.  Bragg flip-flopped on the case and decided to look for a crime to prosecute only after members of his staff began quitting and charging him with being soft on Trump.

And the crime itself—falsification of business records—was initially considered a misdemeanor for which Trump could not be prosecuted because of the statute of limitations.  Only because Bragg sought to link it to an attempt to commit a felony could he pursue the case under New York state law.

Some legal and political analysts, including Democrats with no sympathy whatever for Trump, were skeptical of Bragg’s gambit.  Bragg’s attempt to link the payments to the commission of a felony, when he didn’t even say what the felony actually was, seemed to doom his case’s success.  Analysts considered his case the weakest of the four cases against Trump, including the federal classified documents case in Florida, and the federal and state cases concerned with trying to illegally tamper with the Electoral College.  So Trump’s conviction bodes ill for Trump himself not only because he’s now a convicted felon but also because his loss in a relatively weak case may be a harbinger of convictions in the stronger cases he’ll likely face next year.   

But Trump’s loss bodes ill for the Democrats and the entire political system.  It’s too early to determine if his conviction will somehow strengthen his chances of defeating Biden this November, although that’s not necessarily out of the question.  After all, each of his impeachments, each of his indictments, and each of his losses in various civil cases involving sexual assault and defamation of character have bizarrely strengthened his hold over the Republican Party and increased his supporters’ determination to extract revenge at the polls.  A large turnout of voters enthusiastically determined to punish Biden for what’s been happening to Trump could help send Trump back to the White House, despite and perhaps because of his conviction.

But however Trump’s legal difficulties affect the election outcome, every impeachment, indictment, civil judgment, and criminal conviction creates or strengthens precedents which can be used to hurt and possibly destroy Biden, his family, and other Democrats and Republicans too.  In fact, we’re already seeing this happening, with Republican efforts to impeach Biden, as well as to find ways and means to prosecute his brother and his son for alleged crimes.  It’s only a matter of time before other Democratic prosecutors, emulating Alvin Bragg, will pursue more Republicans, while Republican prosecutors are no doubt already looking for ways and means to destroy Democrats too.

So whatever the merits of Bragg’s case against Trump, Trump’s conviction will accelerate the process by which lawfare and the criminalization of political behavior create chaos and diminish the chances that men and women of goodwill, both Democrats and Republicans seeking to be problem solvers, can responsibly confront the issues facing the United States today and for the foreseeable future. We’ll all be the worse off.

Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville since 1987 and taught politics and government at Tarleton for 36 years, retiring in 2023. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990-2024).  He was Mayor pro-tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014.  He has served on the Board of Directors of the Stephenville
Economic Development Authority since 2018 and as chair of the Erath County Appraisal District’s Appraisal Review Board since 2015.  He is also a member of the Stephenville Rotary Club, the Board of Vestry of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, and the Executive Committee of the Boy Scouts’ Pecan Valley District.  Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.

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