Editorial: A trio for Trump, as the nation teeters on unlikely precipice


On Tuesday, ex-president Donald Trump made history again. He is the first former president to be indicted on three separate criminal charges. He’s also the first and second former president to be charged in a criminal case. To Trump and his followers, he has been thrice honored; though for most Americans being a criminal is no honor. And to commit treason against the country has always been the highest dishonor.

The next presidential election will determine if that remains true.

Tuesday’s third indictment charges Trump for his role in the Jan. 6, 2021 assault on the nation’s capitol and other efforts to overturn President Joe Biden’s decisive victory in the November 2020 election. He was charged with three counts of conspiracy and one count of obstructing an official proceeding. 

Most Americans are familiar with the charges, but for those who want to understand the laws that were violated, the specific charges are: conspiracy to defraud the United States under Title 18, Section 371; obstruction of and conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, under Section 1512; and conspiracy “to injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any person… in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the Constitution or laws of the United States” as found under Section 241.

While the case will be tried in front of a jury on the merits of the law, the larger question was framed well by Washington Post White House Correspondent Peter Baker, who wrote in Wednesday’s Post:

“At the core of the United States of America v. Donald J. Trump is no less than the viability of the system constructed during that summer in Philadelphia (when the Founding Fathers penned the Constitution). Can a sitting president spread lies about an election and try to employ the authority of the government to overturn the will of the voters without consequence? The question would have been unimaginable just a few years ago, but the Trump case raises the kind of specter more familiar in countries with histories of coups and juntas and dictators.

“In effect, Jack Smith, the special counsel who brought the case, charged Mr. Trump with one of the most sensational frauds in the history of the United States, one ‘fueled by lies’ and animated by the basest of motives, the thirst for power. In a 45-page, four-count indictment, Mr. Smith dispensed with the notion that Mr. Trump believed his claims of election fraud. ‘The defendant knew that they were false,’ it said, and made them anyway to ‘create an intense national atmosphere of mistrust and anger and erode public faith in the administration of the election.”

To readers and viewers of objective news outlets, the charges mesh well with the actions taken by the ex-president. Americans saw Trump refuse to concede the election on multiple fronts. They saw him object to election counts in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Arizona and Nevada and lose each time — not by shenanigans but through the painstaking process of election officials validating and counting election results.

In those early days after the election, only Trump and his diehard loyalists continued to disbelieve the results, until, that is, Trump conned the Republican Party into believing a different narrative: that the election was stolen from him, what became “the big lie.”

It’s that lie — and Trump’s determination to continue espousing it despite overwhelming to the contrary — that is the bigger fraud. And that’s partly what this trial, and coming election, is about.

Can a former president by hook or crook use the levers of power to negate the public’s will, and when he loses, still perpetrate a fraud on the American people, and in particular his followers, without legal consequence?

Again, Peter Baker: “For all of the many, many allegations made against him (Trump) on all sorts of subjects during his time on the public stage, everything else feels small by comparison. Unlike the indictment by New York State for allegedly covering up a payment to a porn actress and Mr. Smith’s previous indictment for allegedly jeopardizing national secrets after leaving the White House, the new charges are the first to deal with actions taken by a president while in office.

“While he failed to keep his grip on power, Mr. Trump has undermined the credibility of elections in the United States by persuading three in 10 Americans that the 2020 election was somehow stolen from him, even though it was not and many of his own advisers and family members know it was not.

“The most essential facts of the case, after all, are not in dispute, nor did he deny any of the assertions made in the indictment on Tuesday. Mr. Trump was astonishingly open at the time in declaring that he wanted to overturn the election. Since leaving office, he has even called for ‘the termination’ of the Constitution to reinstall him in the White House immediately.”

While Trump’s shenanigans fit his history of denial of wrong-doing, and little belief in facts or truth, what’s equally appalling is how the majority of the Republican Party has rallied behind those same lies. But, unless some change in their attitudes happen quickly and they nominate someone other than Trump for president, it appears the GOP will become, as Post columnist Jennifer Rubin recently wrote, “the party of insurrection and deceit. The GOP will be stained for a very long time by sticking by Trump’s side.”

The other accomplice, of course, is conservative media — Fox News in particular because of its far reach — that continues to market those lies as legitimate, stuck as they are with the dictatorial mobster they created.

At the end of the day, it’s remarkable the country — this formidable bastion of democracy — is on this unlikely precipice as we head into the 2024 election, balanced as we are by the hope that sanity prevails over insanity, that reason defies the proliferation of lies.

To that end, the other contest the public will decide is whether facts and truths can be rightly determined in a political landscape flooded with deliberate falsehoods and strategic misinformation. The country’s democracy and future hangs in the balance.

Angelo Lynn

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