GELFAND’S WORLD - The Republican argument is that telling the truth is a partisan act. And they oppose it. Remember that this is the party that pioneered the use of the term "alternative facts" to mean lying for political gain. And they pursued that policy with a sturdy vengeance throughout the Trump presidency.
So now that same argument is being dusted off by Trump and his supporters in anticipation of the New York indictments. One more ingredient is being stirred into the witches' brew, which is the claim that it is always bad policy to charge a former president in a criminal matter. This is ostensibly because it would create a precedent in which any local prosecutor will feel free to file charges against any and every former president.
There is one thing wrong about this argument, and it tells us much about the currently elected Republicans.
You will notice that there is nothing in the Republican argument that refers to whether the charges are merited -- that is to say, backed up by facts and testimony and documents. The argument, at least implicitly, is that anything any Democrat tries to throw at Trump is automatically partisan and automatically false. We might take a step back and recognize that we are talking about two different things here. It should be possible for a prosecutor to be partisan at some level -- after all, they have to get elected or appointed by a governor or a president -- but some of them still retain honor and honesty. In a word, there can be legitimacy in the carrying out of one's duties, even in the case of a prosecutor who was elected from a ballot that includes political party affiliations.
Prosecutions against former presidents ought to be rare, because serious corruption among presidents ought to be rare. But the idea that there should never be such a prosecution because we can never indict former presidents lacks all logic and reason. If the president has been a crook and leaves a substantial trail of documents and witnesses to that effect, then there should be no legal presumption that prosecution is illegitimate.
So, when Republicans in the congress and on street corners yell that Joe Biden will be the next ex-president to be indicted (for something), our response should be, "Let's see the evidence, and if the legal system, acting properly, finds cause to indict, then that's how an honest republic ought to function.
What's missing from the Republican argument is any public admission that there is overwhelming evidence that Donald Trump is dishonest, and the only question is whether his dishonesty went to the level of chargeable crimes.
Let's also remember a term that was used in the Watergate investigation, the "smoking gun." It referred to a piece of evidence that shows on its face that guilt exists. Thus, the image of somebody standing over a body, holding a pistol, and smoke still coming out of the barrel of the gun. In the case of Richard Nixon, there was plenty of evidence but not quite at the smoking gun level.
In the case of Donald Trump, there are several smoking guns that ought to lead to prosecution, among them the recorded telephone call to Georgia where Trump asks for enough votes to take the presidential election.
Some pro-Trump sources were overjoyed to point out that news of the indictment resulted in Trump's poll numbers going up. The Trump campaign speaks publicly about how this prosecution and additional prosecutions to be coming are somehow going to help Trump to get reelected. This may, indeed, be the case in terms of winning the Republican nomination, although I would venture that it's not a sure thing.
But I would like to suggest that the Trump campaign is whistling past the graveyard.
The sum total of all those investigations, news stories, and now a prosecution are to solidify the public's understanding that Trump is a lawbreaker. He has a lot of supporters who like that image. I wonder if they see Trump as the equivalent of a Burt Reynolds movie character, driving illegal booze through the back roads of the south, outrunning the cops to the tune of banjo music.
I suspect that the majority of the American voters won't be as sentimental about Trump's illegal ways. Trying to overturn a lawful election through corrupt acts is not the same as being a bootlegger. (And come to think of it, in an age where you can walk into the corner store and buy a bottle of Jim Beam without risking prison, the act of bootlegging isn't the same anymore either.)
So my prediction is that little by little, the Trump brand will descend. At the moment, the smart money says he can take the nomination, but I'm not seeing anybody put together a believable prediction that he can go all the way to the presidency in 2024.
Still, we do have the history of Richard Nixon's presidential loss in 1960, only to get elected nearly a decade later. But there were a couple of differences. There was that Viet Nam War, which was going to make it hard for his opponent to win votes among the Democrats, and there was Nixon's attempt to build an image as a foreign policy scholar and leader. Nixon stayed on point and won.
Trump is just driving the clown car.
I also suspect that Trump's most avid followers aren't being of much help. On the news, they come across as something of a one-percenter motorcycle gang. The fact that violence follows them (even when it isn't their fault) adds to their bad reputation. I don't think this is going to help Trump.
The immediate aftermath and next steps
If this were any other prosecution and trial, we would expect a prolonged interval before the trial in which both sides make motions and file papers. Trump has a reputation for dragging things out. Right now, that is what we can expect to see, because his lawyer is saying as much. But I would suggest that this approach can rebound against Trump at the political level, and it won't just be Democrats who will be pointing out that normal people don't have the same ability as the rich to drag things out. Every additional week that the Trump trial fails to occur will be noticed as rich privilege, not to mention white privilege.
One thing we should not expect in New York City -- we're not likely to see anything like the January 6, 2021 rioting. New York City has plenty of cops, not to mention a strong majority of people who don't like Trump. People who attempt to riot won't last long.
For years, the Republicans have been trying to smear Joe Biden on the basis of whatever it was -- or wasn't -- that his son Hunter is alleged to have done. We hear about Hunter Biden's laptop, which doesn't really rise to the level of probable cause. But now we have a serious case with tragic overtones. Mark Ridley Thomas has a son who seems to be something of a ne'er-do-well. Sebastian made use of the family name to get elected to the state legislature, but then got into some sort of trouble that threatened to get him expelled. So Mark tried to help his son, and in so doing engaged in several felonious acts. He is paying a heavy price for those acts of fatherly concern.
We might notice that there are several Democrats and Democrat-adjacents who have run afoul of the law up to and including felony convictions. I don't notice a lot of people on the Democratic side pretending that these prosecutions were partisan or were hoaxes.
And my feeling is that if there was anything partisan in the investigations and prosecutions, more power to them. The Democratic Party should strive to be as clean as possible, and if the federal prosecutors aren't themselves Democrats, I don't see the problem. There would be a problem if false charges were brought against innocent people as part of a dictatorial strategy.
(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected] )