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Donald Trump is in Deep Shit, But So Are We
The most dangerous politician in recent history is backed into a corner.
Yesterday, federal special counsel Jack Smith indicted Donald Trump on four counts stemming from his attempts to overturn the 2020 election, including his involvement in the January 6 riots. This is, in other words, the big one. At least until the next big one comes down — Smith isn’t done, and Trump’s case in Georgia also has some assumedly heavy charges on the horizon.
Yes, the old Trump maxim still applies: saying “I’d like to see him wriggle out of this one!” often guarantees that he will, in fact, face little consequences for his actions. But Smith’s latest indictment is extremely clear on the severity of Trump’s actions and the punishment being considered for them. From the New York Times:
The indictment, filed by the special counsel Jack Smith in Federal District Court in Washington, accuses Mr. Trump of three conspiracies: one to defraud the United States; a second to obstruct an official government proceeding, the certification of the Electoral College vote; and a third to deprive people of a civil right, the right to have their votes counted. Mr. Trump was also charged with a fourth count of obstructing or attempting to obstruct an official proceeding.
“Each of these conspiracies — which built on the widespread mistrust the defendant was creating through pervasive and destabilizing lies about election fraud — targeted a bedrock function of the United States federal government: the nation’s process of collecting, counting and certifying the results of the presidential election,” the indictment said.
All of these charges carry actual prison sentences. While it still seems like a long shot, jail time for the former president is not an impossibility. Without trying to sound like the full lineup of MSNBC anchors and all of their loyal viewers who were levitating several inches off the ground most of yesterday, this is huge.
But as the charges against Trump escalate, so do the stakes of the election he is all but certain to run in next year. As the Times points out, Trump is being prosecuted in a variety of jurisdictions, but there’s nothing directly in the Constitution that stops him from running in or winning an election while he’s on trial for multiple felonies.
What this means is that as far as I can tell, the only way out of the growing litany of charges Trump faces is by barreling through the tenuous system of American democracy and becoming president again. The reason for that is simple: getting these charges to stick is going to take time and if Trump wins the 2024 election—let alone if he actually takes office—before he goes behind bars, all bets are off. You can bet that Trump has also realized that. You can bet that the GOP party machinery has realized that. You can even bet that some of the savvier elements of Trump’s base—the ones actively seeking to use him as an electoral gateway to fascism—have also realized that. What the lawsuits against Trump have done is back the most dangerous politician in the country into a corner.
I don’t want to turn this objectively good piece of news—the despotic former president finally going down for his crimes—into doom and gloom. It’s good that these charges have been filed; it’s good that the walls are closing in on Trump. But I think it’s very important that now, more than ever, we prepare ourselves for what could unfold over the next 18 months or so, if only so that we’re not surprised when something even more violent than January 6 flares up at a crucial time. Remember the Succession plotline in the final season with the curious fire at the Arizona vote-counting building? Life could start to imitate art this time around. Despite Smith and other prosecutors’ harsh handling of many January 6 defendants, the forces that made that day so violent and so dangerous have not gone dormant. They are still around, organizing rallies at drag shows to fuel the flames of culture wars and seeding misinformation across the internet to pave the way for more chaos to come. All of these people know that Trump is their best shot at power. By now, the conservatives who wanted off the Trump Train have reached their stop and disembarked. Everyone else is in it for the long haul—and there’s no telling what they’ll do to clear the tracks ahead.