Trump Stole an Election. 34 Felonies Are Just the Start.

Trump Stole an Election. 34 Felonies Are Just the Start.

Trump Stole an Election. 34 Felonies Are Just the Start.

The charges against Trump matter, but the prosecutor was clear that he committed his crimes to beat Hillary Clinton. Maybe that’s why, at Mar-a-Lago, his self-righteousness seemed absent.


Donald Trump looked wounded sitting at the defendant’s table in court on Tuesday. Lips pursed, eyes glazed and sullen. Surrounded by his lawyers, he was nonetheless alone; they talked and even joked with one another, not with him. It almost moved me. If Trump were capable of empathy, I might have mustered some for him.

He’s not, so I’ll save mine. For our country.

We saw none of the maniacal, Mafia-don bravado of his recent Truth Social posts in the courthouse today. Trump kept silent; he did not walk in or out defiant. No more posts of him taking a baseball bat to Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg. No more threats of “death and destruction.”

I wanted to celebrate today, but I had a hard time. First of all, there are folks still insisting that these were lesser charges than ought to be brought against Trump. Fuck that. I’m not a lawyer, just a voter. A female voter. And when we got to see all 34 felony charges, involving not just one but three payoff schemes that protected Trump from voters’ learning about his flagrant sexual compulsions; his ugly disregard of his wives; allegations that he fathered a child; the depth of his moral, sexual, legal, and political corruption overwhelmed me for an hour or so. But I’m just a girl.

Trump did all of this, remember, to keep voters from learning details about his misogyny and amorality as he tried to beat Hillary Clinton in the final weeks of an insanely close election. Between the Access Hollywood tape and the steady release of claims of sexual harassment, abuse, and assault by Trump, his legal and campaign teams decided that these stories—Stormy Daniels’s and Karen McDougal’s tales of affairs, a Manhattan doorman with a convincing story about Trump fathering a secret child—had to be hidden. With money.

That’s essentially what these 34 felony charges are about. False business records, tax and campaign finance violations, and so many other important but technical issues: Those crimes matter, and they’re what will be litigated in the coming months or years. But the big story is that he stole the 2016 election—probably with Russian help, but definitely with the help of these lawyers and helpers and grifters and, oh dear, David Pecker.

And Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said that outright on Tuesday: “From August 2015 to December 2017, the Defendant orchestrated a scheme with others to influence the 2016 presidential election by identifying and purchasing negative information about him to suppress its publication and benefit the Defendant’s electoral prospects.”

Again: Trump allegedly falsified business records, cheated on his taxes (and wives), broke campaign finance laws, and more. But don’t lose track of what matters. He did it all to steal an election. And he got away with it, whatever happens next. Brett Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch, and Amy Coney Barrett will be around for a long time to make sure we never forget it.

By the time he got to Mar-a-Lago Tuesday night, Trump had revived himself. (Don’t you want to know what kind of IV, hyperbaric, or even cryogenic chamber they have on Trump Farce One?) The sad, catatonic defendant was gone; in his place was a slightly less sad, less catatonic but programmed defendant.

While we waited for his entrance, his psycho-sadist genius musical playlist master shared Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” Elvis Presley’s “Suspicious Minds” and David Bowie’s trans/nonbinary anthem “Rebel Rebel.” The psycho-sadist genius will go to hell, if there is one, for lending his playlist skills to Trump (and for regularly warping my brain while I tried to figure out what these choices might mean. It’s going on eight years.).

When Trump finally came out, he began railing robotically against Bragg.”The only crime I’ve committed is to protect our nation from those who seek to destroy it,” he insisted. Worse, he accused Biden of leading us to nuclear war… through “woke” indoctrination? Honestly, I’m not sure.

He attacked not only Bragg but also Fulton County DA Fani Willis and New York Attorney General Tish James—all Black—and he didn’t hold back the racism.

“In the wings they’ve got a local racist district attorney in Atlanta,” who he says is prosecuting him “over a perfect call,” which he compared to his blackmail call to Vladimir Zelenskyy. Then he went into “the boxes hoax.”

I actually didn’t know what “the boxes hoax” was—I didn’t realize this was about his theft of classified documents. (I’m not paying close enough attention to his persecutions.) He went on and on about all those persecutions, and then walked off to Sam and Dave’s “Hold On, I’m Comin’.” Trump seemed to leave while My Pillow’s Mike Lindell danced to “YMCA.”

I just have to say, throughout his very familiar jam of grievance, he sounded drugged and somewhat sick.

However: As fucked-up as his whole routine was, he did not call for death and destruction. He seemed to heed the judge’s demand that he stop his threats. He delivered judgments about why his critics and prosecutors were wrong, but these declarations weren’t violent. So I guess that’s good.

Somehow, I think it will be that bad again. But Trump took a pause tonight. Maybe he’s chastened by what it feels like to be at the defendant’s table.

Or as his niece Mary Trump posted on Twitter: “Donald Trump has finally gotten a glimpse of what it looks like when his past, finally, at long last, catches up with him—and he’ll never be able to outrun it.”

I hope she’s right.

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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