It’s not every day a former president of the United States is criminally indicted.
In the case of Donald Trump, it’s just about every month.
As a congressional staffer noted on Twitter — er, make that X — Trump now faces prosecution “in every NL East city other than Philadelphia” — a waggish observation suggesting perhaps we’ve reached the first-as-tragedy-then-as-farce stage of Trump’s legal travails.
To fill out the scorecard, the felonious former president has rolled up a rap sheet:
- In New York, for allegedly falsifying business documents to hush up his extramarital dalliances.
- In Miami, for skulking off with super-secret White House documents and spreading them like confetti around his Mar-a-Lago estate.
- In Washington, for trying to overturn his 2020 election defeat and inciting a mob that staged a deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol.
- In Atlanta, for trying to strong-arm Georgia officials into “finding” the votes needed to reverse his loss in the Peach State.
If making off with the Liberty Bell would have nullified Joe Biden’s victory in Pennsylvania, Trump would have doubtless stolen the national treasure, and would now be facing criminal charges in Philadelphia as well, thus completing his sweep of baseball’s National League Eastern
There’s something worse, though, than finding humor in the true wretchedness of Trump’s misdeeds.
Trump’s superpower as a politician has been his remarkable capacity to survive a string of scandals, moral and ethical trespasses and criminal allegations that would have killed off mere mortals.
Part of it is velocity. The mind barely stops reeling from one episode — an outrageous statement, a bald-faced lie, a norm-busting line no president before Trump had ever crossed — when another swiftly follows.
Part of it is volume. In the whole history of the United States, no president or former president has ever faced criminal indictment. Forty-five chief executives: zero criminal charges. Trump: 91 as of Monday’s Fulton County, Ga., indictment.
The cumulative effect is anesthetizing, and politically damaging.
In the 1990s, the scholar and former New York Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan coined the phrase “defining deviancy down” to describe how societies tend to accept once-intolerable behavior, thus lowering the standards for what is deemed proper conduct going forth. How quaint now to consider what used to pass for political scandal: some pilfered lines from a stump speech, an extramarital affair, a youthful experimentation with drugs.
Trump made his fortune, and reputation, slapping his surname on all manner of goods: ties, dress shirts, wine, bottled water, hotels, high-rises.
As bad and kitschy as many of those products may be, Trump’s larger, more sordid legacy will be the lowering of our social and political standards to subterranean levels.
Stunningly, a third or so of Republican Party voters seem willing not only to countenance Trump’s criminality and moral turpitude, but actually celebrate it.
He is, for now, the far-and-away front-runner for the GOP nomination. More Republicans need the starch of Georgia’s governor, Brian Kemp, who responded to Trump’s latest indictment with a blistering statement.
“The 2020 election in Georgia was not stolen,” the GOP governor said on social media Tuesday.
“For nearly three years now, anyone with evidence of fraud has failed to come forward — under oath — and prove anything in a court of law,” he continued. “… The future of our country is at stake in 2024 and that must be our focus.”
Most of Trump’s GOP rivals are too timid to hold him to account for his criminality and his unrelenting attacks on the country’s foundational principles. They apparently hope — as his 2016 competition did with his execrable behavior then — that Trump will ultimately fall under the weight of the cumulative criminal prosecutions.
Nearly as bad as acceptance is resignation.
Discussing the ex-president’s lengthening criminal docket, Republican Sen. Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming told the Huffington Post’s Igor Bobic that people have grown numb to Trump indictments.
“I think it shows that politicians lie, and [people] know they’re lying,” she said. “The liar knows that people know he’s lying, and the people that are being lied to know they’re being lied to. That is political reality in 2023.”
And that’s precisely the danger: that voters will shrug and treat the spectacularly abnormal as though it were normal.
It’s not just another day when a former president is indicted, for the fourth time in a little over four months.
It’s a horror, an outrage and a summons to make sure Trump never gets remotely close to wielding political power again.