Trapped, tired, weak: Trial shatters Trump's image

Criminal trial offers first taste of accountability in his 77 years

Trapped, tired, weak: Trial shatters Trump's image
Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash

by Jason Sattler | FrameLab

It’s happening. Almost eight years after he covered up payments to two women in order to keep voters from finding out that he cheated on his third wife while she was extremely pregnant with his fifth child, Donald Trump is facing his first criminal trial.

Pundits have questioned the strength of the first prosecution that the ex-president will face. And there’s a fair case that this trial is “the third most important thing happening to him this week.”

It’s true that 34 counts of falsifying business records may pale in comparison to many of the 54 other felony charges the ex-president must defend himself against. But that’s only because those other counts include some of the most serious accusations anyone who has served in the executive branch has faced since Aaron Burr was indicted for treason in 1807.

The potential significance of this case goes far beyond questions of legality.

The crimes Trump stands accused of helped him slip into the presidency as the largest popular vote loser elected in 140 years. Taking them seriously makes a powerful argument for the Rule of Law. And they could possibly provide a 77-year-old man, who has been a millionaire since age eight thanks to tax fraud, with the first taste of accountability in his life.

“Thanks to [Manhattan District Attorney Alvin] Bragg and [Judge Juan] Merchan, Trump will have to answer for at least one of his alleged past crimes before he has the chance to commit new ones,” wrote Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern, a former skeptic of the case who has been won over to its importance. “And that is a victory in itself.”

All eyes on New York

The People of the State of New York v. Donald J. Trump is one of those freaky instances that could capture the attention of the vast majority of Americans who purposely tune out politics. The importance of that attention grows exponentially given how low the interest in this presidential election seems to be.

Seeing a rich white man prosecuted for a crime in America is an incredibly rare sight. Seeing a former president face a criminal trial is like watching a unicorn dance on a lightning bolt during a full solar eclipse. It simply has never happened before.

“It’s important to remember that this is really an election interference trial, with a crucial trifecta of sex, money, and voter deception,” Dahlia Lithwick and Anat Shenker-Osorio wrote in Slate.

They note that this trial, unlike the civil fraud proceedings Trump faced earlier this year, is getting the “full television and social media meme daily bonanza” that could sway “the 36 percent of independents saying that a guilty verdict would move them away” from the likely GOP nominee.

In an election that will be decided “by margins of 1 or 2 percentage points in just six states,” the role this trial could play in shaping the narrative for November is immense.

Thus far much of the reporting and images emerging from that courtroom are exposing the Trump behind the curtain as the opposite of the Wizard he’s spent more than half a century pretending to be.

And no one seems to get that better than the defendant himself, who reportedly keeps whining to those closest to him about how he appears in courtroom sketches along with the now daily reports of him falling asleep.

Who thinks being sleepy is a terrible sign of weakness and embarrassment? Based on the year he spent running against the current president as “Sleepy Joe,” we know Donald Trump does.

Not-so strongman

No one is more used to getting away with anything without any oversight than Donald Trump.

As president, most of his schedule was allotted to “executive time,” which seemed to consist mostly of him watching Fox News and tweeting about it. By the end of his term, his team even gave up that charade by just sharing a schedule that insisted Trump would “work from early in the morning until late in the evening. He will make many calls and have many meetings."

This trial not only gives us a much clearer view of what “executive time” looked like, it upends many of the qualities that made him, as Dr. George Lakoff noted in 2016, “a formidable winning candidate who deserves to be a winning candidate,” as viewed from “strict conservative eyes.”

Not only is Trump not getting to set his own schedule. Not only is he proving to be chronically sleepy. Not only has he failed to draw the crowds of MAGA protesters he hoped would create a “circus” outside the courtroom. He is also facing punishment from an authority more powerful than himself.

These predicaments he put himself in fundamentally violate his standing in both the strict family moral hierarchy as defined by Dr. Lakoff and the MAGA moral hierarchy, where Trump has positioned himself to wield the power of a deity. In these hierarchies, it falls on the man at the top — yes, it must be a man in the right-wing worldview — to hand out the punishment that enforces discipline on those below him.

If Trump is subject to the judgment of a court, he cannot be at the top of the ladder. Even being acquitted questions his standing for he still is accepting the judgment of a power he doesn’t wish to recognize.

Seeing Trump for who he is

“There are certain things that strict fathers cannot be: A Loser, Corrupt, and especially not a Betrayer of Trust,” Dr. Lakoff wrote in 2016.

This trial provides a chance for a jury of Trump’s peers to rule that he is indeed all three of these things. History has taught us that we cannot rely on juries in high-profile cases, but even being put in this position is a loss for him and a win for those who care about equality under the law.

Dr. Lakoff also reminded us that we can’t be “merely negative.”

He insisted that Democrats highlight “the majority's positive moral view and viewing the problem with Trump from within the majority's positive worldview frame. To effectively fight for what is right, you have to first say what is right and why.”

That’s why we also have to celebrate the real progress we see by overcoming corporate greed and cruel fundamentalists. This includes the victories of working people making history by organizing in the South, the massive public investment in creating a boom in America’s manufacturing sector with good clean energy jobs, and reproductive freedom activists putting abortion rights on the ballot and winning in state-after-state.

From that point of view, it’s impossible to not see Donald Trump as all the things he cannot be, as well as a “scab,” as Shawn Fain, the president of the UAW, described him.

But it’s not about name calling. It’s about rendering a verdict on a man who has proven himself unfit of any trust. And if you want a verdict, a courtroom is where you look.

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