By Mayank Chhaya-
In the remarkably well-constructed third indictment of former President Donald Trump for the January 6 uprising, in a way, a significant section of America also stands indicted.
The fact that Trump remains the most likely Republican nominee for president within his party and runs precariously close to the incumbent Joe Biden to in the electoral fortunes next year exposes the ugly tribalistic underbelly of America. A New York Times-Siena College poll this week speaks to the amoral expediency with which such a large number of Republicans is approaching the nomination process.
The poll shows that only 25 percent of those polled are not open to Trump as their nominee while 74 percent, half of whom are MAGA Republicans, are either for him unreservedly or are persuadable. Even though the poll came before the sweeping third indictment, it is not anybody’s case that yet another indictment would have made any difference at all. If anything, it seems to be only buttressing his prospects for nomination.
What speaks to the amoral, tribalistic expediency is that according to the poll, “Zero percent — not a single one of the 319 respondents in this MAGA category — said he had committed serious federal crimes.”
As Nate Cohen points out in the Times, “The MAGA base doesn’t support Mr. Trump in spite of his flaws. It supports him because it doesn’t seem to believe he has flaws.”
Overall, the poll says Trump leads the pack of presidential contenders at 54 percent, the nearest being Florida Governor Ron DeSantis at 17 percent. The two Indian American contenders, Nikki Hailey and Vivek Ramaswamy barely break at 2 percent.
Clearly, this atmosphere of gushing, uncritical acceptance within the Republican Party of someone who has been indicted thrice has profound implications for the quality of America’s democracy. If by some quirk of fate, he does indeed go on to become president for the second time, America can effectively kiss goodbye to the vestiges of its influence with the rest of the world in its exaggerated position as the beacon of democracy.
There is also the real danger of indictment fatigue creeping in even among those who do not remotely support him. So diverse and complicated his alleged crimes are that the ordinary American voter on either side of the divide tends to switch off beyond a point.
This is deeply worrisome because the latest indictment, unlike the first two about a hushed money payment to a porn star and unlawfully retaining classified documents, goes to the very heart of America’s democracy and what might become of it after the 2024 election in case he wins.
Special Counsel Jack Smith’s words while announcing the indictment on August 1 became even more striking because of their sheer austerity. “Today, an indictment was unsealed charging Donald J. Trump with conspiring to defraud the United States, conspiring to disenfranchise voters, and conspiring and attempting to obstruct an official proceeding,” he said.
“The attack on our nation’s capital on January 6, 2021, was an unprecedented assault on the seat of American democracy. As described in the indictment, it was fueled by lies. Lies by the defendant targeted at obstructing a bedrock function of the U.S. government, the nation’s process of collecting, counting, and certifying the results of the presidential election,” he said.
At one level, the meticulous, fearless and uncompromising indictment reaffirms America’s credentials as a robust democracy where the rule of law is supreme. At another level, at the level of partisan fault lines though, there is an unseemly story unfolding about the extent to which political prejudices have spread.
This brings back to life his absurd claim in 2016 and lends it a grotesque aura of plausibility. “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, OK?” Trump had said at a campaign event at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa. “It’s, like, incredible.”
On the face of it, the third indictment is an extraordinary piece of prosecutorial excellence. Of course, its merit cannot rest on how well-crafted it is but the way a jury of Trump’s peers would rule on it. It goes without saying that the lofty principle of innocent until proven guilty is sacrosanct here but if the substance of the indictment is any indication, omens are ominous.