Trump’s indictment is a stunning moment of cultural collapse in America’s life

By Mayank Chhaya-

Mayank Chayya

Almost exactly a month after a jury in New York found him liable for sexually abusing a newspaper advice columnist, former President Donald Trump stands indicted on 37 counts, including violation of the Espionage Act and conspiracy.

Let that sink in. A former president of the United States has straddled a range of crimes that include alleged violation of the Espionage Act and hatching a conspiracy as well as obstruction of justice in the case involving mishandling of classified documents. What Americans for long patronizingly thought was the preserve of the heads of state of banana republics is now staring them in their face.

Given Trump’s ability to brazen everything out, this may seem to some like all in a day’s work for a hard-charging narcissist, but it represents a stunning moment of cultural and moral collapse in this country’s life. The range of charges and accusations he has faced in the past few months is topped by the charge of willfully retaining national defense secrets in violation of the Espionage Act. The reality that a former president is being charged under the Espionage Act on the heels of having been found liable for sexual abuse is profoundly sobering for America.

Going by the unvarnished tribalism that has gripped America’s politics, the indictment is already being trivialized as political witch hunt by Trump and his followers. In a feature peculiar to this country’s campaign finance traditions, soon after the verdict in the sexual abuse trial, Trump managed to raise $12 million on the claim that he was being victimized. Media reports suggest that this time around too mass emails went out to donors and supporters seeking more money in less than hour of being indicted. What this means is whether you are held liable for sexual abuse and accused of violating the Espionage Act, every infraction is a shameless opportunity to importune people for money.

Amid all this, the former president continues to be under investigation by the office of the special counsel, Jack Smith for his barely concealed efforts to hold on to power at any cost after his loss in the 2020 elections. In particular, he is being investigated for the January 6, 2021, storming of the Capitol by an often-violent pro-Trump mob.

Incidentally, he was also charged in April this year on 34 counts of falsifying business records. It is illustrative of the number of transgressions he has allegedly committed both as president and a private citizen. And yet large sections of the Republican Party, including Christian evangelicals, remain in his thrall and continue to support him unabashedly.

Somewhere along the line, Trump has almost single-handedly stripped away at America’s claims of moral superiority as a democracy and exceptionalism even though it may be fairly argued that at the same time this country’s justice system has chosen to indict him so widely without fear or favor.

Trump’s indictment is momentous even if it does not quite eventually erode his stranglehold over the Republican Party in the runup to the 2024 elections. In a bizarre development, his legal troubles and his earlier arrest have only strengthened his standing within his party. It is as if that part of America’s politics has decided in complete disregard of the reality that no matter what he is accused of after meticulous investigations by the Department of Justice he is forever beyond reproach. That sentiment reflects in the fact that none of his main challengers for the Republican presidential nomination so far, Nikki Haley, Mike Pence, Ron DeSantis and Chris Christie, is able to make a dent in his standing so far.

Experts have said the trial in the classified documents case is unlikely to begin before the end of 2024 if at all considering that he is facing so many legal troubles, including the January 6, 2021, disaster which is also an unprecedented case.

The Trump indictment hands America’s global rival China and other smaller antagonists a big stick to beat down Washington’s assertions of moral superiority over Beijing and others. The global optics of the indictment have the potential for a long-term adverse impact on America’s standing.

Trump continues to proclaim his complete innocence in the face of what many experts believe is a devastating indictment. Outwardly, he is said to be gung-ho about the development because he believes it can only buttress his political standing within the Republican Party and base. The notion that a politician can be sanguine in such a belief after being charged with seven counts, including violation of the Espionage Act, as well as being held liable for sexual abuse is a striking reflection of the state of affairs.

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