Trump Is Guilty, but the Justice System Is Tarred With a Tawdry Brush | Opinion

With the news of former President Donald Trump’s conviction in a New York trial, the nation has made a milestone out of a mickey mouse moment. A former president has not only been put on trial, he has been convicted of 34 felonies. Unfortunately, the convictions arise from the fetid fallout of a hush money payment to a porn star.

Of course, key underlying events in this case occurred prior to Trump’s presidency, but the prospect of a president paying in court for his misdeeds is unprecedented. It is both something to be proud of and, in more than one way, something to be ashamed of.

Trump’s conviction is something to be proud of because it affirms a fundamental American value—no one in this country is above the law. Trump seems to have lived his life thinking that the rules constraining ordinary mortals don’t apply to him. His life has been soaked with scandals from which he, until recently, has walked away.

Former President Donald Trump walks to speak to the press after he was convicted in his criminal trial at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City, on May 30.

JUSTIN LANE/POOL/AFP via Getty Images
He has repeatedly been accused of cheating contractors, students at his unaccredited Trump University, donors to his charity, the Internal Revenue Service, and campaign donors. The public has watched as he made his way through serial failed enterprises to find genuine success on reality TV and to win the presidency. He was then accused of abusing that office in numerous ways ranging from subsidizing his hotels with government and foreign funds to advertising his wife’s jewelry line on the White House website.

But now a reckoning has come in New York, the longtime base of his enterprises. He has been found by courts there to have engaged in fraud, rape, and repeated contempts of court. His current fortune has been found to have been buttressed by loan-inducing frauds and, most recently, a projected $100 million in double-dipped tax deductions.

So yes, we should be proud to see the claims against Trump decided in court by the rules that rightly apply to all of us. The United States can’t run a credible justice system without hearing and deciding claims against the rich and powerful as well as the merely ordinary.

But this is where we can start talking about why we should be ashamed. We should be ashamed that the Trump legal saga has lowered the legal system in the minds of the American public. Partisan attacks from the left and the right on judges and prosecutors have shaken our system. Donald Trump has been particularly egregious in telling Americans that his trials are being secretly masterminded by President Joe Biden and his “gestapo” while unintentionally undercutting his claims by labelling Biden totally incompetent. If Biden were nefariously manipulating American law enforcement, Trump would be in jail and Biden’s son would not be facing charges for misstating his drug use on a firearm permit application.

But now for the greatest shame. Maybe some of Trump’s transgressions, taken in isolation, shouldn’t have been singled out by busy prosecutors. Indeed, the hush money trial and its connection to campaign events was a shabby way to begin criminally prosecting a former president. It centered on a bookkeeping issue. Uncharged campaign and tax violations. Low comedy. It was not the kind of democracy-rattling drama it should take to put a president in prison.

Yet there is a democracy-rattling drama pending, and the greatest shame of the hush money case it that it has distracted attention from it. Trump is accused of attempting to overthrow an election with fraud claims found bogus in 60 court cases, some in front of judges he appointed. Worse, he is accused of hurling an angry mob at the Capitol of the United States. These charges have yet to get near trial.

The Justice Department should have leaped into action on these claims, yet it crawled. The major federal cases should have been brought, tried, and over long before the eve of a presidential election. Yet the major federal case is cooling its heels waiting while the Supreme Court issues other opinions but does not rule on whether the president is immune from criminal prosecution. These delays should cease, and the key cases should be tried. The cartoon is over. It’s time for the drama to begin.

Thomas G. Moukawsher is a former Connecticut complex litigation judge and a former co-chair of the American Bar Association Committee on Employee Benefits. He is the author of the new book, The Common Flaw: Needless Complexity in the Courts and 50 Ways to Reduce It .

The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.

Uncommon Knowledge Newsweek is committed to challenging conventional wisdom and finding connections in the search for common ground.

Newsweek is committed to challenging conventional wisdom and finding connections in the search for common ground.

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