Felon: Will Trump's Conviction Break The Authoritarian Spell?

Felon: Will Trump's Conviction Break The Authoritarian Spell?

Donald Trump leaves Manhattan courthouse following his conviction on 34 felony charges on May 30, 2024

Photo by Justin Lane/REUTERS

It only took a jury a day and a half to decide that Donald Trump, former President of the United States, was guilty on all counts. He will wear the convicted felon label on his back forever, no matter what happens in November. A jury of seven men and five women voted guilty on all 34 counts against him. He will be sentenced July 11. The penalty includes prison time. He likely won’t go, and in the unlikely event that he does, Never Trump conservative lawyer George Conway told me the Constitution would likely be read to require that any state holding him open the cell door if he is elected in November.

But the verdict is another historic landmark in the long list of awful firsts that the MAGA cult leader has inflicted on our country since he rode down the golden elevator in the summer of 2015, enthralling first the media and then a swath of America.

The first of those horrors is the separation of millions of Americans from faith in the law and process of democracy. In the hour after the verdict, on Xitter, on Fox, on rightwing platforms and channels, MAGAs were blind with rage, spitting accusations. It’s a measure of the success of this one man’s assault on American institutions - “fake news"!” “Deep State!” “Rigged against me!” - that untold millions will refuse to accept the fairness of the trial. His people are so unplugged from our commonweal that they are willing to believe the Manhattan DA works for a Hungarian billionaire whose name the rabid right made synonymous with their own invisible donor-monster the Koch family. They are willing to believe that a sitting judge who spends his days in a cold, smelly courtroom at 100 Centre Street, and the men and women of the jury who did their civic duty in the same room and listened to all the evidence, were just pawns of Joe Biden and the Democrats.

Utter lunacy. Sadly, we’re used to it.

One of the rabble outside the courtroom was caught on camera threatening to go inside the courtroom and trash the place. AR 15 memes flooded the platforms. The sophisticates on social media flung profanity, the Overton window of civil political discourse long ago smashed by their Dear Leader.

“Bullshit!” Donny Jr. tweeted. “This Trump show trial is Bullsh!t,” wrote the soigné former Nixon aide, Monica Crowley.

Brother Eric, who squirmed in the courtroom through Stormy Daniels’ description of his father’s seduction technique, fumed at the outrage that a man could become a felon for just “a 130k NDA”!

Trained lawyer and TV personality Megyn Kelly, personally and obscenely trashed by Trump for asking him hard questions during a 2016 debate "(“she’s got blood coming out of her wherever!”) whined to her three million followers that “The country is disgraced” (yes, the rest of us noticed that, but back in November 2016).

Like so many Trumpers, Kelly also issued an implied warning, “They will rue the day they unleashed this lawfare to corrupt a presidential election.”

Rue the day. We’ll get you back. You’ll regret it. Threats, promises of violence, pictures of automatic weapons, bloodlust vengeance. All of it projected from their own Dear Leader and back out onto regular Americans just trying to make sense of it all.

Many MAGAs are now using the banana word. David Sacks, a grotesquely pro-Trump Silicon Valley billionaire, wrote, “There is now only one issue in this election: whether the American people will stand for the USA becoming a banana republic.”

The charitable view here is that Sacks is mainlining K with Elon and failed to notice that America went full banana republic on a summer night in 2016 when Gen. Michael Flynn led thousands of Republican delegates at the nominating convention in Cleveland in a chant of “Lock Her Up.” That Gen. Flynn ultimately got convicted himself (alas, not locked up) only proves the point, especially as he roams free today, another Trump pardonee like Steve Bannon, despoiling the political landscape and spewing conspiracy theories to low-information Q-Anon zombies.

Flynn’s rant and the crowd’s chant were unprecedented in American politics back then. It was shocking to witness the beginning of the idea of using the law for vengeance against one’s political opponents. In office, Trump tried to get his DOJ to manifest the authoritarian dream. But the “adults in the room” still clung to the mores of another era, and resisted, or quit.

The next administration will be vetted for people who won’t have those reservations. There may be none of them left.

Let’s be clear: the 91 criminal indictments against Trump are not “politically motivated.” Dozens of his minions in Arizona, Michigan and Georgia in the fake elector and January 6 conspiracy schemes have been turning like pancakes, or going bankrupt fighting a losing fight. He is recorded bragging about purloined classified national secrets.

Trump only still skates, he only still walks free right now because, contrary to the persecuted image he wants to project of “fighting The Man,” like the angry little guys who think he speaks for them, he is, in fact, The Man.

The New York judge and prosecutors bent over backwards allowing Defendant Trump to behave in ways that would have had any other accused individual locked up pre trial. Trump walks free with money in the bank even though he has already been convicted in a massive civil fraud trial, and of sexual abuse and forcible touching and then lying about it, in another civil case. Prosecutors have reams of evidence against him in the three criminal cases in two other states, cases that only thanks to the delay machinations of his lawyers and the horrifying ineptitude and bias of one of the judges, will not be decided before November 5.

Judging from the outpouring of anger at the conviction, his felonious status will not move his true fans. As historian Ruth Ben Ghiat wrote in her excellent book about modern dictators, from Putin to Xi, to Orban and Trump today and Mussolini and Hitler before them, the criminality of an authoritarian leader can be an essential element in his (always his, by the way, women need not apply) appeal.

“The strongman’s rogue nature also draws people to him. He proclaims law and order rule, yet enables lawlessness. This paradox becomes official policy, as government evolves into a criminal enterprise, Hitler’s Germany being one example and Putin’s Russia another. Millions around the world have found it intoxicating to be able to commit criminal acts with impunity… the thrill of transgression mixed with the comfort of submitting to his power turns the everyday into the exceptional, endowing life with energy, purpose, and drama.”

Trump was right about one thing in his surly first words to the public as a convicted felon, outside the courtroom, with his chagrined loser lawyer standing by (surely Todd Blanche was expecting to hear the L word from his belligerent client in the black SUV in short order).

The real verdict, the convicted defendant said, will be rendered on November 5. Right.

Will a majority of voters cling to the felonious leader’s fantasy that every institution and civil servant in America is utterly corrupted by “the left” and “Soros” and out to get him? Will they show up to vote having lost every iota of faith they ever had in the commonweal, in the possibility that their fellow Americans do the right thing in courtrooms and on juries and in the news media, believing that every non MAGA election worker, Capitol police officer, prosecutor, or New York state judge is engaged in a systematic conspiracy against Donald Trump?

The great question after today is whether the red F now stamped on Trump’s back, not unlike the Nixon tattoo on his fellow convicted felon Roger Stone’s back, will dampen the enthusiasm of any on-the-fence, decent, right-leaning voters still cued in to the possibility of the decency of our institutions after eight years of being persistently propagandized to abandon that faith.

Are there any left? Helloooo! Are you out there? Paying attention?

If so, you don’t have to vote for Biden. We will forgive you if you just stay home on Election Day and leave the man to his ignominious fate.

Reprinted with permission from American Political Freakshow

Nina Burleigh is a a journalist, author, and documentary producer. She is the author of seven books including most recently Virus: Vaccinations, the CDC, and the Hijacking of America's Response to the Pandemic and an adjunct professor at New York University's Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute.

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