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David Frum: Wrong Case, Right Verdict

Donald Trump Joe Biden Court
Thought Leader: David Frum
May 30, 2024
Written by: David Frum

This piece is by WWSG exclusive thought leader, David Frum.

The wrong case for the wrong offense just reached the right verdict.

Donald Trump will not be held accountable before the 2024 presidential election for his violent attempt to overturn the previous election. He will not be held accountable before the election for absconding with classified government documents and showing them off at his pay-for-access vacation club. He will not be held accountable before the election for his elaborate conspiracy to manipulate state governments to install fake electors. But he is now a convicted felon all the same.It says something dark about the American legal system that it cannot deal promptly and effectively with a coup d’état. But it says something bright and hopeful that even an ex-president must face justice for ordinary crimes under the laws of the state in which he chose to live and operate his business.

Over his long career as the most disreputable name in New York real estate, Trump committed many wrongs and frauds. Those wrongs and frauds are beginning to catch up with him, including his sexual assault upon the writer E. Jean Carroll, and then his defamation of her for reporting the assault. Today, the catch-up leaped the barrier from the civil justice system to the criminal justice system.

The verdict should come as a surprise to precisely nobody. Those who protest the verdict most fiercely know better than anyone how justified it is. The would-be Trump running mate Marco Rubio shared a video this afternoon on X, comparing American justice to a Castro show trial. The slur is all the more shameful because Rubio has himself forcefully condemned Trump.

“He is a con artist,” Rubio said during the 2016 nomination contest. “He runs on this idea he is fighting for the little guy, but he has spent his entire career sticking it to the little guy—his entire career.” Rubio specifically cited the Trump University scheme as one of Trump’s cons. In 2018, Trump reached a $25 million settlement with people who had enrolled in the courses it offered.

Eight years later, Rubio has attacked a court, a jury, and the whole U.S. system of justice for proving the truth of his words.

We’re seeing here the latest operation of a foundational rule of the Trump era: If you’re a Trump supporter, you will sooner or later be called to jettison any and every principle you ever purported to hold. Republicans in Donald Trump’s adopted state of Florida oppose voting by felons. They used their legislative power to gut a state referendum restoring the voting rights of persons convicted of a crime. But as fiercely as Florida Republicans oppose voting by felons, they feel entirely differently about voting for felons. That’s now apparently fine, provided the felon is Donald Trump.

What has been served here is not the justice that America required after Trump’s plot to overturn the 2020 election first by fraud, then by violence. It’s justice instead of an especially ironic sort, driving home to the voting public that before Trump was a constitutional criminal, he got his start as a squalid hush-money-paying, document-tampering, tabloid sleazeball.

If Trump does somehow return to the presidency, his highest priority will be smashing up the American legal system to punish it for holding him to some kind of account—and to prevent it from holding him to higher account for the yet-more-terrible charges pending before state and federal courts.

The United States can have a second Trump presidency, or it can retain the rule of law, but not both. No matter how much spluttering and spin-doctoring and outright deception you may hear from the desperate co-partisans of the first Felon American to stand as the presumptive presidential nominee of a major U.S. political party—there is no denying that now.

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