Where Do You Stand?
The first Catholic. The first African American. Someday, maybe soon, the first woman. The history of the presidency is a history of firsts. Now there is one more: the first former president to be indicted.
It’s a solemn and sad moment. It’s also a fiercely just moment.
Remember that although Donald Trump’s indictment in New York has been confirmed by one of his attorneys, we do not yet know, as of the evening of Thursday, March 30, what he has been indicted for. When Trump himself circulated the first rumors of his pending indictment, many reacted with rapid comments on the inadvisability of indicting a former president for offenses arising from a sexual affair, a reservation I share. But it’s also possible that this reported indictment arises from the Trump Organization’s decades-long practices of criminal tax fraud.
In 2018, The New York Times reported that the Trump family had allegedly evaded hundreds of millions of dollars in estate taxes through complex schemes of false invoicing. In 2022, a New York State court convicted the Trump Organization of evading income taxes through false invoicing. When it came time to pay off women who claimed to have had sexual connections with Trump, he allegedly reverted to long-standing practice.
This is how the Trump case might diverge from that of John Edwards, the former Democratic presidential candidate charged with diverting campaign funds to a former lover. The case against Trump might not be a sex-payoff case, or even a campaign-finance case. It could fundamentally be a tax-fraud case, the latest installment of a multigenerational criminal practice that has cheated the people of the United States and New York of huge amounts of money.
More indictments by more states in more cases may be filed soon. Donald Trump is not an occasional lawbreaker. He incited the mob that ended the American tradition of the peaceful transfer of power—and that inflicted unnecessary injury and avoidable death both upon law-enforcement officers and Trump’s own deceived supporters. He tried to intimidate state-level election officials to manipulate vote totals to fraudulently preserve his hold on office. The jeopardy will only accumulate.
Trump may regard the present indictment and those to come as a political resource. He has surged in Republican polls since he announced the indictment was on its way. His leading party rival has deflated in the polls. Trump has raised millions of dollars on the news, and may in the next hours raise many more. There’s no denying that he’s now the overwhelming favorite to be the next Republican nominee, and therefore stands an excellent chance of winning the presidency in 2024.
Atop all the other questions on the ballot in that election, therefore, will be this: Crime and violence and Trump, or law and the Constitution—where do you stand?
Good God, where does his Republican Party and mine now stand? The wrong is overwhelming and the shame is crushing—but the only decent choice for the honest and patriotic American is now starker, purer, and more certain than ever.