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From a guilty verdict to a climate of reprisals

Photo: David Dee Delgado Getty Images via Agence France-Presse From Trump Tower in New York, former US President Donald Trump announced on Friday his intention to appeal his conviction, the day after his historic guilty verdict in his criminal trial for concealed payments.

Fabien Deglise

Published at 0:00 Analysis

  • United States

After the conviction, the return of the slander. Friday, the day after the historic verdict which found him guilty of 34 counts of accounting manipulation and concealment of bribes, Donald Trump took shots at the Manhattan court, but also at his political opponents , all responsible, according to him, for this decision, although taken by a jury of 12 ordinary citizens.

The strategy is agreed upon by the populist. Far from admitting his guilt, he instead continued his open war against the country's justice system and American democratic institutions. Repeated attacks which herald the climate of revenge and settling of scores which could accompany a return of the Republican to the White House. Attacks which also aim to weaken the American legal framework, which the ex-president has tried to discredit since his 2020 electoral defeat in order to forget this affront coming from the polls and to better defend himself against the numerous criminal accusations which have since weighed against him.

“We have entered a dark political period,” summarizes Saikrishna Prakash, professor of law at the University of Virginia, in an interview. Donald Trump has already called for legal action against his opponents. And, after this verdict, he will certainly continue to do so. »

From Trump Tower in New York, the man who made history on Thursday by becoming the first ex-president convicted of a crime preferred not to highlight this marker, preferring to tell another story to his faithful. He once again posed himself as the victim of a “puppet court” that acted “in complete collaboration with the White House and the Department of Justice,” he said. Accusations repeated for months and for which there is no proof.

Announcing his intention to appeal the case, the ultimate Republican candidate for next November's presidential election also repeated his accusations of corruption and compromise against judge Juan Merchan, who presided over this historic trial, the prosecutor General of New York, Alvin Bragg, but also Joe Biden and “his group of fascists”, who, according to him, are leading the country to its downfall. “They’re bad people,” he said. “If they can do this to me, they can do it to anyone,” he warned, playing on the emotions of his base by following his usual populist lines of communication.

Attack as defense: the mechanism is not new to Donald Trump, who, in the wake of special counsel Robert S. Mueller's investigation into foreign interference during the elections 2016, demanded that his Attorney General, Bill Barr, knock heads within the American intelligence service. The second impeachment trial, which the Republican majority in the Senate allowed him to dodge after the insurrection of January 6, unleashed its wrath against the 10 elected Republicans in the House who voted for this sanction. None survived this regime of harassment in the public square: they were excluded from legislative power during primaries or forced into retirement.

The Temptation of Authoritarian Antiliberalism

“If Donald Trump is reelected next November, he will usher us into a period of retaliation, as he himself has announced,” explains in an interview the lawyer Richard K. Sherwin, professor emeritus at the New York Law School. And America will move closer to an authoritarian and illiberal state.”

“Liberal democracy requires a minimum of good faith, a shared trust in the fact that political and legal institutions operate in accordance with impartial rules and principles of fairness,” he adds. “Donald Trump’s clear objective is to destroy this trust and then fill the vacuum with his own subjective and arbitrary power.”

After successfully undermining public confidence in the American electoral process, the Republican has made the judicial system, which is still resisting his attempts at takeover, despite some cracks, his new target to prepare his return to the White House. Since 2015 and his first campaign, he has multiplied attacks on judges, federal prosecutors, judicial personnel and the courts, dragging in his wake several of his allies and supporters, who are no longer afraid to add their voices to this chorus of discredit.

And this climate of distrust can even be quantified: the federal police, the US Marshals Service, responsible for the security of the world of justice in the United States, have documented no less than 27,000 threatening and harassing communications targeting federal court personnel. , between fall 2015 and fall 2022, a volume considered “unprecedented” in the 234-year history of the police force. The annual average of reported incidents rose from 1,180 in the years before Donald Trump arrived on the political scene to 3,810 in the seven years after he announced his first candidacy for president, according to data compiled by Reuters.

“Trump's first reaction to his conviction was to point out to his supporters that he was the victim of a conspiracy and ask them to act to avenge him”, summarizes sociologist Kim Lane Scheppele, joined by Le Devoirat Princeton University. On Friday, from New York, he reiterated that this revenge would go through the ballot boxes next November, while promising to “continue fighting” to “defend this country and its Constitution”, beyond his little person.

“I’m really scared for what’s to come,” adds Ms. Scheppele. Just as he refused to accept his defeat in the election by casting doubt on the entire electoral system, he now refuses to accept a criminal conviction and he casts doubt on the entire legal system. And, with a politically and shamefully tainted [ultraconservative majority] Supreme Court at the top of this system, I fear that these political attacks on the courts will ultimately do real damage. »

“If enough voters drink the Kool-Aid of cynicism, rage and retaliation, then the fate of the rule of law will be sealed,” warns Richard K. Sherwin. The drink refers to an aromatic powder, Flavor Aid, used during the mass suicide of Jim Jones' cult in 1978.

And since the next electoral race now has a candidate who has officially become a “criminal” in the eyes of the New York justice system, “the November presidential election will represent a pivotal moment in the history of the United States,” he concludes.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116