Former President Trump has a lot at stake in the federal criminal case lodged against him. He could go to prison for years. If he winds up in front of a jury, it is no exaggeration to suggest that U.S. justice will be on trial as well. The first federal indictment against a former president poses one of the gravest challenges to democracy the U.S. has faced. It represents either a validation of the rule-of-law principle that even the most powerful face accountability or the moment when a vast swath of the public becomes convinced that the system has been corrupted by partisanship, reports the New York Times. Trump, his allies and even some of his Republican rivals are encouraging the latter view, arguing that law enforcement has been hijacked by President Biden and the Democrats to take out his strongest opponent for re-election next year. Special coiunsel Jack Smith and his prosecutors knew that defense was coming and have labored to avoid any hint of political motivation with a by-the-book approach. Their indictment laid out a damning series of facts based on security camera video, text messages and testimony from Trump’s own team; even some who have defended him say it will be harder to brush aside the evidence in a courtroom than in the court of public opinion.
In the public arena, it may be a one-sided fight. Trump and his allies can scream as loudly as they can that the system is unfair. Prosecutors are bound by rules limiting how much they can say in response. To the extent that Democrats defend prosecutors, it may only buttress the point Trump is trying to make to the audience he is trying to reach. “I think the verdict on democracy ultimately comes down to Republican leaders and Republican voters,” said David Jolly, a former Republican congressman from Florida who left the party during the Trump presidency. “Their current weaponization narrative is dangerous and destabilizing, but seems to reflect the party’s early consensus. If they don’t pivot soon to due process and faith in the system, I think we could have very dark days ahead.” Polls suggest that Trump has made headway in persuading his own supporters that any and all allegations against him are just political. After Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg brought state charges related to hush money paid to an adult film actress, the former president’s support among Republicans rose, rather than fell. While 60 percent of adults surveyed by CNN approved of the charges, 76 percent agreed that politics played a role in the prosecution. Some 31 percent said the indictment strengthened democracy, while 31 percent said it weakened it.