The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Consequences Of Indicting Trump

So, a New York DA has charged Trump. There’s some posturing by DeSantis, but Trump will almost certainly go to New York and surrender. This is a watershed moment, no former President has ever been charged with a crime.

  1. This is a political act. Many President have committed crimes and have not been charged.
  2. It will lead to red state DAs indicting Democratic politicians with crimes to stop them from running or to damage them.
  3. This is a worldwide trend. Lula in Brazil and Rahul Gandhi in India are other examples.

Viewed from a wider context, there has been a catch-22. America and most nations let their elites slide on crimes that don’t  harm other elites. This has allowed a whole lot of evil acts to occur unpunished and for elites to act knowing they will never be held responsible for their actions. This goes beyond political acts, notice how somehow almost none of the people who took advantage of Jeffrey Epstein’s smorgasboard of underaged teenaged girls has been charged with a crime.

My judgment is that almost every powerful politician and every CEO of an important company has done things which are criminal acts: violations of red-letter law.

But when you change a norm like this, it becomes open season and causes political instability. Politicians may be guilty, but they will be charged not based on whether they are guilty but based on political expedience.

This is a further step towards America becoming ungovernable, and potentially a step towards a break-up of the Union, since red-state elites will be persecuted by blue state elites and vice-versa. With no norm of what laws elites are immune to, no member of the elite will feel safe. Either one side or the other must win and set a new norm, or the country must divide.

Globally, as I noted below, this is an extension of a new norm of not running against one’s opponents but simply getting rid of them politically.

This has nothing to do with my sympathies, to forestall obvious comments. I despise Trump and if he had been charged with crimes he had committed long before becoming President, this would be all null and void. But the type of crimes he committed as real-estate Mogul were the acceptable sort of crimes that real-estate moguls commit and aren’t charged for and if they had gone after him then, they would have made many other important people vulnerable.

This is the consequence of having a two-tier justice system where some crimes are only crimes when committed by little people and then weaponizing that.

What Trump should have been charged with, if elites were smart, was his actual crime against elites, where he broke a norm: trying to stage a coup. By charging him with something lesser, they have shattered a consensus norm and a great price will be paid for it.

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Why America Will Probably Lose The New Cold War


Open Thread


  1. NR

    It will lead to red state DAs indicting Democratic politicians with crimes to stop them from running or to damage them.

    You say this like it hasn’t already happened. Don Siegelman and Jim Hightower are two examples I can think of off the top of my head–they were both targeted by Karl Rove for political reasons. There are probably lots more out there.

  2. Ian Welsh

    This is a rather large jump from Hightower and Siegelman.

  3. VietnamVet

    This post is so true. It is a consequence of Obama/Holder giving the Financial Elite a get out of jail card. They can and will do anything that increases their wealth. The jet-set autocracy who are now in control in the West are going after the nationalist oligarch to ensure the swamp has doesn’t have an incumbent populist creature in charge in 2025. Except, with the end of democracy – “We’re an Empire now” – there is no feedback. The troglodytes at the tip of the pyramid have lost all contact with reality.

    The lure of Russia’s resources is the only explanation for the unfolding horrors of an endless trench war in Ukraine that risks a global nuclear holocaust. The US constitutional separation of church and state was killed by Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas’s family. Maryland is now passing bills to make abortion legal for out-of-staters. Women’s clinics are opening in Cumberland MD to serve the heart of Appalachia. If history rhymes, the 1859 John Brown’s Raid at Harpers Ferry downstream on the Potomac River will be repeated to get rid of this new abomination.

    COVID rage and corporate/state marketing have combined to vanish peace.

  4. Arul

    I agree that Lula has also been politically persecuted, but not Rahul Gandhi. He is just plain dumb, and has a habit of running his mouth off. In the age of speechwriters and teleprompters he chooses to speak off the cuff and ends up with his foot in the mouth.

    In 2019, he misquoted a Supreme Court decision and then apologized.

    In the current case, he insinuated that all people with the “Modi” surname are thieves.

  5. Shicho

    As far as my memory stretches, this “began” with JFK et al. According to the history books, it began much further back. And while I agree with your basic analysis, I don’t see where we have any choice but to pile on the bastard lest we find ourselves in a Netanyahu situation.

    True, that may come about anyway, or even happen at a more accelerated pace due to SCOTUS corruption combined with the coming Trump prosecutions. But I’d rather get on top of the situation instead of waiting until every day citizens find themselves in armed conflict with other every day citiznes and never quite knowing ‘why’.

  6. Astrid

    This is putting the cart before the horse. Politicians and business people in this lemon market wouldn’t get to where they were if they were not dirty, venal, and corruptible. Look at the career trajectory of Joe Biden, Bill Clinton, Kamala Harris. Compare with Dennis Kucinich or Al Franken or Corbyn or Paul Wellstone. Of course Trump is corrupt and criminal, enough that the governing elites thought they could control him and to a larger extent they did control him.

    Is it a mistake to charge him? Well, the wheels are coming off of the US unipolar project and now they’re just throwing feces at the wall imagineering that they’re putting up plaster. The Western governing elite are regressing to the stage of 6 year olds believing that if they whine and hope and threaten to hold their breath till they turn blue hard enough, they’ll get a pony.

  7. Tim W

    You make a great argument Ian around the many dastardly acts of presidents before Trump, Bush II immediately comes to mind, but they were able to rehab him with the helping hand of the Obamas. Trump has been a Madoff/Weinstein figure for decades, and certainly no secret, but it was Mark Burnett who presented Trump as the successful businessman that began the lucrative grift he has continued and will accelerate in success. The main point here about the American system when it comes to rogue presidents is that their impeachment process is a complete and utter joke. The first one was bad enough, but the second one? That ought to have been a slam dunk, but McConnell, the ever slippery ghoul, wanted the criminal justice system (again knowing it would fail) to take care of Trump. While Trump deserves what’s coming to him and more, nothing good will come of this for the country and the chaos that’s coming will make the last 40 years (since Reagan) seem like a cakewalk. Tim W

  8. Trinity

    “Maryland is now passing bills to make abortion legal for out-of-staters.”

    Kudos to Maryland, but won’t they/might the patients be charged when they return home? In this age of uber-surveillance, I’ve read that formerly pregnant women are being charged with murder.

    It would be nice if Trump were also charged, but for being a narcissist/psychopath. That’s the law we need on the books. This is where the French failed to “follow through” in order to inoculate their own future. It’s time to fix that. Obviously I don’t mean a law based on mental health or lack thereof, but definitely I mean a law based on (psychopathic) specific actions and behaviors, i.e., harm to the earth and other living things.

    Trump has obviously pissed off the wrong people, and is actually being indicted (or in his own words, indicated). Who knew? I wonder which one(s)?

    Let’s hope more of these a-holes piss off their even sicker brethren. They are being squeezed too, but in a very, very different (and much more luxurious) way than we are. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them “breakup” into factions, based on increasingly scarcer resources and fewer countries to pillage. Maybe this is just the first line of many being drawn in the sand as they fight for the role of supreme leader of the solar system.

  9. marku52

    Amen. This means political war at least. It furthers my belief that no matter who wins the next presidential election, the other side will refuse to acknowledge it was legitimate.

    “Giant Meteor-2024!”

    Also, If I am a one-issue anti-war voter, Trump is the only one speaking to me. Debs ran for president from a jail cell, so we have precedent.–if that even matters any more. Trump elected from prison? Anything is possible nowadays.

  10. Purple Library Guy

    It’s a weird form of blowback, in my opinion. For around 15 years now, the US has been aggressively pursuing “lawfare” as means of controlling the politics of third world countries, particularly in Latin America. There are like half a dozen countries in Latin America in recent years where the US has connived with local elites to use largely fraudulent charges to bring down uncooperative presidents and other politicians. That’s why Bolsonaro ended up president of Brazil, for instance.

    I’ve noticed that approaches Americans take to politics in other countries, they tend to gradually start using back home. Arguably January 6 was a case of attempting the “colour revolution” tactic US intelligence services had been spreading around the world, at home.

    That said, I’m not convinced this is quite as big a deal as Mr. Welsh is saying. These conventions are always a bit porous; an exception here or there is not uncommon. Martha Stewart, for instance. And the thing about the “elites don’t get charged” convention is that it kind of assumes that the illegality itself is kept fairly quiet–don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t prosecute. The people aren’t supposed to really notice the double standard–sure, they vaguely know, but they don’t have to think about it. Trump himself kind of constituted a violation of the normal deal–he was colourfully, blatantly, in your face breaking the law in dozens of ways all the time. There is a big part of the population that has for some time been outraged that he hadn’t been charged with SOMETHING. So I think the convention can to a fair extent stay intact; elites will understand that if you stick to the usual deal and keep your illegalities relatively un-blatant, you’re still fine. Most may feel that Trump was just screwing things up for everyone with his obviousness.

    Arguably, it would have done MORE damage if they’d left him alone, and charging him with this peccadillo instead of something serious could be considered if anything a way to try to limit the damage.

  11. GlassHammer

    This creates an enormous incentive for a party to fully capture the judicial branch. Judges and Justices are going to be the primary focus of elections going forward.

    This will also shake up who even bothers pursuing high office since legal immunity is what made them comfortable enough to participate in ghovernment.

  12. Willy

    Would now be a good time to ponder over how we might take advantage of this situation, instead of just pondering over what our plutocratic dons and all of those politicians they carry around in their pockets like so many nickels and dimes, are gonna do?

  13. Ché Pasa

    Funny. The idea that Trump and his goons create chaos and engage in political persecution is greeted with a yawn. Or Tech Bros chaos making. Or Vulture Capitalists engaging in destructive chaos. All in a day’s work of doing business, right?

    But let a government official or a member of the hated PMC or a (gasp!) Democrat use the same tactics against Trump or anyone on the right and the pearl clutching and fainting and garment rending is constant and unrelenting.

    Well, sure. We really don’t need more chaos, and political chaos isn’t something that most of us are eager to deal with. But when your political system is as sclerotic as ours is, what are you to do?

    Putting Trump in the dock for a relatively minor campaign finance violation from seven years ago seems like a waste of time, and it may turn out to be just that. He’s been protected for decades from consequences for his criminality. Roy Cohn taught him to Go Big, no one will touch him. And he was right. This is small, small, small. Even if he’s convicted. There are so many larger matters he could be charged with.

    And we could say that about most presidents in my lifetime. Why are GWB and his goons still walking free? Nothing can quite compare to launching a war of aggression as they did against Iraq. But none of them have been saints. All have used the power of the United States to bring harm to much of the rest of the world. If Trump is guilty of breaking the law both before and during his presidency, as I have no doubt he is, I’d like to see accountability brought to the whole institution of the Presidency.

    I think my hope is in vain…

  14. StewartM

    What Trump should have been charged with, if elites were smart, was his actual crime against elites, where he broke a norm: trying to stage a coup.

    The problem with this is, his party wouldn’t agree. Not even to impeach him right after the coup, even though some of them would might want to be presidential candidates themselves and disqualifying him from future public office would be advantageous to them.

    I blame Merrick Garland’s glacial, cautious, approach on the major crimes (acting as these were ‘normal’ times and acting as if this was a ‘normal’ crime and Trump was a ‘normal’ President) to blame for the lack of quicker action. The two-tier justice system you describe is no more obvious than here, where an elite is so obviously, transparently, undeniably guilty and instead of the 4 am raid to handcuff him and throw him in jail without bail (the treatment that ‘little people’ get even when their alleged crimes aren’t obvious, transparent, or undeniable) his lawyers get to ‘negotiate’ his treatment.

    I say this as just down the street from me I saw the local state version of the FBI bust down a door to a neighbor’s house a few months ago in an apparent raid. I”m sure whatever the cause, it was not as serious as the things Trump has done.

  15. Mark Level

    This is one of those times I am going to strongly disagree with Ian, & he admits a lot of the weaknesses in his argument openly early on. I’m a bit older than Ian, I was in High School when Nixon was being impeached and was forced to resign, then was pardoned by the moronic (never elected VP or President) Gerald Ford. The “rule of law” for the richest and most powerful people in the U$A was openly murdered on that day, & the whirlwind that has been reaped by having Elites who can commit crimes with zero consequences is too massive to be measured by any existent meteorological measurement!! A society where Elites can openly commit crimes of looting, violence, torture, etc. and never face any negative consequences is a doomed society!! Of course I will agree with one point Ian makes, the Stormy Daniels payoffs are pretty petty criminal acts compared to other things he could’ve been indicted for, most obviously the taped phone call where he directed the Georgia governor to “find me 12,865 (or whatever the exact # was) votes” to create a false result showing he won the state. I guess the reason that this is the first actual indictment (34 counts according to what I’ve read) is that only one D.A. had the guts to actually do something like this, but it still remains a potential positive. I did see where Drumpf foolishly posted a picture of himself wielding a bat & threatened to go after this prosecutor, which his lawyers then told him to take down– can’t have helped his odds of dodging any accountability!! Now, to add one thing, I agree that there is a can of worms opened here & the outcomes are not predictable at this point. However, I don’t care “if it makes Trump more popular” with the morons who pay for his grifting, I can have no more control over that than many other unsavory things that happen in this flawed society. Even if (unlikely but not impossible) it resurrects his flailing career, another Trump term we all know would be a disaster, but at this point likely little or no worse than Biden’s continuation of Trump policies and telling the former Dem base when they fvck over the East Palestine folks and consign them to cancer deaths, “What are you gonna do? Vote for Trump? He wants an even weaker EPA than we do!!” Personally, I know the odds are not high, but if the Elites start to indict one another on the crimes that both duopoly parties do (Barney Frank getting the FTX scammers out from under any regulation for a $2 million payment is one recent example. Or Hunter Biden’s influence peddling and sex and drug crimes, or Matty Gaetz trafficking teen girls across state lines for sex and no charges bought), this will be a good outcome. . . .In closing I would like to note that this is a case where we have a Ginormous slippery slope where predatory monsters like Trump constantly escalate the crimes knowing they will never be held accountable. Remember his “joke” when running the first time, “I could shoot someone on 5th avenue and these people love me so much I’ll still be elected?” He was flaunting his impunity for all to see. Continued elite impunity is something that needs to END, ASAP. If Trump is the (fat) straw that broke that camel’s back, in the long run it is more likely to be a positive than negative development, though obviously none of us can know how this will all play out.

  16. Mary Bennett

    Fiat Justicia, Ruat Caelum. Let justice prevail, though the heavens fall.

    A recent Gov. of New York State had to resign because of consorting with prostitutes. As for Republican “politically motivated” prosecutions, bring it on. They can start with an in depth investigation of just what did happen to the literally billions donated from around the world for Haiti, which one former president Clinton was in charge of distributing.

    Sure, this indictment, not to mention the far more consequential ones yet to come, might enrage Republicans. I remind you that large segments of the Democratic voter base have no cause to love and admire real estate moguls; quite the contrary. I think the Epstein arrest and Maxwell conviction will prove to have been watershed events in the disenchantment of the American public with our internationalist so-called elite. A Democratic slogan for 2024 needs to be, IMHO, get the slum lords out of our government. I am waiting to see what effect this indictment will have on the Chicago mayoral election next Tuesday.

    I want my country back.

  17. Eric Anderson

    “But when you change a norm like this, it becomes open season and causes political instability.”

    Good. If the elites feel it’s too risky to run for office, maybe they’ll stop running for office. The only way to run a country democratically is to deny the elites participation in the political process.

    Rule of thumb: No politicians holding assets or having income +/- 10% of the median population. They’re damaged goods.

  18. elkern

    My concerns about the current and impending court cases against Trump are more overtly political, less long-term, and perhaps less apocalyptic than Ian’s OP.

    The near-term political consequence in the USA is that the GOP will regain control of Trump’s Mob – the mob they created via decades of Culture War propaganda, the mob that hates Democrats, the mob the GOP *needs* to win elections.

    Note: to me, the “GOP” is not the people who register or vote Republican; it is the machinery of the Party (NRC, Federalist Society, other Think Tanks, etc) and of course the people who fund those organizations. The Big Money wing of the GOP has never liked or trusted Trump; he is *not* one of them, culturally, theologically, financially, or politically. They were appalled when Trump bulldozed through the 2016 Primary, wiping the floor with all their pet politicians.

    Big Money Republicans put up with Trump because they had to, feeding his ego in exchange for another round of Tax Cuts for the Rich and a few more Federalist SC Justices. They have been trying to sideline him, but they have to be very careful about it. Trump can destroy them, by starting a new Party and telling the Mob that the GOP are the real enemy – the real Elite who have destroyed the US middle class.

    Sadly, by prosecuting Trump now, Democrats are giving the GOP a way out of their dilemma. The GOP will be able to win back the allegiance of Trump’s Mob with nothing but (cheap) words, claiming the charges are politically motivated and corrupt, while the court cases leak more & more dirt on Trump, eroding his support (esp among GOP women?).

    The Democratic Party is solving the GOP’s problem for them, and we will all pay the price.

  19. Hehdi

    So interesting that this norm gets broke right after bailing out people way above the fdic limit – another new norm situation.

  20. NR

    I don’t know that I’d agree this is a large jump from Seigelman, at least. Yes, it’s a much higher profile case because Trump is a former president, but Seigelman served four years in prison on what were very likely false charges invented by the Republicans. Trump looks to actually be guilty of what he’s being charged with here (though of course the New York DA will have to prove that in court).

    Anyway, the Republicans have been playing this game for decades, if the Democrats are finally going to fight back, I say it’s long overdue.

  21. StewartM

    Eric Anderson

    Good. If the elites feel it’s too risky to run for office, maybe they’ll stop running for office. The only way to run a country democratically is to deny the elites participation in the political process.

    My chief disagreement (if you can call it that) with Ian is this:

    1) Yes, Trump’s crimes in this case are indeed more trivial than those of Bush/Cheney, of Reagan (nice the confirmation of what we already knew about the 1980 “October Surprise” came out), of Clinton (Iran), and every other US president since Carter. However, the logic should be reversed–if you can’t prosecute and jail someone so obviously, so blatantly, so transparently, and so in-your-face guilty as Trump, then you’re not making it easier to bring others to justice, you’ve just made it HARDER. If you can’t make yourself go for the low-hanging fruit, what’s your chances of getting the fruit higher up?

    2) Deterring people from running for office is already happening to the ‘left’. If you run for office and you’ve not led an angelic life, the Right will dig that up in their research about you and go after you. Even if you have led an angelic life, they’ll either embellish or even invent from whole cloth dirt about you. And the corporate press will print it. The Right will have an quasi-leftist ally on this, an element of the feminist movement, if the alleged offense involves sexual hanky-panky of some sort (I’m thinking of what happened to Al Franken, whose offenses pale beside what many of the right have done).

    If you’re right-leaning, of course, you can do sexual hanky-panky and downright crimes for years and the chances are that no one will say anything.

    Rule of thumb: No politicians holding assets or having income +/- 10% of the median population. They’re damaged goods.

    Better or related solution: after being elected to offense, you have to divest yourself of all wealth. You will dependent on SS and a good pension for your income after offense. These can increase with tenure (so your money motivation aligns with being re-elected) but after leaving office you have to live on these. No other source of income is allowed.

    This would mean that yes, losing an election instead of pissing off your rich donor and future “employers” is the worst thing for you financially, and two, if you help a rich donor or interest you can’t benefit financially from it in any way.

  22. DMC

    Everyone seems to be overlooking what seems to me to be the glaringly obvious reason for going after Trump with anything that can be made to stick, namely, he crossed the NeoCons that run the State department and intelligence establishment. He declined to go along with the “let’s drag Russia into a war with Ukraine” deal and couldn’t be persuaded otherwise, so he had to go. The NeoCons will make sure Trump is never reelected, if they have to put a bullet in him. Prosecuting him for crimes that would be beneath notice in another person is the least effort method of getting him out of the way. Also,too, I’d rather suffer through 10 Trumps before letting even 1 DeSantis (an actual boot stomping Fascist)into the Oval Office.

  23. different clue

    I agree with the people who have said that if the Manhattan D.A. finds Trump prosecutable for this “petty little” alleged crime, he should go ahead and prosescute. If we can’t even prosecute a brazen sneering scofflaw, how can we ever prosecute the ever-so-clever artful dodgers?

    And the Republicans started this by prosecuting people like Siegleman on cardboard replica engineered fake charges. They started it. Lets see if they can be utterly crushed in their attempt to finish what they started.

    If the Blue Elites and the Red Elites co-escalate in ever more vengeance-based prosecutions against eachothers’ political figures? As long as those figures are being prosecuted for actual alleged crimes, however petty, let a thousand prosecutions bloom. If the Blue Leopards and the Red Leopards eat eachothers’ faces off by the thousands, they might co-weaken eachother to the point where the masses of gazelles can move in and destroy the remaining Red and Blue leopards.

    And if the Red and Blue leopards burn the system all the way down? That is better than what we have now, and may be our only hope for reconquering our country back.

    If the other prosecutors are all too cowardly or all too pro-system/ pro-elite to prosecute Trump for his alleged real and serious crimes . . . . orchestrating and driving the Capitol Riot, plotting to overthrow and set aside elections in various states such as Georgia, etc.; then this petty little prosecution for this petty little crime is better than nothing at all.

    And if Trump is found guilty, pray that he uses the Judge’s offer of anything to say before sentence is pronounced — to turn himself into a Jeffrey Epstein “little black audio book” and recount everything he knows about every business crime by every person of his own class and business sector that he knows about, to get revenge on the class comrades who thought to sacrifice the tail in order to save the lizard. And if he knows anything specific about any underage girls that Clinton may have raped on Epstein Island, let him megaphone every detail of that, too.

    And if all that means that we might end up with a United States of Modernia and a Gilead Republic of Shit Headistan, lets take our opportunity to make the most of it.

  24. Soredemos

    Why, it’s almost like there was no actual coup attempt. Not that that inconvenient factoid is necessarily much of an obstacle to Dems, but they’ve instead settled on something that is actually true.

  25. Willy

    Trump couldn’t care less one way or another. He’s only always looking for maximum personal gain. Why couldn’t neocons make it more worth Trumps while than Putin could?

    I see neocons as being more than just an NRA with far bigger weapons to profit from. They’re also big energy, plus whatever the hell Halliburton is. They’re rich. But then, Dick sure was publicly proud of his daughter going after Trump so competently. Maybe neocons made Trump an offer he could refuse. Or maybe they just underestimated his level of narcissistic stupidity. Or maybe he violated the goodfellas maxim: never rat on your friends and keep your mouth shut. Maybe Ivanka will tell all after big daddy’s gone.

    Speaking of Alvin Bragg’s humongous balls, it seems that more timid other prosecutors may follow. Trump could soon be swimming in lawyer piss. On our end, be nice if “fighting the man” could be made an actual cultural value once again.

    And finally Desantis. When one internet searches up “desantis” they’ll find Desantis Gear for sale. Stuff like holsters and impact weapons. If I had more time and money I’d peddle my own St. Desantis paraphernalia. Shrines, candle holders, framed prayerfully-looking-up pictures, and maybe a T-Mobile leased service or two. Be interesting to see what his supplicants prefer these days.

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