As gratified as I am that Donald Trump is being held to account for his reprehensible behavior, I find that Friday’s developments have left me sad as well. There are three reasons for this.
First, the alleged crimes documented by special prosecutor Jack Smith are so much worse than we had been expecting. Nuclear secrets? Plans for invading an unnamed country, probably Iran? If Trump wasn’t actively sharing these documents with our enemies, he was nevertheless storing them with shocking disregard for who might go looking for them. We have to assume that Mar-a-Lago was crawling with spies.
Then there is his massive hubris and stupidity. All of the charges, without exception, stem from documents he held onto after he was given a chance to return them. One commentator — I forget who — referred to this as a “get out of jail” gift that he nevertheless spurned. Just incredible.
Second, there is the dispiriting fact that there is literally no bottom for Republican elected officials in defending Trump. The top two elected officials in the House, Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Majority Leader Steve Scalise, have both attacked law enforcement and stood by Trump, denouncing the “weaponization” of the Department of Justice and the FBI. So, too, has Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is so far the only plausible Trump rival for the 2024 presidential nomination. A pardon looms if a Republican — maybe even Trump — defeats President Biden.
Third, there is the reality (or Reality, if you prefer) that the crimes with which Trump has been charged would land any ordinary person in prison for a very long time if they were convicted — and yet the prospect of Trump’s ending up behind bars in the event of a guilty verdict seems unlikely in the extreme.
If Trump is convicted of what he’s been charged with, he should spend the rest of his life in federal custody. Does anyone really expect to see that? No, of course not. And thus our two-track system of justice — one for the rich and powerful, one for everyone else — will continue unchallenged.