On Trump’s federal indictment: A historic low brings hope

On Trump’s federal indictment: A historic low brings hope

Last Friday, the Department of Justice (DOJ) publicly shared its indictment against the traitor ex-president Donald Trump for crimes connected to the Espionage Act where it is alleged that he willfully stole and then participated in a conspiracy to hide top secret and other highly classified government information about America’s nuclear weapons capabilities, war plans, strategic vulnerabilities, and perhaps even the identities of some of the country’s highest placed and most valuable “human sources,” i.e. spies.

It is also alleged that Trump shared those secrets with his guests and others at his Mar-a-Lago compound. Displaying utter contempt for the safety and security of the United States and its citizens, Trump kept the aforementioned documents in many dozens of boxes that were left unprotected in a bathroom, closets, the basement, a ballroom, and other easily accessible places. As documented by the FBI and other law enforcement, foreign intelligence operatives from hostile countries such as Russia and China have previously been caught infiltrating Mar-A-Lago.   

National security and other experts have described the potential impact of Trump’s alleged violations of the Espionage Act on the country’s security as devastating and without peer.

On Tuesday, Donald Trump was formally arraigned and arrested at a federal courthouse in Miami. As both expected and predicted, the event was a spectacle where a large crowd, which included both supporters and opponents of Donald Trump and his MAGA movement, gathered outside the courthouse and in the surrounding area. Despite calls for violence, both direct and implied, by Donald Trump and his spokespeople and other agents, no such large-scale incidents took place in Miami.

The indictment and arrest of ex-president Donald Trump for committing federal crimes is truly historic, a word that is often overused, but in this case, most certainly applies. The United States has experienced nothing in its almost 250-year history like Trump, a former president and commander-in-chief, and his alleged crimes and overall betrayal of the nation. This is true of his alleged violations of the Espionage Act, specifically, and his time in office more generally. If Trump receives the maximum punishment, he could potentially be put in a maximum security prison for more than 20 years. Given his advanced age, Trump would likely die in prison if convicted in the Mar-a-Lago case.

As these historic events unfolded last week, I was on “vacation”, which in this context means traveling home to attend to the range of responsibilities that we only children and striving members of the working class have towards our aging parent(s) and/or other parental figures and vulnerable people we love and care for. I promised myself that I would not watch or otherwise follow the news. I also promised myself that I would not even talk about the news or that Man and his evil scheming and plotting. Given that my mother, like many older Black people, watches MSNBC, CNN, PBS, and C-SPAN and other news and current events programming most of the day, keeping that promise to myself was not an easy task. My promise to stay away from the news was finally broken on Thursday when Donald Trump’s imminent federal indictment for crimes connected to the Espionage Act was made public.


My mother does not have the internet where she lives. The cell phone service is also unreliable. As a solution, I decided to go to the local mall so that I could access the internet and track these developing events in more detail. Like most malls in America, this one is now mostly empty. There are only two anchor stores left. Macy’s is struggling to hold on, but for how long? There is a jewelry kiosk and a small business that fixes phones. Of course, there is the obligatory pretzel vendor and a teriyaki fast food restaurant in the food court. Older people don’t even take their morning laps in this mall anymore; it is too depressing even for them.

As I sat in the food court watching the people nearby and surveying the news about Trump’s historic indictment (and waiting for that precise moment — which arrived very quickly — when the 24/7 cable news and other members of the commentariat inevitably ran out of ways to say the same thing ten different ways) I kept thinking about George Romero’s classic 1978 horror film Dawn of the Dead.

In so many ways, we the Americans (the political class, the news media, other elites and everyday people as well), especially in this age of democracy crisis and the culture of cruelty, are like those zombies, the undead ghouls, aimlessly wandering in the mall. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead was an incisive critique of consumerism and the false choices of capitalism and “the market” and how having access to more material things does not equal freedom or real human choice and self-worth or a good society. But Romero’s film was also a broader critique of an increasingly empty American culture that was and is experiencing an existential crisis of meaning and direction.Thus, the film’s now iconic dialogue and explanation for why the zombies flock to the mall even though they are dead: “Some kind of instinct. Memory of what they used to do. This was an important place in their lives.”

Even after at least seven years of experience with the Age of Trump, so many Americans continue to cling to the old order and its myths and lies about how the country’s democracy is immortal and forever, a “shining beacon” for the world, America is an “exceptional and indispensable nation” whose institutions are “strong” and where the “guardrails are strong” because of “law and order.” These delusions are particularly strong among the elites and professional (white) centrists and “institutionalists” in the mainstream news media and other areas of civil society and the public sphere who have been able to use their various forms of privilege to convince themselves that they are safe from American neofascism, the Trumpocene, the Republican fascists, and the other malign actors who are working to end the country’s multiracial pluralistic democracy. Ultimately, the rot that vomited out Donald Trump and his MAGA movement and this befouled version of the Republican Party and the larger “conservative” movement will not be cured or stopped even if Trump himself is put in prison for his many obvious crimes.

It is understandable and natural for good Americans and other decent human beings who believe in justice to celebrate and even feel some joy at the idea and increasing likelihood that the traitor ex-president and evildoer Donald Trump (and by proxy his MAGA cultists and other fascist and authoritarian loyalists and voters) will finally be held accountable for his decades-long crime spree.

However, among the mainstream news media and Church of the Savvy, the celebration and relief (and of course obsolete habits such as horse race journalism) has largely drowned out the much more important conversations about how the nation arrived at this tragic point where a supremely and obviously dangerous person such as Donald Trump could win the presidency in 2016 and be poised to do so again in 2024, not despite his criminality but because of how his law-breaking and other antisocial behavior makes him even more popular among the many tens of millions of people who still support him and the Republican Party.

Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.

There were a few notable outliers among the mainstream news media who dared to emphasize the tragic aspects of Donald Trump’s arrest and indictment and how the country arrived at such a juncture.

At CNN, Stephen Collinson wrote:

Trump is due in court in Miami on Tuesday to answer a 37-count indictment that alleges he willfully retained classified documents after he left office and refused to return them.

His appearance will be an earthshaking, and even tragic, moment in the history of a republic that has endured for more than two centuries after being founded on the principle that no leader has absolute power or should be above laws that apply to other citizens.

Tuesday will be a grave day that could rip even deeper divides in an already estranged country, especially given that Trump supporters have already once resorted to violence in a bid to overturn the will of the people after the ex-president refused to accept his loss in a democratic election.…

Yet as painful as a presidential indictment will be for the country, a decision not to indict Trump for such horrendously careless treatment of classified documents would not just send a message that the powerful are above the law. It would also risk signaling that such cavalier behavior is acceptable – or at least is too difficult to prosecute.

At The Washington Post, E.J. Dionne reflected on how Trump’s actions speak to the moment:

In fact, Trump’s intrigues around classified material bring home so many aspects of what has made his public life so odious: his belief that the rules do not apply to him; his propensity for lying; his disrespect for the responsibilities of a president; his treatment of office as a private possession; and his view of foreign policy (and everything else) as a transactional drama revolving solely around himself.

Smith’s decision to bring charges challenges Trump on all these fronts. But our nation is at this tragic point in its history not because of Smith or Garland. It is rooted in a much earlier choice.

Trump has told us who he is throughout his life. The content of his character was obvious the moment he announced his presidential candidacy and brought into even sharper relief during the 2016 campaign. We got to this point because of the workings of our electoral system and because 62,984,828 Americans were willing to take a chance on him even though many of them knew he was flawed. Those flaws have come back to haunt him — and us.

In an attempt to gain some clarity and perhaps even benefit from a corrective intervention against my own reasonable and earned cynicism about what Donald Trump’s indictment and arrest for federal crimes really means (or not), I asked political analyst and author David Rothkopf for his insights. I have a great deal of respect for his level-headed thinking and experience.

There are many ways to view the Trump indictment. The wrong one is to see it as politics or more of just Trump being Trump. Trump put the national security of the United States at risk. He obstructed justice to hide it and to hold on to the documents he stole. He apparently, in the eyes of the Justice Department engaged in a conspiracy to do so. These are serious charges that have, in the past, landed people in jail. Whether Trump spends any time in jail, a conviction on any of these counts would, I believe, damage Trump’s standing even with his supporters. All that being said, another way to see this is the message it sends to the world. Finally, we are emphatically stating that no one is above the law in our society. Other nations, most other big democracies in fact, have seen their leaders charged. Finally doing so to a president in the US will underscore that this fundamental principle of democracy is being upheld. Finally, there are many leaders around the world—mostly unsavory ones—who declared themselves part of Team Trump. That is proving to be a big mistake. And this is only the second of four likely series of indictments he will face this year. It may be only the third most severe. For all those who say with certainty none of this will hurt Trump and it may help him, I say, “Nonsense.” We don’t know. We’ve never seen this. But I am glad we’re seeing it now.

Hope by itself is not a bad thing. Hope in a time of democratic crisis and other great troubles is essential if one is to escape. We the Americans will not escape the Trumpocene without such hope; learned helplessness and despair will lead to our defeat and the end of the country’s multiracial pluralistic democracy.

Encouraged by Rothkopf’s intervention, I have decided to hold hands with “pessimistic optimism” and the hope that Donald Trump (and the other members of his coup cabal and de facto crime family) will finally be held accountable by the law and punished for his many crimes against democracy and the American people. Pessimistic optimism rejects the gullibility and naivete that is being sold by the hope peddlers and others in the so-called “resistance” and the professional centrists in the mainstream news media and commentariat and punditry with their extremely premature cheers and joyful noise that “Trump is done for!”

In the real world, fascists, authoritarians, demagogues, and other evildoers such as Donald Trump and his ilk are very lucky with their crimes against society and human decency – which is how such people and forces rise to power. I remain deeply worried that Donald Trump will be saved in the end by some deus ex machina moment where he is snatched to safety once again, claims victory, and rides his indictment(s) and arrest(s) to a second term as President of the United States.

But for now, and perhaps for the next few days, I will allow myself the feeling that something does feel like it has changed in the Trumpocene where we the Americans may finally be closer to the end of the beginning of this national nightmare than we were even a few days or weeks ago.

Read more

about Trump’s criminality