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The Trump indictment was a great day for democracy

If the GOP had its way, the work of ordinary citizens doing their civic duty would be thrown in the trash. 

Donald Trump has been indicted — and Republicans are very upset about it

“A dark day for the United States of America,” declared Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, as he called for “every American who believes in the rule of law” to “stand with President Trump against this grave injustice.” 

The indictment is a “weaponization of federal law enforcement,” said Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Trump’s rival for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, and “represents a mortal threat to a free society.” Even former Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill said on this network that Trump's indictment is not “a night for celebration for our country” and a “time to pause and really take in what has just occurred.”

As special prosecutor Jack Smith noted on Friday, “We have one set of laws in this country, and they apply to everyone.”

In fact, the opposite is true. A former president being held accountable for criminal acts is the true manifestation of the nation’s founding creed that all Americans are equal under the law. Trump’s indictment is the realization of that ideal and a reason for genuine celebration.

As special prosecutor Jack Smith noted in his brief remarks on Friday, “We have one set of laws in this country, and they apply to everyone.” In practice, of course, this has never been true. The justice system in America works very differently if one is powerful and wealthy versus poor and powerless. Black and white Americans may nominally be equal under the law, but in the real halls of justice, there have always been two sets of rules.  

Yet, to hear Republicans talk about the news of Trump’s indictment, one would think that the former president is the historically aggrieved party. According to Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, “These charges are unprecedented, and it’s a sad day for our country, especially in light of what clearly appears to be a two-tiered justice system where some are selectively prosecuted, and others are not.”

This is a simply astounding and historically illiterate perspective on the legal system in America. You can count on no hands the number of times the justice system has intervened in incidents of presidential law-breaking. The more powerful a political figure, the more likely they are to operate with near impunity when it comes to breaking the law. 

Indeed, it was just over four years ago that special counsel Robert Mueller’s report was published, revealing multiple examples of Trump obstructing justice as president of the United States. He has never been held accountable for these actions, and seemingly, no prosecutors are even contemplating bringing criminal charges against him. Over the past several months, there have been reports of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas accepting travel and lodging from a wealthy conservative donor without reporting it. Not only is Thomas unlikely to step down from his perch on the nation’s highest court, no prosecutor appears to be investigating his actions.

By even suggesting that a Trump indictment undermines the rule of law, Republicans are themselves undermining it.

For those with longer memories, it was nearly 50 years ago that President Gerald Ford pardoned his predecessor Richard Nixon, even though there was clear and unambiguous evidence that he hatched a criminal conspiracy from inside the Oval Office. There’s also the fact that Henry Kissinger is celebrating his 100th birthday at a lavish gala, rather than a more appropriately spartan and constrained setting.

Indeed, for all the pious proclamations of Republican leaders about the sanctity of the rule of law, Trump’s defenders have things exactly backward. Nothing would do more to weaken the rule of law in America — or the notion of equality under the law — than Trump escaping criminal accountability for his actions. To take the GOP arguments to their logical conclusion, the evidence against Trump in the classified documents case — from the hoarding of top secret material to the refusal of Trump to hand over the material, even after repeated requests from the Department of Justice — should simply be ignored. The same goes for the smoking gun tape which shows that Trump knew and understood that the classified material in his possession had not been declassified. If Republicans had their way, the work of this federal grand jury, composed of ordinary citizens doing their civic duty, would be thrown in the trash. 

How is that upholding the rule of law? By even suggesting that a Trump indictment undermines the rule of law — without any of them having actually seen the evidence amassed against Trump — Republicans are themselves undermining it. What they want and what they are calling for is a two-tiered system of justice in which one of the most powerful political figures in America would be untouchable by the criminal justice system.

That is not an America that any of us should ever want to live in. “Our nation’s commitment to the rule of law sets an example for the world,” Smith said Friday. True patriots, true defenders of the rule of law, and even the nation’s founders understand what Bob Dylan told us nearly 60 years ago — “even the President of the United States sometimes must have to stand naked.”