At its best, our criminal justice system should draw no distinction when charges are brought against an ordinary citizen or a former president of the United States. In this way, equal justice benefits all Americans. Our justice system was built to — and will — withstand this test as former President Donald Trump faces an indictment in a New York state court. It will equally endure for other ongoing investigations into his conduct, such as those in the state of Georgia and one at the federal level.
Prior to being indicted, Trump tried his best to take a wrecking ball to our rule of law. He warned of “death and destruction” from his supporters following Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s indictment, posted (since deleted) images of himself implying a threat of violence against Bragg, and relentlessly attacked the judge assigned to his case.
Knowing Trump, it will get worse.
We know from his acts even stemming before the Jan. 6 Capitol riot that he will exploit his supporters to carry out violence in his name. It will be tempting to go tit-for-tat with him in the public realm. After all, that’s exactly what he wants — a public spectacle. We must resist granting him one.
That is why, for our system to survive this historic test, and for it to come out stronger, we must afford Trump the equal protection under the Constitution and all due process rights ensured under law, the same rights he has often tried to deprive his own political enemies and those whom he has recklessly accused of crimes. Trump is now a criminal defendant, and he should be treated no better, or worse, than any other criminal defendant in our system.
This indictment, as well as possible charges in other jurisdictions, should not be celebrated nor should they become a cause for distraction. Let us instead celebrate the rule of law for its equal application to all Americans.
Trump himself often says, “If they can do this to me, they can do this to anyone.” I would argue that the opposite is actually true: If criminal charges can be brought against anyone, they should be applicable to someone as powerful as a former president.
Trump’s platform has always been to exploit Americans’ distrust of government and the good people who work for it. As president, he further eroded the trust Americans put in their leaders with countless abuses of power, frequent efforts toward self-enrichment and being twice impeached. This indictment and the process that will play out are an opportunity to restore America’s faith in government and the ideals our country was founded upon.
We can’t forget that the next generation is watching closely to see how we handle this historic moment.
I was one of the managers for Trump’s second impeachment and will never forget an interaction I had with an outside information technology vendor who was assisting our team the day before commencing the trial. The young, nonpartisan vendor walked us through a workroom just steps off the Senate floor. He assigned us laptops, showed us how to connect to the printer and how to work the multiple televisions. I asked for the Wi-Fi network. He said, “It’s under the name ‘Managers’” and shared the password.
After his presentation, I pulled the young man aside and thanked him and his team for working so diligently to set up the room. “This is impressive work,” I told him. “After all, we just impeached the guy,” I said.
Without any irony, the young man responded, “To be honest, we were the same team that did the first impeachment. We left most of this infrastructure in place because we figured you all would be back.”
I think about that interaction a lot. For his efficiency, the aide gets an A for effort. But it will be an F for all of us if we do not redeem the faith all Americans must have in their leaders and the equal system of law under which we live. Equal justice benefits all of us, especially when it is applied to someone who so often speaks as if he should not be subjected to our rule of law.