PSL Editorial – Four indictments and a presidential election

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

Prosecutors in Fulton County, Georgia, announced last night the fourth criminal indictment of Donald Trump. Trump is charged with 13 felonies as part of his effort to overturn the results of the election on the basis of false claims of election fraud, but he is not the only defendant in the case. Under the provisions of Georgia’s RICO act — a legal statute designed to target organized crime — 18 others are facing a range of charges for being part of the same criminal enterprise. These include prominent right-wing political figures like Rudy Giuliani and former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. 

Like the other three indictments, the facts of this case are clear. The effort to overturn the 2020 election result was carried out in plain sight. Trump and his allies concocted a fake story about massive fraud swaying the race in Biden’s favor, and then sought to pressure officials who had a role in the counting and certification of the vote total. This plot had an obviously racist character, focusing on predominantly Black parts of the state and attempting to disqualify large numbers of votes. A particularly disgusting element was the targeting of two Black women who were involved in routine ballot counting in Atlanta, exposing them to vile harassment and death threats.

Trump’s guilt in this matter was as obvious two and a half years ago when the investigations began as it is now. The legal system in the United States is not about dispassionately dispensing justice. Every prosecutor is making a political decision when they decide to bring a case of any type, not least when it involves the former president of the United States. This prosecution, along with the others, will now play a central role in the 2024 election.

It is important to note that every president leaves office having committed a litany of crimes, some of which are of a historic nature that involve death and suffering at an unimaginable scale. Bill Clinton is responsible for the indiscriminate bombing and dismemberment of Yugoslavia, and the missile strike that destroyed the al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Sudan. George W. Bush has the blood of over a million Iraqis on his hands. Barack Obama presided over the destruction of Libya and the military coup in Honduras. All presidents are shielded from criminal accountability for these atrocities committed in furtherance of empire — including Trump, who ordered the illegal assassination of top Iranian military official Qasem Soleimani and nearly plunged the Middle East into a catastrophic regional war. But in the matters pertaining to the indictments, what Trump is accused of is profoundly destabilizing for the ruling class. 

The flurry of activity in recent weeks stands in sharp contrast to the passivity that prevailed in the aftermath of the January 6 attack, which was effectively the culmination of Trump’s plot to reverse the election result. Trump was truly politically isolated. His allies in the Republican Party establishment were distancing themselves from him, the leadership of the military had effectively denounced him, and his supporters were demoralized and confused. Pressing charges against Trump in the period immediately following the commission of the crimes he is now indicted for would also have been much more understandable to the public — Trump committed a series of crimes right before your eyes, and now the law is being applied to him just like it would anyone else. 

Instead of decisive action in the face of an imminent threat to basic democratic rights, the delayed timing of this and other prosecutions seems almost tailor-made to fit Trump’s narrative about the weaponization of the legal system. Trump’s opponents in the ruling class chose to respond to the January 6 assault with a meaningless impeachment — which predictably led to Trump actually being acquitted of many of these same crimes in the Senate — and a series of drawn-out investigations. 

Now, Trump is far and away the leading contender to win the Republican nomination. Ironically, he was able to secure this dominant position in large part because of the first indictment relating to concealing hush money payments — perhaps the least consequential of the crimes he is accused of. While Trump’s opponents spent the last two-plus years wringing their hands and hoping he fades away, Trump has been hard at work winning the vast majority of Republican voters over to his assertions of election fraud in 2020. Under these circumstances, Trump has had little difficulty promoting the narrative that all these prosecutions are part of a plot by the Biden administration to abuse the authority of the Department of Justice to “interfere” in the 2024 election.  

The normal routine of U.S. elections will now collide with the schedule of multiple overlapping trials. Proceedings could begin shortly after the Republican primaries begin, and stretch all the way out to the convention and beyond. Trump could be on the campaign trail speaking to a rally one day, and then rush off to a courtroom the next. It is widely expected that Trump’s legal team will seek to delay the trials and throw up every procedural roadblock imaginable. Every time these delays are not granted, or any time a judge seeks to impose restrictions on Trump’s ability to comment about the proceedings in the media, Trump can cite it as another example of the weaponization of the Justice Department. To Trump’s most militant supporters, this will appear to be the end of constitutional democracy in America. 

The working class will not be able to navigate the historic and profoundly unstable situation we are entering without political independence. Workers who are led by one or another faction of the capitalist class are treated like pawns — disposable and easy to manipulate. As the struggle going into the election evolves in unpredictable ways, at every turn we need to keep in mind the fundamental interests of working people and seek to advance them, rather than becoming a tail to the kite of elite liberalism or the far right.

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