In our highly polarized nation, the incendiary or anti-democratic as well as anti-rule of law rhetoric that has been flowing from former president Donald Trump and revolving around his four criminal indictments, 91 felony charges, and implicit securing of the 2024 GOP presidential nomination has already reduced the upcoming election between incumbent Joe Biden and challenger Trump to a matter of whether the United States will remain a democratic republic or become another fallen illiberal democracy.
Yet in the second GOP debate on Wednesday night that underscored Donald Trump’s dominance and the irrelevancy of the rest of the so-called Republican field of candidates, there was no mention whatsoever of the threat to American democracy that will be the defining issue of the 2024 presidential election.
Nor was there any discussion or even mention of the devastating ruling on Tuesday against Trump and his family confirming what attorney Michael Cohen –Trump’s former fixer — had testified before Congress on February 27, 2019 that the “business empire” was nothing more than a racket. Or in the words of the judge, a “fraudulent fantasy” and a compilation of one lie after the next lie. Including:
The rent-controlled apartments valued as though they could bring market rates; the roughly $30 million Westchester estate valued at nearly $300 million; the roughly $200 million share in a Wall Street skyscraper valued at more than $500 million; the $16 million golf courses valued in excess of $50 million each; the development in Scotland approved for roughly 500 homes valued as though it would contain more than 2,000 homes; the heavily deed-restricted Mar-a- Lago property in Florida valued as though there were no deed restrictions; and so on.
When the judge rang up the total fraudulent dollars involved, he found that the “financial condition of Trump’s companies was overstated by a minimum of more than $800 million –
and perhaps more than $2 billion, suggesting that Trump’s total worth was less than one billion dollars and that he should find it difficult to come up with the $250 million in fines sought by the state of New York.
The conspicuous absence of this patterned and habitual lawlessness of the Trump Organization was not only on the other Republican candidates but, of course, it was also on the missing questions not posed about these fraudulent claims by the three Fox News moderators.
It also more generally has been on the mass media as a whole as well as on President Biden, his surrogates, and the Democratic party to a lesser degree.
In a nutshell, the wide range of alleged state and federal crimes by Trump and his allies both before and while he was the POTUS as well as afterward should not be ignored by ‘sleepy Joe’ and the rest of the Democratic party. Nor should they like the GOP turn away from the 35-page partial summary judgment issued by New York Judge Arthur Engoron in what is probably the largest fraudulent civil lawsuit ever brought against a family-owned business enterprise, the Trump Organization.
After all the forthcoming failed appeals by Trump and sons Eric and Donald, Jr. are ruled on for their many years of defrauding banks, insurance companies, and the taxpayers of New York, the bottom line will amount to a ‘corporate death penalty” for the family real estate businesses.
Nevertheless, Trump who will be prohibited from conducting any business in the state of New York for at least five years, will still be able to conduct the business of the United States should he be elected in 2024?
Hence, these matters should be front and center in the contest between Biden and Trump that has already begun three months before the meaningless GOP primaries are scheduled to begin — assuming that they are not canceled because of their irrelevancy to this electoral political process.
So far the strategy of Democratic silence surrounding the myriad of Trump’s civil and criminal lawlessness has been a dismal failure and could conceivably cost Biden a second term in the White House.
To date, most of the mass media and body politic alike have yet to come to serious terms with the threats posed by Trump and to the existential reality facing American democracy. As Molly Jong-Fast referring to the 2016 election wrote for Vanity Fair earlier in the week, “Let’s Not Sleepwalk Into Another Trump Presidency.”
Once again this week, for example, the so-called balanced and myopic mass media was busy asking all the Democratic senators whether or not they support the resignation of their colleague Senator Bob Menendez from New Jersey who has now been indicted on bribery charges. As of Tuesday evening, I believe that number stood at 21 out of 26.
And yet few if any in the mass media were bothering to ask Republican lawmakers whether they supported Trump’s idea of using the death penalty for the so-called treasonous behavior of the former Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley. Or whether these same GOP lawmakers agree with Trump’s desires that NBC and MSNBC’s owner Comcast be investigated for “threatening treason” and for “their knowingly dishonest and corrupt coverage of people, things, and events.”
I guess Trump is confusing NBC with Fox News which recently paid out $750 million for precisely doing that. Such lack of mental acuity on Trump’s part are not unlike when the “stable genius” was recently confusing the wrong Bush brother for the Iraq war or discussing his defeat of Barack Obama rather than Hillary Clinton in 2016, among two of his latest gaffes on the campaign trail.
Unfortunately, if and when the 4th estate and the People as a whole finally get around to addressing the “save democracy” problem from its source the lawlessness and disorder of Trump and his supporters remain to be seen as the aspiring authoritarian order of Trump’s envisioned Nineteen Eighty-Four may already be too far baked into the American psyche.
Since Trump announced his 2024 candidacy late last year, he has been calling for the termination of the Constitution on his Truth Social posts. And if he is elected president next year, Trump has been vowing retribution against his real or imagined political enemies as well as making promises of pardoning many of his fellow insurrectionists.
Not only has motor mouth Trump floated the idea of executing the nation’s top general, but he has also promised to “appoint a real special prosecutor to go after the most corrupt president in the history” of the nation, Joe Biden, as well as “the entire Biden crime family” as part of his legal rationale to erase the Justice Department’s independence from the presidency and to accomplish his overall goal of “totally obliterat[ing] the Deep State.”
Meanwhile, Biden has remained pretty much mum on the subject of any of Trump’s criminal indictments or his numerous civil liability convictions rather than taking the initiative on these matters or going on the offensive as a means of trying to defend the rule of law.
With respect to the four criminal indictments, Trump has been asked by prosecutors and/or judges to refrain from using Truth Social to intimidate “co-defendants, witnesses or victims” or from “tainting jury pools” or “attacking prosecutors and judges” in his various ongoing attempts to obstruct justice à la mobster like behavior.
Because the media, the Republicans, and to a lesser degree the Democrats have been giving Trump a virtual pass on these critical matters of due process and equal protection, the issue of democracy versus autocracy has already been somewhat soothed over, if not distorted altogether, as reported by NBC News and shared on the Morning Joe show, September 26, 2023.
In response to the single question posed both before and after the criminal indictments of Trump and Biden’s son Hunter, of which “political party do you trust more to protect democracy,” the results were: Before the indictments, Democrats received 40 percent and Republicans 33 percent; after the indictments, Republicans had risen four points to 37 percent and Democrats had fallen four points to 36 percent.
An appropriate epithet for these findings might be something like law-and-order rest in peace or should I say rest in violence? In any case, the hands-off strategy by the Biden White House and its Democratic surrogates regarding Trump’s criminal indictments has been a tactical mistake. However, there is still some time left before it is too late to reverse this course of silent indifference.
Instead of being absent from the political action and silent about the most significant criminal indictments in U.S. history, Biden and company all along should have been leaning into these criminal indictments as much as possible, or at least half as much as Trump and his enablers have been leaning into the bogus impeachments of Joe Biden or Attorney General Merritt Garland.
Biden and his surrogates should also be pushing back and calling Trump out every time he engages in his outlandish rhetoric, disinformation, and strongman behavior. By not doing so, like the mass media and the Republican party the Democratic party is also continually to give the democracy Destroyer-in-Chief a free pass on his lawless and corrupt behavior as they too have been unintentionally helping to normalize this kind of illegal behavior.
As contributing editor to the New York magazine Ankush Khardori has written, Biden and company have been diminishing the seriousness of Trump and his associates’ crimes by:
Publicly acting as if they don’t exist, and they are failing to meet the moment for the American people and for the history books. As a matter of basic presidential leadership and constitutional responsibility, Bidens should be trying to help the public understand how and why the cases were brought by his Justice Department and trying to put them in some broader political, legal, and historical context. Instead, he and his handlers are inadvertently feeding into the right-wing trope that Biden is an absentee president who is incapable of leading the country on even the most basic level, including by speaking publicly on matters of significant national and historical concern.
This should be a teaching moment for the American people. And a golden opportunity for President Biden and his surrogates to present all types of lessons on civil lawlessness, the administration of criminal justice, and the constitutionally appropriate rules of behavior rather than a period of abdication from these democratic responsibilities. Or worse yet, leaving explanations about the “two-tier system of justice,” for example, up to the hypocritical bull-pucky of Donald Trump, House Representatives Jim Jordan and Marjorie Taylor Green, as well as other MAGA rule-breakers.
The good news is that the Biden White House on Monday of this week may have finally taken its first step to speak out against the former president’s online diatribes. Following Trump’s accusation over the past weekend that retiring General Milley had engaged in some kind of “treasonous act” and one that was so “egregious that, in times gone by, the punishment would have been DEATH” as Trump posted on Truth Social, there was finally some push back from POTUS when the wannabe dictator had been referring to Milley’s “reassurance to his Chinese counterpart in the days after Jan. 6 that the U.S. would not suddenly attack China.”
Gregg Barak is an emeritus professor of criminology and criminal justice at Eastern Michigan University, co-founder of the Journal of White Collar and Corporate Crime, and the author of Criminology on Trump (2022) who’s sequel, Indicting the 45th President: Boss Trump, the GOP, and What We Can Do About the Threat to American Democracy will be published in early 2024.