Tuesday marks the day that Donald Trump, the 45th president of the United States, finally begins to fulfill one of his major campaign promises of 2016. By surrendering himself to authorities in New York City, Trump is finally draining the swamp.
Of course, Trump isn’t the one opening the drain. That would be Alvin Bragg, New York county’s district attorney. And since “draining the swamp” is understood as rooting out political corruption, then, according to the criminal charges in the indictment, Trump is the alleged swamp monster whose habitat is being drained. Still, job well done, Donald. Thank you. It’s about time.
With the unsealing of the indictment, we now see the outline of how Trump’s alleged hush money payments to two different women have been viewed by prosecutors and how they rise to the level of felony charges. To be charged as felonies, the hush money payments must show that Trump’s “intent to defraud” included an attempt to commit or conceal a second crime, and the case against Trump alleges the former president falsified New York business records “to conceal damaging information and unlawful activity from American voters both before and after the 2016 election”, as Bragg wrote in a separate statement.
The indictment lists a $30,000 payment by American Media, Inc to a former Trump Tower doorman regarding a story about a child Trump had out of wedlock, a $150,000 payment made to a woman who alleges a sexual relationship with Trump, presumably Karen McDougal, and another $130,000 payment to a different woman, presumably Stormy Daniels, also about suppressing a story about a sexual relationship. “Participants in the scheme took steps that mischaracterized, for tax purposes, the true nature of the reimbursements,” Bragg further explained. All the charges Trump is facing are falsifying business records in the first degree and are felonies.
Due process must now take its course, even if pundits in Trump’s corner repeatedly crow that the former president is being persecuted for his politics and not prosecuted for his actions. Such voices seem to skip conveniently over the fact that, since district attorney Bragg assumed his elected position in 2022, his office has filed 117 felony counts of falsifying business records against 29 individuals and companies. The real Trump exception, let’s be clear, would be not filing charges.
Still, this is no ordinary arraignment. Everything about Trump is oversized (except, allegedly, his hands), and his arraignment is no different, from the media covering every inch of his journey from Florida to New York to Trump’s lackluster election campaign for the 2024 presidency claiming to have raised $7m since the indictment was announced. Keeping Trump’s penchant for embellishment in mind, we would be wise to wait for proof from official campaign filings before accepting the accuracy of that number.
The real story here is not Trump’s infamously bad behavior but how Trump has been unable to rally much other overt support to his defense
Predictably, media coverage has run nonstop Trump coverage for the last few days, and Trump supporters have been hyperbolic to the point of delusion in defense of dear leader. Far-right, QAnon-supporting representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican congresswoman from Georgia, said: “Trump is joining some of the most incredible people in history being arrested today. Nelson Mandela was arrested, served time in prison. Jesus! Jesus was arrested and murdered.” Greene, who is reported to be angling for the vice-president position on a Trump ticket, stated that she “will always support” Trump.
But surely the real story here is not Trump’s infamously bad behavior but how Trump has been unable to rally much other overt support to his defense. Pundits may point to rising poll numbers among a crowded field of mostly yet-undeclared Republican candidates for the presidency, but it’s still early in election season and the nomination is not the general election. Rather, what’s evident is that Trump is unable to find a significant number of people who are willing to put their bodies on the line in his name, as he repeatedly has boasted. He has recently been accused again of inflating the number of attendees at his recent rally in Waco, Texas. Trump suggested a crowd of up to 60,000. One reporter at the scene put the number at hundreds.
Then, on his way to New York on Monday, Trump posted a picture of his supporters as his motorcade passed by a West Palm Beach shopping center that’s become a gathering site for Trump devotees. Cable news channels repeatedly showed helicopter footage of the assembly, but the group was only around 100 people. And if the images from TV coverage are to be believed, today’s crowds in New York City are mostly populated not by angry men in masks and fur but primarily by uniformed police officers and journalists with cameras.
Trump’s arrest provoked no January 6 insurrection, and why would it? Understanding Trump and his fading allure is about comprehending that what was once a movement is now mostly just an angry shrinking mob. It’s “easy to mistake the mob for the people”, the philosopher Hannah Arendt once wrote, warning that “the mob always will shout for the ‘strong man,’ the ‘great leader,’ for the mob hates society from which it is excluded”. That’s what we’re dealing with. We’re repeatedly told that Trump can mobilize the masses, but the best he can seem to muster is a few men in Maga hats with Marjorie Taylor Greene and George Santos coming along for the ride.
Will this prosecution turn the tide in Trump’s favor and bring him the support he needs to regain not just the Republican nomination but the American presidency? I don’t know, and neither do you. And Trumpism without Trump could be the greater political danger facing us today.
But what I do know is that after all the damage that Donald Trump has done to the rule of law in this country, after his open embrace of white nationalism and neo-Nazis, after his lies and attempts to overturn the 2020 election, after his Muslim ban, his refugee ban, his migrant bans, his hatred of Mexicans and other immigrants of color, after all his venal sexism, overt racism and antisemitism, thuggish masculinity and after his own tribalism and his own weaponizing of all forms of hate – after all of that, he has always ended up floating above it all.
Trump’s arraignment marks the day not only when he began to drain the swamp but also the moment he began to be held criminally accountable. And that must be a good thing. It’s good for the rule of law. It’s good for the country. And it’s good for democracy. Truth be told, it also fills me with a kind of karmic joy. Regardless of what happens tomorrow, no one can take that joy away from me today.
Moustafa Bayoumi is the author of the award-winning books How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? Being Young and Arab in America and This Muslim American Life: Dispatches from the War on Terror. He is a professor of English at Brooklyn College, City University of New York
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