June 28, 2023 | Reading Time: 3 minutes
Trust Trump’s impunity, but trust democratic politics, too
The center of four unprecedented presidential crimes.
I can’t think of anything good to say about him except maybe this: Donald Trump is extremely predictable. We can trust his impunity for morality and the law. But we can trust something else just as much. We can trust democratic politics.
Consider the new news, same as the old news.
First, an audio recording was reported to exist of the criminal former president seeming to admit, during a meeting at his New Jersey golf club, that he had “a classified Pentagon document about a potential attack on Iran.” According to CNN, which broke the story, Trump suggested that “he would like to share the information but he’s aware of limitations on his ability post-presidency to declassify records.”
There will almost certainly be more parts in the offing, because this is Trump’s modus operandi. His impunity for morality and the law has never been immediately apparent. With enough time, though, it becomes bright and beyond doubt.
Second, a transcript of the audio recording was reported. CNN ascertained that Trump showed the government secret, which he knew to be a government secret, to people who did not have the authority to see it. According to CNN, the transcript shows that Trump knew that he could have declassified it, that he no longer could, because he’s no longer president, and isn’t it amazing that he’s showing it off?
Third, a tick-tock story was reported by the Wall Street Journal, in which federal prosecutors struggled to decide whether to raid Mar-a-Lago for more government secrets — until “they heard the tape.” That’s when they asked a grand jury to hand down a 37-count indictment.
Finally, there was reporting Monday of the contents of the recording itself in which Trump can be heard, in his own voice, appearing “to brag about possessing a classified document related to Iran that he acknowledges he did not declassify before leaving office,” according to the Post, which obtained the audio recording. CNN later aired it.
“See, as president I could have declassified it, now I can’t,” Trump said.
“Isn’t that interesting? It’s so cool.”
Let’s recap the four parts of the whole truth this far:
- A recording (hard evidence) exists. It doesn’t look good for Trump.
- Here’s a written-out copy of the hard evidence. It’s looking bad.
- The hard evidence was pivotal to the law. It’s looking worse.
- Here’s the hard evidence itself. It’s the worst. Trump is the worst.
With each part has come another layer of public understanding of Trump’s crime. With each part has come another contradiction of his public defense of it. There will almost certainly be more parts in the offing, because this is Trump’s modus operandi. His impunity for morality and the law has never been immediately apparent. With enough time, though, it becomes bright and beyond doubt.
Over a dozen years, Donald Trump has placed himself at the center of four unprecedented presidential crimes. He conspired with a foreign enemy to win the 2016 election. He extorted a foreign ally to defraud the American people. He led an attempted paramilitary takeover of the United States government. And he stole top government secrets.
None of these crimes was immediately apparent. It took the slow grinding of time for the whole truth to emerge. Like reporting of the audio recording, that whole truth emerged in parts, sometimes very small parts, sometimes very big parts. With enough time and with enough public attention, however, it became clear that Donald Trump is what he seems to be – a man who holds himself above the law.
I say it took the slow grinding of time for the whole truth to emerge. That may seem like a problem for a democracy, but it’s the opposite.
What we have witnessed, over a dozen years and four unprecedented presidential crimes, is democratic politics at work. What we have witnessed is not only a deterrent to others who might dare to hold themselves above the law, as Trump has, but also an expression of the democratic will. The American people want a president, not a king.
The future is unknown. Trump could win in 2024. He could, with the power of the presidency, make his federal crimes melt into the air.
But even if he does, democratic politics won’t stop. It didn’t stop when he cheated the first time. It didn’t stop when he kept cheating afterward. Later, it didn’t stop after he cheated to thwart defeat.
We can trust his impunity.
But we can trust something else just as much.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.