Published with the generous permission of Steven Beschloss. Read all of his excellent writing in his America, America newsletter.
By Steven Beschloss
This could be a story about the chaos agents bent on exploiting a probable indictment of Donald Trump from the Manhattan District Attorney’s office to fuel the anger and violence of their followers. That’s the narrative they hope dominates the public dialogue in the coming days.
That’s why Trump—reminiscent of his behavior leading up to Jan. 6—sought on Saturday to incite his followers to “PROTEST, TAKE OUR COUNTRY BACK!” It’s also why Marjorie Taylor Greene was urging Republicans to “go scorched earth” and Speaker Kevin McCarthy was decrying the “outrageous abuse of power” and “political vengeance against President Trump” and promising to “immediately investigate if federal funds are being used to subvert our democracy”—all this before any announcement on an indictment has even happened.
They are counting on intimidation and insecurity to strengthen their hand. They are pushing the chimera of political persecution to their cultists and injustice to drive the media storyline. And they are trying their hardest to manipulate public opinion to come to Trump’s defense.
But we shouldn’t take the bait. I’m among those who doubts this will erupt into any major organized violence, especially in the tightly controlled environment of Manhattan. Note Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg’s email to his office employees, obtained by Politico: “We do not tolerate attempts to intimidate our office or threaten the rule of law in New York…Our law enforcement partners will ensure that any specific or credible threats against the office will be fully investigated and that the proper safeguards are in place so all 1,600 of us have a secure work environment.”
What a tragedy that such a message need be sent, especially since it was triggered by the unhinged former White House occupant who’s shown no respect for the rule of law and a deep craving for conflict and carnage.
But let’s be clear: This is a story about serving justice and repairing our democracy. Either there’s rule of law or there’s not. Either we are defined by a system of justice that holds the guilty accountable or we aren’t. Either we have a democracy that limits the use of violence to define our public life and the rights of our citizens or we have a country devolving into authoritarianism in which a strongman leader can employ fear and intimidation to get and keep power.
After the exhausting years of Trump—including over 30,000 documented lies, dozens of discernible criminal acts, and a near-daily effort to spur a climate of chaos and a growing appetite for hatred and carnage—this is a moment to declare: We will not be held hostage once again by a tyrannical minority or its leaders that are abusing their power to undermine democracy and democratic institutions, permanently break peoples’ belief in justice and the rule of law, and drive a deeper wedge between Americans with grievance and outrage.
As many of you suggested in our robust Saturday discussion (“How Will You React If Trump Is Indicted This Week?”), this is a time to celebrate that we may finally be seeing a lawless ex-president held criminally accountable. And, as despicable and narcissistically malignant as he may be, we can also celebrate and take pride in the fact that the U.S. system of justice provides him the presumption of innocence until proven guilty in a court of law.
Anything less can lead to the feral violence of the vengeful demagogue bent on exploiting his power to deny this most basic tenet of justice and allow the hunger for retribution to spread and rule the body politic.
We know that’s the world Trump desires—he the ever-persecuted victim. He said it explicitly in his ugly appeal to his sordid base who feel “wronged and betrayed,” as he put it: “I am your warrior. I am your justice…I am your retribution.”
In Trump’s view of the future, think there’s a place for the presumption of innocence? You can be sure the future he seeks would be defined by the very idea they project onto their opponents—that is, the constant complaint of political persecution to falsely legitimize their pursuit of permanent power.
As we await the decision from Alvin Bragg over the hush money payments and possible related charges—as well as the indictment decisions of District Attorney Fani Willis in Fulton County, Georgia and Special Counsel Jack Smith and Attorney Merrick Garland—I leave you here with this narrative from last August 15, entitled “Grievance, Persecution and the Endless Excuse.”
This piece of writing seeks to detail the mentality that has for too long held too many of our fellow citizens in his rapturous trance. Read or re-read it not simply as a reminder, but as a catalyst for a deeper commitment to overcoming this terrible chapter in our nation’s history and returning to the belief in the sweet, healing power of justice and the truth.