The Indictment and Trump's Four Tests for America
We've passed two of them and failed one. But there's one left.
1. Four Tests
Donald Trump’s authoritarian attempt has presented four tests to American democracy.
The first test was for the institution of the Republican party. The GOP failed this test when it capitulated to and normalized Trump through the summer and fall of 2016. After Trump was elected, the institution of the Republican party failed the makeup test as it reflexively defended every one of Trump’s illiberal postures. It failed another makeup test with the first impeachment and failed yet again in the post-election period, during which the party aided and abetted Trump’s attempt to overturn the results of the election and then decided against permanently removing him from politics via the second impeachment.
The second test Trump presented was to the general public. Demagogues often come to power via the popular will. Trump did not. The majority of Americans voted against him in 2016. When the Electoral College allowed his minority rule, an even greater majority came out to remove him from office in 2020. The majority of Americans passed Trump’s test.
The third test was for the rule of law. Would the structures of the American legal system be sturdy enough to hold Trump’s crimes to account? Would the potential downstream effects—of protests, political upheaval, electoral consequences—prevent the rule of law from being applied to Trump? This test came in multiple parts, but as of last night, we have a fairly definitive answer: The rule of law held.
Consider how the laws were applied to Trump:
60+ court decisions against his attempt to overturn the 2020 election
a jury verdict against him on charges of defamation
an indictment on charges of falsifying business records for the purposes of interfering in an election
an indictment pertaining to obstruction of justice in the removal of classified records from the White House
When we talk about the rule of law being tested, we are concerned with processes, not outcomes. The test is simply: Is Trump subjected to due process via the rule of law?
If any of the various prosecutors circling Trump decide not to bring charges because they believe there is insufficient evidence, that’s fine. If juries decide that Trump is not guilty of the charges leveled against him, that’s also fine. What’s important is that the machinery of the justice system functions as designed, even when the alleged lawbreaker is the former and possibly future president of the United States.
So we can say with some degree of certainty that America’s justice system has also passed the Trump test. Maybe not perfectly and not in every situation. If you were going to grade it, it might not get an A+. But this is a pass-fail situation and the rule of law has passed.
The final test Trump has posed is to Republican voters.