All the sound and fury emanating from the nation’s politicians over the first criminal indictment of a former U.S. president illuminates the degree to which polarization has taken a toll in recent years.
For his part, Donald Trump is attempting to bask in the limelight of the controversy he calls a “witch hunt” as he launches a 2024 Oval Office run. And legally speaking, there is no constitutional barrier for even a convicted felon — at least on charges at the state level — to serve as chief executive. It has been attempted before: Eugene V. Debs in 1920 ran from prison while serving time over World War I protests, and Lyndon LaRouche ran repeatedly in the 1990s and 2000s after being jailed for defrauding the IRS. Also, currently jailed Joe Exotic has announced his own 2024 presidential bid.
Trump commands enough support to be a player in the next election. But while many Republicans — even those who favored his economic and foreign policies if not his rhetoric — silently wish he would just go away, the party faithful overwhelmingly view the New York indictment for falsifying business records as politically motivated, perhaps even flawed. Even the former president’s most vocal GOP critics, including former Vice President Mike Pence, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, have roundly criticized the effort to prosecute the man the Democrats love to hate.
Many top Democrats, including President Biden, mostly avoid the subject. Having been on the other side of GOP-led probes into his own family’s activities, Biden may harbor feelings of there but for the grace of who’s in charge goes his own fate.
Three presidents — Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton and Trump (twice) — have been impeached. None was convicted.
History is rife with presidential foibles. One sitting president, Ulysses S. Grant, received a $20 ticket for racing his horse through the Washington streets in 1872. In their impetuous youth George W. Bush was ticketed for DUI in 1976 (later allegations of drug violations were phony) and both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama admitted to illegal marijuana use.
Richard Nixon memorably was the subject of the Watergate investigation that led to his resignation. The pardon from President Ford made moot the possibility of facing criminal charges. Clinton’s Arkansas law license was suspended for five years amid the Monica Lewinsky flap. Warren G. Harding died in office while the infamous Teapot Dome scandal was unfolding. And the Bobby Baker probe, which potentially could have ended Lyndon Johnson’s vice presidency, was sidetracked by President Kennedy’s 1963 assassination.
Trump’s payoff of porn star Stormy Daniels in 2016 over an alleged tryst is hardly unique. An endless line of individuals, from Grover Cleveland to Harding to Kennedy, come to mind.
We’ll see whether prosecutor Alvin Bragg can tie one felony indictment to 33 other alleged crimes, besides overcoming the statute of limitations.
But the vitriol keeps getting worse. Certainly Trump’s egomania has done little to alleviate the trend.