Friday, February 23, 2024

The Georgian Knot

The Georgia indictment against the former president uses a state law against racketeering—(RICO)—naming him and 18 others in a case potentially more devastating than multiple federal charges already filed. No legal situation can keep Trump from running for the president except a conviction for conspiracy to overthrow the US Constitution. Even if elected, he cannot pardon himself for a state-level crime

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By Kenneth Tiven

A massive conspiracy case under racketeering laws (RICO) in Georgia has charged former US president Donald Trump and 18 others in a case potentially more devastating than charges already filed. Trump has no one to blame for this except his bravado in phoning the Georgia secretary of state weeks after the election and threatening him if he could not “find 11,780” votes to invalidate votes in majority-black Atlanta to make Trump the winner in a recount. The secretary’s office recorded this and made it public. Trump has employed hundreds of lawyers in a decades-long career of settling or delaying thousands of lawsuits in his business career without a felony conviction or a day in jail. The former American president faces a massively different situation in Georgia, but still uses the same tactics to fight multiple criminal indictments resulting from the 2020 election. 

For many Americans and people worldwide, this has induced Trump Fatigue. Enough already, some say. However, for many others, Trump’s rhetoric is a feel-good drug that keeps their anger issues at a boil. Trump’s words, from his first announcement about running in 2015, have been reckless, doubtless to the dismay of his better lawyers. Any expectation that the public understand multiple sides to an issue is so mid-20th century as to be worthless today. The media is much more diverse and accessible than at the end of the 20th century. People around the USA, in India, and anywhere can find news that precisely mirrors their worldview without ever confronting a countervailing fact.

Trump’s reaction to the indictment on racketeering and conspiracy charges in Georgia has elevated his angry speech and social commentary to a level close to hate speech. The Georgia indictment uses a state law against racketeering—(RICO)—naming Trump and 18 others, along with more than 30 un-indicted co-conspirators. No legal situation can keep Trump from running for president except a conviction for conspiracy to overthrow the US Constitution. Even if elected, he cannot pardon himself for a state-level crime. 

The danger level in the Georgia trial may be behind his most recent social media outburst against Fani Willis, the black American woman who is the district attorney in Atlanta, Georgia. Trump and his allies call her a left-wing zealot, although she is a centrist, law-and-order prosecutor. A day after the indictment, Trump promised an “irrefutable” report about election fraud he claims took place in Georgia. “Based on the results of this CONCLUSIVE Report, all charges should be dropped against me & others – There will be a complete EXONERATION,” Trump wrote. “They never went after those that Rigged the Election. They only went after those that fought to find the RIGGERS!”

Tump’s lack of subtlety combats fatigue for some voters. After Trump’s post, “riggers” began trending on Twitter/X. Commenters noted it was racist code—veering awfully close to a slur—while others cracked jokes about his word usage. Keith Boykin, a former aide to Hillary Clinton, was explicit: “He wrote ‘RIGGERS,’ but [we] know what he really meant.” 

Tump’s lack of subtlety invites a contempt of court charge. Despite her warnings, Trump has disparaged Judge Tanya Chutkan, in whose courtroom he will face the massive federal indictment for conspiracy delivered ten days ago by federal prosecutor Jack Smith. The judge is a Jamaican who emigrated to the USA as a teenager. After a career in law, she became a judge in Washington Federal District Court. 

Former Texas Congressman Will Hurd, who was in the CIA before politics, is competing for the Republican nomination for president. He recently said Trump is running “only to stay out of jail”. For now, Trump is running against the prosecution, which could be considered a policy issue of his well-being. His advertising campaign is suffering because the cost of lawyers and legal fees is eating up every significant small-dollar contribution he gets from the MAGA fanbase.

The Georgia indictment is twice as long as the federal indictment. Both deal with the same main characters. The Jack Smith case is deliberately concise and focused on Trump. The Fani Willis state case recounts a sprawling conspiracy put together on the fly by the White House and its friends in Georgia to switch the outcome and give Trump the electoral votes he needed. Trump’s insistence on haranguing judges, lawyers, and prosecutors despite facing these felony indictments reflects his ingrained perception of the world. That makes his problems clear to others. His reliance on projecting his behaviour onto others is always omnipresent, hence his bogus claims about the Biden crime family. His phobia of losing surfaced when he criticized the US Women’s soccer team for losing in the World Cup. “Have you no decency, sir, at long last,” to paraphrase lawyer Joseph Welch to Joe McCarthy in 1954, the exchange that signalled the start of that man’s downfall. Both Trump and McCarthy shared layer Roy Cohn’s hypnotic skills in their careers, neither grasping that it works until it suddenly doesn’t.

The specificity of the federal indictment compared to the expansive conspiracy case made under a Georgia RICO law are two ways of telling the same story. There is a sprawling novel-like sensibility in the Fani Willis-led indictment. Like an astringent, it removes any sense of fatigue, revealing the total awfulness and irrationality of what Trumpism means: if the king wants something, it is OK. (Historical note: President Nixon tried the same defense in Watergate in 1974 and it did not work.) 

In another political sphere, the Supreme Court decision to abolish a national right to abortion was a long-desired wish by the right-wing elements that support Trump. However, in multiple elections since 2020, with abortion as a critical issue, the Republican position gets trounced, most recently in Ohio. Moderate and sensible Republicans, including a long-time resource for this reporter, said, “We are getting creamed on this issue,” suggesting the GOP could lose the White House and Congress next year. In the 2020 elections, Georgia sent two liberal Democrats to the US Senate, indicating how large the urban voting block is in the state.

With multiple Republican state party workers, the ex-president, and his team under indictment, a worried state leadership imagines where a Trump campaign in Georgia would focus. “I don’t think he’ll let us unite,” said Jack Kingston, a former House Republican from Georgia and a Trump ally. “His nature isn’t to sit down and say nice things, even about Brian Kemp, one of the most successful governors in the country.” 

—The writer has worked in senior positions at The Washington Post, NBC, ABC and CNN and also consults for several Indian channels

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