Daily Hampshire Gazette – Columnist John Sheirer: Trafficking in the rule of law

About 20 years ago, I was driving the speed limit on Route 9, staying in my lane, keeping a watchful eye, and thinking about the errands I needed to complete that day.

Then I saw a black SUV speeding toward me from a side street on my right. I assumed the driver would stop because we live in a rules-based society where we stop (or at least slow down) at stop signs. Everyone’s safety depends on such rules. This driver, however, barreled onto Route 9 a few feet ahead of me. I slammed on the brakes, swerved, and blasted the horn, avoiding a collision by inches.

That same stunned feeling returned to me recently as I listened to Republicans respond to Donald Trump’s felony conviction. Each pro-Trump elected official, media mouthpiece, and everyday citizen who attacked our justice system reminded me of the random jerk who nearly caused a terrible accident.

The most common Trumper complaint I’ve heard is that no one even knows what crime Trump was charged with. Trump himself whined as the jury deliberated that he didn’t know what the crime was. That’s ironic, considering Trump, like every criminal defendant, acknowledged in court at the beginning of the trial that he understood the charges against him.

Here’s his crime in one simple sentence: He falsified business records to conceal hush money payments to influence the 2016 election. Under New York law, that’s a crime. And it’s not a victimless crime. Voters who expect fraud-free elections are the victims. Trump and his supporters can pretend that they don’t know what a stop sign means, but a law is still a law, and Trump broke it to the tune of 34 counts.

Trump apologists claim that only Trump would ever be charged like this. OK, fair point, but not due to political persecution. No other human on planet Earth occupies a Venn Diagram intersection that includes porn star affairs, hush money, fixers, tabloids, Peckers, election fraud, and running for president. This particular criminal island has a population of exactly one.

Some followers even compare Trump to Jesus because “Jesus was also convicted in a rigged trial.” What a brazen violation of the Third Commandment! Jesus was a Middle Eastern immigrant who preached love and tossed profiteers from the temple. Trump would have called him a “woke, liberal vermin” and sold overpriced tickets to the crucifixion.

The trial outcome wasn’t even close, and not because of any rigging. The prosecution meticulously led jurors through a trail of paperwork and witnesses to prove Trump’s guilt. Trump himself even signed many of the checks reimbursing the hush money payments. I imagine chapter one of Organized Crime for Dummies includes “mob bosses shouldn’t sign incriminating checks.”

Trump’s defense team barely defended him. Sure, they called a main prosecution witness a liar, but that witness spent years lying for Trump as an accomplice to this very crime. The defense neglected to offer alternative explanations for the evidence and called only two mostly irrelevant witnesses, one of whom antagonized the judge. Trump himself didn’t testify, probably because someone told him about the penalty for perjury.

Trump supporters are furious with the jury. I heard one claim that the jurors must have been bribed for their verdict. The payoff accusation is classic Trumpist projection, of course. Recent reports have shown that Trump’s business and campaign provided significant pay increases, promotions, and benefits to people identified as witnesses in Trump’s other cases. Mr. Pot, Mr. Kettle is calling again.

Then there’s the claim that Trump couldn’t get a fair trial in liberal New York. But Trump’s attorneys helped pick the jury, and the members vowed to consider the evidence impartially. Despite what Fox News says, liberal Americans are at least as fair as anyone else. Attacking the jury is simply an attack on the American justice system itself.

The trial was in New York because Trump’s crimes were committed during his nearly lifelong NYC residency. Just because he’s lately become a “Florida Man” doesn’t mean he gets only Mar-a-Lago club members for his jury. Even Mar-a-Lagites, however, might find Trump guilty, considering the mountain of evidence against him. Anything’s possible.

For example, the driver who cut me off on Route 9 accelerated ahead but had to stop for a traffic light. As I eased in behind him, he thrust his hand out the window. I thought he was going to flip me off. Instead, he turned his palm toward the sky. Then he got out, pivoted toward me, patted his chest, and mouthed the words, “My bad.” I nodded and waved to acknowledge his apology. The world slightly, unexpectedly realigned.

Then we went on our way, secure again in our societal agreement to respect the basic rules of the road.

It would be nice if Trump supporters followed this driver’s example and admitted their mistake. Everyone in this country should find common ground in two simple ideas: We shouldn’t run stop signs or elect convicted felons.

A wise man once warned voters, “We could very well have a sitting president under felony indictment and, ultimately, a criminal trial. It would grind government to a halt.” Oh, wait. That wasn’t a wise man. That was Trump in 2016. What’s the old saying about a broken clock?

John Sheirer is an author and teacher from Florence. Find him at JohnSheirer.com.

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