June 9, 2023
Trolled by Trump, Again

Trolled by Trump, Again

You’d think that we would know better by now, but here we are, being trolled again by Donald Trump. Whatever else the disgraced, defeated, and possibly soon-to-be-indicted former President is, he is a master when it comes to setting the terms of a media frenzy. Trump knows not only how to get our collective attention but also how to keep it. He flourishes in the absence of hard information to contradict his claims, and he has years of experience using the silence of the legal authorities to focus the debate on their actions rather than his own.

The waiting game started this past Saturday, at 7:26 A.M., when the former President sent word on his Truth Social platform that he was to be “arrested” on Tuesday in New York for his alleged role in a recently resurrected criminal case stemming from a hundred-and-thirty-thousand-dollar hush-money payment made to Stormy Daniels, a former adult-film actress who alleges that she had an affair with Trump which he did not want voters to know about before the 2016 Presidential election. “PROTEST,” Trump urged his followers. “TAKE OUR NATION BACK!” No confirmation by the Manhattan District Attorney, Alvin Bragg, was forthcoming then, or up until Thursday, but a historic indictment seemed imminent. And so all week long, prompted by Trump’s all-caps warning, the entire political world talked endlessly and obsessively about the former President, for whom such P.R. is exactly the point. Even after Tuesday came and went with no indictment—maybe he meant next Tuesday?—the prospective case against him drove the news cycle.

The political class’s collective capacity for analyzing and digesting events that have not yet occurred, which still might not occur, and whose details are presumably crucial to understanding how they will play out, was on full display. First of all, as Trump anticipated, his breathless warning forced Republicans once again to publicly defend their embattled leader—a useful exercise at a moment when dissatisfaction with his losing electoral record was starting to shape the 2024 Republican primary race. One by one, they took Trump’s bait, including some of the would-be rivals whose campaigns are premised on the idea of providing the G.O.P. with an alternative to him. Many of the defenders slammed Bragg and attacked the case against Trump as politically motivated—without even bothering to wait for there to actually be a case against him. Even Mike Pence, who had seemed earlier this month as if he was finally ready to get up the courage to properly denounce Trump, joined in, bemoaning “another politically charged prosecution” aimed at the former President. On Capitol Hill, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy called the charges sight unseen “an outrageous abuse of power by a radical D.A. who lets violent criminals walk as he pursues political vengeance against President Trump,” while several House committee chairmen quickly demanded testimony from the prosecutor and vowed to get to the bottom of his outrageous attacks on their leader. Trump must have been so gratified to know that when he whistles for them, they still come running.

By midweek, though, the wait for Indictment Day had started to seem as elusive as the Infrastructure Week that Trump promised and never delivered on for all four years of his Presidency. I was thoroughly exhausted by all the legal analyses about the weakness of the charges and evidence in a case that had not yet been filed. When I saw the dramatic photos of Trump being arrested by burly New York cops that were circulating everywhere on the Internet, the fact that they were obviously fakes left me ruminating not only on the terrors of artificial intelligence but also on the existential question of just what constitutes news right now: If we all expect Trump to be arrested and have already spent days discussing every aspect of the case against him, does it matter that there is not actually a case yet? It was right around the time that I was contemplating the fake photos when I saw the latest leaks from Mar-a-Lago, where Trump, ever intent on feeding the news cycle, had let it be known that he might want to be handcuffed and paraded in front of the media mob for his arraignment—if it ever actually happens.

By Thursday, when the grand jury was supposed to reconvene, it was still not clear whether an indictment would be forthcoming and Trump’s missives sounded even more hysterical, not to mention downright racist. He was, he lamented on his social-media feed, being pursued by the “GESTAPO.” Michael Cohen, Trump’s former fixer turned star witness against him, was a “CONVICTED NUT JOB.” And the Black prosecutor making the case against him was the brute pawn of a Jewish financier, a “SOROS BACKED ANIMAL WHO JUST DOESN’T CARE ABOUT RIGHT OR WRONG.” Bragg, for his part, kept silent about his plans, while his general counsel blasted Trump in a letter to the House Republican chairmen who had demanded Bragg’s testimony, in which she blamed the ex-President for having planted the “false expectation that he would be arrested.” This, of course, drove a whole new round of speculation: Did that mean Trump won’t be arrested? Or simply that he wasn’t arrested when he said he would be? It was all so tiresome.

After a few days of this, you had to wonder: Was this just another brilliant Trump fund-raising grift? The barrage of e-mails asking for money because of his impending arrest had begun soon after Trump’s first breathless warning. His campaign put out the word that he had managed as a result to pull in $1.5 million over three days, a rate that was approximately twice as much as he had been averaging before he hit the prosecutorial panic button.

By late Thursday morning, when it was clear there would be no indictment that day, or before next Monday at the earliest, a new message hit my in-box. “The Grand Jury vote in the Manhattan WITCH HUNT has been delayed,” it read. Suggested contributions began at twenty-four dollars and went up to two hundred and fifty. “Please make a contribution to SAVE AMERICA—for 1,500% impact,” the missive from Donald J. Trump, 45th President of the United States, urged.

At the end of another long week of Trumpian fury, signifying not much of anything, we are no closer to knowing how the story ends, only that, for now at least, the fantasy—or nightmare, depending on your perspective—of Trump handcuffed and perp-walked into a sordid new place in American history as our only indicted former President will have to wait a little longer.

But, then again, by now we’re used to waiting. It’s worth noting, in that context, that more time has elapsed between January 6, 2021, and now, with the Justice Department still contemplating what, if anything, to do about Trump’s role in the insurrection, than did during the entirety of the Watergate scandal, from the initial break-in at the Democratic Party headquarters, in 1972, to Richard Nixon’s resignation. (We’re currently at eight hundred and six days past January 6th and counting, in case you were wondering.) And, of course, it’s been far, far longer than that since July, 2006, when Trump had his ill-fated tryst with Stephanie Clifford, a.k.a. Stormy Daniels, and October, 2016, when she received the six-figure payoff from Michael Cohen, acting, he says, at Trump’s behest.

So, is this, at last, what the law finally catching up with Trump looks like? I guess we can wait a few more days, weeks, or months to know the answer. In the meantime, we’ll still have Donald Trump to kick around. I’ve just received a new message, in fact, from him. He seems very excited to have lasted the week without being arrested and wants us all to know that Bragg’s office is wracked by “tremendous dissension and chaos” because there is in fact “NO CASE” against him. Make of that what you will. You’ve been warned. ♦

Source link