Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

Behind the tweets: Indictments of the Trump Org are important, but it will take indicting Trump to begin serving justice and shifting the narrative he's above the law

Value this writing? Please consider becoming a paid subscriber for $50 a year or $5 a month.

Donald Trump announced Trump University in 2005. Victims of Trump’s fraudulent operation were paid $25 million as part of a 2016 settlement. (Photo by Thos Robinson/Getty Images)

Let’s start with first principles: No one is above the law. Still believe it? I do. Not because there isn’t evidence to the contrary—just look at the career of Donald Trump for one—but because once you toss aside that belief, then you begin to tolerate all kinds of corruption and criminality. Oh, that’s the way it is…Oh, of course he’s too rich to be touched…Oh, of course he’s white and male and powerful and that’s just how it goes.

Are there two systems of justice, one for those who are rich and powerful and another one for everyone else? It’s not hard to make that argument. Scan Washington, scan Hollywood, scan corporate boardrooms—and you’ll find plenty of corruption and criminal culpability that goes untouched.

But if you’re demoralized and resigned to that view of corruption, then you’ve probably sat on the sidelines while others fought for justice. You likely stood by while women spoke out during the #MeToo movement. You probably stayed home and stayed silent when others took to the streets and raised their voices in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the racist history of police brutality. You’ve probably also fumed quietly while Donald Trump degraded the presidency to enrich himself and his family, convinced that there’s nothing that can be done.

Yet here we are: The offices of the Manhattan District Attorney and New York Attorney General have received the first indictments from a New York grand jury expected to be unsealed today against the Trump Organization and its chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg. No one predicted that these would include the former White House occupant and failed businessman. It may take indicting Weisselberg or other members of his family to increase the necessary pressure to convince them to share what they know about Trump.

But those dominoes must fall if the larger dominoes are to follow—that is, indictments of Trump (and subsequent prosecution) as a necessary predicate to holding him accountable and reminding the country that there is rule of law and justice. This is important for any of us who may waver in believing the principle that no one is above the law—especially after these years of Bill Barr, Trump’s Roy Cohn, lying about the Mueller Report and assisting his obstruction of justice and attacking democracy itself, and especially after Trump hid behind presidential immunity and arrogantly behaved as if the law does not apply to him.

An indictment has the potential to nourish all of us who yearn for justice. But those charges and subsequent prosecutions may also begin to shift the confidence among the elected officials who’ve watched Trump get away with it and think they can, too.

We turn our eyes to active, aggressive prosecutors in the Manhattan DA’s office, in the Southern District of New York, in New York state, in the DC court, in Georgia for possible charges that range from tax, bank and insurance fraud, to election fraud, defamation and other state-level violations. We look to the US Attorney General and the Department of Justice for indictments involving insurrection, obstruction of justice and campaign finance crimes. (Don’t lose hope.)

As much as serving justice against Trump can renew belief in the American system of justice and the rule of law—especially for those of us who’ve watched with horror as Ivanka, Jared, Don Jr. and Eric behave as if they are entitled to grab as much money as they can from us stupid taxpayers and exploit Daddy’s good fortune—indictments naming Trump and the Trumps may also begin to peel away the confidence of at least some cultists who’ve had the first vague inkling that maybe they made the wrong choice.

Time will tell how many of this latter group can be returned to factual reality. We have every reason to expect most will side with their beloved leader and assume the villainy of Justice, the prosecutors and evil liberals. But they’ve feasted over the last four years on sociopathic rule and the lure of political violence—and watched how Trump has gotten off scot-free, so far. Holding him accountable (and that includes punishment that strips him of money and power) creates the real possibility of shaking them from the fallacy that the law does not apply to him—or them.