Closing Arguments

[ Posted Tuesday, May 28th, 2024 – 15:18 UTC ]

The first criminal trial of an ex-president is nearing its end. Today, the jury heard (and is still hearing, as I write this) the closing arguments of both the defense and the prosecution. Tomorrow, they will get their instructions from the judge and they will then start to deliberate as to whether Donald Trump is guilty or not guilty of what he has been charged with.

They can take as long as they want, of course. The media (and the country at large) will have to wait. Much will be made over how long they take -- if the deliberations stretch into weeks, assumptions will be made about what is taking them so long. But sooner or later they'll report back and we'll all get to hear what they concluded.

Will it cause a political earthquake? It's doubtful, at this point. No matter what the verdict, most voters long ago made up their minds on who Donald Trump is and what they believe about him. If Trump wins, he'll try to use it for fundraising and boosting his support. If Trump loses, he'll try to use it for fundraising and boosting his support. President Joe Biden has so far been rather leery of commenting on the trial (for obvious reasons), but once the jury is in it'll have to be woven into his campaign somehow or another. But the key question -- will any of this change anyone's mind? -- is still rather doubtful.

There are three basic ways for the jury to rule. They can find Trump guilty or not guilty, or they can fail to unanimously agree. There are a total of 34 charges involved, and they will have to decide on a verdict for each and every one of them, so they could issue some sort of split decision -- guilty on some counts, not guilty on others. If they can't agree on any of them then the trial will end in confusion. A hung jury means the prosecution could start all over again and hold another trial, but this is not guaranteed. Also, even if a second trial does happen, there's no guarantee it'll happen before the election.

Of course, it is a shame that this is quite likely going to be the only criminal trial of Donald Trump before the election. His other trials concern crimes that are much more serious and much more related to his fitness for office. He is charged with trying to overturn an American presidential election in both federal court and state court (Georgia), and he is charged with refusing to return documents that were marked classified even after being subpoenaed for them. Those crimes both strike at national security, albeit for different reasons. Paying a porn star off and then illegally covering it up to influence an election is one thing, but actively trying to overturn an election you lost is quite another.

The fact that none of the more serious trials will take place is a condemnation of our justice system, to some extent. It is part of the Bill of Rights that defendants are entitled to a speedy trial, but not so much for "the people," it seems. It has been over three years, after all, and the first entire year of that period was pretty much wasted by the Justice Department. The January 6th case is on hold because the Supreme Court is aiding and abetting Trump's legal team by injecting as long a delay as they can, to guarantee that trial will not take place before the election. Their verdict in the question of whether Trump is somehow immune from these charges will likely split legal hairs that require the lower courts to spend even more time figuring things out -- further delaying things, in other words. The fact that a sitting president could attempt to overturn a presidential election that he lost -- including by a violent insurrectionist attack on the United States Capitol -- and then not be held accountable before he runs for the office again is deeply disturbing.

Of course, if Trump loses again in November, there'll be plenty of time for all the rest of his criminal trials to take place. But the point will largely be moot by then, since Joe Biden will still be in office and Trump will be a two-time loser. But if Trump wins in November, then the federal cases against him will disappear and the state-level case against him will necessarily have to be delayed until Trump leaves office.

Either way, the voters won't see Trump tried on the most serious charges against him before they cast their ballots. This trial will determine whether Trump will be referred to as "a convicted felon" or not, but convicted felons are still eligible to run for president. Will it matter to the voters? Perhaps not for most people (whose opinion of Trump is set in stone by now), but it could matter at the margins. All indications are that this will be a very close election, and as we've all seen a few thousand votes here and there can (and often do) determine presidential election outcomes. If enough voters who might have been inclined to give Trump the benefit of the doubt decide that they simply cannot vote for a convicted felon for the highest office in the land, it could determine the outcome in enough swing states to matter.

And then again it might not. Ever since Donald Trump rode down his gold-colored escalator at the very start of all this, American politics have gone down a rabbit hole. All the conventional wisdom about what voters would and would not accept in a president went out the window. And we've never had an ex-president tried on criminal charges before, so there simply is no precedent for how people will react. That is a very strange thing to say, since before the dawn of Trump in politics any or all of this would have been disqualifying in the extreme. Any politician caught in the web of legal problems Trump faces (and has faced) would not even have been considered for pretty much any high office, much less the presidency. But in the era of Trump anything is possible. Even a felony conviction might ultimately not matter. So even if the jury does return with guilty verdicts, it might wind up not being much of a political earthquake at all.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


2 Comments on “Closing Arguments”

  1. [1] 
    Kick wrote:

    But the key question -- will any of this change anyone's mind? -- is still rather doubtful.

    Why do you suppose the Trump campaign has spent an inordinate amount of time having propaganda splashed all over the front of rag mags seen in dang near every grocery store line in America and enlisting trolls (both foreign and domestic) all over social media portraying his political opponents (and even members of their families) as being involved in criminal activity... up to and including the assassination of John F. Kennedy?

    HINT: For the exact same reason the Trump campaign filed dozens of cases all over America spreading the absolute bullshit propaganda and lies that Donald Trump had won an election when they knew damn well he'd lost. Because the propaganda bullshit absolutely does work on a subset of Americans in the same way that factual evidence and policy goals moves a whole other subset of Americans who won't vote for a (perceived or actual) criminal to represent the United States.

    A candidate doesn't need to change anyone's mind about for whom they will cast a vote... just whether or not they'll even vote at all. Add to that the fact that Republican legislatures all over America have made it harder for Americans to exercise their right to vote and the standard operational procedures of gerrymandering packing and cracking across the United States wherein candidates choose their voters instead of the voters choosing their candidates, but I digress.

    I know a lot of Democrats (and quite a few Republicans, for that matter) who would have root canals in every tooth before they would cast a vote for Donald Trump and will either happily or reluctantly cast a vote for Joe Biden, but I can also easily think of a few scenarios wherein many of them would refuse to cast a vote at all... and that could make all the difference.

  2. [2] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    I think the professional and socio-economic status of the jury members (not much else was released, but still) says a lot about what both sides believed would result in a win.

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