American democracy has crossed a dangerous line – we should all be worried

Donald Trump arrives at Trump Tower in New York City the day after FBI agents raided his Mar-a-Lago Palm Beach home
Donald Trump arrives at Trump Tower in New York City the day after FBI agents raided his Mar-a-Lago Palm Beach home
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No-one is above the law, but does anyone really think that Donald Trump would be have been indicted on obscure charges of electoral and business law were he not enjoying a rebound in the polls and have a very good chance of winning a second term as President of the United States? Let me first lay my cards on the table. I have no liking for Trump. I never could stand the man – even back when Alex Salmond and the SNP were cosying up to him over his golf links in Aberdeenshire. I find it inexplicable that so many Americans should want to vote for him and bizarre that a country of 330 million people can’t find two more attractive candidates for the most powerful job in the world than Donald Trump and Joe Biden.

But let’s put personal feelings aside and examine what is really happening with Trump’s indictment by a New York grand jury over a payment of $130,000 made to Stormy Daniels, allegedly in order to silence her over claims she made about an affair with the former US president. It is not entirely clear what laws are claimed to have been broken, nor what evidence exists to point clearly in the direction of Trump being the wrongdoer. Trump himself denies ever having sex with the porn star. No-one should rush to judgement.

It has been reported that the charges against Trump will be numerous and based on business fraud – the result of months of legal wrangling. Presumably, when the matter gets to court, we will have many more months of lawyers arguing over exactly where in a company’s accounts hush money should be entered. But that is what many of Trump’s opponents will want: a case which drags on and on, trapping Trump in a courtroom in New York when he would rather be off rallying his troops in the flyover states where his political base resides.

Two things seem clear to me. First, that yesterday’s indictment will look to many like a legal fishing expedition which has been conducted by Trump’s opponents for political reasons rather than out of a will to see justice done. The timing and the manner of the charges has a strong element of political theatre, as did the raid on Trump’s Florida estate last August in a search for presidential papers which shouldn’t have been there. I must admit that I harbour these suspicions – I can’t see Democrats pursuing New York’s muggers with as much vigour, certainly not the many who have enthusiastically joined the cry by Black Lives Matter to “defund the police”. New York’s crime rate was up 25 percent last year, with murders up 10 percent.

Secondly, Trump’s indictment will further polarise a country which is already becoming dangerously partisan. It has already stirred Trump’s supporters into a rage which may, sadly, go on to outgrow that which ended with the storming of the Capitol on 6 January 2021. Unless Trump ends up being disqualified from office he may well end up galvanising support as a result of these charges.

Every US election seems to get dirtier than the last, and Trump bears a lot of responsibility for that – no-one should forget how he threatened his 2016 presidential opponent Hillary Clinton with prosecution over her emails. If we are going to see the criminal law employed as a political tool, it really will be a dark day for democracy. The pursuance of presidential candidates through criminal investigations threatens to become routine. Trump’s enemies may be celebrating today, but my guess is that neither they, nor anyone else, will enjoy what will follow.