The charges in Manhattan have restored Donald Trump to his favourite role
“I bring out the worst in my enemies,” Roy Cohn, a ferocious red- and gay-baiting lawyer, once told William Safire, a conservative columnist, “and that’s how I get them to defeat themselves.”
Donald Trump, for years Mr Cohn’s client and ardent pupil, has outdone his mentor: Mr Trump brings out the worst in everyone—enemy, ally and onlooker alike.
How else to explain the ecstasy of news-media speculation and vamping as Mr Trump’s arraignment approached on April 4th, the historic and unprecedented use of the words “historic” and “unprecedented”, the online tracker CNN created so that panting viewers could follow along as Mr Trump’s plane delivered him from Florida to New York City?
And how else to explain the indictment itself?
Democrats and their sympathetic commentators had been predicting that when the charges were unsealed, they would prove far darker than the familiar accusations that Mr Trump orchestrated a scheme in 2016 to pay hush money to smother embarrassing revelations and enhance his chance at the presidency.
They said the indictment would show that Alvin Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney, was not relying on an unusual gambit to bootstrap what are misdemeanours under state law—falsifying business records—into felonies by linking them to violations of campaign-finance law.
They predicted that Mr Bragg would not be counting heavily on the testimony of Mr Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, whose integrity might not impress a jury since he has already pleaded guilty in the scheme and to lying to Congress.
Yet in the end the surprise was that the indictment held none.
Of course, as Mr Bragg’s defenders say, no American should be above the law.
No principle of good governance could immunise former presidents from being prosecuted for committing crimes.
There is also rough justice in Mr Trump, who has so often called for opponents to be jailed, finding himself in the dock.
But in choosing to charge this former president with these crimes, Mr Bragg has done less to vindicate the rule of law than to put it at risk.
He has smoothed Mr Trump’s path back to the Republican nomination and thus to the White House.
Not long ago, Mr Trump seemed to be waning as a political force.
Even some of his supporters worried that, as he whined about the 2020 election and his brace of impeachments, he came across as obsessively pursuing stale personal grievances rather than championing Americans’ concerns.
Fox News had turned its cameras away from him and trained them on a seemingly formidable, likely challenger, Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida.