Donald Trump indicted: Former president is a cancer that threatens US democracy – Martyn McLaughlin

Criminal charges appear to have done little to dent Donald Trump’s appeal

With every passing week, it grows increasingly difficult to dispel the idea that America is on course for a reckoning it is ill-prepared for. What began to coalesce eight summers ago as a broadside against honesty and common decency has hardened into a malign and steadfast presence. Having taken root in the fissures of an imperfect democracy, it has upended its institutions and laid siege to shared truths. It is a cancer, and its name is Donald Trump.

The former US president has been a stranger to consequence for every one of his 77 years, and even if he is ultimately convicted of the rash of criminal charges he faces, there remains no guarantee that accountability will follow. All the evidence from opinion polls suggests that the latest, and most serious indictment, which accuses Mr Trump of plotting to overturn his 2020 election defeat, will not derail his mission of becoming only the second US president to serve two non-consecutive terms.

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In the middle of February, an average of polls indicated that he held a two percentage point lead over Florida governor, Ron DeSantis, who has proven to be an impotent and meek challenger. The latest average suggests that lead has rocketed to 37 points. Mr Trump’s base – which amounts to almost half of all Republican voters – are all in on the hoary, familiar narratives he employs to depict himself as the persecuted victim of a deep-state conspiracy. They are prepared to follow him, no matter if the path leads to victory or martyrdom.

Once you take into account Joe Biden’s soft approval ratings, expressing fear for the worst-case scenario is an exercise in realism, not pessimism. Reading through the indictment – a legal document, first and foremost – it feels like Jack Smith, the special counsel, may share the same view. In plain language which derived its power from its directness, he began the second paragraph with a sentence that captures the situation perfectly. “Despite having lost,” it stated, "the defendant was determined to remain in power”.

That remains the case, and it will not change until tens of millions of Americans renege on the Faustian bargain they made nearly seven years ago. Until then, talk is turning to how Mr Trump, who denies all the charges against him, could be prevented from taking up office in the event that he triumphs at the polls after being convicted. Notoriously, the US constitution has no such provisions barring a successful candidate from entering the White House, and the prospect of a president being able to pardon himself drags us ever deeper into uncharted legal waters.

Some civil rights campaign groups are focusing on the 14th amendment by way of preventing the unthinkable from coming to pass. Its third section was adopted in the aftermath of the American Civil War so as to bar from office anyone who swore an oath to support the constitution, only to engage in “insurrection or rebellion” against the same. The 14th has already been used to remove elected officials convicted for offences relating to the US Capitol attack, but if, or when, it is employed against Mr Trump, what next? A nation divided against itself is some considerable way from healing.



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