Follow the money, journalist Bob Woodward’s anonymous source said in the Watergate years. The rule still applies today, or so it seems.
According to Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, Donald Trump bought dearly the silence of porn star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy bunny Laren McDougal, as well as a doorman at Trump Tower: all so that they would withhold information about his past, information so gory as to endanger the race for the White House. Bragg speaks of a conspiracy, or to be precise of “a conspiracy to undermine the integrity of the 2016 election”. A conspiracy, moreover, based on the falsification of company documents (THE STORY OF THE HEARING IN NEW YORK).
In front of the courthouse in Manhattan, during the hearing, the atmosphere is unreal and suspended: helicopters hovering in the sky, hundreds of cell phones film the gray building of the court and just as many people stare at the entrance as if something sensational was about to happen . In reality, even if a former president has just been arrested in that same building for the first time in history, the procedure underway is rather prosaic: Trump enters from the back, the cameras are left out, the photographers immortalize the gloomy face of the accused, officers take fingerprints.
No handcuffs, no mug shots. Trump, so they say, would have wanted it to display as a trophy during the election campaign.
Thirty-four charges: all minor crimes, i.e. with a maximum penalty of four years in prison. For each of them, Trump pleads “not guilty”. In reality, the former president goes further, first on social media and then in a long speech given in front of friends at Mar-a-Lago, about his happy retirement in Florida: Bragg is a “partisan judge and he hates me”, he says. The prosecutor is “paid by Soros”. The trial “is surreal” and “farcical”, a “witch hunt”. The justice system has become “criminal because of the Democrats.”
A naked cowboy playing guitar and a bearded old man waving a crucifix appear before the courthouse, then a woman with skin covered in paint, a right-handed preacher and an acrobat on skates who twirl basketballs in praise of Trump. The list could go on.
The demonstration in support of the former president is particularly generous in terms of folklore. It almost seems that the chilling and violent seriousness of the Oath Keepers, the Proud Boys and in general of the extremists in action on January 6, 2021, has given way to a more ideologically confused and opportunistic team. Where have the militias gone? Hard to think they hung up their AR-15 rifles. With them, the rule that generally applies to naughty children applies: if you don’t hear them making a noise, then you need to worry.
Mayor Eric Adams’ appeals may have served: there was no violence. At Collect Pond Park, in front of the courthouse, the police built a metal barrier to separate pro-Trump and anti-Trump: the two groups mock each other from their respective positions, someone trespasses, some insults fly but no one comes to blows. Thanks also to the New York police, expert enough to know when it is appropriate to be present while remaining on the sidelines. Also thanks, perhaps, to the experience gained by America after the assault on Capitol Hill.
Danger averted, for now. At the end of the hearing, the prosecutor invites you to moderate your tone to avoid riots in the future. Will it help?
Return to Palm Beach
Donald’s face returns relaxed only in the opulent and slightly kitschy salon of Mar-a-Lago, in Palm Beach. “My only fault was defending America,” says the former president in front of an audience more than friendly. It is a return to the narrative of 2016, to “them against you with me defending you”. Will it work again this time? It seems so, if only on the right: Trump raises funds and scores points in the polls carried out in view of the primaries: the most likely opponents – DeSantis and Pence – are eating the dust. Only an atypical former president like Trump can benefit from an indictment, yet the “investigation effect” is there and it shows. Hard to say how long it will last, easy to guess that what is beneficial in the primary often proves fatal in the general election.