Former U.S. President Donald Trump arrives for his arraignment at Manhattan Criminal Court on April 04, 2023 in New York City. With the indictment, Trump becomes the first former U.S. president in history to be charged with a criminal offense. Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images
A democracy has the right – no, the obligation — to defend itself against those who attack it and seek to destroy it. That’s what Capitol Police were forced to do on Jan. 6, as they physically fought off thousands of attackers. It’s what special counsel Jack Smith, operating in a different role, has now done in Washington with the indictments announced Tuesday, and what Fani Willis apparently will do soon in Fulton County.
Because make no mistake: Donald J. Trump’s assault on democracy was all-out and multi-pronged, and is being sustained even today. Consider his actions just here in Georgia:
- Trump tried to strong-arm Brad Raffensperger to “find” him 11,800 votes, even hinting at criminal prosecution if Georgia’s top elections official refused.
- Trump pressured the U.S. attorney for north Georgia, B.J. Pak, to “find” evidence of fraud when none existed, then fired him for failing to uncover what did not exist.
- Trump tried and failed to intimidate Gov. Brian Kemp, House Speaker David Ralston and Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan into calling an illegal special session of the state Legislature to overturn the legitimate decision of Georgia voters.
- He tried and succeeded in intimidating U.S. Sen. David Perdue and U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler into backing his coup attempt on the campaign trail and in Congress.
- He sent a team of legal hacks, led by Rudy Giuliani and John Eastman, south to Georgia to tell us blatant lies, to feed us what we know now and knew then to be bluster and bullcrap, including attacking public servants who were simply doing their job honestly and competently.
- He and others engineered creation of a slate of “false electors” to substitute for the real thing, the legitimate thing, the constitutional thing, with the intent to use that false slate to subvert the voters’ intent.
- He and his team abused our state courts, filing nonsensical cases void of evidence, logic or legal basis, searching vainly for a judge who would collude with him.
- He encouraged allies deep in the U.S. Department of Justice to claim, falsely, that they had “identified serious concerns that may have impacted the outcome of the election” in Georgia and elsewhere, and to claim that “a special session (to overturn the election outcome) is warranted and in the national interest.”
The goal in all of that was the same, to rob the people of Georgia and by extension all of America of the right to choose their own leaders.
And in response we’re supposed to do … nothing?
As the federal indictment makes clear, Trump had been told repeatedly by multiple experts and investigators within his own administration and campaign that there was no evidence whatsoever of campaign fraud. He did not care. To the contrary, Trump and his confederates continued to poke and probe at every possible pressure point, looking for a weakness, either in the system or in individual character, that would allow him to steal an election that he had clearly lost.
So now, finally, the season for accountability has arrived.
We should not fear the reaction of those who might be angered by these indictments and prosecutions. We should instead fear the response if indictments and prosecutions had not been pursued, if this concerted, unfounded and cynical assault on democracy had gone unpunished. A democracy that lacks the will to defend itself, to stand up for itself using the law, logic and truth, will not long survive. Those with other, more dangerous forms of government in mind will take note.
It also cannot be that those with legal degrees, official campaign expense accounts, access to network camera time and official government titles, up to and including president of the United States, are somehow immune from prosecution, while those poor suckers whom they provoked into violent insurrection are sent to prison.
We are often warned these days that to employ the powers of law enforcement against such elites is to “weaponize” those powers, and if so I’m fine with it. When democracy comes under attack from within, as it most surely has, then those powers ought to be and need to be wielded as weapons, not for political advantage but as a matter of a democratic republic’s self-preservation.
That is in part why those powers exist, and it is time they were put to the use for which they were designed, which is justice.
This column was published earlier by the Georgia Recorder, an affiliate of the nonprofit States Newsroom network, which includes the Florida Phoenix.
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