The Arraignment of Citizen Trump

The former president stands accused of 34 counts of felony—and there’s a long way to go from here.

Donald Trump
Curtis Means / Reuters / Redux

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Donald Trump was arraigned in New York today on multiple felony counts. But maybe America isn’t going to fulfill the former president’s prediction of “death and destruction” over prosecution for his alleged crimes. You can read my colleague John Hendrickson’s dispatch from inside the courthouse here.

And here are three more new stories from The Atlantic:

A Low-Energy Affair

You’d think that nothing else happened in the world today besides the arraignment of a former real-estate developer and casino boss from Queens. Yes, Donald Trump spent four long years as president, but today he’s just another American citizen, and he stands accused of 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in Manhattan. The state of New York must now make its case that Citizen Trump is guilty of the charges (he has pleaded not guilty on all 34). There’s a long way to go from here.

Of course, a lot of other things did happen in the world today. Finland officially joined NATO, a hugely important geopolitical development. Wisconsin, long described as a “laboratory of democracy,” is holding an election that could alter the country’s future. A freight train sits as a derailed wreck in Montana. And in Florida, the state rapidly emerging as our own laboratory of authoritarianism, it’s a new day where people can walk around carrying concealed weapons without a permit—a policy that polling suggests most Floridians oppose but that is apparently wildly popular with the “own the libs” demographic.

Nevertheless, the events in Manhattan are of immense importance. Trump would not be the first president to break the law; many of our chief executives have done things that could have landed them in court. But Trump has had such obvious contempt for the law for so long that his own hometown has claimed the honor of being the first jurisdiction to do something about a man who lived his entire adult life daring prosecutors to catch up with his shady dealings. The state of Georgia and the United States of America are likely next in line.

What’s interesting, however, is how the explosion of rage we’d all waited for—and that Trump both demanded and expected—has been, so far, more like a grumble than a shout. Turnout in front of the New York courthouse has been contained, despite the arrival of the professional sedition booster Marjorie Taylor Greene. Writing this off as a “blue state” issue is easy, but New York is full of MAGA folks not only upstate but also closer to Manhattan in Staten Island and the super-red districts of Long Island, as well as some redoubts just north of the city such as the exurban Dutchess County. If New York’s Trump brigades wanted a big turnout, they’re only a short drive, subway ticket, or bus ride away.

Perhaps the fallout from January 6, after which at least 1,000 people have been located by the FBI and charged with crimes, has had a sobering effect on MAGA enthusiasts who no longer see raising hell for Donald Trump as a particularly wise investment of their time. Apparently, even the smallest sentences have acted as a deterrent, which makes sense given that most people, despite their brave talk and tactical gear, do not want to put on an orange jumpsuit and live among other convicted criminals for a year, a month, or even a few weeks.

Or perhaps I am being too optimistic.

Trump’s cult is plenty agitated, but these followers are a bit smarter now. They might have realized that marching around and aggravating a lot of New York City police officers—many of whom are probably on their side—isn’t going to accomplish anything. And perhaps they’re waiting for better directions: Trump is planning to speak tonight from Mar-a-Lago, and they may be looking to him before deciding on their next move.

The rest of the nation, however, seems calm, which suggests that Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg’s decision to be the first to indict Trump was not a grave mistake but rather one that has served as a kind of safety valve that has released some of the pent-up pressure over charging a former president. If and when the Fulton County DA Fani Willis in Georgia and federal Special Counsel Jack Smith join the fray, their charges will no longer be “unprecedented,” and Trump will be facing so much legal trouble that we can stop covering it day and night and get back to more important things.

One danger, however, still worries me. When extremists and conspiracy theorists feel the tide turning against them, when they think they’ve lost and the country is no longer fascinated by their flaky claims, they will sometimes lash out with violence. As the historian Kathleen Belew of Northwestern University tweeted yesterday, lone-wolf attacks over the coming weeks may be more likely than mass demonstrations.That’s also the conclusion my colleague Adrienne LaFrance came to in The Atlantic's April cover story, which is why I worry a lot less about another January 6 than I do about another Timothy McVeigh, a loser who decided that his gripes were worth blowing up 168 innocent men, women, and children in Oklahoma City. Many people who study political violence have pointed out that Trump, intentionally or otherwise, would be energizing such people by kicking off his 2024 campaign in Waco, Texas, a place that he and the bitter-enders who are left staffing him know is of cherished lore among American conspiracists and anti-government extremists.

But for now, I remain hopeful. So far, most of my fellow citizens have decided that no one is above the law—not even the 45th president of the United States, whose past may finally be catching up with him.


Today’s News

  1. Finland became the 31st member of NATO, effectively doubling the length of member states’ borders with Russia.
  2. The Biden administration is expected to officially declare the Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich as wrongfully detained in Russia, according to CNN.
  3. Voting is under way to determine control of the Wisconsin Supreme Court and, in turn, the probable future of abortion access and Republican-drawn legislative maps in the presidential battleground state.

Evening Read

Illustration by Joanne Imperio / The Atlantic. Sources: Apple TV+; Prime Video.

TV Has a Cynical Message for Humanity

By Sophie Gilbert

Reality has no order—that’s why we’re always trying to impose our own framework on it, with the help of notions such as “karma” and “Mercury in retrograde.” The conventions of storytelling, conversely, are blessedly clean and concise; they allow us to at least pretend that a plot might cohere into some sort of plan. Lately, though, the rules have seemed trickier to follow. On television, the most ambitious parables about humanity are also the ones having the hardest time conceding to narrative, as though they can’t imagine anymore that a hero might be coming to save us. What happens when stories start to break down in the face of relentless human failure? Well, we get things like Apple TV+’s Extrapolations and Amazon’s The Power: sprawling, cynical, extraordinarily expensive exhalations. Characters are strangely passive; they react to circumstances rather than act on their desires; they shuffle through riots and Category 4 hurricanes and political turmoil without any point or purpose of their own.

Read the full article.

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Odd as it may seem, I am also hopeful after the disastrous Lesley Stahl interview with Taylor Greene on 60 Minutes last Sunday night—not because I think the interview helped the cause of democracy but because of the wide backlash against CBS’s decision to run what amounted to a softball interview with an unhinged seditionist.

This is not to say that 60 Minutes shouldn’t have done the interview; I am on the record here in the Daily arguing that Trump, in particular, should be put on blast to the entire nation as often as possible so that every American citizen knows what he’s up to and cannot pretend they didn’t hear any of his incitements. But the Stahl interview was the worst of all worlds: A veteran journalist treated a conspiracy theorist and vocal supporter of the January 6 insurrection as if she were merely a controversial but normal politician. Stahl’s “pushback” mostly included saying things like “wow” and rolling her eyes, refusing to hold Greene’s feet to the fire about charges that Democrats are pedophiles and other bits of classic MTG ghoulishness, and then moving on to join the representative while she pumped iron and strolled through the Capitol. I was appalled, but so were many other observers, and maybe we can learn a lesson here about the dangers of using prim and restrained 20th-century media techniques to examine the challenges posed by the 21st century’s shameless crackpots and agitators.

But again, maybe I’m too hopeful. Greene apparently thought the interview went well. She followed her appearance on the flagship CBS news program by posting a new ad on her Twitter feed.

It accused Democrats of being pedophiles.

— Tom

Kelli María Korducki contributed to this newsletter.