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Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Emma Shortis, Lecturer in Social and Global Studies, RMIT University

Sue Ogrocki/AP/AAP

How many different ways are there to say “unprecedented”?

Never before has a sitting or former president of the United States been indicted on federal charges. Former and aspiring President Donald J. Trump has now been indicted not once, but three times: once for alleged crimes committed before he assumed office, once for alleged crimes after he left the White House and, as of this morning, once for crimes allegedly committed during his time in office.

The latest charges relate to Trump’s concerted efforts to overturn the legitimate results of the 2020 presidential election. They arose from Special Counsel Jack Smith’s investigation into Trump’s role in the January 6 2021 attack on the US Capitol.

A grand jury found there was enough evidence to bring forward four federal charges, arguing Trump engaged in “three criminal conspiracies” in the pursuit of “unlawful means of discounting legitimate votes and subverting the election results”. The charges include: conspiracy to defraud the United States; conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding; obstruction of and attempt to obstruct an official proceeding; and conspiracy against rights.

Trump is scheduled to appear before a federal court in Washington, DC, on Thursday afternoon (Friday morning Australian time).

In a statement delivered shortly after the indictment was revealed, Jack Smith said the Department of Justice would seek a “speedy trial” – much as he did last time the former president was indicted.

But even if this case, along with the others, does go to trial with all possible speed, none of this is likely to be resolved before the nomination process is complete, and may well continue into the 2024 election.

Federal charges on the campaign trail

Even in what we might unsatisfactorily call a “normal” US presidential election cycle, nominees and results are notoriously difficult to predict. Candidates rise and fall quickly – presumed heirs to the nomination riding high early in the cycle can fall into irrelevance before the primaries even begin. The unprecedented nature of Trump’s second campaign for the Republican nomination blows all efforts to predict any outcomes out of the water.

Right now, Trump is following his familiar playbook – claiming this is all part of an extended conspiracy to keep him out of office by a “liberal elite”. Leaning into a narrative of victimhood, Trump expertly pushes the buttons of his base, and high-profile members of the Republican Party race to defend him, again.

Read more:
Yes, federal charges against a former president are unprecedented – but so is Trump’s political power

Their narrative is consistent and practised: the “left”, apparently convinced it cannot beat Trump in an election, is seeking to take him out of the running. Trump acolyte Senator J.D. Vance, for example, claimed President Joe Biden would “rather throw Donald Trump in prison than face him at the ballot box”.

Vance, a graduate of Yale Law School, undoubtedly knows none of that is true. He would also likely know that even if Trump were to be thrown behind bars, there are no legal obstacles to him facing Biden in an election, or even serving as president from a prison cell.

Trump and his supporters insist on his innocence. In a statement released after the indictment, his campaign insisted Trump “has always followed the law and the Constitution”. Never mind that the former president has stated, publicly and clearly, that he would happily “terminate” the Constitution to suit his own ends.

Unsurprisingly, Trump supporters are undeterred. Trump remains, by a long way, the front-runner for the Republican nomination.

Stake are high for the entire US

Unlike the first time around, if he makes it into the White House again, Trump will come prepared. His team’s plans to purge the federal bureaucracy, centralise power and further undermine democratic processes – in concert with similar efforts already occurring at the state level across the country – are all aimed at consolidating and entrenching Trump’s power.

The Trump team is openly planning for a second term that would catastrophically undermine the institutions and processes of American democracy. At the most basic level, that is what is at stake for the United States with these charges and in this election cycle.

As this most recent indictment put it, processes like the peaceful transition of power are “foundational to the United States democratic process”. While American democracy has always been shaky and uneven, as the indictment continues, it “had operated in a peaceful but orderly manner for more than 130 years”.

Taken together, all this means the United States – and the world – faces another unprecedented election cycle. In all likelihood, there will be more indictments and multiple trials, even as the compounding effects of global boiling reveal themselves, and maybe even as we discover that we are not, in fact, alone in the universe.

There is no telling, really, how this polycrisis will play out as the United States faces its most important elections in a century.

Unprecedented, indeed.

Read more:
For Joe Biden, the indictment of Donald Trump carries a heavy responsibility – and a risk

The Conversation

Emma Shortis is a member of the Independent and Peaceful Australia Network (IPAN).

ref. With yet another indictment, Donald Trump takes us into ‘unprecedented’ territory once again –