You have to read only to page six of the third indictment of Donald John Trump to get to the juicy stuff. Or some of the juicy stuff: “The Defendant, his co-conspirators, and their agents knowingly made false claims that there had been outcome-determinative fraud in the 2020 presidential election. These prolific lies about election fraud include dozens of specific claims that there had been substantial fraud in certain states, such as that large numbers of dead, non-resident, non-citizen, or otherwise ineligible voters had cast ballots, or that voting machines had changed votes for the Defendant to votes for Biden. These claims were false, and the Defendant knew they were false.”
That’s the ball game right there. Prolific lies. The defendant knew they were false. That’s from paragraph 11. Later, from paragraphs 13 through 124, going all the way to page 42, we get a litany of the knowing lies told or bruited by the defendant and his six (uncharged) co-conspirators—but mostly by Trump. The first paragraphs allege conspiracies in certain states to replace legitimate electors and force sham recounts. The January 6–related counts start in paragraph 100 and walk us through the day, and Trump’s actions, hour by hour. The indictment, signed by special counsel Jack Smith on page 45, concludes that “the Defendant, DONALD J. TRUMP, did knowingly combine, conspire, confederate, and agree with co-conspirators, known and unknown to the Grand Jury, to injure, impress, threaten, and intimidate one or more persons in the free exercise and enjoyment of a right and privilege secured to them by the Constitution and laws of the United States—that is, the right to vote, and to have one’s vote counted.”
It’s kind of beautiful, really, that it comes down to that simple truth. Whatever good and bad this country has visited upon its citizens, and however much it limited that right to so many of them for so many decades, we did establish for the modern world that simple principle: the right to vote and to have one’s vote counted. It’s the engine of the whole enterprise. Took us a long time to perfect it, and no sooner did we perfect it than certain dark forces started to agitate against it. Those certain dark forces culminated in the person and actions of the defendant. And the system managed to rouse itself and rise up to call bullshit on it.
Sad day? No, not in the least. There exists the quasi-obligatory liberal reflex to announce such days as sad days. I hereby release myself from such pangs of phony conscience, and I urge you to do the same. This is a joyous day. The sad day was November 8, 2016, when the defendant lost the popular vote by 2.8 million votes but drew a lucky-enough inside straight under our rules to become, legitimately, the president of the United States.
That was the sad day. That was the day that set in train the events that led to this grave but happy day. Because the system encountered in the defendant something it had never encountered before. By rights he should have been impeached and removed from office in May of his first year of service, when he admitted on national television that he fired his FBI director because that director was investigating him.
The system—the Republican Congress, more specifically—wasn’t ready to move against a president yet. And in truth, the defendant did many more things that should have seen his removal, and would have if our democracy had functioned as its founders intended it to. But Trump’s actions grew more outlandish, and we lucked out in the 2020 election, until finally, the system stood up to defend itself. That is something to celebrate, not mourn.
And now? It’s showdown time. The defendant has convinced a significant (though minority) segment of the country of his lies. The sitting chief executive does not, alas, enjoy the confidence of enough of the country for this to be an open-and-shut matter politically. But legally? It sure seems like it should be open-and-shut. Even a federal jury, however, can’t close this sarcophagus lid. That has to be done by the voters, next November 5. As nerve-racking as that prospect is and will be, it’s the right prospect, because, as the indictment affirms, that’s the engine of the whole enterprise: “the right to vote, and to have one’s vote counted.”