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The Utter Joy of Watching Trump Watch People Who Despise Him

In his hush-money criminal trial, the former president is coming face to face with potential jurors who have expressed unvarnished opinions of him on social media.

Seth Wenig/Pool/Getty Images

The fact that Donald Trump is being forced to sit in a chilly New York courtroom for weeks, during a period when his presidential campaign should be kicking into gear, is satisfying in and of itself. Yes, the charges he is facing—which involve hush-money payments made during the waning days of the 2016 election to adult film actress Stormy Daniels to cover up their affair—may not stick. But Trump has spent most of his life being immune to consequences for his unethical and illegal acts, so it is a relief to see the American legal system finally treating him like the career criminal that he is.

But Trump’s trial is also immensely satisfying for another, baser reason. As part of jury selection, presiding Judge Juan Merchan regularly has to read mean social media posts about Trump from prospective jurors. Many of these posts are from the heyday of the #Resistance. Merchan, for instance, read a Facebook post from the husband of one (soon to be dismissed) potential juror that features a photograph of Trump and Barack Obama captioned, “I don’t think this is what they meant by Orange is the new Black.” But others are blunter and funnier. Another potential juror had posted a 90-second video of an A.I. Trump saying, “I’m dumb as fuck.”

“I honestly don’t remember,” the juror, a middle-aged bookseller in Midtown, said when asked about it. “I thought it would be funny. I don’t recall watching it.”

Trump is used to being made fun of. He is apparently still upset about jokes made by longtime nemesis Jimmy Kimmel when he was hosting the Oscars in early March; on Wednesday, he took to his own social media platform, Truth Social, to blast the late-night comedian for “choking” at the Oscars. (Trump was, in fact, confusing him with Al Pacino.) Trump has, over the course of the last several years, feuded with a number of celebrity critics: Kimmel, Stephen Colbert, Alec Baldwin, Robert De Niro. He is not, however, used to normal people making fun of him—or even to people making fun of him to his face. He is now spending several hours a day being subjected to the contempt that ordinary people hold him in. Judging by his demeanor at the trial—when he’s not asleep, he’s scowling—it’s clear he doesn’t enjoy it.

“Over the course of this week, Trump has effectively been made to watch a parade of normal people who really don’t like him. One juror posted “Lock him up!”—a play on Trump’s anti-Hillary slogan from the 2016 campaign—early in his presidency. One posted a video from Manhattan—the site of the trial—of dozens of residents dancing in the streets after his election defeat in 2020. Another posted a 2016 get-out-the-vote video from Mark Ruffalo, in which he promised to “get naked” if Trump was defeated. Another posted a joke from an Onion rip-off referencing the rescue of more than a dozen Thai children from a cave in 2017: “Trump invites Thai boys to White House. Boys request to return to cave.”

The whole ordeal has the feel of a Saturday Night Live cold open. It will almost certainly be the cold opening to SNL this weekend—albeit with (slightly) funnier material. That Trump has to sit there and take it is funnier than anything that has been read to him. We know he hates criticism of all stripes. One theory about his decision to run for president in 2016 was that it was prompted by mean jokes made by Barack Obama during the 2011 White House Correspondents Dinner. “That evening of public abasement, rather than sending Mr. Trump away, accelerated his ferocious efforts to gain stature in the political world,” reported The New York Times in the spring of 2016. It was a farcical but plausible origin story: Trump was so humiliated that he had no choice but to get revenge.

It’s also worth noting just how rare it is for Trump to hear what regular voters outside of his own base think about him. As president, he regularly watched clips of comedians and cable news panelists being mean about him, sure. But those people aren’t representative of any voting bloc; criticizing or making fun of him is literally their job. And because they’re public figures of one stripe or another, Trump could single them out on Twitter. A notorious counterpuncher, he has historically dealt with the feeling of humiliation by attempting to get back at his critics.

As a president and postpresident, however, Trump has rarely had to face criticism in person. He carefully curates his public events so as to almost never encounter critics of any stripe. His life is spent at a private club or on a golf course. He skipped every White House Correspondents Dinner as president. His rallies are filled with gushing supporters. He lives in a fantasy world in which Hollywood, the media, and political elites despise him—but the people love him. One key pillar of his conspiracy theory that he was the real winner of the 2020 election was that he regularly drew large crowds to rallies and Joe Biden did not. The subtext here is barely that: He has the support of the people, and it takes the full force of the establishment to defeat him, whether in court or at the ballot box.

This week’s jury selection is blowing up that notion, one mean tweet at a time. And Trump just has to sit there, staring icily ahead, and take it without a word.