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If Trump Is Convicted, It’s Democrats’ Job to Make Sure America Cares

Say it again and again: “convicted felon Donald Trump.”

Curtis Means/Pool/Getty Images

Here we are. Verdict week. Or are we? That’s the big question. The betting seems to be that if we’re going to get a conviction, it’s going to happen fast. The jury shouldn’t have to deliberate more than a couple days, maybe even more than a few hours, to find Donald Trump guilty in the Stormy Daniels hush-money case. Los Angeles Times legal affairs columnist Harry Litman is putting his shilling on a guilty verdict on Friday afternoon.

Better still, of course, would be Wednesday morning. Or Tuesday evening! That would be the optimal political outcome—a unanimous guilty verdict in about three or so hours. It would send a great message to the country that, while Trump may have successfully stalled the other three cases, the law finally caught up with him and the outcome was unequivocal.

But the longer the deliberations go, the more we ought to worry. If we head into next week without a verdict, it may mean that there are one or two holdouts on the jury, and it’s 11–1 or 10–2 for conviction but those one or two just won’t budge. Or they could just acquit. Juries do unpredictable things. O.J. Simpson was acquitted in four hours. I don’t even want to think about that outcome for Trump, and you don’t need me to tell you how depressing it would be.

Let’s cross that bridge if and when we have to. For now, let’s focus on the consequences of a guilty verdict.

This, like so many stories these days, is largely a media story. If Trump is convicted, we know what the right-wing media will do. They’ll explode in outrage. He was framed. It’s Joe Biden. It’s Merrick Garland. It’s the deep state. It’s the greatest miscarriage of justice in this country since … the Central Park Five (no, I doubt they’ll say that).

Republican politicians will stumble over each other to see who can come up with the most sycophantic quote possible. They’ll make up stuff about Biden, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, and others. And of course they’ll say that this doesn’t matter at all to voters, who will see through this gross miscarriage of justice, etc.

And what about the mainstream media? They’ll do what they always do in these situations. They’ll “both-sides” it to death. They’ll refer to the conviction as “highly controversial.” This is a handy journalistic cliché that has been used to cover for conservative extremism for many decades now. Something happens that polls show 65 or 70 percent of the country thinks was reasonable. But right wingers don’t, and they make a lot of noise, and suddenly this thing that two-thirds of the country agrees on is “controversial.” Happens all the time, and it has been thus for eons. Remember the supposedly controversial Clinton impeachment, never supported by more than about a third of the public?

Next we’ll undoubtedly see some cherry-picking of poll results. That is, four polls will come out. Three of them will show that sizeable majorities consider the verdict fair and that it may well change their vote. But then one poll, worded a little differently, will come out showing that many Americans have “grave doubts” about the verdict and it won’t change their vote.

Guess which poll will get, and probably by far, the most mainstream media coverage? It will be the one outlier. The “journalistic” justification for this will be that it was different, so it’s news! This too happens all the time. It just happened with that New York Times poll showing Trump well ahead in the swing states. Nearly every other poll had the race closer in those states, but that Times poll dominated media coverage for days. Have to be fair and balanced; can’t be seen as shilling for Biden! (And never mind that few seemed to notice the Timesown analysis—published many days later—that when it comes to likely voters, the numbers are much closer.)

All this puts the onus on team Biden and the Democrats generally to message a guilty verdict relentlessly. At least until the GOP convention and probably beyond, no Democrat elected to federal office should ever say the words “Donald Trump” without saying the words “convicted felon” in front of them. Convicted felon Donald Trump. Over and over and over and over.

Silly? A dumbing down of our political discourse? Maybe so, but let’s remember that the Republicans have been the innovators in this regard for generations. And like it or not, people need to hear a phrase repeatedly for it to have a fighting chance to sink in. People aren’t paying close attention to this trial. Many don’t even know Trump is on trial. “Convicted felon Donald Trump,” said 30,000 times by every leading Democrat, will at least let people know that Trump did something wrong—and got caught.

But they need to do more than that. Democrats don’t just need to fight; they need to fight on the right battlefield. They need to get it through their heads that while cable news matters, and The New York Times and The Washington Post matter, they don’t matter as much as TikTok and Instagram and other social media platforms. There was a Pew study late last year asking people how they got their news. “Digital devices” was number one by a country mile, and print publications dead last.

Now, “digital devices” can mean a lot of things. People could be reading The New York Times or even The New Republic on those devices. But I think we can assume that by and large it means at best Apple News and, at worst, things like disinformation videos. And maybe you saw the news over the weekend that an internal TikTok analysis showed that since last fall, there’s been twice as much pro-Trump content on that platform as pro-Biden.

I give conservatives and Republicans credit for this much, in the time I’ve been writing about politics. When they see a reality they don’t like, they set about trying to change it. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes they don’t. In the Bush years, they finally, through incessant lies about mushroom clouds, got a majority of the public to back invading Iraq. On Social Security privatization, in contrast, they failed miserably. But the point is they always try. They don’t see three or four adverse polls and throw up their hands.

This is the work Democrats will have to do if this jury returns a guilty verdict. Initial polls show people don’t care? Goddammit, Democrats, make them care. They should care. A convicted felon should not become the president of the United States. As bars go, that’s awfully low. “Convicted felon Donald Trump.” If that’s what this jury gives us, that’s what the Democrats need to call him, a million times over.