Trump: The Mills of the Gods
“The mills of the gods grind slowly, but they grind exceeding fine,” wrote Sextus Empiricus, a Sceptic philosopher who lived mainly in Athens and Alexandria almost 2,000 years ago. Justice may be slow to come, but in the end the wicked will be punished. The mills are turning.
“Justice delayed is justice denied,” said British prime minister William Gladstone in 1868. That is certainly true for the many victims of Donald Trump, from the investors in the Atlantic City casinos he deliberately and repeatedly drove into bankruptcy in the 1980s to the 81 million American voters he tried to cheat after the 2020 presidential election.
But the grinding noise in the background has finally stopped. Something like justice is about to catch up with Trump not in New York (34 felony charges for falsifying business records), or in Florida (40 felony counts for hiding classified official documents), or in Washington (4 felony charges of plotting to overturn the US election), but in Georgia.
There is a widespread view that all these indictments are strengthening Trump’s support among his ‘core’ supporters, and he appears to believe that himself. “We need one more indictment to close out this election,” Trump bragged to a roomful of Republican Party bigwigs in Alabama early this month. But that’s not true.
The ‘core vote’ is enough to guarantee that Trump will get the Party’s nomination for president again, but in the real election fifteen months from now Democrats and ‘independents’ vote too. In that race, Trump and Biden are currently running neck and neck.
Given Trump’s enormous self-confidence, that was enough to convince him that he would never spend time in jail – until this week and the Georgia indictments. Only thirteen more criminal charges (for a total of 91) – but Georgia is different.
The New York cases are weak and Trump isn’t worried. If the federal indictments in Washington and Florida haven’t yet gone to trial, he could just order his Attorney General to cancel them. If he has been found guilty already, he can use his presidential powers to pardon himself. But there’s nothing he can do about the indictments in Georgia.
Not only can he not pardon himself for any convictions in Georgia (the president can only pardon federal offences), but convictions are far more likely in the Georgia courts, for several reasons.
One is that in Georgia, Trump has been charged under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations law (RICO), which was originally designed to arraign Mafia and other underworld bosses who gave the orders but did not commit the crimes personally. Many states (and the federal government) have RICO laws, but Georgia’s is particularly broad
Another difference is the fact that eighteen other people have been indicted for helping Trump to commit the crimes he is charged with. The list includes Trump’s former lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, the former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, and John Eastman, the law professor who made up bogus legal theories to justify Trump’s actions.
There are another fourteen people included in the indictment, most of them ordinary people who were drawn into Trump’s scheme to overthrow the election outcome in Georgia, and a further thirty named but unindicted co-conspirators.
Trump will doubtless pay their legal expenses and get them good lawyers, but a lot of them will be very frightened and open to a plea bargain. The whole point of going after the ‘little fish’ is to shake loose further evidence of Trump’s direct involvement in the plot, and it’s likely to work.
Finally, the trial will be televised. Normally that would work well for a TV pro like Trump, but he will be very uncomfortable on a stage which he does not control. The spectacle will shrink him in the public’s eyes even if he isn’t found guilty, but he’s more likely to be convicted – and then it gets really interesting.
If there’s a conviction before the election (improbable), then it would probably scuttle Trump’s chances of regaining the presidency, and he would really go to jail once the appeals ran out.
If he was safely in the White House before he was convicted, then there would be a convicted criminal running the country, which was a contingency overlooked by the authors of the Constitution. But it’s doubtful that Georgia could ‘extradite’ him. Civil war? Probably not. Political paralysis? Certainly. For how long, and with what effects? Nobody knows.
Down here in the weeds, speculating about possible futures, it’s easy to forget that all this is due to an actual coup attempt by the outgoing US president. “Let justice be done though the heavens fall,” a Roman lawyer of classical times would have said. I would say that justice must be done so the heavens don’t fall.
Gwynne Dyer’s new book is The Shortest History of War.