Last week, I wrote about Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago classified documents case, one of the focus cases in the American Justice project, a curated collection of decentralized legal filings from newsworthy, historic, and otherwise interesting cases.
This week, I’m proud to report that I got my first troll on the social media platform formerly known as Twitter. Simply by collecting these legal filings, preserving them, and encouraging them to be read, I seem to have struck a nerve with a person (or bot) who claims the court’s order doesn’t say what it actually says, is fake news, and/or isn’t properly sourced, with the specific complaint morphing from one from tweet to the next.
The troll was attempting to argue with documents that speak for themselves, but outside the four corners of those documents, there really is a larger conversation to be had. These are cases that will affect the course of history and have the potential to stoke anger and unrest far beyond the courthouse.
It’s entirely valid to disagree with any representation of fact in any legal filing, to comment on the reliability of witness testimony, to critique a judge’s courtroom management style, to believe a ruling is a subversion of justice, to express the belief that it will be overturned on appeal, or to argue the insignificance of a given case in a larger context.
While I try to separate my creative writing from politics, the American Justice project will require participants to present some opinions and take a personal stand or two. It’s impossible to separate law from politics even in the best of times, which these certainly aren’t.
Indictments and civil complaints against any former president or current presidential candidate hold a unique place in history, and there are now so many such active cases that it’s becoming hard to keep track of which headline belongs to which proceeding.
But even the most inherently political content doesn’t have to be contentious. In an age defined by its culture wars and polarized electorate, I would love for genuine and respectful conversations to be preserved alongside the source documents contained within the American Justice project, and I’ll be announcing the details of that extension shortly.
Personal opinions benefit from personal context, which I failed to provide before last week’s opinion piece. So before we go any further, I’d like to share a bit about where I’m coming from.
I am a registered voter who votes. I hold a public office at the municipal level so that I can work toward solving problems and making my town a safer, healthier, more livable place for everyone. I’m not enrolled in a political party. I view “Democrat” and “Republican” as competing brands, like Coke and Pepsi, rather than as identities to get personally invested in.
I am a child of a lifelong Democrat and a lifelong Republican who fell in love and proved to me that liberal and conservative viewpoints are two halves of a whole that can complement and complete each other. I believe that if our country were a house, progressives would be breaking down rotten timbers and replacing them with stronger beams, conservatives would be identifying and protecting the load-bearing studs that should be kept in place, and both groups would benefit from listening respectfully to and working productively with the other.
Growing up in the 1980s, Ronald Regan was my president and Donald Trump was one of my personal heroes. I read The Art of the Deal in high school, visited Trump Tower in New York, and took a pilgrimage to Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City. My girlfriend and I snuck into the casino and spent the day gawking at the opulent architecture, although we were both underage. I took business classes at Wharton because that’s where Trump had gone. I never missed an episode of “The Apprentice,” at least for the early seasons. I owned a necktie from his fashion line.
I remained an OG Donald Trump stan through the 1990s and into the early 2000s. For all that time, my political views were generally to the right of Donald Trump’s public persona, as I was an independent voter at a time when Trump was a registered Democrat and an outspoken supporter and friend of the Clintons.
I later learned that The Art of the Deal had been ghostwritten. I watched Trump’s casinos go bankrupt. At Wharton, I heard nothing about Trump but disparagement that despite his wealth and success, he’d never donated a dime back to the school. He was less of a friend to the Clintons as he was a seeker of their power. On reflection, his boardroom decisions on “The Apprentice” seemed arbitrary and sometimes cruel. I also don’t know what ever happened to the necktie, but I probably lost it during a move.
When Trump reinvented himself for politics, from my point of view at the time, his positions slammed to the far right. He took to conspiracy theories. He began pandering to bigots. I struggled to accept that my former idol didn’t really change his essence, but that increased scrutiny had revealed the person he’d always been.
Although I couldn’t bring myself to vote for him and the platform he’d assembled, I retained a positive opinion of Trump’s intelligence and talent as a brand manager. This is where I’ve found it most useful to view the major political parties as brands and their candidates as products. Trump came into the race with his own brand that he refused to relinquish, and proceeded to subvert, replace, and hollow out the Republican brand. This is why we now have Trump-branded candidates up and down the ballot and why Trump has had such an advantage in a primary season that’s pitted one Trump-branded candidate against a field of generic-branded Republicans.
In 2016, I was willing to give Trump many benefits of many doubts. I didn’t think he wanted to literally build a wall, but that he could possibly direct his construction industry experience toward getting more utility from the existing border security budget. He couldn’t have really thought he’d convince Mexico to pay for new barriers, but I imagined a tax or tariff on cross-border remittances could raise additional funds for that purpose. I held out hope that Trump could bring a fresh perspective to politics, apply himself to learning the ropes, and prove to be a capable steward of the public office that voters had entrusted to him.
I’m not too proud to admit that I was waaaaaaay wrong.
I was a Trump fan for much longer than I’ve been a Trump detractor, but I have more data points available now than when I was a teenage fanboy sneaking through Trump Taj Mahal with a copy of The Art of the Deal. His brand includes open admiration and praise for strongman dictators. His value proposition is the subversion of democracy to keep himself in power. His product offering is toxic.
I’d like Donald Trump’s current supporters to know that it’s not too late for them. I had a longer tenure as a Trump fan than most of his current MAGA base. If I could eventually see through his façade and break free from his cult of personality, anyone can.
Trump has pled innocent to all 91 felony charges currently leveled against him. He claims no wrongdoing in his business fraud and sexual abuse defamation cases. He has framed his involvement in the January 6th Capitol attack as constitutionally protected free speech. He claims to be a victim. He claims that the media, prosecutors, judges, lawyers, and even the law clerks are against him. He promises to turn the tables on his enemies.
The American justice system isn’t perfect, and it isn’t speedy, but it is our best tool for determining what’s true in a flood of misinformation and fake news. Our duty in the American Justice project is to track these legal cases to their conclusions and engage in conversations about what they portend for our shared future.
I look forward to your participation and comments.